Ayesha is a Communications Manager for the NHS where she uses her passion for storytelling to transform complex data into compelling media campaigns that drive change in consumer behaviour.
A well-rounded communications professional, Ayesha has a first-class degree in English and Communications and more than five years’ experience in the sector. Prior to working in communications, she worked in the media and in print and digital advertising for international clients.
Ayesha has planned and delivered many successful, high-profile campaigns. This year, she has been heavily involved in delivering key health messages to the public during the COVID-19 pandemic and has helped launch a campaign for local residents following the tragedy at Grenfell Tower, delivering a 40 per cent increase in use of a local enhanced health check service.
One of her proudest moments has been a social media campaign she devised called #IHADMINE. This campaign generated an important conversation around cervical cancer, resulted in 17,000 more women in the local NHS region that she manages being screened and caught the attention of the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who supported the campaign by sharing the message with the rest of London.
Ayesha is committed to always generating fresh ideas, energy and enthusiasm. She is a hugely talented communications professional with great writing skills and a real passion for creativity. Above all, she looks for opportunities to grow and drive meaningful change.
Describe yourself/your background in 5 words max?
Creative London girl, loves exploring.
How did you get into PR/communications?
Communications is a career path that I chose and have fought hard for. I used to find myself sitting and analysing adverts and campaigns that I would see, thinking about the message and the target audience, and noticing how the various channels and places that I had seen the campaign tied together.
I’ve always been good at writing and English, and I had a personal interest in marketing and the media, so communications felt like the natural way to bring these interests together. I took a gap year before university to explore the industry, completing internships in various PR, media and advertising agencies, some of which turned into paid work during the holidays.
After university, I found it difficult to get a job in communications due to ‘lack of experience’ so my first ‘proper job’ was working for my local council in social services. After 18 months, I decided to move on because I was really unhappy as I knew it wasn’t where my interests lay. I took a risk and left without another job to go to, joined several recruitment agencies and started taking on temporary contracts in communications, media and PR to build up my experience in the industry I was most passionate about and I haven’t looked back since. I honestly couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else now.
What do you love about your job?
In my team, I’m known for being the ‘ideas woman’. People are always asking me “Ayesha, what channels can we use to communicate this?”, “What’s a better way to make this sound more interesting?”. Creativity is the fuel in my tank; I love being given a challenge and putting ideas together to solve it. I also really enjoy the writing aspect, taking something really boring and making people feel like it’s definitely something they need to hear more about.
What are you most proud of?
I recently challenged my boss when I was informed that we weren’t allowed to publicly acknowledge or support the Black Lives Matter movement, following the murder of George Floyd in May. I was so hurt and outraged that I decided I couldn’t ignore it and I put my thoughts on email to persuade him to change his mind.
My boss and his seniors were so impressed by my email that not only did they change their stance by releasing both internal and external statements on Black Lives Matter, but they also asked me to turn my email into a blog.
In the blog, I allowed myself to be vulnerable by sharing experiences of racism from my childhood, everyday life and career. Since it was published, colleagues and strangers of all races have got in touch to let me know how much it opened their eyes to read about my experiences and many white colleagues have said that they actually learnt something from it.
I came to the realisation that although there are issues that are obvious to us as black people, for those that don’t share our lived experiences, it’s important for them to hear our voices. Otherwise, they will never learn and therefore nothing will ever change.
Alongside a colleague, I am now leading a project to see real changes being made in our organisation that address unconscious bias, the importance of white allies and the lack of diversity in our senior leadership team.
I was really proud of myself for finding the courage to speak up and now for being a part of inciting change. I feel really blessed that my boss was willing to listen, reflect and take action. I know that there are many black people sat in organisations right now where they do not have the privilege to speak out for fear of being ostracised.
What’s been the hardest lesson to learn?
You can’t please everyone…. I work in an organisation with a really complex structure, a sometimes ridiculous sign-off process and *cough cough* some difficult personalities. Some of the projects I’ve worked on have required sign-off from multiple organisations that I have been working with. There have been occasions where some are completely happy with what I’ve done and others have hated it – and they haven’t held back when letting me know! When I first started my job, there were times that I was honestly close to tears, but I learnt to toughen up and accept the fact that it would be impossible to please everyone. I went on a training course and got to work on my negotiation skills. Since then, I’ve had many successful ‘discussions’ where I have managed to win round some of my toughest audiences!
Who are your favourite people in PR/comms and why?
She’s technically not a ‘PR/comms’ person but she’s done a brilliant job at promoting herself and has created her own multi-million-pound brand…. Her name is Patricia Bright – she’s a businesswoman, YouTuber, content creator and influencer. She inspires me because she has built her career, her multiple businesses and her brand from the ground up (all whilst getting married and becoming a mother!). She had a vision and she had a goal; she went after it and she has achieved it. She also continues to smash through her ‘bucket list’ with achievement after achievement.
I appreciate Patricia for sharing her journey, her wins, her losses and her mistakes, so that others can follow in her footsteps. In a saturated market, Patricia has proven that the simple formula of being yourself, always wanting what’s best for yourself and never accepting less than what you deserve will help you go far.
What skill do you think every PR/comms person has to nail?
Being able to communicate clearly and concisely. There’s no point producing campaigns, content or materials if no one is going to be able to connect and engage with them.
What is your favourite social network and why?
This is going to sound really sad but Instagram is my happy place. I can sit, scroll and laugh at memes for far longer than I am willing to admit.
What’s your favourite podcast and why?
I’m a massive fan of The Receipts Podcast. I’ve had so many “Oh my gosh, me too” moments listening to this podcast. It’s fronted by three women who are unapologetically themselves and are willing to discuss their honest feelings about absolutely everything and anything… from relationships, to work, to friends and family issues… there’s no filter.
Who is your favourite journalist and why?
I’ve got a lot of time for Akala – not sure if you’d class him as a ‘journalist’ but he’s a writer, rapper, public speaker, activist and poet. I just love how he thinks, his voice is authentic and I always learn something new whenever I read something he has written or listen to him speak. You can tell that not only has he done his research, but I also appreciate the passion he has for tackling the issues experienced and the stereotypes afforded to black people in the UK today.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Be yourself and be confident in who you are. I’ve sat around tables quietly thinking that my ideas were rubbish, but then when I spoke up I often suggested great ideas that others never even thought of and never would have been carried forward if I didn’t say anything.
How would you describe 2020 in one word?
Who is your coronavirus comms hero and why?
I can’t really say there is one person. Shameless plug and yes, I am biased, but for me it would have to be the NHS as a collective. Every NHS communications professional has been key in ensuring that the public have access to the right information and materials at all times. As new announcements were made by the government, we’ve had to keep up by making sure they’re available to the public as widely as possible and that they can be easily understood by all, including those whose first language is not English and people with learning disabilities. I appreciate more than ever the importance of telling stories with clarity and creativity, so that people really listen to the messages that matter. I would hate to ever think that there was someone out there going through the pandemic who felt lost or like they didn’t have all the information required, should they need help from the NHS.
That said, I feel like I’ve just been working in the background and while it’s been hectic, I applaud the real heroes of the NHS – all the doctors and nurses that have been on the frontline saving lives. Thank you.
Finally… Which brand impressed you with their response to Black Lives Matter and why?
I was really impressed by Netflix. When you type ‘Black Lives Matter’ into the search bar, it brings up a collection of films, TV shows and documentaries that tell the story of black Americans and the history of racial prejudice and injustice. I really liked the fact that they were highlighting black voices and the experiences that we live as black people, not just in the United States but all over the world. It also made it easier to recommend resources to white friends who were putting their hands up to say they needed an education.