NE Comms conversation #16 “I’d do my own stunts”


Last year I curated a series of blogs by a bunch of talented comms people from across the North East.

The response was so positive that I’m back again with a host of blogs from some of the most talented PR people from across the region. Last year the results were funny, insightful and interesting but most of all excellent learning material for anyone working in the profession.

First out of the trap this time it’s the dangerously tall Andrew Ward laying down some knowledge – for free. So, here we go with the 2015 volume of the NE Comms conversation.

What made you get into the PR/comms business?

After a few years in journalism in local papers I realised I wanted a career where I was trying to stress the positives rather than the negatives! I foolishly believed I could make more money and maybe have three hour lunches. I was hopelessly wrong.

How have things changed in the last 5 years?

Everyone says it but the revolution in social media has changed everything. From a council perspective communication to residents used to be largely one-way. Now people are letting you know what they think of your decisions instantly. Deciding how to deal with this level of interaction is something that was barely on the radar five years ago.

Are you optimistic about the future?

Absolutely. It might mean learning new skills and exploring new ways of communicating with people but we’re at the forefront of this, leading others into battle. I’m hoping in ten years we’ll be able to get our messages across via mind control or miniature robotic spiders which get into people’s ears and whisper key messages at them while they sleep.

What single bit of advice would you give graduates just entering the business?

Make sure you can write. We might be in a digital age but you still need to be able to string words together – whether it’s a news release, blog or an email to the chief executive. If you can’t spell or use grammar correctly you’ll never create a good impression.

What are the key traits people in PR need to succeed?

Enthusiasm, ability to speak to people with some degree of confidence at all levels. Ability to question and challenge in a polite way. On the flip side being able to listen – sometimes we have to do what our clients/bosses are telling us to do even if it’s not how we’d suggest doing it! Knowing how to write (yes banging on about that again).

A basic knowledge of tea and coffee making is also desirable, as is a sense of humour and not taking yourself too seriously.

For you, what’s the real benefit of good PR/comms?

There are several benefits. Playing a small (or even large) part in the smooth running of an organisation and making people understand why decisions were taken. Hopefully good comms can even teach people something useful that can help them – whether it’s using our website to save time paying a bill or  highlighting something to do at the weekend they weren’t aware of.

What advice would you give the younger you?

It’s not rocket science! There can be a tendency to over-complicate things with strategies, planners, pie charts, outcomes. Yes they have their place but ultimately think about what’s needed, what are you/the client/organisation trying to achieve. As one of my former colleagues used to say when in times of stress – “No-one ever died because you didn’t issue a news release”. This may be more luck than judgement though.

What worries you about the industry?

There is still the belief in some quarters that “anyone can do PR” and all it involves is sending out a news release and the job’s done. There’s been some fantastic work done in promoting PR and the benefits it brings but not everyone is ‘on message’ yet.

What ‘s the best thing about living/working in the North East?

Where do you stop? Fantastic cities, towns, countryside and seaside. Strangers speak to you. And in the world of PR, it seems quite a close-knit community and everyone knows each other or are at least the friend of a friend. It makes working between organisations a lot easier when you know who you’re dealing with.

What are the key issues facing the North East right now?

I think there will be increased pressure on government to devolve more power to the regions. There’s still a sense of the region being an outpost compared to the rest of England and when the ‘north’ is referred to nationally it tends to mean Manchester or at a push Leeds.

What keeps you up at night?

A newborn child who comes alive around 10pm and enjoys regular meals at 2am and 5am. That occasional noise from the loft my wife tries to convince me is “someone up there”.

What’s your favourite film?

Goodfellas. The story of a young impoverished boy becoming a ‘major player’ and earning millions strikes a chord with me – in no way whatsoever.

Who will play you when they get round to making the biopic of your life?

I imagine Danny De’Vito for the obvious physical similarities. I’d do my own stunts.

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