Where are you based?
London (office in the city)
What job do you do?
I’m founder of Thought Leadership PR and I work with business leaders, entrepreneurs, academics and public figures to raise their personal profiles
How did you get into marketing/communications?
I was a journalist for 15 years, and an author of three books. I started my career in broadcast journalism (local radio then working my way up to be a producer at ITN), then I went freelance because I wanted to do more written journalism.
Over several years I wrote for all of the UK national newspapers and several magazines. I wrote features, opinion pieces, first person pieces, investigative reports all the time keeping my hand in broadcast news as a freelance producer for ITV News. In 2011 I got my first book deal (it was a dating memoir, but enough said about that!) and this really built my name as a journalist.
So why did I jump ship into comms?
I realised that despite a high media profile, I was never going to make any money from journalism. Sadly media budgets are being cut all the time. As for books – they bring great profile. I got to do talks at literary festivals, I got to be a commentator on places like Newsnight and Woman’s Hour. But publicity is only valuable if you have a business to promote. So I started to think that I should use my energy to get others into the media instead of myself.
I was always getting asked by friends, peers or random people at parties how they can get onto TV, or how they can get a book deal. I clocked that I had valuable knowledge that people wanted and perhaps I could monetise. I started by running a few courses on how to get into the media, and then on how to write memoir. I did odd bits of media consulting (basically telling businesses that their ideas for what is ‘news worthy’ is never going to work). Eventually I put all my knowledge and skills together and decided to do a full shift to PR. I worked briefly for an agency for 6 months but couldn’t help thinking I could do things better. The freelance journalist in me wanted to work for myself. So in January 2019 I set up Thought Leadership PR – my speciality being personal profile raising, because that’s what I had to do for myself as an author and journalist.
What are you most proud of in your career as a marketing/communications professional?
My ability to shape arguments, advice or concepts into something that will work for the media, or for a talk. In other words, to find the story in something.
Media relations is very much about lateral thinking. You have to grasp what your client’s expertise is, then look at the news agenda, and find how they link. Journalists an do this well because they do that for a living so I’m hugely grateful for the years of my life I spent doing this.
I can listen to a stream of consciousness from a client about an idea they have and can usually shape that quite easily into an op-ed, or a blog or an idea for a talk.
How has marketing/communications helped the organisations you’ve worked for?
I worked with a politician to raise his profile ahead of being nominated as a candidate for MEP. I secured several opinion pieces in the media and built his social media presence. It worked – he was selected to be an MEP in April and served until January 31st.
Another of my clients is a VC. Through years of investing in and nurturing tech startups he has devised his own formula for unlocking growth called Go To Market Fit. It is pure genius and he has written a book about it.
The theory and the level of detail deserves true recognition in the entrepreneurial world so my task was to drive thought leadership around the book. That involves coming up with several and significantly different ideas for ‘advice pieces’ in the media, setting up talks at conferences and finding creative ways to talk about it on social media. This I call ‘thought leadership’. Thought his thought leadership he has attracted more quality ‘deal flow’ (the pool of startups which may approach him to seek investment).
What challenges have you overcome on your professional journey to where you are today?
As a journalist I am guilty of presuming that all clients want any coverage at any cost. Journalists reach this conclusion because we are bombarded with pitches from PRs all the time, therefore we assume that all PRs’ clients are desperate for any media coverage. I learned the hard way, when I switched from journalism to PR that clients expect their PR to pick and choose the right publication for them and to give them analytics on audiences and which platforms is best for their customer profiles. This is the strategy side of comms, which I never learned by being a journalist. I got a sharp shock when clients turned their noses up at some of the coverage which I busted a gut to secure for them and then asked questions about analytics that I didn’t know the answer to!
Do you have any words of wisdom for someone starting out in the marketing/communications industry?
Absorb the media. Keep a list of different platforms you come across constantly! Not just the names of publications and what they cover, but what formats they use: Is there a regular interview slot, is there a platform for an op-ed, do they have a ‘product review’ section? Do the same for broadcast. When you watch or listen to a current affairs driven show pay attention to the PR opportunities. Do they use experts? Do they have debates? Do they review products.
Half the battle of pitching to the media is knowing how exactly the thing you are pitching would sit in a publication or programme.
If you’d like to be featured in the next ‘They do comms’ article, share your story with us here.