Interviewed by Stephen Thompson, MA Creative Writing: Writing the City
Stephen: What is your profession?
Vanessa: I work in PR.
S: What exactly does your job entail?
V: Primarily I advise senior leaders within the business about the best ways of communicating their business goals and results to employees. We work together to plan internal campaigns to meet business objectives, using a blend of methods such as newsletters, intranet, newspapers, texts, posters, screen savers and, increasingly, videos. Another part of my role is to protect and promote the reputation of the company by talking to the media, particularly around issues to do with service disruption, customer complaints and government policy. For one week in every five I’m the first point of contact for the media, effectively acting as spokesperson for the company.
S: How did you get into PR?
V: I used to work in book publishing as a freelancer editor but I found that I missed the company of other people so decided to look for a job in an office which used my existing skills and experience. PR requires you to have good written and spoken skills and the ability to absorb large amounts of information very quickly and disseminate it to people in accessible, easy to digest language.
S: What is the name of the company you work for?
V: East Coast Trains, which is one of largest train companies in the UK. It mainly operates between London and Scotland, going as far as Inverness and Aberdeen.
S: What is your official job title?
V: Internal communications business partner.
S: How long have you been in the post?
V: Just over five years.
S: Are you part of management?
S: How many people do you have under your supervision?
V: Up to twelve at any given point.
S: Talk me through your last working day.
V: My day consists almost exclusively of meeting deadlines.Between 9 and 10 I reviewed a draft of a 250-word article which had been written the day before to make sure it was in line with the latest updates I’d recovered from the IT team about our company intranet.
Between 10 and 12 I dealt with the first crisis of the day: a badly compressed video which was due to be broadcast that same day, featuring the managing director. The video was too pixelated to view properly. To fix it involved working with the IT team to identify the disappearance of a web part which was due to host the video. I had to contact the video production company to ask them for a replacement copy in case the hitch was in their upload.
At the same time I signed off on the weekly newsletter and Coastlife, our bi –monthly, 16-page newspaper which is given to all staff within the company.
One of the most important skills in PR is persuasion and this was illustrated at noon when I had to call someone in the IT team who doesn’t report to me and persuade her to fix a system problem on her day off!
At 1 o’clock I had fend off an inquiry from the media. I then grabbed a sandwich, ate it at my desk (in my line of work you rarely have time to stop for a lunch) and then I spent the next hour writing reports for the board of directors.
At 2.30 I had a meeting with the marketing team to find out all the details of their latest leisure marketing campaign, which is based around a day of speed dating in partnership with match.com. The speed dating is set to take place on one of our trains, between London and York, so I had to be fully briefed to publicise it to the national and local media and of course to other teams within the business.
At 3.30 it was time to send emails to the Executive Team about the latest video (which was still being fixed) and forthcoming schedule for the programme of videos which are planned for the months ahead. And just when I thought I might start winding down for the day, in came a question about the best way to add subtitles to a video.
As it was the end of the week this provoked a lengthy debate. It took almost an hour. At 4.30 I started planning my tasks for the following week. I managed to get out of the office at 5.30, which is relatively early for me.
S: What are the main rewards of your job?
V: It’s creative and varied and every day is full of surprises. For an extrovert, PR can be very rewarding because you’re either talking to people or writing about them and what they do. And if you enjoy events it’s the perfect job as there is usually one to be organised or to attend.
S: Thank you, Vanessa
By Stephen Thompson, MA Creative Writing: Writing the City (2014)