NE Comms conversation #4 “austerity has seen PR come into its own”

Gill Stephenson has probably one of the biggest Government comms jobs in the region.

She has a huge remit as head of communications at the Marine Management Organisation and an impressive background in sports marketing with Sunderland Football Club (booooo) and Newcastle Falcons (yay).

When Gill agreed to take part I knew this would be a good one and I wasn’t disappointed. Here, she offers her views, ideas and tips on all things PR and communications.

What are the key traits people in PR need to succeed?
I have met some amazing PR people and the three things they always have in common are fairness of thinking, the ability to challenge and a sense of humour!

What made you get into the PR/comms business?
I was working for a helpline counselling 13-21 year olds. Promoting the service came naturally to me so I carved a role out for myself marketing the business.

How have things changed in the last 5 years?
The last 5 years have been exciting! Social media has been a game changer, changing how we operate and giving us new opportunities in the ways we engage with people.

Are you optimistic about the future?
Yes. I like that people can share their views and build circles and networks at the click of a button. Organisations must be accountable for their actions and that can only be a positive thing.

What single bit of advice would you give graduates just entering the business?
Communications is a discipline and a specialist skill, just like being a lawyer or a financier. Be wary of employers that think otherwise and be proud of your profession.

Are disciplines like PR, marketing and advertising becoming the same thing?
They all have their place in business but I view them as different things. In my experience it is the skills practitioners need that are becoming more uniform, not the disciplines.

Is the industry becoming more or less fragmented?
I don’t like to describe it as fragmented. I think we are becoming more agile and flexible in our areas of experience because that’s what business requires, especially in times of austerity.

For you, what’s the real benefit of good PR/comms?
Austerity has really seen PR come into its own. Organisations are seeking credibility and it is PR practitioners charged with deploying accountable and transparent services. PR is becoming as vital as every other support service and it is good to see.

What advice would you give the younger you?
Learn how to write code!

What do you see as the most important issues in PR right now?
I’m leading a project for government to understand the levels of consistency in professional skills and capability. We must achieve a better level of consistency and work to the same code of conduct and I want my project to help govcomms towards that.

What worries you about the industry?
I am as guilty as others of being too busy to offer a work placement and help to home the next generation of practitioners. I want to see a more diverse workforce and as a leader I’m responsible for helping to bring through the next generation. The reputation of our industry depends on it.

What ‘s the best thing about living/working in the North East?
We have it all up here. We are a few miles from award winning beaches, beautiful countryside and brilliant nightlife. I’m often in London and every time I return I think how lucky I am to live here with the fresh air and friendly people.

What do you see as the next thing?
As a manager, I have the wellbeing of my team on my mind at the moment. How can I help them operate in this world of 24/7 communications and instant contact? I think resilience is a key factor for us to think about in the future.

Who will play you when they get round to making the biopic of your life?
Well Natalie Portman is one of my favourites but the poor soul will be in make up for hours everyday so I’ll give Jonah Hill the part and lend him my straighteners.

What’s your favourite film?
If you saw my DVD collection you’d know that’s too hard to answer. But I will say that Napoleon Dynamite, Dirty Dancing and Stand By Me are on my ‘most watched’ in Netflix.

What keeps you up at night?
My phone when I’m on call *sad face*

You can catch up with Gill on Twitter @stephensongill

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