NE Comms conversation #22 “Honesty really is the best policy, kids”


This week digital copywriter Mark Grainger takes to the stage to have his say in the NE Comms conversation.

I don’t know Mark personally, but we’ve chatted a bit on Twitter and he always has something interesting to say.

Hopefully he brings a new and different perspective to the blog, and hey, he dismissively uses the term “social warlock” and casually references Ghostbusters so he’s okay by me.

What made you get into the PR/comms business?
If we’re being perfectly honest I wound up in comms because I couldn’t get a job in journalism in the North East. I reasoned that I had transferable skills and that if I couldn’t tell people what I think for a living I could at least help others get their message across. I’m somewhat altruistic like that.

Are you optimistic about the future?
I’m starting to be. I graduated at a particularly rotten time (twice as it happens) but the scene in the North East finally seems to be recovering from financial disaster. Not only are the agencies hiring and expanding again but people are moving around that bit more. There’s also a whole ton of exciting companies popping up that present different opportunities so it’s hard not to be optimistic (or at least not quite as pessimistic) about the future.

What single bit of advice would you give graduates just entering the business?
Be careful what you say you can do. Running a Facebook account and a parody twitter account is not the same as being a ‘social warlock’ or whatever the cool/cringey thing to call it is. It’s better to present yourself as being able and willing to learn from a strong grounding rather than an expert and then you’re less likely to get caught with your digital pants around your hypothetical ankles. Honesty really is the best policy, kids.

Are disciplines like PR, marketing and advertising becoming the same thing?
I think there are still notable differences in terms of skill sets and important abilities. That being said, more and more people seem to want to combine as many different disciplines under one banner as possible. It’s happening on both sides of the divide too from what I can tell; the client wants to streamline their outgoings and the agencies want to be the one who can provide as many services, and be as valuable, as possible. It shouldn’t be a problem as long as people are still hired to fulfill specialist roles and aren’t expected to hop disciplines too much. Nobody needs a jack of all trades and master of none type.

What are the key traits people in PR need to succeed?
I think PR is inherently dominated by two types of people; those who are fantastic organisers with people skills and those who are more creatively focused. Essentially being either logistically or imaginatively minded are the two things that will really make you stand out. Personally I think the strongest trait across either of those types is to be able to find the right angle, whether it’s for a campaign or just a press release. If you can make the client stand out then you’ll be getting work from them for a long time.

For you, what’s the real benefit of good PR/comms?
To be able to take a step back from the corporate ideas and angles and find something new to sell the business/product. To find new ways of reaching publics and pleasing stakeholders and to push new and engaging channels.

What advice would you give the younger you?
I’d tell myself to do an MA degree sooner. I took 18 months out of education between finishing an undergrad degree in Journalism and starting my Master’s in PR and, whilst I saved some money up, I wish I’d gotten started on my career proper earlier. That being said, going into an industry like PR slightly later meant that I was less daunted and a little more robust than I might have been otherwise. I guess my real advice would be to believe in myself more, not to worry so much about ‘breaking in’ to the industry, and to just keep plugging on.

What worries you about the industry?
That we’re amalgamating too much and not appreciating unique skills as much as we should. It’s detrimental all round in the long run.

What ‘s the best thing about living/working in the North East?
That Newcastle is big enough to have a load of cultural events on at any time whilst the coast is calm enough for the whole area not to feel like a pressure cooker. Plus we have Colman’s Fish & Chips and, the Sage and some top quality bars. Do you need anything else?

What are the key issues facing the North East right now?
One of the big ones is always going to be that the talent runs off to London instead of sticking around but then it sometimes depends on the type of work you want to do. We also need to be constantly vigilant about letting anybody deprive us of her burgeoning cultural scene. There’s a lot of fantastic things happening in Newcastle and the North East and we need to be sure to shout about them more often. There’s more to a place than football clubs after all.

What do you see as the next big thing?
Me, when I get a novel written and published. That or some sort of advancement in wearable tech that doesn’t make the wearer look like an insufferable bell.

What’s your favourite film?
Traditionally it’s Ghostbusters but I spend a lot of my time thinking about Spike Jonze’s ‘Her’ at the moment. Bustin’ makes me feel good, but apparently beautifully crafted, unconventionally romantic science-fiction films do too.

Who will play you when they get round to making the biopic of your life?
Unfortunately the studio’s options will probably be limited thanks to my uniquely unmanageable hair. For that reason I’d have to go for either Michael Cera or Jesse Eisenberg. I’d prefer Cera though, as I can dress as Scott Pilgrim for Halloween in return.

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