Describe your background in 5 words max
Anglo-Irish working-class Northerner.
How did you get into PR and/communications?
I wanted to be a music journalist but failed to ever get paid so fell into PR by accident. I was lucky to meet someone from my own kind of background who gave me my first break aged 22.
What do you love about your job?
I retired – early! – from PR after nearly forty years and 23 working for and running Weber Shandwick earlier this year. I am now an MA student, a writer and full-time house-runner and father. I remain a Visiting Fellow attached to the PR school at Greenwich University. What I loved about my job when I was working full-time for my agency was making waves on creativity and diversity and overseeing award-winning creative work. I also enjoyed mentoring aspirant and rising-star PRs and working on diversity with industry bodies and groups like BME PR Pros, Global Women in PR and Women in Marketing.
What are you most proud of?
Being a working-class Northerner and ending up as CEO of the UK’s most award-winning PR firm.
What’s been the hardest lesson to learn?
That our industry talks a lot about diversity but change is still too slow
Who are your favourite people in PR/communications and why?
Heather Blundell, the young MD I appointed two years ago to run WS Manchester; Jon McLeod, my colleague of 21 years at WS Public Affairs and now head of PA at Brunswick; Gabriela Lungu, my former creative director and now running the WINGS creative consultancy.
What skill do you think every PR has to nail?
Listening – too many PRs think their job is to talk. Conquering unconscious bias
What is your favourite social network and why?
Twitter because it is perfect for a gobby, opinionated Northerner
Who is your favourite journalist and why?
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
When PR stops being fun, go and do something else.
“PR agencies only talk about diversity to win big awards and look good. But it’s just tokenistic”. Discuss.
Sometimes maybe, most times not. I think many agency leaders are sincere but struggle against both unconscious bias amongst their (largely white, middle-class) managers and thinking beyond appointing versions of themselves. The industry is lucky to have trade body leaders like Francis Ingham and Sarah Hall at the PRCA and CIPR respectively who are sincere and dedicated on diversity.
What advice would you give a talented BME PR Pro starting to think this sector will never give them the opportunities they deserve and are close to jacking it in to retrain as a doctor (which would make their African parents very happy)?
Look at agencies who are active on diversity and whose work is the kind of work you want to do. Don’t see the agency world as an amorphous mass.
Finally, on a lighter note… We can’t wait to see you at the BME PR Pros Summer Party. What can the DJ play to get you on the dancefloor?
We Don’t Need That Fascist Groove Thang, Heaven 17
Connect with Colin on Twitter.