Alicia is a director and member of Ketchum London’s Brand leadership team. She has been with the agency for over fourteen years (yes, she knows!), joining the business on the James Maxwell graduate scheme in 2005. During that time, she has seen the agency shed skin in many ways including a physical move from Shoreditch to Southwark. From her work in the UK to various international assignments which have taken her from Dubai to Doha, Alicia is no stranger to the Ketchum domestic or international network.
Starting life in the PR profession as a corporate communications consultant, Alicia is now a senior lead within the Brand Community at Ketchum London, a role she took on in January 2019. With an increasing number of clients demanding an understanding of the delicate balance between corporate reputation and product demand, Alicia brings a unique hybrid skillset as well as a generalist mindset which she believes will be the future of the industry. She also wants people to know it’s never too late to redefine yourself in this industry – it only took her 13 years!
During her time at Ketchum, Alicia has touched nearly every facet of PR: launching new products, message development, media relations, events planning, stakeholder relations, executive communications and issues and crisis management. Alicia loves both the strategy and execution parts of her role and is never happier than when she’s able to see the work she does come to life. She now leads one of the agency’s biggest technology clients.
● Describe yourself/your background in 5 words max?
Gujarati – Rugby born, London made
● How did you get into PR/communications?
I very nearly didn’t! I kid you not, I remember applying for a ton of graduate schemes and thinking I couldn’t be bothered (or afford) to attend the countless graduation assessment days some 400 miles south in London (I was at university in York). Thank goodness my folks coughed up the dosh for the train tickets because I made my PR debut in 2005 on Ketchum’s coveted gradate scheme which was run by PRWeek at the time. A written entry, a pitch at Haymarket to some big cheeses, an interview with no less than 5 of Ketchum’s executive team and at the end of it led to a prized job at Ketchum. This was the original ‘The Apprentice’ before Alan Sugar cooked the concept let me tell you. I even remember buying the Dummies Guide to PR before my interview!
● What do you love about your job?
Bringing magic to the mundane and seeing the tangible outcomes of what we do every day. It always bemuses me how people outside of this industry don’t always realise that PR’s are often the magicians behind the things people see, hear and read every day. It’s why I often struggle to explain what I do to my folks back in the Midlands! “What…so you wrote that article but it says someone else’s name on the byline?” I also love the pivot we’ve made at Ketchum to focus on “doing work that matters.” PR has over the years earnt itself an unfortunate reputation of being a master of the dark arts but when wielded purposefully, PR has the potential to make a positive difference in so many ways. I love the fact I can represent an international brand that can roll-out purpose-led campaigns which can impact millions of people around the globe. That’s progress on a scale governments can only dream of.
● What are you most proud of?
Being the architect of the Nissan Smart Motoring Advisory Board, which really helped the brand build advocacy around its Intelligent Mobility strategy in the market. It’s great when a brand actually buys into an idea so much they see it through and it doesn’t end up in the PR PowerPoint graveyard!
● What’s been the hardest lesson to learn?
That not everyone might have the same level of empathy and trust as me and sometimes you can get played unwittingly. I definitely had to grow some sharp elbows when I moved down to London after a more sleepy life in the Midlands.
● Who are your favourite people in PR and why?
Shout out to the people who saw something special in a nervous Asian girl back in 2005 and for giving me the most amazing entry into an industry I now love. David Gallagher, Mark Hume and Sarah Barrett – thanks!
Jo-ann Robertson our fearless CEO for always believing in me and pushing me out of my box.
● What skill do you think every PR has to nail?
For god’s sake, learn to listen! There are so many PRs out there who love the sound of their own voice but we need to get better at actively listening to our clients in order to ask the killer questions that get under the bonnet of briefs. There’s a reason our biology is 2:1 when it comes to ears over mouth!
● What is your favourite social network and why?
I know a lot of people have gone off Twitter but I love the breadth of views I can poll in literally a minute of scrolling by following people who don’t just subscribe to my world view, but those who aggressively oppose it. Sometimes us Londoners can live in a bit of a bubble.
● What’s your favourite podcast and why?
I love some of the TED podcasts – cliched perhaps, but there are some great motivational speakers on there on virtually any topic so it’s an unlimited bank of (free) coaching material on demand. Some of the more obscure podcasts (improving childbirth mortality rates in India) are the ones I’ve learnt the most from actually.
● Who is your favourite journalist and why?
Sathnam Sanghera has always been someone I’ve followed and read – love his wit (especially about his beloved Wolverhampton) and his willingness to take on topics which others might steer away from because it might not be PC.
● What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
My dad: “I haven’t paid for you to go to university to end up back in Rugby town.”
Me: I left Rugby in 2003 to go to university and never went back.
● Biggest PR campaign fail and yay of 2019?
FAIL: I do think that Extinction Rebellion’s (XR) poorly targeted attacks on people trying to go about their everyday commute could backfire and alienate the very people they need on their side. There’s much to admire about the passions and people they have galvanised, but they are starting to tread a fine line.
YAY: Burger King’s PR is fascinating and always delivers with absolute brand authenticity. The ‘’A Day Without Whopper’ campaign which saw BK remove its signature burger for the day to encourage people to head to rival Mac D’s to support their cancer initiative was beautifully executed. ‘Moment marketing’ at its flame-grilled finest.
● Finally, on the D’ word… What can the sector do to encourage diversity?
Get in front of prospective talent earlier than university – many BAME families will still hold prejudices about careers in media or the arts as being ‘non-traditional’.
Improve hiring practices by training people who interview within organisations – unconscious bias can be deadly to progress here.
More diversity on PR judging panels, on stages, in articles – if you can’t see people like you today’s BAME talent will never have the chance of attracting new BAME talent.
Ensure it’s not just BAME PR people talking in a sound chamber to themselves – we need to ensure everyone of every race, colour and background is vocal about this.
Alicia is one of 18 mentors for the 2020 BME PR Pros/PRWeek Mentoring Scheme. Applications for mentees are now open – click here to find out more. The closing date for applications is Friday 14 February 2020.