Claire is a general PR consultant - 'general' because of the breadth and depth of her experience, which over the past decade has included everything from launching small start-ups to running the press offices of internationally renowned companies; from lobbying European Parliament to amend laws, to working on the world’s largest touring insect festival! Her expertise lies in profile raising through media relations and thought leadership, whether that be through small project-based campaigns or long-term multi-platform strategies. She can also throw the odd stunt in, as and when required. Having originally trained as a journalist and worked on the planning desk at Sky, Claire has a keenly trained nose for news and can help find a suitable angle for the press in almost any situation.
How did it all start for you, Claire? Did you always want to work in PR?
I actually started out as a journalist. I was working for Sky News on a zero hours contract before anyone really took umbrage to them. I was on the planning desk and had PRs calling me up every day to pitch their stories, so it was a natural transition in hindsight, but it felt like a pretty big jump at the time! I worked in various agencies before deciding to go freelance, which I did three and a half years ago.
Can you tell us a bit about what you do on a day to day basis?
My days really do vary. Each of my clients has their own individual needs and aspirations and I cater to them on a fairly bespoke basis. For some I am coming up with ideas for, or drafting long form thought leadership pieces, while for others I may be calling up radio stations to try and get them interviews. Most days require a fair amount of lateral thinking, I have to keep coming up with fresh ideas.
Do you have a certain approach to what you do? Is there a style that you would say is unique to you?
I don’t think there is a unique style that I have myself, but there are unique ways of doing things that depend on who I am working with. I would not have the same approach to a corporate client with a B2B audience as I would someone trying to sell a fun new product to consumers. Every market is a competitive market, so it’s a matter of making sure that each of my clients stands out in their own field. The PR should always appear to be in the background, something natural and not forced – even if that is a façade!
What have some of your highlights been so far?
Working with Google during the tax evasion crisis was a particularly interesting time. I also went out to Brussels to lobby European Parliament when I had a brief stint in-house with an animal welfare charity – that was pretty exciting. From a long-term point of view, I was with both Funding Circle and Market Invoice right at the beginning of their respective journeys and now they have both become multi-million-pound companies.
What are the challenges currently facing your sector? Have these changed during your career?
The landscape has definitely changed, and so have the methods. People consume news in such a different way now than they did ten years ago. Whereas when I started out all my clients wanted to be in print, they now want to have influencers on social media endorsing their brands. Unfortunately, it seems that nowadays money can be just as effective as a good story and that is something that I totally push against. The challenge now, as it always has been I suppose, is to really make your clients stand out. Most audiences have neither the time nor patience that they used to.
Lots of business owners try and do everything themselves to start out with. What advice would you give to them?
If you are a jack of all trades, you are a master of none. PR is something that everyone feels they can do, surely putting a few bits and pieces on social media and chatting to a few journalists isn’t rocket science…. But if you are not consistent in your messaging and don’t have a proper strategy in place things can go awry. Most businesses know their audience, but do not necessarily know how to talk to them, or the best places to reach them, the most appropriate channels and timing, and and and….! PR needs constant attention and feeding, if you let it go off the boil it will fail. No one really has time to that as well as their day job. I have also had to pick up the pieces after some fairly epic fails, the old adage that all publicity is good publicity simply isn’t true.
If you could work with absolutely anyone, who would it be?
I’m lucky in that my career to date has been extremely varied, I have worked in corporate finance, in property, with celebrities and super yachts as well as charities and cosmetics. I’ve been involved with documentaries and protests and everything in between. It may sound like a cliched answer, but the most exciting clients for me are those that have a hidden story to tell, whether they are a one-man band with a single product, or the shiniest and sexiest celebrity. Excitement is contagious, so the best clients are those that have a real passion for what they do, whatever they do!
Some say there is a trend towards people, particularly young people setting up their own businesses. What is your general view on this and entrepreneurship as a whole?
I think it’s great. All you need is a little (well-guided) ambition to start something successful now. Without wanting to sound like a luddite or show my age, it’s only recently that it has been possible to set up a small company on your own. Now everyone seems to be creating the next best thing from their bedroom… The possibilities are endless, and I think that is exciting because it keeps everyone on their toes.
For anyone just leaving university now, or leaving school and looking to start a career like yours, what advice would you give?
Don’t be afraid to be ambitious, where there’s a will, there’s a way. But you do have to put yourself out there and be open to the opportunities that come your way because they will just as soon pass you by.
What do you think your industry will look like in ten years’ time?
Who knows! It has changed so much in the last ten years; the future could hold anything in terms of presentation or reaching out to new audiences. I think fundamentally the basics will remain though. There is a holy trilogy in PR and if that is in place you will usually be just fine – I don’t see that changing any time soon.
What do you do when you are not working?
I love the sea, I spent my entire childhood living near it and I miss it if I spend too much time away, I like to be on it or in it, but being able to see it sometimes makes do. I love skiing and have been doing it recreationally since I was four years old. I am a bit of an amateur photographer and an avid endorser of Epicurean pleasures!
What’s next for you?
There are a couple of things in the pipeline that I am excited about, but I am always on the lookout for new and exciting adventures and fun people to meet.