Uju Asika Babes About Town

Influencer Insight: Uju Asika, Babes About Town

While you and your babes might not be able to get out and about in town, Babes About Town London lifestyle blogger Uju Asika can help with ideas for what to do about the house (Big Fish Little Fish kitchen-based dance parties, anyone?).

Uju shares how she’s had to switch things up during both lockdowns this year, what her favourite things about London are and what she’s most looking forward to doing with her own children when the world opens back up again.

How did you get started with blogging about life in London?
I started blogging about London life after I had my two boys. As a new mum, I had wondered about what I could still do around town with a babe in tow. So, I decided to launch Babes About Town, curating cool ideas and experiences for parents in London and beyond. The goal was always to create ‘parent-friendly’ content, so rather than just focusing on baby groups, etc. I made a point of sharing restaurants, theatre, gigs, festivals and other activities that were fun for grownups, too.

Uju Asika

What’s your favourite thing to post about and why?
I’m an arts and culture nut and that was my background as a journalist before blogging. I love posting theatre reviews and film reviews and I enjoy roping my boys in to write their own reviews. They’re both seasoned critics now! We are a foodie family so I’m also a big fan of restaurant reviews, especially if it’s something I haven’t tried or even heard of before.

How did you change your approach and content during lockdown?
For the first lockdown, I made a temporary (and unofficial) ‘rebrand’ to Babes About The House, so I could cover more family activities at home. I spent more time researching what was actually open in London and where people could take their children out safely in this environment. Luckily, there was a ton of really cool stuff happening online, like Big Fish Little Fish kitchen raves for all the family. I’m always dancing in my kitchen anyway, so it gave me a perfect excuse!

Quick recommendations for things for Londoners to do during the pandemic?
Museums! Many of the museums were the first venues to reopen safely and you can have a really enjoyable, socially-distanced visit. Plus, most of them are better without crowds. If you prefer being outdoors, you could head to your nearest park or visit one of London’s many markets when everything is open again. I haven’t been yet but the new Chiswick Flower Market looks very inviting.

What makes London the best city in the world?
The people and the culture. It’s that mix of multicultural backgrounds, flavours and influences that makes London so vibrant. In the book Bringing Up Race: How to Raise a Kind Child in a Prejudiced World, I wrote a chapter inspired by raising kids in London. I talk about the challenges and dangers but also the joys of bringing up my boys in the coolest city on the planet.

What’s the most fun you’ve ever had in London?
That is a difficult question because I’ve had a LOT of fun in London. I mean, I started clubbing in town when I was just 13 (don’t tell the kids). I think the most fun times now are seeing my kids discover the magic of the city. I love stumbling across free events, like years ago in central London where there was a massive free circus festival in the streets. I’ll never forget the look of wonder on my boys’ faces.

What are you most looking forward to doing when the world opens back up again?
Sitting in a darkened theatre or cinema and not having a panic attack if somebody clears their throat.

How do you collaborate with brands, and which kind of brands do you really like working with?
I am very picky about collaborations and I prefer to work with brands whose ethos resonates with my content and audience. I’ve done everything from sponsored posts and social, to brand ambassadorships or branded video content. The more creative I’m allowed to be, the better.

For PRs looking to work with you and your blog/website, how would you prefer they approach you and with what kind of content?
They can get in touch via my Contact page on the blog, but please read my FAQs first. I am open to ideas but as stated earlier, I’m selective because I only do a handful of blog collaborations.

Which blogs do you regularly check out?
My homegirls Honest Mum, Your DIY Family, Fitness 4 Mamas and Mummy’s Little Monkey. For London blogs, I enjoy I Want You to Know and London On the Inside. And for travel, Oneika The Traveller is simply gorgeous.

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‘I wanted to change the world and I knew I couldn’t do it on my own’ – Lord Oates

Liberal Democrat peer Lord Oates has given an interview to Vuelio’s External Relations Manager Sam Webber to promote his newly released memoir ‘I Never Promised You A Rose Garden’. Jonny Oates previously served in Government from 2010 to 2015 as Chief of Staff to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

What first inspired you to leave the UK as a 15 year old and flea to Ethiopia in 1985 to assist in the humanitarian efforts there?

I saw the now famous BBC news bulletin which inspired Band Aid and Live Aid and it seemed so outrageously wrong that despite there being plenty of food in the world, hundreds of thousands were facing starvation. It ignited a passion to change the way the world worked that was fuelled by the anger and alienation I felt as a result of my sexuality and my struggles with mental ill-health. I felt that I had to do something about it and I made a plan to run away to Ethiopia. It might have just remained a teenage fantasy – I had no money to make it a reality – and then one day I was walking through my Dad’s study and he had a new credit card on the desk which he hadn’t signed. It felt like a sign that I was meant to go and that I no longer had an excuse not to. My dad shared the same initial as me, so I picked up the card, got my passport and went to Ethiopian airlines and bought a ticket. A few days later I got on a plane to Ethiopia. Once there I rapidly discovered that the demand for unskilled fifteen-year olds was non-existent and I got myself into a fairly desperate state, feeling I had burnt all my bridges at home. Luckily, I was rescued by an Anglican clergyman. Father Charles Sherlock whose wisdom and kindness saved my life.

How did it change your relationship with your parents after you returned home?

My Parents were amazingly forgiving, considering all the pain and worry I had caused them, and we retained a very close relationship.

How has this episode shaped your subsequent life and career? 

Father Charles told me that if I wanted to be of use in future I needed to go home and complete my education, but he also told me that the TV cameras would soon forget about Africa again and that I should not. I got involved in politics, joining the then Liberal party when I was seventeen, largely inspired by their commitment to international development. After my A-levels I went and taught in a rural school in Zimbabwe and subsequently I worked as an adviser in the first democratic parliament in post-apartheid South Africa. My experiences in Africa taught me that you don’t change the world by standing on your own but that you can change it by standing together with thousands of others and doggedly and determinedly campaigning for change. I was lucky enough to be working for the Deputy Prime Minister and sat behind him in the Cabinet meeting when it was announced that we had met the UN target of providing 0.7% of GNI in overseas development aid.

What inspired you to go to South Africa later in your professional life? 

I had visited South Africa while working in Zimbabwe, to try and see the father of one of the students I taught. South Africa was under a state of emergency and still governed by the white minority apartheid regime. I was horrified by what I saw there, and I left as rapidly as I could. Never imaging that less than six years later there would be free elections. When I got back to the UK after my year in Zimbabwe the first society I joined at university was the anti-apartheid society. In 1998 I had the opportunity to go and work as an advisor in the South African Parliament as part of a project run by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy. I was assigned to work with the Inkatha Freedom Party, the party led by Mangosuthu Buthelezi who was then the Minister of Home Affairs in the Government of National Unity, and I spent two fascinating years working in the Parliament in Cape Town and frequently visiting KwaZulu-Natal where the party had its main strength. My role was to help establish media and research functions in parliament and to support staff and MPs in media and parliamentary skills.

What first inspired you to join a political party?

I wanted to change the world and I knew I couldn’t do it on my own. The Liberal Party had been the first Party to support Britain making a commitment to provide a proportion of its wealth in overseas development aid and that was very important to me but it had also been the first party to publicly support gay rights and that willingness and courage to do the right thing even when to do so was derided made me think it was the party for me.

What was the most important aspect of your political career in local, national and international affairs? 

I loved being a local councillor and being able to help people deal with problems very directly. I remember the first casework I dealt with which was for a man who had lost his wife and had a son with learning difficulties and was finding life very hard. He had lost his job and was housed in terrible temporary accommodation and the council had got itself in a bureaucratic denial there was any problem. I managed to sort it out and get them placed in decent housing and the difference it made to them made me realise that helping people was much more rewarding than grandstanding in the Council chamber.

My time in Zimbabwe was a life changing experience for me. I found myself the deputy-head teacher of a secondary school that hadn’t yet been built but was about to enrol 130 first year students. I was living in a rural area with no electricity or running water and I was completely out of my depth but the kindness and friendship of the local community and their determination to secure education for their children was life affirming. It gave me a great love for the country, and I am still in touch with many of the students I taught more than thirty years ago.

South Africa also taught me much about the pervasive evil of racial division and dominance and the long legacy that it leaves and once again I found myself surrounded by inspirational people. I had the privilege of being in the public gallery in parliament when Nelson Mandela gave his last speech as President. It was an amazing moment to reflect on the extraordinary strength of the human spirit as evidenced by Mandela’s struggle for freedom, his courage and his humanity.

Which policy changes are you proudest of helping to deliver in the five years your party was in a Coalition Government?

I was immensely proud that it was a Liberal Democrat MP who passed through parliament the Act of Parliament that guaranteed that 0.7% of our national wealth would be committed to supporting the poorest people in the world, that we ensured that we radically changed schools funding so that the most disadvantaged children were given greater support through the pupil premium, that we gained recognition for the importance of mental health services in the NHS, establishing the first waiting time targets and that we secured equal civil rights for lesbian and gay people through the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act.

Which lessons were learned from this period in Government?

We got many things wrong. Most notably on tuition fees. We should not have made the promise to scrap them in the first place but having done so we should have kept it. The lesson being to only make promises you can realistically keep. While the deficit had to be cut, the balance between tax increases and spending cuts was out of kilter and we should have insisted on a better balance and a more realistic timetable. We also learnt how ruthless vested interests can be if they feel their power is threatened – we would be better prepared for that now. Finally, I think we failed to recognise how much power we had in the coalition and we should have deployed it more effectively.

Do you feel the 2015 Lib Dem result will put off the party and other smaller parties from joining a future coalition?

I hope not. I was always impressed by how realistic the party was about coalition, understanding the huge pitfalls but believing that politics is about achieving change and there is no point in being involved in politics if you are not prepared to come off the sidelines and get stuck in. Having said that there are many things we learnt from the coalition and I am sure we would apply them to secure a better outcome from a future coalition.

I Never Promised You A Rose Garden‘ is published by Biteback Publishing

Top Influencers 2020

Top Influencers of 2020

Get to know this year’s winners of the Online Influence Awards, who joined us for an online ceremony from their living rooms across the UK in bow ties, ball gowns and pyjamas for what we wanted to be our most accessible awards yet.

If you missed the big night on Friday 20 November, read on to find out more about the winners and what makes them so influential among their audiences, peers and, not least, this year’s Online Influence Awards judging panel.

Best influencers by sector

London Theatre Reviews

Arts & Entertainment – London Theatre Reviews
As the coronavirus pandemic has hit the arts industry hard, London Theatre Reviews has been hard at work supporting the theatre industry. This year’s Online Influence Awards judging panel loved the broad range of contributors writing for the blog, which shows a long-term commitment to making the arts accessible for everyone.

makeupbytammi

Beauty – makeupbytammi
For the best in beauty, the judges awarded makeupbytammi, loving the authenticity of her content (both in and out of makeup). A true expert in the field, Tammi has grown her brand to the point of having her own palette.

Stuart Thomson

Current Affairs – Stuart Thomson
When it comes to current affairs, Stuart Thomson was the pick in a crowded category for quality content. With his clear and concise style, Stuart keeps things practical and political-party-neutral, equipping his audience with the information they need on what’s happening around the world.

styleidealist

Fashion – styleidealist
Ideal in the judge’s eyes for fashion was styleidealist founder Karina, who shares engaging and accessible content readers are quick to relate to – with tips that are achievable for all and, very importantly, affordable, too.

Becky Excell

Food & Drink – Becky Excell
What turned out to be the most tempting morsel in this category was Becky Excell’s blog for the gluten and dairy free community (and others who just want something tasty, regardless of ingredients). What made our judges’ mouths water in particular was Becky’s focus and drive to build her own niche in the food and drinks sector.

Keep it simpElle

Health & Fitness – Keep it simpElle
Making fitness accessible for everyone is Elle at Keep it simpElle, who impressed the judges with her light-hearted tone and humour in a time where health can be serious business. Authenticity runs through every post from Elle, who even shares pictures of workouts from her living room (something we can all relate to this year, we’re sure).

Sophie Robinson

Interior Design – Sophie Robinson
For interiors, Sophie Robinson has taken her content outside of the box – sharing ideas across her blog, her podcast with Online Influence Awards Hall of Famer Kate Watson-Smyth from Mad About the House and her inspirational Instagram. What drew the judge’s eye for this year’s best in Interior Design – Sophie’s love of colour and her encouragement of bold design.

The Globetrotter Guys

LGBTQ+ – The Globetrotter Guys
The judges didn’t have to look far to find fantastic LGBTQ+ creators this year – The Globetrotter Guys have been keeping things positive despite the pandemic’s impact on the travel industry and share practical information on travelling when LGBTQ+.

Little Green Shed

Lifestyle – Little Green Shed
Little Green Shed’s Lou was our judges pick for the best in lifestyle influence, having ten years of experience of sharing consistently engaging content. Her clean style and dedication to her followers are particular pluses.

manversusbaby

Parenting – manversusbaby
Matt Coyne started manversusbaby as a Facebook post and is now a bestselling author and internet favourite – the judges’ verdict declared him ‘hilarious’, ‘funny’ and ‘provocative’.

Ronke Lawal

PR & Comms – Ronke Lawal
A public relations-focused platform that also attracts an audience outside of its sector is a special thing indeed, so Ronke Lawal was our judges pick for the winner in the PR & Comms category. Her focus on black-owned businesses and giving previously overlooked people a voice has been a real highlight of this year.

Brogan Abroad

Travel & Leisure – Brogan Abroad
Sustainable travel is what Teresa at Brogan Abroad is all about, and her passion for shopping locally and supporting smaller local businesses impressed our judges (as did her detailed awards entry).

Ethical Hour

Disruptor – Ethical Hour
And disrupting things in the best possible way is Ethical Hour, who beat out others in the hardest category being judged this year. Sharing how to live sustainably with clear advice and actions, Sian is helping her audience lead more ethical lives.

Plantastic Mr Fox

Newcomer – Plantastic Mr Fox
Stuart, also known as the Plantastic Mr Fox, planted himself on social media not that long ago and has already grown himself a healthy crop of followers looking for help with parenting their plants. The judges loved his name, creativity and tips.

Best in UK influence

Best Influence Campaign – Flourish Management – Topshop SNO
Soon able to flourish their award for Best Influence Campaign (which will be in the post shortly) is the team at Flourish Management who worked on the Topshop SNO project. The results of the campaign were impressive, as were the images shared by influencers working on it with them.

Best Cause-Led Influence Campaign – Zero Waste Scotland – Scotland is Stunning – Let’s Keep It That Way
Cross-party recognition (including the First Minister) was achieved by Zero Waste Scotland with its Scotland is Stunning – Let’s Keep It That Way campaign. With stunning imagery and a carefully-executed plan, the campaign also featured influencers including TikTok’s littlestchicken (no small feat).

Best UK Influencer – Ethical Hour
Sian at Ethical Hour also picked up (virtually, anyway) the award for Best UK Influencer, with content committed to a cause important for everyone.

Caroline Hirons

Hall of Fame – Caroline Hirons
The ‘most powerful woman in beauty’ joined the Online Influence Awards’ Hall of Fame this year, which is bound to please her global audience of self-described ‘Skincare Freaks’ – yes, we’re talking about Caroline Hirons, whose influence is undeniable. In a year where self-care became so important, Caroline’s recommendations have been closely followed by her fans, with products she likes selling-out across the world and her book Skincare shooting to the top of the charts. Thank you for helping to keep our skin clear and healthy, Caroline – and thank you to all of our winners for your creativity this year.

Sian Gaskell CubanEight

PR Interview: Sian Gaskell, managing director at CubanEight

CubanEight was founded back in 2009 when the big technology trends included an abundance of apps, book lovers switching over to e-readers and the rise of smartphones. As we increasingly rely on all things digital in 2020, CubanEight was recently recognised by Forrester as one of the top channel-focused firms in the world.

Managing director Sian Gaskell shares how lockdown sparked innovation, the importance of nurturing new talent and the resilience of the tech PR and comms sector.

What are you most proud of when it comes to CubanEight’s approach and aims?
I’m extremely proud of what we have achieved at CubanEight over the years. We are an agency that is committed to doing outstanding PR that makes a difference for our clients. We aren’t here to be the ‘yes’ people or for box ticking, but rather to strategically help businesses engage with their audiences and build their brands. Our approach has always been to develop and implement campaigns that really deliver on business objectives – whether that’s reaching new markets, attracting funding or selling more. I’m also immensely proud of the team at CubanEight; we have an incredibly talented, knowledgeable and expert team that are all on board with the agency’s vision.

Tell us a bit about your career so far and what led you to PR…
I’ve always been interested in technology and how it shapes how we live, work and play. My first taste of PR was as PR manager for Channel 4 Schools, then I really started to get immersed in the world of technology at various agencies and was a founding director at Hotwire for the first five years of its existence.

Having worked through the first dotcom boom and across the tech sectors since then, I have been involved in building globally recognised brands including TomTom, Zendeck, Outbrain and launching BlackBerry across Europe. I started CubanEight in 2009 and took my big agency experience and combined it with an agile and proactive approach of a boutique agency. Combining my knowledge for campaigns with my passion for tech, I knew from the start what clients were looking for with agencies.

You’ve worked in B2B, corporate and on global campaigns – what are the biggest challenges in each of these sectors?
In the world of B2B it’s about helping clients understand how valuable PR is when it comes to the buyer journey. The average B2B buyer reads 3-5 pieces of content before even contacting a vendor, so the results of a PR campaign can help to fill those gaps of knowledge. It is also about generating content that is going to resonate with the audiences you want to engage with and taking a customer-first approach. Start with understanding your customers’ pain points and then generating a campaign that speaks to those challenges. Also, be human: is good to remember that B2B buyers are still consumers.

When working with corporates one of the challenges can be their ability to be responsive and nimble. As a PR partner it is about establishing best way of working so that we can help the in-house comms teams deliver what they need – whether that is getting reactive comments signed off ASAP, or spending time with a CEO or spokesperson to understand what they want to say, so that we can be as self-sufficient when pitching or drafting up thought leadership.

Global campaigns require a lot of co-ordination and clearly communication is key. When you are working with multiple markets but want to ensure a synchronised approach, it’s critical that comms don’t get lost in translation. We always work closely with agency partners to find out what will and won’t work in their markets to ensure consistent results and impact. Also time zones can be interesting to manage when it comes to global news releases, so it’s about working collaboratively and finding solutions (which sometimes include slightly random embargo times).

How did lockdown change the way you work and how CubanEight serves its clients?
As an independent agency focused on technology, agility has always been an integral way of how we work. I’m not saying that it was business as usual, but we were able to quickly move to a remote working model as we were already set up to do that anyway. When the lockdown came, knowing that our team and technology enabled us to seamlessly keep delivering great work for clients with minimal disruption, was a positive in a trying time.

Responding to the changing needs of our clients’ business, we launched a new project offering – CubanEight Project +. This allows clients to outsource immediate needs to an expert, agile and responsive team that understands the pressures they are facing and can proactively deliver a solution. From copywriting to launch announcements, social media and strategic media relations, we have helped clients get the results they need in the short-term.

Do you think the PR industry can ever return to the way things were before the COVID-19 crisis?
Yes and no. I do think the way agencies operate will change for good. We were moving towards a virtual model before COVID-19, but the viability has been proved this year. We are all able to work remotely, and this is a good thing in terms of work life balance, and for client delivery and working as a team. We are recognising that we don’t need to be in the office every day 9- 5pm; this brings tremendous opportunity for building out the team – you don’t need to tick the box of location and can find the right people for the job regardless of where they are based. But also, we need to be mindful of working from home stresses and how we still foster team spirit and togetherness when we are apart. It’s a bit cliched for a communications agency to be saying so, but communication really is key.

At the core, good PR remains the same though – being that bridge between businesses and their audiences. The expert knowledge, understanding and methodology that existed before COVID will continue to be key and in fact communications has risen in importance during this time.

Which particular sectors do you see making the quickest recovery post-pandemic?
We have been fortunate that the technology sector has proved to be resilient – and has grown linked to the fact that it has been technology that has powered the working from home revolution that we are all a part of. E-commerce, customer experience tech and digital marketing are strong sectors – as more of us shop online and brands and retailers want to deliver ways to engage with us as customers. Those businesses that can get close to their customers and really understand their changing needs, are set to survive and thrive.

With so many journalists being furloughed, has contact with the media been harder over the last few months?
Like many businesses, journalists and publications had times where there are doing more with less. Many media outlets are grappling with team challenges – editorial teams have been scaled down, and many journalists are working in different locations and with different working patterns than usual. Journalists you could always count on may not have been as readily available or, if they are, their priorities may have changed.

Good news is still cutting it as a sign of positivity. We have worked on several UK market launches for clients from Denmark, Germany and the US, as well as pushing out news of tech innovations that are fit for purpose right now.

What we are finding is working well is content that is providing real value and insight. Many media outlets still want expert voices and comment from business leaders that share advice and best practice. And the same goes for data – one of our clients has been sharing their e-commerce data and trends weekly during these past months and has really helped to build their brand familiarity.

Different titles have folded, but at the same time others are being reinvented to meet the needs of this changed world that we are now living in. And others are holding on in there but changing how they accept content – some in badly hit sectors like retail have started to charge for inclusion.

The PR industry has a diversity problem – what can agencies do to create diverse teams and promote people from a variety of backgrounds into higher roles?
There has been an increased level of awareness of the issues of diversity in the industry recently but more work needs to be done across the board to tackle the problem. It’s important that we collectively work to continue to highlight and showcase a diverse range of people at all levels. A diverse range of people mean a greater range of voices, ideas and approaches, rather than an echo chamber.

As an agency you want to create an environment for people to succeed regardless of race, gender or ethnicity. It is also about promoting PR as a career at school age and widening that appeal across the board so that we have a diverse mix of people entering the industry. I do think and hope that a move toward flexible working may help some people at early stages of their careers, as the industry will not be so location specific and focused around traditionally expensive places to live. However, on the flip side of this, I think that supporting, mentoring and nurturing new talent is key, and this is something that we will collectively need to figure out as an industry as we build teams that are dispersed rather than centralised.

What have you enjoyed most about your career and what advice would you give to those considering working in the PR industry?
I am passionate about technology and love helping tell good stories, building narratives about how technology impacts and can empower the way we are living our daily lives or running our businesses. I love the innovation within the tech sector as well as the opportunities I have to work with amazing entrepreneurs and founders of businesses.

In terms of advice, learn your craft; read, listen, watch the media; become immersed in what you are doing but don’t forget the bigger picture and the trends that are impacting consumers and businesses. PR as a career can give you so many opportunities – collaborating with amazing clients, journalists and influencers; creative thinking; positive impact on how businesses are perceived; working across borders, and you also get to meet so many interesting and varied people along the way. Go for it!

Connecting with award winners

3 tips for connecting with 2020’s Online Influence Awards winners

Friday’s Online Influence Awards brought together the best of bloggers, vloggers, instagram campaigns, celeb Cameos and more. Here are three quick bits of advice for getting in touch with the best of the best when it comes to UK Food & Drink, Health & Fitness and Interior Design influencers…

1) Best Food & Drink Blogger – Becky Excell
‘I love collaborating with brands and using their products directly in my recipes – often it’ll help me to come up with new and exciting bakes that I’d never have even considered otherwise.

‘PRs can happily just contact me via the contact form on my website, which will land straight in my inbox.

‘The one caveat I have is that the product has to be gluten-free. I do get emails asking me to collab, then I find out that the product isn’t even gluten-free!
‘I’m passionate about food photography, but I love creating recipe tutorial videos over on my YouTube channel, too. So, either works for me!’

Read more from Becky Excell in our Blogger Spotlight.

2. Best Health & Fitness Blogger – Elle Linton, Keep it simpElle
‘I’ve found longer term collaborations to be much more enjoyable and real. After everything that has gone on in 2020, I’m even more careful about the brands I collaborate with – I’ve always taken a stand for diversity and that won’t change. If I work with a brand, I want to see that they are walking the walk.

‘Email is definitely the best option for getting in touch. And of course, I would expect the PR has done their homework and know enough about me to know if I’m a good fit for the brand. Content wise, I’m open to ideas. I, personally, enjoy creating content on my blog as it has more longevity, but I understand that social media is very popular right now. At the end of the day, I do like to create my own adventures and if a brand wants to come along for the journey, that’s a bonus.’

Read more from Elle Linton in our Blogger Spotlight on Keep it simpElle.

3. Best Interior Design Blogger: Sophie Robinson
‘Be really clear on your campaign objectives and pick a blogger who is in line with those brand ideals. I’ll never forget a PR asking if I’d like to be the face of a new trendy kitchen range they were launching. I said, ‘Sure send me over the images of the kitchen’. Well, it was grey. I thought… don’t you know who I am!’

Read more from Sophie Robinson in this Blogger Spotlight.

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Online Influence Awards 2020

Online Influence Awards 2020: The Winners

The winners of the Online Influence Awards 2020 were revealed tonight (Friday 20 November) in a virtual event celebrating talent across influencer marketing, blogging, vlogging, podcasting, Instagramming and communications.

We are delighted to reveal 2020’s winners in full:

Best influencers by sector
Arts & Entertainment – London Theatre Reviews
Beauty – makeupbytammi
Current Affairs – Stuart Thomson
Fashion – styleidealist (highly commended – Permanent Style)
Food & Drink – Becky Excell
Health & Fitness – Keep it simpElle
Interior Design – Sophie Robinson (highly commended – Lisa Dawson)
LGBTQ+ – The Globetrotter Guys
Lifestyle – Little Green Shed
Parenting – manversusbaby
PR & Comms – Ronke Lawal (highly commended – comms2point0)
Travel & Leisure – Brogan Abroad
Disruptor – Ethical Hour (highly commended – Maddie Moate)
Newcomer – Plantastic Mr Fox

Best in UK influence
Best Influence Campaign – Flourish Management – Topshop SNO (highly commended – The Lewis Foundation)
Best Cause-Led Influence Campaign – Zero Waste Scotland – Scotland is Stunning – Let’s Keep It That Way

Best UK Influencer
Ethical Hour

Hall of Fame
Caroline Hirons

Thank you to the thousands of entries in this year’s awards – 3,149 nominations in total! – as well as all the guests who joined us this evening.

And a huge congratulations to all of the winners – thank you for helping us all get through such a difficult year so far, and for making Friday such a special night.

We’re starting work on 2021 already – fingers crossed we’ll see everyone in person then!

How will you be affected by the Chancellor’s Comprehensive Spending Review?

Vuelio hosts a webinar to discuss Rishi Sunak’s Comprehensive Spending Review and its likely impact. Sign up here to listen to the event live on 26 November at 11am or to receive a recording afterwards.

With public debt levels soaring and billions to be paid as a result of nationwide lockdowns and job support schemes – how will next week’s Comprehensive Spending Review affect you?

Rishi Sunak will set out his recovery plan and is likely to honour commitments made in the March Budget, but savings have to be made across multiple departments. Which ones will be the winners and losers?

Join our webinar on 26 November at 11am to hear Navendu Mishra, Labour MP for Stockport; Ben Greenstone, founder and director at Taso Advisory; Faye Greaves, Head of Policy, Practice and Development at the Centre for Homelessness Impact and Sophie Robinson, External Affairs Officer at the Institute of Development Studies discuss what the Spending Review tells us about the Government’s intentions in 2021 and how it will affect policy engagement activities in the coming months.

Join us live to learn:

  • How previous spending commitments such as investment in infrastructure and International Aid are affected
  • How the Comprehensive Spending Review will affect policy development

Our panel has a wide range of policy and public affairs experience. Here is a short profile of each of our guest speakers:

Navendu Mishra was elected as the MP for Stockport at the 2019 General Election. Before entering politics, Navendu worked as a shop-floor trade unionist in Stockport, before becoming an organiser for UNISON. Since being elected, Navendu joined the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs, and is a member of several All-Party Parliamentary Groups, including Rail, Fairtrade, Woods & Trees, Cricket and Beer. In addition, he is a member of Unite and USDAW trade unions. Navendu is a member of the International Development Committee and the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee.

Sophie Robinson leads external affairs for the Institute of Development Studies, with expertise in public affairs and the UK policy landscape for international development and research. Over fifteen years she has worked in communications for the private and not-for-profit sectors, advising senior leadership teams on external influencing, policy engagement and media relations.

Ben Greenstone is the founder and director of Taso Advisory, a public policy consultancy with a particular expertise in digital and the creative industries. Prior to founding Taso Advisory, Ben served as a principal advisor to UK Government Ministers, including Matt Hancock, Margot James and Sajid Javid. While in Government, Ben’s advice centred on digital and the creative industries.At Taso Advisory, Ben works with businesses such as King, Pinewood, HSBC and Coadec.

Faye Greaves is Head of Policy, Practice and Development at the Centre for Homelessness Impact (CHI). She joined CHI from the Chartered Institute of Housing, where she led on homelessness work from 2016. Prior to that Faye worked in a local authority delivering front-line housing advice, support and services.

UK Black Comms Network event: One Step Forward Two Steps Black

Last night’s UK Black Comms Network One Step Forward Two Steps Black event revealed new research finding that almost half (48%) of Black professionals have never received an internal promotion.

Moderated by the network’s head of PR Addy Frederick, the panel discussing the research and what it means for the communications industry included Opinium Research’s Susan Bello, Black Woman in HR’s Adesse Okojie, Birchwood Knight’s Seri Davies and COLDR’s Kamiqua Pearce, founder and CEO of the UK Black Comms Network.

‘We saw lots of companies speak out against racism this year, relating to the murder of George Floyd,’ said Seri Davies when talking about the work that still needs to be done for PR and comms to be inclusive. ‘Now the lights and cameras are away, what are you doing in your organisation to create an inclusive environment for everyone? A workplace where people feel safe to bring themselves and their opinions to work?’

In the first research of its kind for the PR industry, the report gathered data as well as one-to-one interviews with professionals working across the UK, across a mix of age groups and seniority levels, both agency and in-house level.

Key figures include:
– 73% of communication professionals of Black heritage have received written or verbal praise
– 72% of communication professionals of Black heritage have not received a bonus
– 75% of communication professionals of Black heritage have not received a pay rise
– 79%of communication professionals of Black heritage have not received a promotion

‘I haven’t been promoted in five years despite receiving continuous verbal praise for my contributions,’ answers one survey respondent. ‘I am also every aware of who in the team has been promoted or who has roles created for them. None of them look like me.’

For what senior management, HR and recruitment teams need to do to break down their barriers keeping Black PR and comms professionals from promotion and leadership roles, organisations need to go further than tokenistic ‘Hiring Black’ and make real changes to company culture, believes Kamiqua Pearce.

‘We all talk to each other; the Black community within PR is very small. We know what’s going on. You’ve got to be humble, honest and open. People are much more confident to ask what is in place.’

Seri saw the problems beginning right at the start of the hiring process: ‘Recent PRCA research shows less than 1% in the industry are Black – that in itself is a barrier. There’s likely to only be one Black person on shortlists. Sometimes feedback from interviewers can be ‘this person was too nice’ or ‘they lacked gravitas’ – a feeling that Black people can’t hold senior roles because they don’t look like people within the business, or their stakeholders.’

‘What needs to be transparent are those active measures that are being taken,’ added Adesse Okojie. ‘We need that change now, we need those black faces and voices at the table.’

Founded in July of this year, the UK Black Comms Network is now open for membership, with a mission to increase the number and seniority of PR professionals of African or Caribbean heritage in the UK PR and communications industry and the ambition of providing a space for professionals to make change in the industry. But with all the advice for fellow practitioners from the panel on pushing forward, the onus also remains on the industry and its existing power hierarchies to make change.

‘This has been an interesting year,’ said Kamiqua. ‘More people are aware that racism is a thing that happens. It’s not going to be solved by hiring a chief of diversity. You might have created a culture you think is great, but someone could join and suddenly it’s not a good place for Black people again. It needs to be baked into your overall inclusion plan so the commitment is year-round’.

‘We united in our challenges this year,’ said Addy Frederick of the UK Black Comms Network’s foundation. ‘There is an opportunity here to be united in more positive things, so that more of us are here, and more of us stay in this industry’.

The UK Black Comms Network is now officially open for membership – find out more here on the website.

Online-Influence-Awards-judging

What are the Online Influence Awards judges looking for this year?

With changes to the nomination and shortlisting processes for this year’s super-safe, socially-distanced and all-virtual Online Influence Awards, the judging process also needed a reshuffle…

As we head towards awards night, this Friday 20 November, 17.00 – 19.00, the judging panel have looked through the shortlist and carefully selected winners across the 17 influencer and campaign categories. While we can’t reveal the winners quite yet, we caught up with a few of our judges to hear more about what they were looking for this year.

Bringing together a mix of experience across social media, PR, comms and journalism, this year’s judges are former winners Jo Middleton (Slummy Single Mummy) and Marcel Klebba (MK), the PRCA’s Koray Camgoz, CIPR’s Cat Morgan as well as Vuelio’s own in-house Influencer Expert, Holly Hodges.

For this celebration of bloggers, vloggers, writers and comms professionals, Vuelio wanted to include more of the influence industry than ever before. As with every industry, the influence and communications sector has faced its own unique challenges and this has, naturally, impacted content and approach.

‘The opinions we share now differ from the pre-pandemic world, but I think this makes the blogosphere richer in the breadth of thought and insight,’ believes Marcel Klebba, who won the best PR, media & communications blog by Vuelio in 2017 and featured in Vuelio’s top 10 PR blogs in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

‘Lockdowns mean we will see new writers and content creators who are exploring their skills. For those who have been doing it for a while, this might mean they now have more time to work on their craft and experiment with the form.’

Multi-award winning parenting and lifestyle blogger Jo Middleton has been particularly impressed by the tenacity of those working through such a difficult time for creativity: ‘2020 has definitely been a tricky year in the blogging sphere – not just in terms of work but generally in managing self-employment alongside the stress and anxiety of such an unprecedented situation.

‘I have masses of admiration for all the bloggers who have maintained a positive and proactive attitude towards work and who have gone the extra mile this year to engage with audiences and continue to create interesting and entertaining content.’

And in such a difficult year, what were the Online Influence Awards judges looking for when it came to the best in each category?

‘Creativity and interesting opinions,’ said Marcel. ‘It’s hard to stand out in the blogosphere. But it’s not impossible to find your niche and thrive in it. With that in mind, I was also excited to see how content creators are adjusting their distribution channels to the current climate and whether the interaction with their audience has changed.’

‘I’m looking for a few different things from nominees this year,’ said Jo. ‘Essentially, I want that magic mix of content that’s informative and engaging, but that also has an authenticity and, perhaps, even a vulnerability to it. For me, a successful blog is one that manages to retain the personal touch – one that enables readers to feel a genuine connection with the writer.’

Authenticity and genuine audience connection is also important to Holly Hodges, who has been involved with judging the awards since their inception.

‘I’ve been working closely with the influencer industry as it’s gone from strength to strength and am amazed at all the creativity that’s continued through 2020,’ said Holly.

‘I wish we could award everyone, to be honest, as the entrants this year have been fantastic. I’m glad we can get together (even virtually) to celebrate all the great things that people have managed to make happen this year.’

Register to attend the virtual Online Influence Awards this Friday 20 November here.

New Social Housing White Paper will give residents a voice

Vuelio’s Housing policy researcher Jennifer Prescott introduces the Government’s much anticipated Social Housing White Paper which she says represents ‘an important step in the Government’s response to the Grenfell Tower tragedy’ and pledges to ‘increase safety and transparency and ensure landlords are more accountable to their tenants’.

More than three years ago the former Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Sajid Javid promised a ‘wide-ranging, top-to-bottom review’ of social housing. Four Housing Secretaries and a global pandemic later and the long-awaited White Paper has finally been published.

It represents an important step in the Government’s response to the Grenfell Tower tragedy, setting out a series of proposals to give residents a voice, increase safety and transparency and ensure landlords are more accountable to their tenants.

The Regulator of Social Housing – until now only reactive – will become more proactive with the creation of a ‘new arm’, which will deal with issues including the quality of homes, repairs, engagement with residents and the handling of complaints. The new arm will carry out routine inspections for any landlord with over 1,000 homes every four years and will have the powers to take action against those who do not meet the standards. The powers of the Housing Ombudsman will also be strengthened, to improve the organisation’s role in dealing with complaints from residents.

Under the new proposals, landlords will be obliged to publish CEO salaries, as well as management costs. The Decent Homes Standard will undergo a review, which will look at including decarbonisation and energy efficiency, with a decision to be made by Autumn 2021. There are measures to improve fire safety, including a consultation on fire alarms and the sharing of fire safety data. A review on whether the sector is sufficiently equipped to deal with mental health issues and anti-social behaviour will also be carried out.

There is a whole chapter dedicated to measures designed to encourage home ownership – which some would argue has no place amongst social housing reforms – and makes the absence of new social housing investment even more apparent. Despite calls from nearly every trade body in the sector, the Government has not committed to spending any more money on social housing. While the White Paper has been welcomed by many, the Local Government Association (LGA) has said the reforms do not address the severe shortage of homes and long waiting lists – which are only going to get longer due to the pandemic. A recent report by the LGA, the National Federation of ALMOs and ARCH  (the Association of Retained Council Housing) calls for an extra 100,000 social homes for rent to be built each year in order to address the crisis.

Kate on Conservation

Influencer Insight: Kate on Conservation

The blogger behind Kate on Conservation began as a campaigner and educator determined to highlight issues not yet receiving mainstream media coverage and encourage others to take an interest in protecting wild flora and fauna.

Providing green news and conservation information to her readers, Kate believes no issue is too big or small when it comes to empowering the public with knowledge – read on for what Kate thought of popular lockdown watch Tiger King as well as three small changes you can make to be more mindful of the world around you.

How did you originally get started with writing about conservation and wildlife?
I started my blog as part of my ‘Web Publishing’ unit during my Journalism degree. The topic or ‘angle’ of wildlife conservation came easy to me as it’s my strongest interest and passion. It was also so heavily rooted in the news and politics of the day, making it perfect for the brief. All these years later, I still look for the news angles in my posts – though I tell stories from a more personal perspective, too.

What’s your favourite thing to post about?
I love to write about the inspiring work of others. The conservation world is absolutely full of amazing people and everyday small successes. It can be easy to be overwhelmed by the large scale destruction of the environment, and the huge species loss we’re hearing about regularly, but it’s worth remembering there are millions of people all over the world doing incredible work on the ground every single day. I love to interview conservationists, storytellers and sometimes even celebrities to gain all manner of perspectives.

How have you had to change your approach during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Obviously, it’s not been possible to interview people in person, so I’ve been on the phone a lot more, and sometimes Zoom. I actually prefer phone calls for interviews, as I think people are a lot more at ease when they can be in comfort – wearing their pyjamas or not having to worry about how their hair looks, etc. A lot of what I’ve been doing has been the same, though; I spend a lot of time on emails and social media, and I was working from home before the pandemic, anyhow.

I suppose the type of content I’m writing has adapted somewhat, as I’ve had to be reactive to what COVID-19 means to the natural world and wildlife conservation and how wildlife organisations are reacting to it. Such as the call for a One Health approach to Wildlife Trade Laws, the End Wildlife Crime initiative to introduce an International Agreement that would help prevent further pandemics and the Global Nature Recovery Investment Initiative.

What are some of the environmental stories/issues happening at the moment that you’d wish more people knew about?
Something I wrote about recently is that burning trees for electricity is actually no better for the climate than burning coal. This has led to calls for an end to biomass burning subsidies, with organisations instead asking for those billions of pounds to be re-directed to fill a ‘critical funding gap’ for other renewable energy solutions like wind and solar. A recent infographic from Cut Carbon Not Forests contrasts the area of forest the Government pledges to plant with trees as part of its ‘Nature for Climate’ fund with the area of forest that will need to be cut down over the same period to supply the UK’s massive demand for wood to burn as fuel for electricity.

I would also love to spread the word about the controversies surrounding the UK’s badger cull. And the positive news of the return of Britain’s largest and most endangered spider; the Great Fox-Spider, rediscovered in the UK after more than 25 years.

For those who are trying to be more mindful about conservation, what are three small changes you would recommend people start with?
1. Feed the birds in your garden, or in the local park if you don’t have a garden. That simple regular contact with nature can show the importance of caring for other creatures and have huge positive impacts on our own mental health.

2. Look after the pollinators; sowing bee-friendly plants, avoiding the use of pesticides, helping out grounded or trapped bees in the Spring/Summer with a little sugar water on a spoon… think of whatever space, garden or windowsill you have as a miniature nature reserve.

3. Try meatless Mondays, or one-week meat-free a month, and aim to build from there. I think by now we all know the impact of animal agriculture on the planet – making even small changes and reductions is a vital step in the right direction.

Do you think the popularity of Tiger King earlier this year has got the public thinking more about the protection of wildlife?
I hope that it inspired people to think more about the way animals are kept in captivity and the problems with roadside zoos, but I suspect that message was lost somewhat to the personalities and eccentricities present within the series. I’ve tried to bridge the gap in my readers’ minds so that they consider that Joe Exotic and his penchant for tigers is not as rare as you may think. An estimated 7,000 tigers could be living in captivity in the United States. Compare that with the roughly 3,900 wild tigers that exist on Earth and you can start to see there is a major problem. The picture is equally concerning in Europe.

Favourite wildlife documentarians/documentaries?
BBC’s Planet Earth and Planet Earth II, Discovery’s Racing Extinction and National Geographic’s Before The Flood. I also love Disneynature’s Elephant, narrated by Meghan Markle.

How do you collaborate with brands and which kind of brands do you really like working with?
I love to work with cruelty-free, vegan brands, wildlife charities and campaigns, and nature-loving/eco-friendly social enterprises. I often work with brands to write features on the blog (sponsored content written by me, or hosting guest posts), or to promote on social media, including Instagram and Facebook giveaways. I have a media pack available here.

For PRs looking to work with you and your blog/website, how would you prefer they approach you and with what kind of content?
Via my email address. I also have a contact form on my blog site.

What other blogs do you check out regularly (whether conservation-related or not)?
I actually run an initiative called The Wildlife Blogger Crowd, where I bring wildlife bloggers together to share their work, collaborate and support other bloggers. I’m following lots of bloggers from here and keeping in regular contact through the database of wildlife storytellers I’m growing.

Reach-the-right-influencers-with-the-Vuelio-media-database

PRCA COVID-19 Taskforce

Globally-crowdsourced comms lessons published by the PRCA COVID-19 Taskforce

The PRCA’s Global COVID-19 Communications Taskforce has published its report ‘How to recover fast from the pandemic’ featuring crowdsourced insight from 75 industry leaders working across 23 countries.

Today’s virtual event at 1pm, Chaired by PRCA COVID-19 Taskforce Chair Tony Langham and featuring a panel representing four of the featured continents, will introduce the 85-page report’s key themes. Topics include the role of comms in creating a better world, the importance of comms counsel for businesses, the industry’s impact on people and culture as well as best practice for supporting organisations recovering from the pandemic.

‘I am absolutely thrilled this project has turned out so well. Reading contributions from 23 different countries, you’ll be struck by the spirit of positivity that runs through the report – so many of us want to be part of improving the world,’ said Lansons’ chief executive Tony Langham.

‘I found that I learned something from every contribution and I’m deeply grateful to all our colleagues around the world who’ve helped create this fitting legacy for the Taskforce.’

PRCA director general Francis Ingham believes the work of the taskforce embodies the worldwide collaboration happening across the industry throughout the pandemic: ‘This extensive new report is a powerful example of what PR professionals around the world can achieve when they come together to face a common challenge’.

Find out more about the PRCA Global COVID-19 Communications Taskforce report ‘How to recover fast from the pandemic’ on the website.

Fashion journalists

How to pitch to fashion journalists

Though many of us may have spent much of UK Lockdowns I and II in scruffy pajamas, hoodies and slippers, fashion doesn’t take time off. London Fashion Week 2020 went on unabated in September (part digital, part real space) regardless of the pandemic, and online shopping for new fits doesn’t look to be tailing off any time soon… even when it is for more pajamas.

Below is a selection of advice on how PRs can help fashion journalists covering what’s hot and what’s not in coverings across national newspapers, high-fashion quarterlies, regional reads and blogs – because useful PR pitching will always be on trend, whatever the season…

1) Check the label

‘For Fashion Finder, we credit the exact item celebrities are wearing. We work on stories which are new to the site each day and add in Fashion Finders to images which have already been used in stories. If you notice we have used an image of a celebrity wearing your client, please email us with the link to the story, and a link to the product.’

Hannah Eichler is the acting deputy editor for Fashion Finder, MailOnline.

2) Good tailoring is important

‘I think it’s most important for PRs to tailor their pitches: for example, sending me/the Telegraph poor-quality fast fashion launches, ‘look at this celebrity wearing our brand’, or responding to a specific pitch with something unrelated won’t be in anyone’s favour. Especially when followed up every day for a week-plus (journalists get hundreds of priority emails a day) – it tends to hurt relationships. Thoughtful, interesting and tailored pitches always get a response.’

Lela London is a digital lifestyle writer for Telegraph.co.uk and blogs at Lelalondon.com.

3) Timeless content is as good as quick trends

‘To be honest, I don’t really want to hear “pitches” from PRs, I just want to be informed about news and access about their clients and brands and see whether they might be able to work with a story I’m working on or planning, or might spark an idea for another. Because, essentially, it’s the job of the journalist or editor to come up with the editorial idea and angle of a story, not the PR. I’m happy to receive emails with said news in but don’t necessarily expect an immediate response. A lot of “news” isn’t actual news, but might make a nice nugget of information in a long read.

I also hate having my inbox gate-crashed by huge-sized image files. And if you send a WeTransfer, please give it the longest possible expiry date – often, I don’t get around to looking at it until it’s expired which then means a whole back-and-forth again… which is frustrating for all involved!’

Jessica Bumpus is a contributing editor at The Week: Fashion and a freelance journalist – read more about her career and work in this ResponseSource interview.

4) Include pictures that aren’t passé

‘I know opinions vary but personally, I prefer to hear from PRs or brands via email rather than messaging. I also appreciate low-res embedded images so I can easily get a sense of what is being presented. Links to hi-res images are always helpful, especially if there is no expiry date.’

Sophie Elkan is the fashion & beauty editor for OX and OX Weddings. Find out more about her work on her website Sophieelkan.com.

5)Full length shots and less moody models, maybe

‘I like to receive information from PRs which is relevant for the publications I work for, or of interest for my Instagram where I like to focus on sustainable fashion. It’s great to include all pricing and stockist details on the hi-res imagery – both cut outs and campaign imagery. It’s great to have an option of full length model shots, with no cropping at the top of heads or feet, as one of the publications I work for often uses fashion model shots as front covers, where the clothes are credited and appear on my fashion spread. I also appreciate ‘to camera’ smiley model shots, although I’m aware that brands don’t always want to get that image across, preferring to evoke more of a ‘mood’. It’s easy if pictures are all available and fully credited on PR shots.’

Wendy Rigg is a fashion and style director whose work can be seen in publications including the Sunday Post’s P.S. Magazine and Saga. More about her and her work can be found at Wendyrigg.co.uk.

6) Check the fit

‘I love to work with brands that are close to my style and ethics, as well as brands that are a household name. Personalised emails are usually my favourite. The PR needs knowledge on who they’re contacting (blanket emails are cold) and need to show a genuine interest in your work for a relationship to build.’

Lorna Burford blogs at Raindrops of Sapphire – read her Blogger Spotlight.

‘A PR should always know what a publication is about before even thinking about contacting them to sell a story idea or brand. Nothing worse than when people get in contact with irrelevant ideas.’

Jo Phillips is the owner of .Cent.

7) Personalised emails are always in fashion

‘Email is definitely the way to go – Instagram DMs unfortunately get lost among personal messages. I always warm to a personalised proposal more than a blanket email, and if the brand is a good fit for my readership and they get straight to the point with what they’re proposing, then I’m all ears.’

Catherine Summers is a fashion blogger posting at Not Dressed As Lamb. Read more in her Blogger Spotlight.

8) Make sure you know the writer’s style

‘I like to work with PRs who understand what Grey Fox stands for and have looked at my media before contacting me. I like to present well-made and sustainably produced, stylish products to my following in a way that is authentic. I prefer personal contact and am rarely impressed with the impersonal “Hi, how’s your day been? Here are some cool products for you to feature on your blog” sort of approach.’

David Evans blogs at Grey Fox – read more about his work in this Blogger Spotlight.

Do you have experts, statistics and surveys, products for review and people for interview that UK journalists, bloggers and broadcasters would find useful? Take a trial of the ResponseSource Journalist Enquiry Service to get their requests for content directly.

 

 

UK Black Comms Network

The UK Black Comms Network to launch One Step Forward Two Steps Black research

The UK Black Comms Network will continue its work to improve the number and promotion of Black talent in the communications industry with the launch of its research One Step Forward Two Steps Black on Wednesday 18 November, 6.30-7.45pm.

Panelists discussing pay, promotions and experiences from their time working in the UK communications industry will include Opinium Research senior research executive Susan Bello, Black Women in HR founder and CEO Adesse Okojie and UK Black Comms Network founder Kamiqua Pearce.

During the evening, conversation will focus on the research and what it entails for the industry at large, as well as initiatives and action already leading to improved diversity across all levels of business: entry level to leadership.

The UK Black Comms Network was launched earlier this year to provide resources and peer-to-peer networking for the empowerment of Black PR and communications professionals of African or Caribbean heritage in the UK.

Sign up for the event and find out more about the UK Black Comms Network here.

CIPR National Conference 2020

‘What a crazy year’: CIPR National Conference 2020

For the first time in its history, the CIPR National Conference (rounding off today) was an all virtual affair. With its agenda formed by a survey of members in May to confirm what would be most useful in such an unprecedented (more of that word later…) year, its themes were ‘What is this new world?’, People and today’s focus business.

That the way business is done in PR and comms has had to change this year is without question – which lessons we all take forward beyond this time was what KPMG head of communications Tom Goddard explored in his speaker session ‘The value of communications – reflections on a crazy year’.

‘Well… what a crazy year,’ was how Tom began, openly admitting to feelings of exhaustion, times of fear and a more relaxed approach to presenting than usual (from his loft room, in jeans and slippers, rather than a standard business suit and tie for big industry events). Introducing the three pillars of Instinct, Action and Polish as his main takeaways from this year, it was the idea of polish that was pinpointed as particularly important to consider.

‘Trust expressions have rocketed into cliché faster than ever before,’ said Tom, pushing away from overly polished and performative language. ‘I don’t want to use words like “unprecedented” today, nor do I want to “pivot” at any point.’ Instead of that ‘u word’, Tom talked of ‘nervous, uncomfortable’ days at KPMG during the start of the pandemic, a time of struggle for businesses everywhere, and more immediate troubles for Tom and his team as KPMG’s UK chair Bill Michael was taken ill earlier in the year.

With 2020 the year KPMG was due to celebrate its 150th anniversary, planned campaigns, firmly-structured meetings and sign off processes had to be abandoned and switched up. ‘Senior leaders needed our advice and common sense instead,’ said Tom, who spoke of the need for authenticity, instinct and swift action from businesses and their leadership teams, using examples from brands like BP, McDonald’s and Tesla.

Action at KPMG included the launch of ‘DIY-aesthetic’ The WFH Podcast (which featured guests including Alastair Campbell, Alain de Botton, Bonnie Greer and even Mr Motivator) and paid time off for colleagues with family duties on the announcement of school closures in March. The results from KPMG’s comms during the first few months of the COVID-19 crisis – the highest engagement levels they’d ever experienced.

Where have the events of 2020 left us? ‘We’re all feeling quite exhausted, but we need to use this moment – the challenge now is to build on what we’ve learned,’ believes Tom, who ended his session with a message to everyone in comms working towards better days and future challenges.

‘Comms has to be on its toes, bringing challenge and conscience. If we manage commercial needs with the importance of being human, we really earn our stripes. I believe it’s our time; let’s not waste it.’

Catch up with more from this year’s CIPR National Conference on the CIPR website.

UK and US public relations

Healthy UK/US relations: Onyx Health’s Karen Winterhalter and JWA’s Jeff Winton

As the ‘special relationship’ between the US and UK looks to change once more following the US election results and fallout, we hear how healthy (public) relations between UK and US companies can work out in our chat with UK-based Onyx Health’s managing director Karen Winterhalter and US-based Jeff Winton Associates (JWA)’s chief executive officer Jeff Winton.

Following time working together back in the 90s, Karen and Jeff have teamed up once more – this time to add to what their respective companies can offer to clients, wherever they’re based and operating. So, is health PR that different either side of the Atlantic? And was working in public relations in the 90s as hectic as some remember (or, rather, don’t)?

What originally led you both to careers in PR?

Jeff Winton

Jeff Winton: I have been working in the life sciences communications area for four decades now, starting with a career in agriculture and animal health. I was raised on a farm and had a background in agriculture, but I knew nothing about PR. An agency in New York City took a chance on me and taught me about advertising and PR.

Eventually, I had the opportunity to move to human health with Roche in the early days of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Living in a time like we are today, surrounded by another global pandemic, there are many similarities and lessons from the past that are still relevant today. We started our new firm focused exclusively on the life sciences in February 2020. The business has grown faster than we anticipated because of our healthcare focus and experience in infectious diseases.

Karen Winterhalter

Karen Winterhalter: I started my working life as an NHS nurse, before becoming a sales rep for a pharmaceutical company. I soon became drawn by the bright lights of London and made a move down south, where I became involved in the fast-paced world of healthcare PR.

I headed up the EMEA healthcare divisions for two of the biggest global PR agencies, before setting up Onyx Health. Initially, we were based in London, but after coming back to the North East for the Great North Run – the largest half marathon in the world – I decided it was time to head back home, so ten years ago Onyx Health part two was born.

How will Onyx Health and JWA be working together?

Jeff: Onyx and JWA are now collaborating on behalf of several clients. Some of our clients who are US-based are getting ready for their first foray into Europe, so Onyx Health’s experience and expertise has been extremely beneficial.

We are also benefitting greatly from their tremendous design capabilities. Onyx Health’s design team in the UK is also serving as the JWA design team for several of our US clients. Conversely, some of Onyx’s clients who have been historically based in Europe are now coming to the US, so we are helping to get them established here with key stakeholders.

Karen: For us, it’s a win-win situation. Jeff is a renowned figure in the industry, and our partnership enables us to pool resources, share clients and expertise. I am delighted to be working with him again after all these years. The unique combination of our many decades of experience in global communications will help our clients break into the US market with a trusted partner.

You first met in the 90s – what do you really miss about the PR industry during that time?

Jeff: Indeed, Karen and I have known each other for many years, and we had a very good relationship when she was at Ketchum, and I was her client. So, when Karen initially reached out to me about a potential partnership, it seemed like no time had passed at all. The health care industry is much more highly regulated today than back in the 90s. Social media is also a driving force in health care communications, and in the 90s, this wasn’t something that was even in existence.

Karen: The 90s was an exciting time to be involved in PR, as it was the era of the blockbuster drugs being launched. These drugs are things we take for granted now, but when Lipitor, the first-ever statin, was launched, this was big headline news. In the days before Twitter and Facebook, nearly all our work revolved around media relations. Healthcare editors on the nationals and women’s magazines lapped it up, and if there was a photo opportunity, you were guaranteed coverage. I once had photographers stand on the roof of a fertility clinic to get a shot of the hundredth child born through IVF.

What differences are there with the way the PR industry works in the UK and in the US?

Jeff: In healthcare communications, one of the main differences between the US and the UK is that we can do branded direct to consumer product PR in the US, which is not allowed in the UK, or most other countries, for that matter.

Karen: Aside from the regulatory differences, a lot of our work focuses on communicating and educating the healthcare professional rather than the patient, but one of the main differences is access to medications. In the UK, many of medicines and diagnostics go through cost-benefit analysis appraisals ran by NICE, which can significantly delay getting vital treatments in the hands of healthcare professionals. When you get a positive NICE appraisal, it is brilliant, whereas negative appraisals are exceptionally hard to deal with, especially for patients.

How did lockdown change the way you both work?

Jeff: Since we were established as a virtual agency at our founding, we’ve had little impact from the shutdown, since we didn’t have any bricks and mortar locations that needed to close. When the rest of the world became virtual, it helped to accelerate our growth. Because of travel concerns and restrictions, we haven’t met many of our clients yet, nor have our team met each other.

Karen: One of the big things we did during the COVID-19 disruption, was diversifying our service offer into digital. We do a huge amount of work around congresses, and with them all being moved online, we needed to find a different way to communicate with healthcare professionals.

A big part of this was launching our new virtual reality learning platform over the summer in response to the COVID-19 crisis. We developed our Interactive Learning Environment, or ILE for short. The ILE offers a practical solution to overcome the industries communication challenges, such as restricted access to health care professionals and the cancellation of face to face conferences and sales reps appointment.

Do you think the PR industry can ever return to the way things were before the COVID-19 crisis?

Jeff: I don’t think that any business will ever return to the way things were before the pandemic. There have been many lessons we have all learned that will ultimately, make our business much more streamlined and efficient than ever before. We have several associates now living and working all over the world, working collaboratively on Microsoft Teams.

Karen: I think remote working and a greater focus on digital to bridge the communication challenges caused by the pandemic are likely to become the ‘new normal’ for the industry. This also creates opportunities for agencies, looking at new ways to access journalists and healthcare professionals, as well as increasing the talent pool available to us.

With so many journalists being furloughed, have either of you found contact with the media harder over the last few months?

Jeff: We have actually found that US media are easier to access now because reporters are no longer required to travel extensively from medical meeting to medical meeting. Video platforms are working very well for us in keeping in touch with reporters, and I think that they may be more open and willing for this connectivity now.

Karen: When the pandemic first hit back in May, our inboxes became littered with out of office messages from journalists who we had worked with for many years. PR is all about relationships, and the strength of our longstanding contacts saw us through the initial disruption. Remembering our news values and avoiding bombarding journalists suffering from COVID-19 fatigue was crucial to keep things going.

What can agencies across the globe do to create diverse teams and promote people from a variety of backgrounds into higher roles?

Jeff: Diversity continues to be a large issue in this field. This issue starts before people even reach university, so partnering with academic institutions early in a student’s career is essential. I’m also concerned about what happens when people representing a diverse community enter the workforce.

The inclusion of such individuals, and their integration into the business, isn’t going nearly as well as it should. My experience has been that organisations spend a great deal of time recruiting such individuals, but they do very little about keeping them via proper onboarding and mentoring.

Karen: When I started in PR way back in the 90s, PR agencies were often headed up by white middle-class males. I was fortunate to join BSMG Worldwide, whose chair, CEO, and financial director were all women. Many of those values that were instilled within me then I still hold with me today.

If you do not bring diversity into your agency, how can you communicate with people from different cultures and social-economic backgrounds? It is like saying it is your way or no way.

What have you both enjoyed most about your careers so far and what advice would you give to those considering working in the PR industry?

Jeff: What I have enjoyed the most about my career is the people with whom I have been associated. Karen Winterhalter is a good case in point. I have reconnected with many people from my past who are now clients and associates, and once we start working together again, it is like no time has passed. We have all been touched by some type of health care crisis, either personally or through friends and family. So we have an appreciation and understanding of how important the companies we represent are for the betterment of society.

Karen: I’ve enjoyed working with some of the biggest pharmaceutical brands in the world. However, one of the things I’ve found most rewarding since starting my agency has been helping SMEs and start-ups grow into thriving global businesses. The digital revolution has transformed the sector in recent years. The disruption caused by COVID-19 has made it even more essential to connect with key target audiences. My main advice to people would be to get digital savvy, to get ahead of the competition.

Toxic workplace environs

Women in PR event to tackle workplace toxicity

Toxic environments and cultural bias will be a focus of this week’s Women in PR event. Taking place tomorrow (Thursday 12 November) 16.00-17.30, and featuring a panel of industry professionals chaired by WPR and Hera Communication Strategies founder Anna Geffert, the event will also launch a related WPR and Opinium survey of workplace issues.

Alongside the problems wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic on workplace culture this year, the pernicious challenges of racism, sexism, ageism, cliques, favouritism, nepotism and social class bias continue. Discussing this as part of the Women in PR event panel will be BME PR Pros and Blueprinted founder Elizabeth Bananuka, Creative Equals CEO and founder Ali Hanan, Arqiva chief people officer Vivian Leinster, Halo psychology founder and director Hayley Lewis, and Brands with Values managing director and BAME2020 founder Adrian Walcott.

The launching WPR survey will also aim to address toxic behaviours in the workplace, with plans for it to eventually become part of a charter to drive sustainable change.

‘If the professional progression of women and those from underrepresented groups in the PR industry has any hope of changing, it is vital to challenge and remove the outdated cultural barriers that still exist and hold people back,’ said Anna Geffert of the aims of the event.

‘We expect the discussion at this event to be candid and open, which could make for some potentially difficult realisations about our industry’s working practices. This is not an issue which can be solved in an evening, this change is an evolutionary process. Harassment and unfair treatment in workplaces across the communications industry is something that simply cannot be ignored any longer.’

Register to attend the Women in PR event on 12 November here.

Vuelio is proud to be an official sponsor of Women in PR, supporting their events and work.

Mike Douglas

Mental Health Blogger Spotlight: Mike Douglas, Open Journal

As we prepare for the all-online Online Influence Awards 2020 next week, we catch up with someone who is well-versed in reformatting awards ceremonies to stay safe while celebrating, Mike Douglas. Blogger, podcaster and founder of the Mental Health Blog Awards, Mike shares how he got started by sharing mental health insight and resources, and what he sees as the possible longer-term impacts of the pandemic in day-to-day life.

How did you get started with blogging about mental health?

I started to write about my experiences with a mental health illness because I needed an outlet for my own mental health, and it seemed to be therapeutic for me. It helped to get some things out of my system and to see them in a different light. Blogging very much started as a coping strategy, and while it still is, it is also something I now do because I enjoy it.

Blogging allows me to share mental health insights, resources and support.

What’s your favourite thing to post about and why?

I think for me it’s about personal connection, and that could be different things at different times. The core of my blogging is personal experience, thoughts and insights. So, while I may include research, products or services, they are almost always as part of ‘my story’ rather than the focus.

I also have a podcast, and that facilitates much more inclusion of a guest’s story and their product/service/ research/campaign as part of our discussion.

I think one of my favourite things to post about is attending an event or an activity. Reflecting on the inclusion of wellbeing and/or mental health as part of the event and on the conversations I’ve had/people I’ve met there.

That’s definitely something I have missed this year.

How did you change your approach and content during lockdown?

During lockdown I have found that I have less desire to write, I think because I have spent so much time in the same location (at home) and because I have been so busy with other commitments. It hasn’t/I haven’t created an environment where I want or feel able to write as much. Alongside that, the podcast has been increasingly taking more time with more guests and opportunities to have different types of conversations. Which has been amazing, but it has impacted on the blogging.

Mike Douglas masked

What do you think the longer-term impacts of the pandemic and lockdown will be on mental health and how can people combat them?

I believe there are two sides to this (probably more, but I’ll focus on two).

There’s a positive aspect to some people’s experience, in that they have had time with family/co-habitors they would likely never have had before. The impact on their wellbeing and their sense of self could be hugely impacted and be a benefit they look back on for the rest of their life.

There is however the other side. The side that shows already, many people are experiencing their mental health worsening, be that a diagnosed illness or symptoms of poor mental health.

The disparity in our communities has highlighted how we are all very much not in the same boat during the COVID-19 storm. I have read many posts by people struggling within their home settings, particularly teenagers and young adults that have been forced to stay with people that may not accept or understand their struggles, also those within violent or abusive home settings.

The impact on workplace mental health will take a long time to clearly identify and understand, particularly with many, including myself, now moving to home/remote working as a semi-permanent change.

Are mental health issues taken seriously enough in 2020?

I’m going to give you another double answer.

Yes, more common mental health illnesses and symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, OCD and maybe eating disorders are more widely accepted and spoken about. We have seen ‘celebrities’ and influencers share their lived experience and there are a number of great campaigns that have/do draw attention to these illnesses/symptoms of poor mental health.

However, there is still a real lack of focus and education for more complex illnesses such as personality disorders, Schizophrenia and dissociative disorders.

There is a massively improved ‘awareness’ of mental health, but seemingly still a lack of education and service provision.

Do initiatives like World Mental Health Day help with breaking the stigmas surrounding mental illness?

Yes, massively!

I understand there is often a desire for people to do more than talk about this once or twice a year. And you can. You don’t need to wait for WMHD to talk to someone or do something, you can do that any day.

If you want greater access to services or education, get involved in a campaign, support your local providers (who are often charities that rely on local support for funding and volunteers).

A big mistake I personally feel some people make is thinking days like WMHD are for everyone. They aren’t (again, in my opinion). They are for the person who is experiencing pain like they have never felt before, maybe for the first time, and they don’t know where to go. Maybe they have been struggling for a while or a long time but haven’t felt able to talk about what they are experiencing. These days are for the people who are at that first step of accessing help, of talking to someone, of telling a friend ‘I’m struggling’.

So yes, WMHD and days like it may not be for you. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t important.

When you’re having a difficult time, what helps you?

I try to keep a good routine to stay active and occupied physically and mentally. This has been particularly important for me to keep on board with this year as during lockdown and through the summer I gradually came off my medication, having been on anti-depressants for several years.

I used to walk every day and while that has dropped off since March, I try to keep moving at different points in the day and I run once a week.

I make sure to drink plenty of water and squash. This helps balance out the sometime excessive amounts of fizzy I drink.

Getting outside is important to me too, not just for walking or running, but to just be outside to feel the sun or the wind or, on occasion, the rain. It can really help to ground me.

When I am struggling to process something or start to feel that dark depression taking hold, there’s two (maybe three) things that are key for me. Number one is writing down what’s going on. I am not always ready or able to talk about it or say it aloud, so writing helps massively. Number two is talking to my partner. She is amazing. She listens and understands that sometimes I need time to work up to talking. In fact, on a couple of occasions when I’ve needed space to process things, she has left the room (which I have asked her to do previously). But she makes noticeable noise in the other room, just so I know she’s still nearby. I really appreciate her understanding and willingness to work with me; she is amazing. Thirdly, the cats. I love a cat cuddle. They often seem to know when you’re in need of comforting.

How do you collaborate with brands, and which kind of brands do you really like working with?

My best collaboration ‘tool’ would be the podcast. I love collaborating when I can speak to someone willing to share their experience and/or thoughts of mental health. Importantly, that doesn’t have to be illness, it can be wellness too. Find out more about being a guest here.

I do occasionally have collaborated blog posts, where the service/product/campaign does not have a mental health/wellbeing focus. In these occasions, I am collaborating because I personally see a mental health/wellbeing connection or aspect. A few examples of this are attending cafe openings, comic and games events, fitness festivals, and leisure services/product launches.

For PRs looking to work with you and your blog/website, how would you prefer they approach you and with what kind of content?

The best way is to email me, provide a brief overview and a web link so I can find out a little more. Keep in mind I am likely going to be thinking about the podcast, so please consider if there’s someone happy to talk via an online platform (currently Skype).

What other blogs do you check out regularly?

Right now, I am checking out some of the winners from this year’s Mental Health Blog Awards. Their recent blog posts and/or social media discussions have been really interesting to read, so I definitely recommend checking them out: Mental Health Crisis Angels, Elspethfit, Rainy Bay Blog, Just Checking In Podcast, Bex’s Anorexia Recovery, CaraLisette and Psychreg.

Reach-the-right-influencers-with-the-Vuelio-media-database

Rework

5 areas for brands to start addressing in recovery

This is a guest post from Kirsty Maxey, CEO of Teamspirit.

Although the current outlook is still uncertain, we are undoubtedly moving into the next phase of ‘COVID life’. Both in our personal lives but also in how we interact with companies, from the ones we work for to those we interact with every day. Expectations and relationships with these brands are continuously evolving in this ever-changing landscape and both customers and employees need trust, clarity, engagement and constant forward thinking from businesses, all with a touch of humanity. We’ve seen many brands do it well and some not so well.

We believe there are five key areas that brands must consider when navigating the potentially choppy waters ahead as we steer ourselves through to recovery.

1) Reputation, more than ever

In the current climate, people want to see businesses act with integrity and transparency, and deliver on their promises. Connection with your brand is vital to maintaining and recovering market share in the wake of any crisis. Nowhere has this been more evident recently than in the supermarket sector. The major supermarkets have used multi-channel communication strategies to move from simple food provider to an essential public service. And Opinium’s research found that these were the brands people felt had responded most positively to the pandemic (Opinium surveyed a nationally representative sample of 2,006 U.S. adults aged 18+ between 20 – 25 March). Businesses cannot just pay lip service to reputation: it has to have meaning and depth. Effective communication must work hand in hand with the operational strategy of any well-run business.

This is about much more than what you do or say as a business; it’s about the essence of why your business exists and how it’s holding itself accountable.

2) UX – revisit and reinvestigate

In a business world that has finally had its hand forced and become fully digitally focused, the online experience has to be the focus of investment for businesses that will now live or die through their customers’ full experience. Starting with revisiting their customer personas and purchasing styles, it is essential that businesses focus on the online journey, and how that dovetails with the rest of the customer experience, whether in store or on the phone. Then making sure it’s personalised for each individual. We envisage that there will be a lot of work focused on micro UX in the coming months. That means the key point of interaction, be that ensuring customers see the easiest way to the next stage of their journey, or how easy it is to stay in touch.

Small percentages of uplift in customer engagement are going to be crucial to future success. It’s time to start to focus small, not just big.

3) Authentic social really counts

It has become impossible for businesses that want to win in the social space to not consider more of a customer-centric approach to their social marketing. With the rise of influencers and peer-to-peer reviews being considered the most ‘authentic’ content when it comes to lead generation and brand awareness, it’s important that businesses step into this space to not get left behind.

Active C-suite social profiles, as well as value-added content exchanges, are key drivers in terms of reaching and engaging your audiences in an authentic way for long-term loyalty.

4) Purpose and culture: the new ‘4 Rs’

From John Lewis revisiting its ‘Never Knowingly Undersold’ customer promise after 95 years, to brands focused on one-to-one sales or in-store experience, the need to Revisit, Refine, Redesign and Reinvigorate mission, vision and values is increasingly being discussed. In relation to both external audiences and internal culture. The output being not just validating and exercising due marketing diligence on their current purpose, but also aligning it with the short, medium and long-term commercial opportunities that COVID has accelerated.

5) Think internal experience, not internal comms

With Schroders and PwC already announcing a significant (or total) departure from the traditional office, companies are reviewing the necessary new needs of the internal employee experience (what we term IX). The need for a rethink on how town halls, key business announcements and social engagement can be replaced and updated to reflect the new needs of motivation, engagement and information.

Now is a time of change and this can feel scary for companies. But it is also an opportunity. An opportunity to refresh values, re-engage employees and ultimately transform ways of thinking.

Tas Bhanji

PR Spotlight: Tas Bhanji, Director at Blakeney

‘Good communications has the potential to change the fortunes of companies, even whole industries or communities. What could be more exciting than that?’ says Blakeney Director Tas Bhanji, who’s helped make change for clients and companies across the globe.

With experience of communications in-house and agency-side across the UK, Belgium and Beijing for companies including McDonald’s, CBI, the British Chamber of Commerce in China and even the European Formaldehyde Manufacturing Association, Tas knows the difference that good comms and PR can make. Can PR ever go back to the way things were before the challenges of 2020, and should it? Read on for Tas’s take.

Tell us a bit about your career so far and what led you to PR…
I graduated with a degree in Mathematics and no idea what I wanted to do with my life other than travel. I got an internship in Beijing which led to becoming events manager for the British Chamber of Commerce. One day, after a long conversation over the exact diameter of a canapé, I realised it probably wasn’t the career for me, so I resigned to decide what to do next.

I knew I liked writing and politics, and I just happened to talk to someone who suggested I might like public affairs/corporate comms. I didn’t really know anything about PR then – it’s funny now to think that despite having read the papers every day for years, I was quite surprised that comments weren’t actually really written (or said) by the people that said them.

I owe a lot to that chance encounter – after a couple of years with Weber Shandwick in Beijing, I moved to Brussels with Fleishman-Hillard, and then came back home to the UK and have worked in-house for CBI and McDonald’s, either side of a stint with MHP, and now I’m back consultancy-side with Blakeney.

You’ve held roles at agencies across the world – what differences (if any) have you noticed with the way the PR industry works across the globe?
One of the main ones is about channels – China has its own social networks which many people in the UK would never have heard of. WeChat for example is way more than just a messaging app; you can use it to order a taxi, get groceries delivered, or pay for your dinner. In some countries in mainland Europe, Facebook is often more dominant than Twitter and used for both corporate and consumer communications.

Public affairs in China is very different to public affairs here in most ways, although having a good network of contacts is very useful wherever you are. My first crisis communications experience was the melamine scandal in China in 2008 – farmers had been adding melamine to milk products to up their protein content, but it was damaging to health, particularly to babies. I was working for an international confectionary company that had its own verified supply chain and therefore not in any way impacted, but our first action in a lot of countries was to apologise for the situation. If we did that here in the UK, it could be seen as an admission of guilt.

What have you enjoyed about working in-house compared with working for a consultancy?
In a consultancy, you can get a lot more variety – no two days are ever the same and that keeps you constantly on your toes. In-house, I enjoyed getting to see something right through from conception to delivery, getting to understand the minutiae of issues and the way it impacts business. In lots of consultancies, you don’t get that because you’re just brought in for quite specific bits of a project. One great thing about Blakeney is that we are set up to really own issues and work as partners with our clients on projects – that means we get to see it from start to finish.

How did lockdown change the way you work?
At first it didn’t seem like a huge shift – I already worked one day a week from home. I actually only came back from maternity leave in January, so I’d already been working hard at being disciplined around working hours – as a working parent, you have to be super-organised – something I, like many parents, have to constantly work at. Over time though I did start to miss the office, and especially those chats that seem inconsequential at first but actually trigger a great idea. Thankfully with such a small team we were able to adapt pretty quickly and those chats, though slightly more planned as they are over Zoom or Teams, still happen, and we have a plan in place to allow small groups of people to go to the office on their specified days.

I have also found that the change has meant more time with clients – Zoom and Teams make it so much easier to bring people together for a quick chat about things, whereas before we might have shied away from having meetings to discuss just one topic.

Do you think the PR industry can ever return to the way things were before the COVID-19 crisis?
Why should it want to? We have shown that working with greater flexibility doesn’t mean any reduction in quality of work. There’s no need to go back just for the sake of it – PR is all about adapting to this ever-changing world; we should embrace that.

Which particular sectors among your client base do you see making the quickest recovery post-pandemic?
Honestly, it’s so hard to say – this pandemic is unlike anything any of us have ever experienced, it’s a risky business if you start making too many predictions. But I think tech can only grow – not least with companies creating and launching new tools, platforms and solutions to allow us to help work, rest and play.

Sectors which invest in communications and corporate affairs are giving themselves the best chances – if there’s nobody making the case for why what you do is important, you risk getting forgotten.

With so many journalists being furloughed, has contact with the media been harder over the last few months?
Definitely – sell-ins have been much harder. As you say, furloughing has meant there are fewer journalists, and the ones that remain are more stretched. Plus, in many instances, people haven’t forwarded their desk phones on to their mobiles. It puts a premium on really understanding what journalists want and being able to capture their attention on email.

The PR industry still has a diversity problem – what can agencies do to create diverse teams and promote people from a variety of backgrounds into higher roles?
I find the issue of diversity a difficult one – I think we often get caught up thinking about diversity as just gender or race, but it’s actually about so much more. Our country, the world, is diverse in many different ways and to truly understand those people, and be able to communicate with them, you need to have an insight into their lives and that can only really come through living it.

So, I think there are two big things. One, understanding that diversity is about more than just having women on your leadership team, and two, truly understanding the value of people with different backgrounds. Think about work you’ve done that has been successful; did it come from people thinking in the same way you’ve always done, or by bringing in a new perspective?

Which campaigns/projects from your career are you particularly proud to have worked on?
Earlier this year, Blakeney ran a campaign for LIVE, the industry group representing live music. With politicians receiving so many competing demands from different sectors affected by the pandemic, we wanted to the live music sector to get the support needed to save it from collapse. Our campaign, #LetTheMusicPlay, focused on the sector’s economic contribution – it supports more than 200,000 jobs. A week after launching the campaign, with the hashtag having been the top global trend on Twitter, the Government announced a £1.57bn rescue package – that really does demonstrate the value of good communications!

What advice would you give to those considering working in the PR industry – is it still a good career choice in 2020?
It absolutely is. Good communications has the potential to change the fortunes of companies, even whole industries or communities. What could be more exciting than that? It’s also enjoyably varied – I once worked for the European Formaldehyde Manufacturing Association, which was surprisingly interesting.
With more competition for jobs right now, be creative about gaining experience. Can you help a local community group with social media? Or talk to local businesses about their challenges and see if you can lend a hand? And make sure you’re visible online – blogging and keeping up your own social media presence will show you’ve got the skills needed for client work.