Andrea is a consumer PR specialist, copywriter, trained journalist and former erotic short fiction writer with over 14 years’ experience. As well as occasionally writing for national press, she has provided consultancy and PR expertise to numerous companies big and small, and successfully managed countless consumer PR campaigns within some of the industry’s most notable PR agencies for brands including Currys and PC World, Boots and Microsoft.
Notable feats include delivering a strong year-on-year coverage performance over the critical Christmas period for retailers Boots and Dixons Retail and helping to reposition Microsoft as a lifestyle, consumer-friendly brand – bringing it to a media audience that had never previously considered writing about it.
Andrea’s experience is rich and diverse, successfully PRing everything from a stocks and shares website for private investors to a renowned sex therapist. She was formerly a senior PR consultant at global advertising and marketing agency, M&C Saatchi.
Andrea is founder and director of boutique consumer PR consultancy, ASP PR, which specialises in providing publicity to tech startups and SMEs. Portfolio of clients include a children’s book publisher that tackles gender misconceptions at the grassroots around careers; an agetech venture endeavouring to innovate the elderly care sector, as well as food, health and beauty brands.
● Describe yourself/your background in 5 words max?
Flack. Working class girl done good.
● How did you get into PR/communications?
It was accident (and poverty!) rather than design really. I trained as a journalist and, after my post-graduate degree, I scraped by doing freelance bits and pieces for women’s magazines like Bella, and contributed occasionally to national press. I also used to write erotic short fiction for a racy monthly women’s magazine, which is no longer in publication. To rack up experience and to get a foot in the door to journalism, I briefly took up unpaid work experience on the features desk at The Independent where I met a few other young people who had got their permanent jobs after working unpaid for around 6 months until a vacancy opened.
After self-funding my post-graduate degree, I had accrued a lot of debt. I couldn’t justify working for free for an unspecified length of time while living in London, even if it meant eventually securing a job in a national paper that I loved.
Just as the bank was notifying me of my cheque for rent bouncing (yet again), I got a call from a headhunter who asked if I’d ever thought of trying ‘the dark side’ of the media. At college, I remember a PR coming in to do a talk on the profession but – even then – I remember the tutors talking about PROs with disdain. Even before we even got to know about PRs, we were primed to dislike them. But, at this stage, I was curious (not to mention desperate for money!) so I undertook two rounds of interviews to work in-house for an online stocks and shares firm situated behind the Bank of England. I knew nothing about how the stock market worked, nor about IPOs, bear markets, dead cat bounces and all the other impossible jargon that came with working in the engine room of Capitalism. But I still got the job, I committed to learn the market, and I was able to put my journalism skills to work. I was ghost writing for the CEO, with pieces published in The Business and FT – reporting on company reports, stock market trends, best of the stock market tips etc. At the same time, the CEO – who had met his wife online – had recently bought a dating website, which I also had to PR too.
It was my first taste of consumer PR and I found it to be infinitely more interesting than writing about stocks and shares. It was certainly strange doing news alerts about the FTSE 100 breaking 6,000 for the first time and then a press release about how 35% of Brits use the office Christmas party to flirt with the boss in order to get a pay rise. But the experience eventually inspired me to leave finance PR after two years and pursue a career in consumer PR. In my 14-year career in PR, I have since worked agency- side, brand-side and freelance. I currently run my own PR consultancy (although I have also gone back to university part-time to do an MA in Child & Adolescent Psychotherapy and adult counselling).
● What do you love about your job?
When you get a good piece of coverage that has also been proven to deliver business benefits to a client, you get what I call a PR-gasm! The thrill is addictive, the achievement is satisfying but only transient, so you feel compelled to go back for more.
I’ve worked on huge award-winning PR campaigns before, agency-side, but the best reward is really from my own clients saying that one single piece of coverage yielded dividends for them in terms of new business acquisition and opportunities, keynote speaker invitations and increased recruitment drive. That definitely makes me feel that I am doing something worthwhile; that I’m helping businesses to remain tenable and successful.
● What are you most proud of?
One client – a tech startup that is endeavouring to innovate the elderly care sector – recently shared with me a screen grab of his inbox the day after a strong piece of profile coverage was published in the Evening Standard. There were reams and reams of emails with all sorts of new business and speaker opportunities, as well as genuine heartfelt notes from members of the public who just wanted to commend him on his venture and the social issues his solution was trying to address. It was overwhelming and he simply conceded that “PR definitely works!” Even now, it’s the piece of coverage that keeps on giving; they were this year shortlisted as a finalist for the Evening Standard Business Award SME and Start-Up of the Year 2019. Also, getting coverage for a fitness app client in Vogue – the style bible of the world – has made me rather proud.
● What’s been the hardest lesson to learn?
That you can do everything strategically and technically right in a PR campaign and it may still fail because it is determined by the often unforeseen and unpredictable nature of news.
● Who are your favourite people in PR and why?
Mark Borkowski and Andrew Bloch. I like their PR campaigns and I follow both on Twitter – they’re quite funny.
● What skill do you think every PR has to nail?
There are so many skills every PR should nail, but the most important things should be to learn something new every day by reading a variety of media and literature, and to continue writing and fine tuning this skill. It’s unbelievable the number of PRs out there who cannot write compelling copy. Staying curious about the world at large and the diversity of the lives people live helps us to stay attuned, empathetic and creatively relevant.
● What is your favourite social network and why?
From a PR perspective, Twitter I suppose, although it is prone to trolling. I tend to use it as my news feed. I find Instagram vain and toxic to mental well-being and Facebook almost insufferable because of the persistent adverts. I actually gave up Facebook for about 3 weeks recently as part of a psychotherapeutic experiment on addiction, deleting it from my phone completely, and it was really quite liberating. It’s astounding how much of a zombie we become when we do mindless scrolling on social media.
● What’s your favourite podcast and why?
My Dad Wrote A Porno. Anyone who likens women’s lady parts to Tupperware or nipples to the “rivets that held the hull of the fateful Titanic together” is a literary genius in my eyes. Shame the writer’s son doesn’t think so, however, his embarrassment makes for entertaining listening in any case and, I would assume, is a form of much needed therapy. Parents: they really do mess you up.
● Who is your favourite journalist and why?
Marina Hyde. She is acerbic, brutally funny and she makes some sense of the crazy non-sensical world we love live in.
● What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Not something that’s been personally dispensed to me, but something I read recently in Man’s Search For Meaning, written by Holocaust survivor, neurologist and psychologist Viktor Frankl. He hypothesised that the key thing that motivates people in life is not the will to power nor the will to seek pleasure and gratification, but a will to finding meaning in existence – especially in the face of suffering and tragedy. These words in particular resonate with me: “Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you feel and do about what happens to you.”
● Biggest PR campaign fail and yay of 2019?
Nay: Peloton’s ill-judged advertising campaign of a trim woman being gifted its prohibitively expensive bike by her partner – which was derided by many as dystopian and sexist – saw the brand lose $1.5bn of its value in a matter of days. Although I wasn’t so offended by the advert enough to be compelled into writing to the Advertising Standards Authority, the apparent myopia of the creatives behind this who failed to see how its messaging was reinforcing harmful gender stereotypes, is quite astounding. Peloton stood by its advert, claiming itself to be the victim of misinterpretation, which did little to redeem itself from this costly PR disaster. Time will tell whether consumers will eventually be forgiving enough to overlook the faux pas in the long run. But, as with any brand maligned because of an ‘oversight’, a touch of earnest humility and admittance of its culpability for its own failures in an outbound comms approach goes a long way in saving face and retaining and gaining brand loyalty.
Yay: I liked loan company Zopa’s media engagement programme entitled The ChocoRate Challenge. They gifted three chocolate bars to target journalists, one of which was ominously flavoured. The stunt was used to illustrate how shopping around for loans and buying into product that looks to be a good deal on the surface but terrible in reality, is like biting into a tasty looking chocolate bar and discovering that it tastes bitter. Simple and
● Finally, on the D’ word… What can the sector do to encourage diversity?
Lack of diversity in PR is one of the many reasons why I am fed up of this sector. It is populated, largely, by a homogenous group of people – typically white, university educated, middle class and young. The sector is beleaguered by so many ‘isms’, and not enough discourse and action is being taken in order to level out this playing field. You see it in PR Week, month after month, the most celebrated and noted consultants and movers and shakers comprise white men in Directors of Comms positions within blue chip or public sector organisations, and white women in consumer sector-led roles. The Power Book that is published annually, if anything, shows the deficit in professionals who are also people of colour – hardly representative of society or the audience base that likely consume the products that their clients sell.
Then there’s the issue of class; when I worked in the PR arm of a huge Soho-based advertising and marketing agency, there was no one of working class descent (apart from me – the one person brought up on a council estate); this is anecdotal but I suspect this was a microcosm of the wider industry at large – where most people come from the Home Counties, and had relatively well-to-do, if not exceptionally privileged, backgrounds. By no means do I begrudge them of this – they had no more control over the circumstances they were brought up in than I did. But the point was, there didn’t seem to be a conscious recruitment approach to balance out the diversity of the teams; for a creative industry, it’s about selecting the best of the best – but without much regard for thinking that a non- diverse workforce, in itself, stymies creativity.
Then there’s the issue of age: the way the industry recruits fresh talent with terrible adverts festooned with adjectives such as “fast paced”, “dynamic”, “exciting” (all code for “PR sweat shop”) serves to underscore, surreptitiously, the message that this is an industry for the young and unstrung – free to work unGodly hours and not bound to require flexibility in working hours because of school runs, regular childhood illnesses and school holidays. This is why you see agency life dominated by 20 somethings and less senior people within organisations. The latter leave for consultancy jobs that pay a good day rate because there are very few and fair agencies that accommodate parents.
Need I mention gender? More males dominate the top director of communication jobs than women?
We have already seen the affect that the lack of diversity has on creativity within marketing and PR – it results in catastrophic faux pas that alienates and offends the very consumer base they are trying to target on behalf of clients. Diversity is important, not as a tick box exercise, but as a means of ensuring that professionals in our sector can empathise with all members of society so that they can communicate with them effectively, building campaigns that resonate positively for the better. To a certain agree, that takes acknowledgement that a big overhaul in the way PRs are recruited is required. It takes acknowledgement that, in order to increase diversity, there needs to be an understanding that the underprivileged and minorities do not have the same access path as everyone else.
Quality of education, poverty, terrible life experiences all collude to create almost unsurmountable barriers – and yet, some make it. I did. From a recruiter perspective, the real task is identifying talent and potential, even if they do not have the Oxbridge / Russel Group degree. And requires being open-minded to sourcing talent away from the usual pools and understanding the commercial benefit of addressing the diversity issue in PR, as well as the human aspect.
Andrea 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 2019.