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5 Minutes with… Jane Boardman



The CEO of global PR agency M&C Saatchi TALK, tells LBB’s Alex Reeves about how her childhood instilled a love of fragrance, handling a merger alongside a pandemic and her agency’s dedication to the art of conversation

5 Minutes with… Jane Boardman

As CEO of M&C Saatchi TALK, Jane Boarman’s current mission is to encourage brands to open conversations with their consumers and ask what issues matter most to them, following the launch of the agency’s report earlier in 2022, ‘The Art of Conversation’. 

Her career in PR goes back over 20 years, including a stint as managing director at Ketchum, the global communications consultancy, before going on to found TALK.GLOBAL in 2001. 

Before merging with sister agency M&C Saatchi Public Relations, TALK.GLOBAL was a leading consumer PR Agency specialising in fashion, beauty and luxury lifestyle. At the same time as working as TALK.GLOBAL’s CEO Jane also served as chairman for the British Beauty Council, SERMO Communications, and a board director of Dance Umbrella. 

Created from the merger in 2020, Jane became the CEO of M&C Saatchi TALK. In the same year, Jane was asked to champion inclusion and diversity within the M&C Saatchi Group and took on the role as chair of inclusion and diversity worldwide.

So LBB’s Alex Reeves had plenty to choose from in his 5 Minutes with her. Here’s what she shared.

LBB> What were your passions growing up? Were you obsessed with fashion, creativity... talking?

Jane> Ha! Definitely talking…. But also reading - I am a voracious reader and by the age of seven had finished all the books in my local primary school which had to bring new ones in for me!  My idea of heaven is still to curl up with a good book.

I grew up the daughter of a pharmacist — my father owned shops throughout my early childhood. My mother ran the shops and did the buying; so I guess you could say that entrepreneurialism and beauty / health and wellbeing were part of my life growing up. I developed an intense sense of smell and a love of fragrance.  

After he sold his shops, my father became general secretary of the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee — a trade body representing pharmacists. A friend recently pointed out that I am also running a trade body, and in roughly the same sector. I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!

LBB> And how did you get into your career in PR? Was it through fashion originally?

Jane> Actually no, I didn’t come into fashion until much later. It was thanks to my father who introduced me to his lobbying agency whilst I was studying politics at Loughborough University, and they ignited my interest in the world of comms. My first PR job was in travel and my first proper assignment was leading a press trip to Benidorm to convince five media there was more to it than the all-day breakfast and English bars…

LBB> How did you end up launching Talk? What was so exciting about it at the time?

Jane> I had helped M&C Saatchi launch the sponsorship division (now M&C Saatchi Sports and Entertainment) prior to joining Ketchum. After a couple of years, the M&C Saatchi CEO took me for lunch and told me it was time to launch a PR agency for them… that’s when the entrepreneur in me kicked in — although it was really ‘entrepreneurialism light’ in that M&C Saatchi gave me a home and ran all the infrastructure. Nevertheless, starting with a blank piece of paper and an empty client list felt pretty terrifying.

LBB> And what have been the biggest shifts in focus and priority for the agency in that time?

Jane> One of our early assignments at Talk was a reputation shifting project and we only had 15 media to focus on and a budget of £200k! That seems like a million years ago as we now have so many dimensions of audiences – media, influencers, trusted sources, and the whole world of social and digital comms. We do sometimes reflect on those early days and wonder what we did all day!

LBB> What work have you recently been most proud of and why?

Jane> This needs an answer on three dimensions, I am afraid:

Successfully merging two entities into one (M&C Saatchi Public Relations with Talk PR).
Doing that whilst surviving the pandemic (we announced the merger in January 2020!). 
Creating a dynamic proposition (Art of Conversation) and really deep diving into the future of earned media.

LBB> What are your major goals for the agency in the coming months and years?

Jane> We have a sweet spot as a dynamic and entrepreneurial agency but also one that is highly strategic, globally connected, and full service across all dimensions of consumer and corporate comms. Data and tech are hugely exciting tools for us, and we have just started really getting under the skin of web3 – the world of comms is such an exciting place to be right now. Social is getting bigger and bigger for us and this will be a major focus.

Our proposition, Art of Conversation, puts us at the forefront of the story of earned media, its key role and its evolution, and we intend to continue to lead in this space. We have a terrific client list spanning many sectors but we still have many more to move into. So much to do!

LBB> Tell us about some of your other roles in the fashion and beauty sector outside of your PR career. What have been your highlights from working on that over the years?

Jane> In 2018, I was one of a small group of beauty industry experts who founded a new industry body for the UK beauty sector; the British Beauty Council. I was its first non-executive chair and led the organisation for four years until July 2022. During this time, I applied the experience I had of advising the British Fashion Council and defined and valued the sector, identified the industry’s key challenges (which were dominated by covid a year into its inception) and transformed the reputation of the industry, particularly amongst government and policy makers.
I also sit on the board of the Fragrance Foundation where I am part of a team raising awareness of careers in the sector.

I guess you could say that industry bodies are my specialist subject! 

LBB> You're heavily into fashion, art and dance. Who are some creative people who you find particularly exciting in those fields right now and why?

Jane> Art has formed a part of my pro bono work over the last 10 years or so. I guess I feel it is so important to the world in which I work but also an important part of our cultural heritage.  

Fashion is an interesting one as my co-founder left Talk, which left the British Fashion Council (BFC) without a PR advisor – I knew very little about fashion at that point but agreed to step in temporarily whilst they found a new agency and stayed on as a consultant to the organisation for about 10 more years!

Having sat through what feels like a lifetime of fashion shows, I’m not sure I’ll be pushing my way to the front row anytime soon! However, I love the industry and what Caroline Rush, the BFC CEO, is doing for the sector and as a result for the UK reputation and economy. 

I am currently a member of the Cultural Change Board for the Saatchi Gallery of which M&C Saatchi is Principal Patron. I also sit on the Group’s Art Advisory Committee. Together we are committed to opening up the arts to diverse audiences.  

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M&C Saatchi Talk, Fri, 05 Aug 2022 14:36:14 GMT