Maxine is the communications manager for Imperial College Academic Health Science Centre (AHSC). Her role involves communicating the health research carried out at Imperial in partnership with three NHS trusts which are then translated to new drugs, treatments and therapies for patients and the public.
She is responsible for managing the Imperial College AHSC seminar series. These public engagement events bring together experts from the College and clinicians from NHS partners’ Trusts to showcase the work of the AHSC. Under her leadership, attendance has grown from a goal of 40 members of staff to a global online audience of over 700 people. They also attract media attention with journalists attending the events and articles of the presenters’ work featuring in national newspapers.
Maxine also leads media relations for AHSC research papers which involves writing press releases, providing media training and creating and implementing media strategies. This has led to widespread coverage in national and international outlets, including the frontpage of The Sun newspaper.
Maxine graduated from Leicester University with a degree in Politics. After graduating she worked as a journalist for The Voice newspaper. Here, she had the opportunity to interview key public and community figures such as the Reverand Al Sharpton.
Maxine then moved into communications and before joining Imperial she worked at the University of West London as a Communications Officer. There she helped to increase the media profile of the University and its eight academic schools and manage the press for high profile events.
Describe yourself/your background in 5 words max?
Wembley born Jamaican raised
How did you get into PR/communications?
After working as a journalist for four years, I decided on communications as the next career move. I was writing more campaign-based stories and I felt ready for a new challenge and a career that was more stable.
Lambeth Living – an organisation that managed social housing for Lambeth council – was my first communications job after leaving journalism. It was here where I really learned about crisis communications! My first day involved writing press statements on a roof that had collapsed on one of their properties leaving residents temporarily homeless.
I learned how to adapt my writing style and the way in which we communicated with residents. For example, English was a second language for some of our residents, and the reading age of some was seven so I learnt about how to communicate key information on their properties and repairs as concisely as possible.
However, I was working on mainly reactive comms so wanted to get a wider perspective, especially in proactive comms where I could be more creative. I joined Higher Education as my next move and have been in the sector since.
What do you love about your job?
I really like seeing first-hand the impact of our research work on people and being able to communicate that work widely. I worked on a press release on an immunotherapy treatment for a rare type of cancer arising from pregnancy. I was able to interview a case study called Melody Ransome whose life was saved as a result of our clinical trial. She talked about how radiotherapy and chemotherapy didn’t work for her and was told to get her affairs in order.
She went from planning memory boxes for her children to being in remission more than five years after the trial. I felt so privileged that she trusted me with her story and the fact that I was able to secure media coverage on the research and her experience felt really good.
I enjoy working with academics on their research but seeing the impact it has and speaking to people whose lives have been made better as a result is the most enjoyable aspect.
I also like working hard on a press release and seeing it get widespread media coverage and receiving great feedback as a result.
What are you most proud of?
I would say I am proud of the fact that I have grown more in confidence and found my voice to speak out and up more. For so long I felt that I wasn’t good enough despite my achievements and that really affected my confidence. Over the last year I have put myself forward to take part in panel discussions, chairing our news huddles, speaking out on where we need to grow and improve as a team and helping to drive change in our organisation. It feels really good that my views and my opinions are not only listened to but acted on and my views matter.
What’s been the hardest lesson to learn?
That I am good enough. It has taken a lot of work to believe in myself more and know that I bring a lot to the table and a perspective that lots of people don’t see. Working in an industry that is predominately white and middle class can be overwhelming because you feel so othered but keeping true to myself despite this is really important. I have learnt that I do not need to assimilate or shrink myself to fit in.
Who are your favourite people in PR and why?
Ronke Lawal who is the founder of Ariatu PR. I find it inspiring to have a talented and successful Black woman with her own PR agency to look up to. I also like that she advocates for equity as well as equality as that aspect is often missing when it comes to conversations on and actions to increase diversity.
I also enjoy her insights on media relations, branding and planning and reputation management. I follow her on Twitter and she is hilarious!
What skill do you think every PR/comms person has to nail?
Building and maintaining relationships. I have been able to unearth great stories and spotlight more junior scientists that have done incredible work through building networks.
What is your favourite social network and why?
I would say Twitter. I have found it to be a great community in terms of recommendations for books, TV programmes and podcasts as well finding really interesting and great people to follow. There’s nothing like live tweeting during a major TV moment like Love Island and seeing people’s funny posts. Like most social media channels misinformation, trolling and abuse are the downsides.
What’s your favourite podcast and why?
As someone who loves listening to podcasts this is a really hard question but I would say the New York Times’ ‘The Daily’ podcast. I like their insights and explanations on global affairs and I always learn something after listening to it. Also, the host Michael Barbaro’s voice has such a lovely intimate quality that draws you in.
Who is your favourite journalist and why?
Anthony Bourdain who was a chef, author and TV host. I think he was one of the best storytellers out there. His programme ‘Parts Unknown’ which centred around sharing a meal and how that connects to history, politics and culture. It really opened my eyes and palate as he travelled around the world.
I liked the fact that no matter where he was in the world he would take you outside of the tourist spots and you get a real sense of the people, food and issues.
I remembered one episode where he filmed in Ethiopia with the chef Marcus Samuelsson and I learnt so much about the music, skateboarding scene and of course the food. He showcased the country’s vibrancy and fascinating history in such an interesting way.
Another standout episode was when he interviewed Barack Obama in Vietnam in a noodle shop on plastic stools with a beer. He made food exciting and adventurous. I still watch his shows and feel so inspired to travel more and expand my palate further. I also think he was one of the coolest men out there and he is truly missed.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
To believe in myself more. This advice has been given to me by many people during my career and once I started doing this things changed. I started taking on more challenges, pushing myself further and my career ambitions have expanded because I know I can do it. Another great bit of advice from my former ballet teacher and school friend is the importance of good posture – shoulders down, head up. I always do this before any presentation or chairing a meeting and I instantly feel more confident.
Biggest PR campaign fail and yay of 2021 so far?
I would say the PR campaign I loved this year is Marcus Rashford’s book club to get children from disadvantaged backgrounds to read more and give them increased access to books. He is working with Macmillan Children’s to donate 50,000 books to schools and youth clubs.
We’ve all seen the incredible work Marcus Rashford has done over the last year in terms of providing food for vulnerable families during lockdown and school holidays, campaigning on child hunger and forcing two government u-turns as a result. What makes his campaign so effective is that he has experience of this and talks authentically, concisely and powerfully on the issue. He is using platform and position to bring about much needed social change but also starting much more widespread conversations about why we have these issues in the first place. He is only 23 and has achieved so much – a real inspiration!
A campaign I didn’t like is the post from Weetabix’s Twitter account showing the cereal with baked beans on it. I know it went viral and got lots of media coverage but the comments from other brands along the lines ‘you ok hun?’ was so cringe. I really dislike brands talking to each other like this.
Finally, on the D’ word… What can the sector do to encourage diversity?
I think a focus for a lot of places is on representation and tend to ignore the inclusion bit.
I think companies need to really think about inclusion more and how minority staff are treated in terms of career progression and pay! I would say to gatekeepers of opportunities/people who are leading teams to think about handing over opportunities to those who are overlooked. For example, you’ve received a speaking invitation, so maybe sit this one out and allow somebody else in your place to go. You’re involved in wider strategic projects, perhaps extend the opportunity for more people to work on them and to contribute.
Of course representation is important so overhauling how jobs are advertised, what questions are asked during interviews and who is on the panel is so important. It would be great to walk into a room and not be the only non-white face!
Maxine was awarded a place on The Xec. Leadership Scheme for UK-based Black, Asian, Mixed Race and Ethnic Minority PR and comms pros. She will be mentored by Alicia Solanki, Managing Director Client Experience, Ketchum London.