Effie Kanyua is a former journalist and fell into PR by accident rather than choosing it. She has worked at a host of leading agencies including: Splendid Communications, Weber Shandwick, M&C Saatchi, Shine, 3 Monkeys, Clarity and on some of the biggest global and UK accounts for Diageo, Pernod Ricard, P&G, Unilever, J&J, GSK, Coca Cola, Microsoft, Samsung, Virgin Media to name a few. She has worked across every sector imaginable and probably on some of the biggest and toughest but most rewarding clients in the business. She has worked in-house at a variety of companies including the BBC, Disney and Bauer Media.
Describe your background in 5 words max?
Kenyan/Ghanaian London born Mancunian
How did you get into PR?
I actually started off as a journalist/TV researcher at the BBC and worked across Ents and Features, News and Current Affairs, the Commonwealth Games, Newsbeat and the legal team. I actually fell into PR when a TV job at BBC Northern Ireland fell through….. and I never looked back.
What do you love about your job?
I love the fact that no day is ever the same and that literally anything and everything can happen during the course of a day! I also love the fact that my team are so supportive, we’re small and nimble, so we all chip in and have each other’s backs and I have theirs, that’s really important to me. I’m also really lucky/blessed that I have always been supported by amazing bosses who want me to do well and have let me take risks. I wouldn’t say that I am ‘conventional’ and I’m pretty competitive, so I always want to be the best. My boss and CEO James Wildman, is one of the most inspirational, respected people in the industry and has taken Hearst from strength to strength, I joined when we were literally winning award after award. The bar has been set high for me to achieve and that’s all I want to do, work with my team to achieve the best. I grew up with these brands, so we just want everyone to see everything else that we offer outside of print and digital, such as our amazing brand events and content creation for our clients.
What are you most proud of?
Honestly….. getting the job at Hearst (my Mum cried, and best friends were really supportive) It was lovely having so many people in the industry be genuinely happy for me because they know how hard I’ve worked for this. It’s significant and important to me because BAME female Comms Directors are too rare here in the UK (where are they?) – a lot of young PRs and people who want to get into media contact me for advice and I think it’s important that they see that everything and anything is possible if you work hard. I also want them to see that there are companies like Hearst who will welcome them if they are talented.
What’s been the hardest lesson to learn?
That sadly sometimes you can’t win them all. You have to accept failure as well as success but ultimately that’s what makes you stronger.
Who are your favourite people in PR and why?
I got mentored by some amazing people, so I don’t want to be cringey but it’s really important to acknowledge the people who helped shape your career or who influenced you in some way. Julian Payne, Charlotte Speedy, Nicola Formoy and Niki Hunter (Splendid) all mentored/supported me at the start of my career and taught me all the basics and PR lessons. Later on in my career, I was mentored at a senior level by Alison Weir from Wonderland who really helped me raise my game and Jodie Fullagar. Everything I know about comms in-house I have learnt from Cat Martin/Jess Blake/Anne-Marie Lavan and Genevieve Potter from Bauer and Jonny Silver who was my right-hand man and is now at The Hook. I wouldn’t have landed my dream job at Hearst if it hadn’t been for all that I learnt from them or Steve Parkinson who although isn’t a PR, made me genuinely love what I do. I also have a PR Husband (everyone needs one), James Rich who has worked agency side and in-house with me for years and is pretty much the best at what he does. Any of the people above I would encourage any young PRs to follow and look to for inspiration.
What skill do you think every PR has to nail?
Relationship building…. whether it’s journos, clients, stakeholders…that’s key. I also want to add being creative, I think PR is evolving so much that you have to be brave and take risks.
What is your favourite social network and why?
Instagram, I love stalking my favourite celebrities/influencers on insta, I literally love Serena Williams’, Jason Mamoa’s and Ciara’s entire families and everyone who knows me knows how I feel about David Guetta (my friends are so bored of this now but I have tried to see him 6 times and each time something happens, delayed flights etc). I am also a big beauty, fitness and fashion geek so I love looking at posts from Stylemecurvy, AJ Odudu, Patricia Bright, Tamia Styles, Pat McGrath, Olivia Palermo and Rosie Fortescue for inspiration.
Who is your favourite journalist and why?
I’m going to say Jessie Aru we worked together at the BBC years ago and she is at BBC 5Live now, her pieces are amazing, she has covered everything from post-natal depression to Thruples! She has also set up an amazing podcast called the The Sista Collective which everyone should listen to. The ELLE beauty team as well, I loved them before I even joined.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
“As long as no-one has died, it can wait until the morning.” thank you Julian Payne, he probably doesn’t even realise how much that stayed with me! He was one of my best bosses at the start of my career. We sometimes take ourselves too seriously and yes serious things do happen, but he taught me that sometimes you have to take a step back and actually realise that things aren’t as serious or as urgent as you might believe.
Biggest PR campaign fail and yay of 2018?
I have to say from a crisis comms point of view the biggest fail was the Delsie Gayle incident on Ryanair, it wasn’t a campaign but how it was handled could have been done better. And for my yay I’m going to say Tess Holliday for Cosmopolitan magazine because it was before I started at Hearst. Farrah and the Cosmo team have reminded us all that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, that’s just as important to me as seeing BAME diversity on the covers of magazines.
Finally, on the D’ word… What can the sector do to encourage diversity?
This is tricky and I wish there was a simple answer! The reality is that having worked at so many agencies for years, I can say that there are a couple who need to get their house in order and do better. Maybe industry bodies need to get even more involved and survey BAME employees to pull together a list to champion the best places to work because there are some amazing agencies and companies out there who genuinely want to attract diverse talent, like Hearst. That will inform people coming into the industry where they should be looking and encourage the rest of the industry to raise their standards. Also, I think the industry needs to position this as an attractive career for men too, why can’t men aspire to be great PRs as well as women?
Effie 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.