Name: Mary Whenman
Company: Callcredit Information Group
Job title: Interim Communications Director
Mary is also President of Women in PR and a Member of the PRCA PR Council.
LinkedIn: Mary Whenman
Did you go to university?
I went to Bournemouth University where I studied Business Studies. It was as four-year sandwich degree course and we spent a year working in industry during the third year. I knew I wanted to work in PR and after writing to 50 agencies, I got a job as a junior account executive working at a small, B2B agency called David Crewe Associates working mainly on stationery and property clients.
What was your first job in PR? How did you get that role?
When I graduated, I went back to David Crewe Associates as an account executive where I spent another two years. It was back in the day when starting at the bottom meant just that. It was a great training ground in learning the core skills of writing, managing clients as well as seeing how a small business is run.
I found that I loved doing corporate PR for consumer brands
How did you get from there to your current role?
I decided that I wanted to work in a large agency and secured a role as a senior account executive working at Paragon Communications which was a 100-person agency and was the most award winning agency in the UK at the time. We had a groaning trophy cabinet in reception and it was *the* place in the industry to work. I spent three years there working my way up to account director and was fortunate enough to work on the team that launched Orange into the UK market. This is where I found that I loved doing corporate PR for consumer brands. From there I stuck with large agency and have worked for Biss Lancaster, Hill & Knowlton, where I went onto the UK board at just 31 years old, Fleishman Hillard, Grayling and Weber Shandwick. For six years, while my children were babies, I worked as an interim consultant which was a great way to maintain my career while giving me the freedom to work flexibly.
My new role is far more satisfying
What do you do on a day-to-day basis?
Since moving in-house last autumn, my day-to-day work has changed enormously and I work closely with our Executive team advising them on communications and PR. Working as an MD in a global agency running a large P&L, your role is primarily financially-driven.You basicallyFundamentally, you run a spreadsheet, network and do new business pitches. Occasionally you might get to do some client work or consultancy. My new role is far more satisfying.
What do you like most about working in PR?
The variety and unpredictability. I like the fact that you never know what’s going to happen that day. You might have meetings scheduled but one phone call can change the course of the day, especially if you work in issues and incident management.
the hours can be relentless
What’s the hardest thing about working in PR?
To get on in PR you need to work hard and the hours can be relentless. It’s not for the faint hearted. You’ve got to love it to do it. I was chatting to an agency CEO a few years ago who said, it’ not one of those careers where you reach a senior level and can kick back and work less hours, in fact the reverse is often true. That can take its toll both physically and mentally.
Who is your PR inspiration?
I’ve been fortunate to work for some fantastic people during my career and the people who have inspired me include, Flic Howard-Allen, Head of External Affairs, Associated British Foods plc; Sally Costerton, former CEO & Chairman EMEA, Hill & Knowlton; Alison Clarke, former CEO, Grayling UK & Ireland; Scott Clark, Group CEO SO What Global; and Lord Chadlington.
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever been given ?
Under-promise and over-deliver. Also, you can’t go wrong with Lord Chadlington’s 12 rules for running a PR agency.
Emma Barnett is one of my favourite journalists
Which PR blogs/newsites/websites etc do you read?
I read really widely and get all my news and information via newsfeeds on Twitter. I read a lot of US media like Forbes, Fortune, The New York Times and New York Magazine. I also read @TeleWonderWomen and Emma Barnett, a speaker at a Women in PR lunch last year, is one of my favourite journalists. BBC Radio 4 is my favourite station. I’m addicted and have it on from dawn to dusk when I work from home or at the week-ends. I love how eclectic it is and you always learn something new. The blogs I read are ReputationXchange, Stephen Waddington, Mike Love, Mark Ragan’s @PRDaily and Louisa Symington Mills’ @Citymothers column. My guilty pleasure is @iworkinpr.
What are your tips for aspiring PRs?
Work hard; read widely; arrive in the office knowing the day’s news agenda; be inquisitive and ask lots of questions; say yes (with a smile); be proactive and don’t wait for opportunities to come to you; network; always remember this is a very privileged career compared to the mundane jobs that a lot of people have to do; if you don’t love it, leave; and work hard.