SPOTLIGHT ON: CATHERINE GRINYER, DIRECTOR, BIG VOICE COMMUNICATIONS

Name: Catherine Grinyer
Company: Big Voice Communications
Job title: Director

Twitter: @bigvoicecomms @cgrinyer
LinkedIn: Catherine Grinyer
Website: www.bigvoicecommunications.co.uk

Did you go to university?
I went to several universities, some of the best years of my life! I was an undergraduate in London, King’s College, the London School of Economics and the Humboldt University in Berlin. I did a BA in European Studies with German. I then did my post-graduate at Bath University, with some time in Berlin at the Free University and the Humboldt University. My MA was in Contemporary European Political Cultures. I’ve always been interested in what makes societies work and in cultural similarities and differences.

What was your first job in PR?
My first job in PR was in Berlin, working as a PR & marketing assistant for an organisation called the Industrial Investment Council. It had been set up to attract foreign direct investment to the former German Democratic Republic. I spent a lot of time doing the press clippings for the directors – it was pre-internet, so no handy Google searches, just a lot of cutting, pasting (with actual glue and scissors) and photocopying. I also worked on the organisation’s first ever website, which was thrilling, it was very avant-garde at the time!

I am really proud to have lobbied on the Equality Act

How did you get from there to your current role?
From my first role to running my own consultancy has taken nearly 20 years with lots of interesting stages in-between. I started off in PR & marketing and my first role was a mixture of the two, I then worked more in marketing, for a Dot Com before moving to a more public affairs focus, working at the German Embassy in London, then heading up Networking For Industry, a not-for-profit organisation that connects business and parliament (now called PolicyConnect). I then made the career move that has brought closer to where I am today, I joined the Business Disability Forum as Director of Communications & Marketing. My role encompassed everything from PR, lobbying to marketing and events. I am really proud to have lobbied on the Equality Act and to have led an award-winning rebrand. But, what that role taught me most about was the importance of ensuring our communications are accessible and inclusive to all. It was a career-lightbulb moment that led me to go on to set up Big Voice Communications, which specialises in inclusive communications – ensuring we reach diverse audiences with our communications.

Working for myself means I have a lot of flexibility, but, when the deadline approaches, you’ve still got to get it done

What do you do on a day-to-day basis?
I work with a handful of regular clients on a variety of projects and campaigns, and I also deliver training on inclusive communications, so no two days are the same. My working day is hugely varied and it has to fit in around my two young children and their busy schedules. Working for myself means I have a lot of flexibility, but, when the deadline approaches, you’ve still got to get it done, whether your self-employed or not! On any given day I can be drafting copy, speaking to journalists, developing campaign strategies, meeting existing or potential clients or liaising with designers and web developers.

What do you like most about working in PR?
I love the flexibility and the creativity that PR offers. Each new project or campaign presents a fresh challenge and the opportunity to learn something new. By working with a variety of clients and stakeholders you get a huge deal of insight into what is happening in your chosen sector. On the whole, what I like best is the combination of the people and the tasks. It’s extremely satisfying to see a campaign launch and its even more satisfying when it delivers the brief for the client.   

PR is not for the faint-hearted

What’s the hardest thing about working in PR?
The hardest thing about working in PR is, I think, the lack of understanding there is about what it is we do – from clients or colleagues depending on whether you’re agency on in-house. Either we’re expected to be miracle workers, making silk purses out of sow’s ears, or we’re the ones everyone blames when things go wrong. That can be tough to stomach – and the work is quite stressful at times. There is no room for mistakes as what we do is in the public space, so the pressure can take some getting used to. PR is not for the faint-hearted and it’s certainly not all about champagne & schmoozing!

What inspires me the most are colleagues with integrity, honesty and professionalism.

Who is your PR inspiration?
I can’t really point to one individual as my inspiration and my career hasn’t really followed a traditional path. I admire many fellow professionals and enjoy learning from the output of their work. What inspires me the most are colleagues with integrity, honesty and professionalism. In recent years I have gained a lot through my membership of the CIPR and my work with the Diversity & Inclusion Forum. I’ve met many CIPR colleagues who in different ways have encouraged and inspired me, too many to name but they know who they are!

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever been given? 
Not wanting to deal in clichés, but my father always said it’s not what you know, but who you know – or more importantly who knows you that counts. That taught me a lot about the need to maintain your own ‘brand reputation’ and the importance of forging lasting professional relationships. It’s stood me in good stead.  

Which PR blogs, news sites and websites do you read?
The answer is probably not as many as I should – but occasionally I dip into PR Week, the Drum, Holmes Report and Influence, the new magazine from the CIPR, is great. 

Senior people in PR really don’t like having to correct basic errors in copy

What are your tips for aspiring PRs?
Be open to which sector you work in. Most of my career has been in the business to business arena, it may not be as glamorous as consumer brand or celebrity work but it can open up lots of possibilities for agency and in-house roles and you’ll learn some amazing things about all kinds of wonderful products, processes and policies.

Brush up on your writing skills, you’re going to need to be able to write engaging copy in a variety of styles for different audiences. Senior people in PR really don’t like having to correct basic errors in copy, so always proof-read everything. Everything!

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