Isobel Bradshaw is a senior corporate communications manager at Vodafone Group, working on a range of corporate and financial issues for the world’s second largest mobile phone company.
She was previously head of communications at TalkTalk Group, looking after the full range of PR issues, most notably the high-profile cyber-attack in 2015. She has also spent a considerable time agency-side, where she specialised in media relations and public affairs in a range of sectors, from healthcare to TMT and a whole range in between. She started her career over a decade ago as a press officer for O2.
When she does have some spare time, she can normally be found curled up on the sofa with the weekend papers or a good book.
Describe your background in 5 words?
North London via Jamaica & Lancashire.
How did you get into PR?
A lot of luck! I knew this was what I wanted to do, but didn’t know what it was called or how to get started. I stumbled across a careers fair in my last year at uni, and finally put a name to it all: corporate comms and public affairs.
Then, a few weeks later in the Christmas holidays, I got chatting to my parents’ new neighbour, who turned out to be a comms director. He gave me some tips, put me in touch with a couple of people to approach for internships, and ended up telling me about a great opportunity that turned into my first full-time job.
It’s one of the reasons I’m so passionate about helping those just starting out: if I can be half as helpful as he was to me, it could help make all the difference.
What do you love about your job?
It’s a cliché, but no two days are the same. You genuinely have no idea what colleagues, clients and journalists might throw at you (both good and bad!).
And as someone who reads everything and anything, being paid to read the papers as well as social media is just a dream.
What are you most proud of?
Just sometimes, you get to really make a difference and knowing that it might not have happened without you is the best feeling. I’ve changed legislation to protect vulnerable women and children; I’ve helped make broadband in the UK more competitive and better for consumers.
What’s been the hardest lesson to learn?
You can’t win them all. Sometimes your advice is overruled, and you have to pitch a story you know won’t fly; sometimes journalists take you out of context to make a better headline and there’s nothing you can do about it.
You can’t take it personally, and it’s not a reflection of your professional skills. You just have to dust yourself off, and get on with the next challenge.
Who are your favourite people in PR?
I think I’ve been incredibly lucky with the people I’ve worked with over the years, as many of those are definitely my favourite people in PR. Especially many of my bosses –from Dave Massey and Glenn Manoff, who gave a bright-eyed graduate her first chance – through to Jessi Lennard and Dido Harding who I’ve worked with more recently, and are not only inspiring women but also made what could’ve been tricky comms situations a pleasure to work through.
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the sector?
Finding our exact role in a rapidly changing media landscape. If the ‘MSM’ (I hate that phrase!) is less trusted, and there are fewer and fewer journalists, who should we be talking to? What channels should we using? Should all PR be direct to the consumer, instead of indirect? It’s something we tell ourselves we’re getting our heads around, but I think in reality there’s a long way to go.
What skill do you think every PR has to nail?
Writing, every time. It doesn’t matter which bit of PR you’re working in, or which audience you’re going for, but you have to be able to write clearly, concisely and well – whether it’s an email to a client or a tweet to thousands of followers. It all matters.
What is your favourite social network and why?
I have such a soft spot for Twitter. I lurk more than I post, but it’s brilliant at keeping me up to date on what’s going on in the world, as well as making me cry with laughter from time to time.
Who is your favourite tweeter and why?
Too many to name! There are a couple of journalists who I always look out for to see their take on the news, like @hugorifkind, @youngvulgarian and @gabyhinsliff. And despite my best efforts, I think I am now following nearly every political and news journalist on the Buzzfeed staff, because they make even the most mundane bit of news effortlessly interesting and amusing. @theobertram’s New Labour threads are also unmissable.
Best advice you’ve ever been given?
I don’t think everyone would agree with me on this one, but a couple of years ago my CEO told me to not worry about feeling like I needed to make an impact straightaway just for the sake of it.
In corporate comms, one of the most important parts of the job is to be the objective, clear-headed strategic adviser. It’s important to take your time to get to know what’s going on around you, how the company works, understand the background and then show the value you can bring, rather than just trying to standout immediately and blowing your credibility before you’ve even begun.
Biggest PR fail and yay of 2017? (i.e. best and worst)
Theresa May. Talk about a way to trash a brand in a few short months, from “strong and stable” to sore throats, no majority and no authority, 2017 has been a complete PR omni-shambles for her.
I did like IKEA jumping on the bandwagon when it was revealed many of the Game of Thrones cloaks were in fact their faux-fur rugs. It was quick, smart, cheap and very effective and didn’t involve floating something down the Thames – exactly what good PR should be.
An honourable mention for Donald Trump. The most successful corporate campaigns are when you completely change the terms of the debate, so they’re completely on your terms. If it wasn’t so depressing it would be awe-inspiring.
Finally, on the D’ word… What can the sector do to encourage diversity?
We need to tell more people about what it is we really do. There are so many myths and legends about what really goes on it can be alienating.
We also need a bigger, more diverse line-up of public role models. I’ve watched the industry become so much less pale, male and stale in the last decade, but still the same faces are rolled out whenever we talk about ourselves. It’s getting a bit embarrassing.
Isobel 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.