I was slightly amazed this year to discover that I have been in the marketing and PR world for 25 years. Maybe because in my head I’m still about 32, so that would be tricky!
I joined this world in 1996, a couple of years out of university. I started with a job as an administrator in a corporate press office in Solihull, just outside Birmingham. The business I joined was a global manufacturer, making automotive braking and electrical systems and aerospace systems. I didn’t know anything about PR, in fact I got the job because the team needed an admin expert, rather than a PR wannabe. I also wanted to buy a house, and the job in PR paid £6k more than the one I was offered for a similar role in HR.
That first job didn’t last very long. The business merged with an American corporation and soon the UK head office, including the communications team, was moving to London. I took a surprisingly good redundancy package and moved on. But in those few months I learnt a lot, about working in an office, about the world of the corporate communicator and about the importance of the share price in a listed company. I learnt nothing at all about automotive systems!
Fast forward to today and my working life looks a lot different. I’m an independent consultant. A one woman band. A sole trader. Definitely not a mumpreneur! There are no corporate offices, no commuting or suits, no checking the share price. It’s me, a laptop and a million digital tools. This isn’t where I was planning to be in 1996. I was probably hoping to be higher up in a communications team somewhere else in the corporate world. I had very little imagination then! In the last quarter of a century I’ve stepped off the traditional career ladder and created the work that works for me.
What have I learned in 25 years in PR and Marketing?
To do a good job I need to “get” the business
Those organisations and clients where I thrive are those that make a difference. Maybe they are a purpose driven publicly funded organisation, or maybe they are a small business with heart and passion. Either way, I need to connect with the business to feel like I am doing the right job. How else can I ensure that the marketing activities I plan and deliver support the overall business?
In that first job in PR back in the 1990s I never went to see the factories. I didn’t get the business at all. But I’ve since then I’ve worked with paramedics, social workers, social housing officers and small business owners giving great service. I get those businesses and they get the best of me.
You learn from everyone – the good and the bad
Working in PR and marketing you often get to work with very senior people very early in your career. In my twenties I worked with Chief Executives, government ministers, journalists, civil servants and colleagues in a series of high-pressure industries. The next 2 decades have given me access to local politicians, business owners and clients in public and private sectors. I saw what great leadership looked like – humble, accessible, patient and decisive. And I saw what poor leadership looked like. And I watched and learned from both.
Tools are just tools, strategy is king
This is a regular conversation that comes up, particularly in the sphere of social media. Why would you pay a professional rate to manage your marketing when you can get a school leaver who knows about TikTok to do it for you? And the answer to that is, if your school leaver is versed in marketing strategy, can accurately identify your target audience, link your social media to your wider marketing efforts and knows what to do when your industry is having a REALLY bad day – then they are a remarkable person and you need to pay them a lot more. The right marketing strategy needs a detailed understanding how your business works. That needs experience.
Lying to journalists is sometimes ok
This is probably raising lots of red flags to some people. But speculating about the (really obvious) cause of the fatal rail accident and denying knowledge of my Chief Executive’s (very rare) holiday destination with a financial crisis looming are the two occasions I have lied to members of the press. While I totally believe in transparency in communications, sometimes the issue is much bigger than you.
Always be learning
Sometimes learning looks like a four year qualification (hello Open University MBA!) or a six month live learning course (and hello to Digital Mums). Sometimes it looks like a webinar listening to an industry expert. Sometimes it’s reading a book about mindset. Maybe you need an industry leading cpd framework, such as that of the CIPR. Or maybe you don’t need this structure, but you are happy to find time in your week. But whatever your industry, the world moves fast and you need to keep up!
Find your tribe – and your coach
This is my rule for life, never mind for work. Whatever stage of your career you are at, there are huge benefits from finding others in the same position, or slightly ahead of you. You need people to provide inspiration, energy, ideas and a safe space to have a wobble. For me this support has included the CIPR, a number networking groups and a fab digital marketing collective. And I’ve worked with a succession of coaches – different people at different stages. Wherever you are there’s a coach for you. Independent working needs mental toughness and you sometimes need help to be match fit.
It will all be ok
In 25 years I’ve taken two big leaps to become self-employed. I’ve been made redundant twice and got divorced once. I lived through a global pandemic. I’ve steered my clients through some very rocky days. I managed communications programmes that reach thousands and helped small business owners connect with one important new client. I’ve chased some very big public sector organisations for money and I’ve weathered public bad mouthing by stakeholders. I’ve launched a podcast, started to write a book and brought up two kids. And I’m smiling, most of the time. Being successful as an independent consultant is about keeping going.
Here’s to the next 25 years…