Claire Quansah has been in PR for 12 years, having started on the graduate programme at GolinHarris (now Golin). After a few years working on technology clients, she expanded her portfolio to work on wider B2B and corporate campaigns for the likes of EMC, Orange and St John Ambulance.
Claire joined Havas PR in 2013 and was appointed as its first operations director in 2017. As part of this role, she leads a number of projects which look at the agency’s ways of working, from talent development to supplier relationships. Having launched the agency’s first apprenticeship scheme, she now leads its diversity agenda.
Her clients now span across consumer, corporate and B2B PR, working on both big brand and niche campaign management for brands who have included Asda, Greggs and Sodexo.
As a mother of two, Claire is highly skilled in multi-tasking and singing theme tunes to children’s TV shows. She also loves wine, eating cake and is a WI member (yes, you read it right).
Describe your background in 5 words max?
Ghanaian, Mancunian, Spanish speaking diva.
How did you get into PR?
I studied European Business and Spanish at Nottingham Trent university, but always preferred the marketing and communications modules. I liked the idea of being able to change people’s opinions and perceptions of others, so always found myself taking on the more difficult or less obvious side of a debate, just for the challenge of finding out something new in order to persuade others.
After graduating I spent a few months in Ghana in the PR office for the Ministry of Health, helping to launch the national health insurance scheme and loved it.
So, when I got back I applied for different grad schemes with the aim of getting a taste for agency life. I guess I must have liked it.
What do you love about your job?
I know it sounds like a cliché but I really do enjoy the variety – every day is different. I enjoy learning about new industries and businesses and being able to use that knowledge to create stories. My brain is now full of random facts about anything from dog toys to water fittings regulations and emergency first aid – I’m great at dinner parties I also genuinely like the people I work with. Its so much easier to get up in the morning if you know you’re working with fun, talented people.
What are you most proud of?
For someone who ticks a few boxes – female, mother, black – the odds for my career are probably quite rubbish. I feel quite proud that I’ve been able to carve out a successful career, work on some amazing brands, but still be flexible enough to see my kids grow up. And I’ve done it all without having to lose my own identity. I guess I’m quite lucky to have had supportive employers. This is probably why I’m so excited about the BME PR Pros mentorship programme. I want to help other PR practitioners to build their careers too, without feeling they have to sacrifice part of who they are. I see too many stories of women and BME people whose careers have been held back because of their gender or race, so schemes like this are very powerful.
What’s been the hardest lesson to learn?
Not everyone is going to like you and you won’t always know why. That can be hard, especially because early in your career you are often taught about how much of a ‘people business’ PR is. But sometimes you have to realise it’s about being able to form and manage professional relationships, whilst doing a brilliant job, rather than making best friends.
Who are your favourite people in PR and why?
Can I just say Olivia Pope from Scandal? I know that’s a bit of a cop out, but there are so many great PR people I’ve followed and worked with over the years, that I’ve learned a lot from, it would be hard and unfair to pick out a few.
What skill do you think every PR has to nail?
Business perspective. We can come up with the best ideas in the world, but if they aren’t right for the business, they will either be rejected or not achieve a goal, neither of which is a good position to be in. We need to listen and really understand what a business is really looking for before we can look at how PR can help.
What is your favourite social network and why?
Instagram. It always feels like a more positive space than Twitter and more productive than Facebook. Personally, I feel like I’ve become part of lots of micro-communities on there.
Who is your favourite journalist and why?
The news-loving child in me will always have a soft spot for Krishnan Guru-Murthy. He’s reported on a lot of powerful stories throughout my life and his style is really engaging.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Nobody is better than you – they might live in bigger house, drive a more expensive car or have a fancy job title, but that doesn’t make them a better person than you. My mum always said that to us when we were growing up, not to make us think we were better than others, but to remind us that we shouldn’t be intimidated by superficial things, such as possessions, a title or an accent. I very rarely feel intimidated by people and I think that’s important in agency life.
Biggest PR campaign fail and yay of 2018?
A certain airline and the way it handled a racist rant to one of its customers. Enough said.
The success of ‘Slay in Your Lane’ has been so impressive. If you’d have asked me just two years ago that a book by two black british women would become a bestseller, getting praise in the likes of Vogue, The Guardian and BBC, I’d have laughed. Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené have done an amazing job.
Finally, on the D’ word… What can the sector do to encourage diversity?
Have a diverse approach to diversity. Remember, it’s not just about getting young college students interested in starting a career in PR, but it’s also about getting experienced PRs to stay in the industry. What works for one group won’t necessarily work for another.
Claire is one of 18 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 15 February 2019.