NE Comms conversation #8 “Last had a night’s sleep in 2005”

Stuart Mackintosh spent nine years in journalism, including a spell as Chief Reporter at The Northern Echo, before moving into communications in 2006.

He has had two spells in North-East local government comms – either side of two years as a consultant – and is a former winner of the CIPR North-East Outstanding Young Communicator award.

Stuart is currently Communications Manager at pensions administrator RPMI, in Darlington

I’ve admired his work (and excellent blogging) for a long time and now he has his say on the North East comms scene….

Are you optimistic about the future?
In my current role, yes – we now have access to unprecedented amounts of data and this, allied with new comms channels, is allowing for the creation of some really exciting personalised campaigns. In the public sector, I sincerely hope some brilliant, hard-working comms folks are given their rightful place at the top table and seen as integral to shaping new-look public services – rather than being first in line when the budget axe swings.

What made you get into the PR/comms business?
It was a logical step after nine years as a journalist – I’d always been intrigued by what I perceived back then to be some sort of dark arts.

How have things changed in the last 5 years?
When I returned to local government in 2010, there was still an alarming focus on knocking out endless press releases and no worthwhile measurement of comms activity. That attitude has thankfully changed in tune with the comms landscape, which now provides the social channels for genuine community engagement and conversation. Public spending cuts have also shaken things up – there’s a need to get creative on with ever-decreasing budgets and tell some tough stories about the impact these will have.

What single bit of advice would you give graduates just entering the business?
As an ex-journo, it’s probably no surprise that I’d say develop the strongest possible editorial/content skills you can. You’ll need these across so many aspects of your work every day, be it preparing news releases, drafting keynote speeches, writing the chief executive’s Intranet blog, updating social media channels, pitching for new work, etc.  

What are the key traits people in PR need to succeed?
Depends upon the role and environment you’re in, but if I had to choose one it’d be having an empathy with your audience. What do they want? What are their needs, their circumstances? See things through their eyes and be prepared to constructively challenge the “comms expert” grey suits who only want you to push out the message they’re convinced is right.

For you, what’s the real benefit of good PR/comms?
Sounds cheesy, but it is about making a difference. Take local government comms as an example – one day your work with Trading Standards could be saving people from falling victim to a nasty scam; the next you could be running a public health campaign that inspires people to quit smoking for the good of themselves and their families, or supporting a tourism drive to boost the local economy. It’s all rewarding stuff.

What advice would you give the younger you?
Develop as broad a range of comms skills as possible; be smarter at horizon-scanning and embracing new things; get some proper industry qualifications to back up your experience on the shop floor.

What worries you about the industry?
We can still be pretty woeful at proving our worth and demonstrating how effective comms is intrinsically linked to wider business objectives. Even today, the useless ‘advertising value equivalent’ continues to bandied about as an acceptable form of measurement.

What’s the best thing about living/working in the North East?
Living here – it’s just the best part of the country by a mile, innit?

Work-wise, not only do some of the UK’s finest comms operators ply their trade here, they form an extremely knowledgeable and friendly network, both in person and online, and are always willing to offer advice. No doubt, many of them will be contributing to this series. Seek them out on Twitter and LinkedIn, connect with them, read their blogs, get along to industry events and don’t be shy about getting in touch.

Who will play you when they get round to making the biopic of your life?
I’d say Brad Pitt due to the striking resemblance, but according to my wife it’s “that one from Emmerdale. Y’know, the one who died. You looked like him when you used to have hair”.

What’s your favourite film?
The Insider.

What keeps you up at night?
Three children – last had a night’s sleep circa 2005.

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