Did you go to university?
I was fortunate to work for the BBC local radio in Devon all through my sixth form. I got a place to read English at Exeter and Bristol universities, but I also got a job in London working for the BBC, so I decided to take that and spend a year at the BBC. Some 11 years later, I was a BBC TV director, living in Manchester. I eventually went to the University of the West of England many years later to do a Post Graduate Diploma in Management. I have been thinking about doing a PhD for some time now.
What was your first job in PR?
It was PR Manager for Christian Aid, the development agency. I applied for the role through the Guardian newspaper – there used to be a substantial jobs section published on a Monday. It was always a must buy for anyone looking for a role in Marketing or PR. I had become quite involved in the Jubilee 2000 campaign, which was run by Christian Aid – it went on to become Drop the Debt fronted by Bono and others. It was a very exciting time to join international development. The interviews were really tough, but I was hugely fortunate to have a brilliant boss, Cheryl Campbell, who had come from TV too, so she understood what I could bring to the organization.
I was fortunate to work with some outstanding clinical and managerial colleagues
How did you get from there to your current role?
By working very hard, never taking no for an answer and having a lot of determination. I left Christian Aid after two years and joined a regional charity working between Bristol and North Devon, then I knew I needed some commercial experience, so I joined FirstGroup plc the transport provider and spent five years working for bus and train operating companies. I loved it and learnt a huge amount. 2008 I joined the NHS in Bristol, where I stayed for five years. It was a very tough job, but I was fortunate to work with some outstanding clinical and managerial colleagues. I also had the opportunity to chair a number of national initiatives, which was fascinating.
Why did you leave the NHS and decide to start your own agency?
I loved my job, but five years is a long time to work on very high profile, often very emotionally upsetting issues. I thought I would take some time out and think about what I wanted to do next. But before I had left the building, I had three pieces of work. Pinch Point Communications has just celebrated three years of business, I love working with my team and we have had a great variety of clients.
What do you do on a day-to-day basis?
I don’t work on a Friday, I spend that day with my daughter, who was born in October 2014. I talk to our clients; I get to do a lot of writing, often responding to pitches and tenders; meet with business colleagues; follow up new leads and manage the finances. We work as a virtual team, so once a quarter we meet up for a whole day and review our progress. I also do a lot of public speaking, so I’m working on a speech for International Women’s Day at the moment.
I am also a Non-Executive Director for the Health and Safety Executive, which takes up about three to four days a month.
And I am, for 2016, the Immediate Past President for the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, which means I am a board director and continue to champion the issue of gender pay and support members. It’s a voluntary role and one I am very privileged to hold.
working with those people who work for an organisation, leading staff engagement work is so hugely satisfying
What do you like most about working in PR?
The huge variety and the opportunity to achieve change. I think there are two key things for me thought, the first is when we are working with an organisation and we win over the confidence of a board of directors, that enables us to talk through with them the different approaches they might take to decisions and the impact of those – to then see an organisation take a decision based on not only doing the right thing, but being seen to do the right things; by their staff, patients/customers – that is so satisfying. And the second is working with those people who work for an organisation, leading staff engagement work is so hugely satisfying – getting a board or senior management team to listen and change their approach. That is just so rewarding.
What’s the hardest thing about working in PR?
The hardest thing for me has been dealing with operational crisis. At FirstGroup plc a bus driver we employed murdered a passenger. And at the NHS things didn’t always work out well. But as the most senior PR professional, my job was to support the organisation, including those individuals involved, and work to make sure everyone understood the truth. There is only one source of the truth and I know in a small way I have helped organisations be more confident in telling it.
Who is your PR inspiration?
That’s a hard question. Recently I have been thinking a lot of my great friend Kate Nicholas, Chief Communications Officer for World Vision who moved from being editor of PR Week into PR many years ago. She has fought a very courageous battel with cancer and is currently on her first solo trip to the US, post cancer. She’s incredibly inspirational.
And Professor Anne Gregory has done more, I believe, to enable organisations and Chief Executives and Chairmen in particular, to understand the value of professional communications and PR than anyone else.
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever been given?
Work hard, and you will do it.
Get some experience, anywhere
What are your tips for aspiring PRs?
– Build a very strong network.
– Be nice and kind, remember to say please and thank you.
– Read, listen, attend different things – go to the Opera, or listen to Radio 4; keep expanding your mind and open your eyes and ears to new things.
– Get some experience, anywhere – school radio, hospital radio, edit a blog, ask to guest blog – just volunteer and get involved.
– PR people love to talk, they love to share and they love to help – so ask for advice, insights and help, no one has ever said no to me when I have asked.
– Never, ever let anyone tell you that you’re too young, too old, over qualified, for something. Ask for honest feedback, not excuses.
– Your gender, marital status, skin colour, sexual orientation has nothing to do with your ability to succeed. If anyone tells you it has, they are committing an offence. Go and work somewhere else. And tell someone about it. PR needs greater diversity and it’s only by calling out the bullies and standing up to them that we will get there.