SPOTLIGHT ON: CLAIRE NEWELL, COMMS PROGRAMME DIRECTOR, WANO

Name: Claire Newell
Company: World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO)
Job title: Communications Programme Director
Twitter: @clairelucy
LinkedIn: Claire Newell

Did you go to university?
Yes I did – I studied English at Royal Holloway, University of London, then subsequently went on to study an MA in International Relations and European Studies at the University of East Anglia.

What was your first job in PR?
While temping after uni I managed to get a long-term contract in the International & European Affairs Department of the Greater London Authority, which was my first real taste of working in a communications department. My first PR job ‘proper’ though was as a trainee account executive at technology PR agency, Johnson King. This gave me a great grounding in the industry and helped me figure out where I wanted to take my career in the future.

it turned out to be a somewhat career-defining role for me

How did you get from there to your current role?
While at Johnson King, I realised that my passion really lay in the issues development side of the work I was doing. Getting my teeth into an interesting issue and relating it to the work or product of one of my clients was the best part of the job for me. An in-house move seemed appropriate too so I could really get under the skin of an organisation.

I decided to seek out a role that would put me at the forefront of some really interesting issues and in the ‘hot seat’ a little bit in terms of closer interaction with the national print and broadcast media. I was subsequently taken on as a Press Officer at the Energy Retail Association (ERA – now Energy UK) and that absolutely put me in the middle of things! I spent the next three and a half years there, juggling press office and spokesperson duties, and it turned out to be a somewhat career-defining role for me. I won the CIPR Outstanding Young Communicator Award in 2009 on the strength of my work at the ERA and will always look back on that time fondly (and slightly in awe of how hardcore it was!).

From the ERA I moved to the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) via a couple of short stints at other organisations and an unfortunate taster of redundancy. The role at WANO brings together my interest in the energy sector, geopolitical issues and how they affect the work of international organisations and my love of meeting people from different backgrounds and cultures. There’s never a dull moment and I never get that Sunday night feeling about this job.

What do you do on a day-to-day basis?
The job is extremely varied, which means that a day can involve anything from working on a global event like our Biennial General Meeting, which is attended by around 500 senior industry executives from across the world; developing a communications plan for a new WANO activity such as our Young Generation initiative; management and coaching of the team here in London, or participating in the main Governing Board and Executive Leadership Team meetings that take place in various locations across the world on roughly a quarterly basis. The Communications function within WANO is still in its infancy for an organisation that will be 27 years old this year, so there is always a new opportunity to assess and explore in terms of its potential to improve WANO’s communications both with its internal and external audiences.

the diversity of this role is one of the things I enjoy the most

What do you like most about working in PR?
My job these days is not so much focused on external or media relations as it was when I worked agency-side or in a press role, and the diversity of this role is one of the things I enjoy the most. I also enjoy the teamwork, and the ‘customer focus’ that all good communicators should cultivate in themselves and take pride in. Not PR-specific, but working in a global organisation is also such an enormous privilege.

it can sometimes be difficult to develop a good understanding and appreciation of the value and benefits of good communications

What’s the hardest thing about working in PR?
In any technical industry or organisation, it can sometimes be difficult to develop a good understanding and appreciation of the value and benefits of good communications. I’m pretty stubborn though and I like a challenge, so this has helped to keep me motivated in various positions in my career!

Who is your PR inspiration?
My manager at Johnson King, Laura Cameron, is an inspiration because of her absolute dedication to understanding her clients and their needs, and her focus on delivery of amazing results. The fact that she is able to perform at the top of her game while also raising two young children is awe-inspiring and gives me hope personally, as I look forward to welcoming my second child this summer! Peter Jenkins (Leonard Cheshire Disability) was also a fantastically supportive manager to me at the ERA. I’m grateful for both Peter’s and Laura’s guidance, support and friendship.

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever been given? 
Not so much advice, but my first manager at the ERA, Niki Fraiss, taught me about the kind of leadership I aspire to emulate. She put me forward as a spokesperson for the organisation and encouraged me to believe I could take on that role and make a success of it. Her generosity and proactivity in seeking out and offering me opportunities to increase my skills and move outside my comfort zone had a huge impact on me. She’s my leadership role model, for sure.

Which PR blogs, news sites and websites do you read?
Too many to list them all, but my top five would be:

At the beginning of your career, you shouldn’t worry about the impact on your CV of trying different industries and roles out

What are your tips for aspiring PRs?
PR and Comms skills are transferable. Don’t get hung up on thinking you should be stuck in one vertical forever. Yes, contacts are important, but your core skills are the key. You can learn about new industries and specialise later if you want to. At the beginning of your career, you shouldn’t worry about the impact on your CV of trying different industries and roles out.

Seek out opportunities to do more of the things you enjoy. You will work harder on these things naturally and ultimately, this will get you to your dream role.

Finally, be proactive in suggesting new ways of doing something, looking for gaps in how your organisation works or volunteering to take on projects that you think could be of benefit to your organisation. Many roles can be developed and diversified by someone proactive enough to see where an opportunity takes them, so don’t rely on someone else to give you work – go out and look for a problem that needs solving and take the initiative to be the one to solve it.

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