Myriam Khan is an Associate Manager, Corporate Communications, at Ketchum in London. She has 8 years of experience in global corporate and consumer PR, having worked across the United States, the Middle East and the UK. Over the course of her career, Myriam has managed a wide range of clients including HSBC, Shell, Adidas, Starbucks and the Qatar Olympic Committee, and worked for a number of global and national agencies, including H+K Strategies, Grayling, Tangerine and SKV Communications. Her passion points are writing, media relations and digital communications. In her first ever in-house role at Ketchum, Myriam heads Ketchum’s corporate communications in London, while closely working with the consultancy’s global branding and marketing team.
Describe your background in 5 words max?
Global citizen born in Pakistan
How did you get into PR?
Pure accident. I wanted to be a fiction writer, but the forces conspired and succeeded in my slow, but certain, “corporatisation”. It was a relatively quick journey, from pure fantasy, to literary realism, to non-fiction then journalism and ultimately onto the dark side! So much in love, that I’m still here 8 years later.
What do you love about your job?
Two things – the pace at which everything moves (like, 100 mph) and the people I get to meet and know. I like seeing quick and consistent results, and I get bored easily. Communications being a very results-driven, fast-paced job keeps me motivated. I love people – and I get to meet a lot of them and build really valuable relationships in my line of work, so that’s definitely something that I enjoy.
What are you most proud of?
Being fiercely independent, even when part me of is utterly terrified. I grew up moving around the world, but my move to the UK 5 years ago, especially moving to the north of England first, and then to London has been, by far, the most independent and also the most intimidating for a number of reasons. One being, this is the first time I’ve been truly financially independent and that means a lot to me. Secondly, working and being successful in a highly competitive market like London, without actually having started my career here or even in the UK, where the comms industry is way more established than it is in the Middle East (where I started my career), has been a challenge I’ve overcome through sheer hard work and determination, all while tremendously enjoying the journey.
What’s been the hardest lesson to learn?
Having a ‘progress over perfection’ mindset. I am a perfectionist by nature, so it’s very hard to accept that I can’t control EVERYTHING or have it a certain way. I’ve learned that it’s OK to aim for perfection, but not at the cost of making progress, because otherwise things get stale and you constantly feel unhappy.
Who are your favourite people in PR and why?
I have huge respect and gratitude for people who pull others up and push them forward, such as the people who guided me when I stepped into agency life back in 2011, as well as those who’ve had my back and encouraged me since then. I’m sure they’ve done this for others and that like me, those other people will want to pay it forward, creating a cycle of support that everyone could benefit from in this dog eat dog world. There are quite a few, but some people who are immediate standouts are: Dalia Najjar, who is now the MD of Qatar-based comms agency TripleTwo, and Stephen Reid, director, sports marketing, Middle East at H+K Strategies. When I started my agency career at H+K Strategies in 2011, these people not only coached me in PR and how to manage clients, but gave me the confidence to hold my own and navigate the complexities of the corporate world. Global sports marketing expert Andy Sutherden has also been a friend and guiding light throughout. In addition to being a brilliant marketer, he is also incredibly humble and someone you can really count on. Last but not the least, I can never forget how Andy Spinoza and Geraldine Vesey, founders of SKV Communications in Manchester, took me under their wings and gave me the opportunity and an enviable platform to continue my career when I moved to the UK.
What skill do you think every PR has to nail?
Relationship building. Like real relationships – get to know people for who they are and what they care about, not what they can offer in return. This comes naturally to some people but others do need to work on it, like any other skill.
What is your favourite social network and why?
Instagram, all the way. It’s the ultimate eye candy galore, but also creatively inspiring and has forced the creation of more visual, bite-sized content that’s so much more valuable when you’re constantly dealing with online clutter.
Who is your favourite journalist and why?
I’ve always been a huge fan of Christiane Amanpour. I remember watching her coverage of the Persian Gulf War with my father when I was little and was absolutely mesmerised by her passionate reporting and screen presence. I also love that she isn’t afraid to speak her mind. She was once accused of not being “objective” enough in her reporting, and she shot back, “objectivity doesn’t mean treating all sides equally – it means giving each side a hearing.” And in my opinion, that’s a reality. Nobody can always be neutral.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Be ready to adapt, always. The world is not built to your specifications. Courtesy, my father.
Biggest PR campaign fail and yay of 2018?
Yay: Trash Isles. Simple, clever and brilliantly executed. A great example of creative comms making a real difference to the world around us.
Nay: Stella’s research on plan cancellations – and not because it spewed some stat that suggested women in PR were unfit for the dating world – but because I just don’t understand what plan cancellations have to do with the brand. Research and insight should result in a campaign that SAYS SOMETHING about a brand. And I don’t think that came across to me, as a Stella drinker. (P.S. NEVER stood anyone up.)
Finally, on the D’ word… What can the sector do to encourage diversity?
A lot more. We pride ourselves on our creativity and ‘thinking outside the box’. We encourage an open mindset when approaching challenges at work, but what we don’t do is DISCOURAGE A CLOSED MINDSET. I believe we’re at a stage where people in this industry have started to feel empathy, and that empathy has caused them to start thinking about diversity and its benefits to the work we do, the talent pool and ultimately, the business. But empathy is not enough to drive change. Change happens when people feel accountable. And at the moment, diversity is ‘a nice to have’. There is no accountability. What we need to work towards is putting in place real measures – whether that’s a diversity board or some sort of representative body – that hold people accountable for truly encouraging diversity, not just of colour, race, religion or sexuality, but also diversity of thought, lifestyles and outside of work interests. Just because someone doesn’t shout the loudest, doesn’t mean they’re not a people person, or won’t be able to pitch a story. They might actually be just as or more capable than someone who seems “like the right fit”. There is certainly prejudice and stereotyping, and people need to be held accountable when that happens.
Myriam 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.