As the Managing Director for Health EMEA and UK, Avril leads healthcare communications programmes for healthcare companies and charities.
With over 20 years of experience across a wide range of communications, she brings creative solutions to business challenges as well as media strategy, issues management and expertise in stakeholder advocacy. Previously Avril was CEO of Ketchum London where she oversaw a large multi-service, EMEA hub agency with over 200 employees and was responsible for UK agency strategic and business performance.
Avril has considerable experience in international communications and creative
campaigns, reaching consumers and healthcare professionals across the globe. She has worked on many innovative and complex therapies making high science accessible to patients and their families – ‘high tech to the high street’. From cancer and inflammatory disease to HIV, women’s health and leading consumer brands, Avril has combined creativity with scientific knowledge.
Avril grew up in a working class, Irish Chinese family and was dismayed by the lack of diversity in PR. Avril has been passionate about this and has worked for many years to bring about change as part of the Chartered Institute of PR’s Diversity & Inclusion Forum of which she is now Chair, as well as being an Ambassador for the Taylor Bennett Foundation and an Adviser for BAME 2020.
Before working in PR, Avril worked in a NHS GP practice in a deprived part of London and, prior to this, achieved a degree in Biochemistry and a diploma in Film Studies at London University.
Describe your background in 5 words?
Working class, Irish Chinese Brit.
How did you get into PR?
Studied Biochemistry and took a role in the NHS as I tried to work out how to get a job ‘in the media’. Then saw a Guardian ad that said do you understand the NHS and want to work in the media? The rest is history or at least a few lines on my CV!
What do you love about your job?
Every day and every challenge is different.
Getting a deep dive on so many different businesses and their strategic needs and then working with them to create campaigns that build relationships and shift stakeholder beliefs.
In healthcare comms, I really enjoy helping people to make good health choices, bringing attention to neglected diseases and making complex science simple and relevant to people’s lives.
What are you most proud of?
Being part of the comms shift that saw breast cancer become headline news and a nationwide health issue. I worked on Herceptin, a new breast cancer treatment at the time, for nearly ten years globally and in the UK and our team created the ‘postcode prescribing’ story, gave voice to patients and used healthcare inequalities related to treatment to drive access for women.
Oh, and on another campaign stopping Kelly Osbourne from swearing on a video! Surely my finest hour.
What’s been the hardest lesson to learn?
It’s not an equal playing field. They don’t tell you that at school.
Who are your favourite people in PR?
Siobhan Sharpe, Fun agency
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the sector?
Talent. Finding it, nurturing it and keeping it.
The lack of diversity of people and thought.
As comms becomes more integrated, ad agencies are often our de facto day-to-day clients. It’s not good for PR’s profile, value or budgets.
What skill do you think every PR has to nail?
Listening. We like to jump in and offer solutions and creative ideas but the key part of the job is getting under the skin of the client’s brand and business need.
What is your favourite social network and why?
Facebook – not cool, not trendy – but I have family and friends all over the place and it’s the best way to stay in touch. And where else can I tell the tales about the strange people I meet on my journey to work every day?
Who is your favourite tweeter and why?
George Takei, Star Trek hero – always makes me smile or shout (love his retorts to Trump) and was one of the few Asian people on TV when I was growing up.
Best advice you’ve ever been given?
Be true to yourself and trust your gut instinct.
Biggest PR fail and yay of 2017? (i.e. best and worst)
PR Fail: Was it all airlines? It felt like it, with companies from Ryanair to American Airlines to BA struggling to protect their reputations and avoid what has been at times a total comms mess.
PR yay: Issa Thread from @GiveBlood NHS: the English Blood service’s campaign to increase blood donations from the black community. Relevant, witty, culturally spot-on, responsive and straight-talking this drove engagement and the wider conversation on the issue.
22k likes and 13K retweets later this campaign, run by Melissa Thermidor, Blood and Transplant Social Media Manager at the NHS, showed how more diverse PR talent will help us reach and communicate with all of Britain’s population.
Finally, on the D’ word… What can the sector do to encourage diversity?
Stop asking for the business case, do we need to have a business case to hire white, middle class people? I think not.
Let’s talk about the diversity dividend – show how being more diverse is a benefit to the industry as well as the right thing to do.
And to truly change things, let’s start measuring how we’re doing as an industry and as individual companies. We need benchmarking to measure the diversity gap so it can be properly addressed. The CIPR’s State of the Profession research is measuring some stats at an industry level and it’s a sorry tale of saying we understand the value of diversity while the reality is our industry becomes less diverse.
Avril is one of 15 mentors for the 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 16 February 2018.