Tell us about your experience to date and your backgroundd
I was a journalist for 25 years before moving into PR and worked at a senior level on national newspapers.
I began as a news reporter on the Daily Mail in 1991, having spent a couple of years on regional newspapers, and did a wide variety of editing roles at the Mail, including Executive News Editor, Foreign Editor, Sports Editor (my favourite job in journalism!) and Editor of the Scottish Daily Mail. I was also Editor of Metro, which is owned by the Daily Mail but is a newspaper with a very different journalistic approach.
In 2008, I moved to the Telegraph and was Deputy Editor of the Sunday Telegraph for four years before becoming Business Editor of the Telegraph. In 2014, I joined The PHA Group.
What was it about The PHA Group that enticed you over other agencies?
I knew the chairman, Phil Hall, whom I’d come across during my time at the Mail and the Telegraph so was aware of The PHA Group and always liked the way Phil operated. Being a former editor himself, he understood how to work with journalists, whether he was trying to place a story on behalf of a client or to protect a client’s reputation by softening a story that he knew was going to be published.
When I decided to move into PR myself, I was attracted by the variety of agency’s work; I liked the wide mix of clients, which I knew would make the work interesting. I also loved the positive culture: collaborative and collegiate with no office politics.
What do you find most compelling about the clients you work with?
I am lucky to have worked with a range of clients across very diverse sectors, whether it’s super yacht charter, the art market or sport, and the great thing about agency life is that you are always learning new things. But, whatever the sector, what I always find compelling is a founder or leader who can create and grow a successful business, build and inspire a team, or lead innovation.
I am also impressed by the tenacity and commitment of the best leaders. For example, one of my clients is Crystal Palace and the chairman Steve Parish, who has been at the helm for ten years and saved the Club from the brink of liquidation, is involved in every aspect of the Club; his attention to detail is remarkable and he works 24/7 in an unforgiving role.
If you had to choose two of your favourite projects you’ve worked on during your time at The PHA Group, which ones would they be?
I love Test cricket so working with Surrey County Cricket Club on a campaign to celebrate the 100th Test match at The Oval in 2017 was a real treat. The campaign celebrated the rich sporting history of the Oval – we secured a wonderful feature in The Sunday Times magazine, full of archive photos and personal memories – but also encapsulated the Club’s future ambitions and strong business success story.
Another memorable project was writing a research report for SSAFA, the armed forces charity, about the plight of younger veterans. It is such an important subject because too many men and women who served their country in recent conflicts have struggled to adjust to civilian life, sometimes with disastrous consequences. Our report shone a spotlight on this and one of our recommendations, a mentoring scheme available to all service leaders when they are discharged, was adopted by the MoD, with SSAFA being asked to lead a pilot scheme. It’s satisfying when PR can also achieve real change.
How do you measure your PR impact for clients?
Measurement is becoming increasingly sophisticated and we want to ensure we are market leaders in our approach. The key is to work collaboratively with each client because one size does not fit all. Also, we offer a variety of KPIs for each client. Some want to prioritize measuring the media coverage we secure in an agreed list of media outlets which reach their target audiences. For others, we use Google analytics to analyze the impact of specific pieces of coverage in driving traffic and customer referrals.
In some cases, clients want to extend their network of influence with journalists or relevant public bodies, or to raise their share of voice online. We offer a mix of approaches that correspond to the key objectives we set at the outset of a campaign.
How does working at The PHA Group differ to other agencies?
I can’t directly compare The PHA Group to other agencies because it’s the only agency where I’ve worked! But I can confidently say that I wouldn’t have stayed here for the past five years if it hadn’t been such a terrific place to work.
We have a very entrepreneurial culture; we’re constantly looking to grow the business and find new opportunities and that ethos permeates the whole agency from top to bottom. We have a very positive, can-do culture, which I like; we are down-to-earth and results-driven. There’s a good work-life balance; we work hard and do what it takes to get the job done, but there’s not the same presenteeism culture that I sometimes encountered in journalism.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
When I am working with a client in a high-profile situation, perhaps under close media scrutiny and personal pressure, and I feel I can use my experience to advise them and help them navigate it then that can be very satisfying.
Having been a journalist for so many years, I can often anticipate the way a story will be reported and play out in the media. Being in the eye of a media storm is never easy and it is satisfying when you feel that strategic counsel borne of personal experience has made a difference.
The other rewarding aspect of the job is developing younger members of the team. I have been lucky enough to work with some wonderful colleagues over the last five years and seeing them grow in the job and become highly accomplished professionals has been a great pleasure.