Time to get meta as we interview the communicators of the communications industry. The PR and marketing leaders who work hard to raise the profile of creative campaigns, talent and businesses very rarely get asked about themselves and their own work.
Which is exactly what we’re hoping to remedy. After all, PR is at the heart of so many of the big ideas that are shaping the industry.
To kick things off, we’re catching up with someone who will be a familiar name to many working in the UK industry. The founder of Persuasion Communications, Jane Austin, is a former industry journalist who has taken her experience of the newsroom to build a communications and content agency with offerings in London, Paris and New York. Persuasion works with advertising, design, tech and media agencies, and also offers a bespoke service for small business with female founders, who are on a limited budget.
Prior to launching Persuasion in 2005, Jane was an editor at industry titles Campaign and shots. She’s contributed to The Guardian, The Independent, the Daily Express and the Financial Times and has also written three books on graphic design.
Here she chats to LBB about the editorial mindeset, how PR has changed and what's stayed the same - and how to avoid a Norma Desmond complex...
LBB> Tell us about your current role and what you do?
Jane> When I’m not eating or sleeping (and sometimes when I am) I’m on zoom calls. I’m involved with all of our accounts. I think it’s key that the founder is, to show duty of care and to learn. I’m building our global offering, getting involved in other sectors such as charities and companies with a sustainable focus, I’m also building an offering where I work, at a lower rate, with female founders of small businesses and activists to build their profiles.
LBB> And how did you get to where you are today?
Jane> I started out as a journalist but the salary wasn’t great and after becoming a single mum, I had to start my own company to fend off the bailiffs. I turned the business into an editorially-focused content and comms agency, which has enabled me to keep hold of my passion for stories and the written word.
LBB> What does your average day look like?
Jane> See answer to Q1. A lot of reading, researching, talking, subbing and selling. Long but engaging days. I get completely giddy if I go out for lunch.
LBB> For your organisation, what is the key function of PR and comms? Is it about company culture? Attracting clients? Empowering talent? Something else?
Jane> PR and comms builds and transforms businesses and personality. At a fundamental level, it’s how you engage with the world and so it should be central to every organization, regardless of sector.
LBB> PR has always been about finding the story or the angle. What is your process for staying ahead of the content curve and serving up something fresh and engaging?
Jane> We operate like a news room, working with a network of editorial consultants who are all current and former journalists, editors and writers, to ensure the stories and content we’re putting out have impact. I go through all relevant feeds and news programmes every morning to find stories that we can comment on.
LBB> Historically advertising folk have a very different relationship with the media, especially the press, than PR folk. Advertising is about buying ad space and being able to dictate how and where something is presented - that’s a degree of control you can barely dream of in PR. Does that tension still exist, and if so how do you navigate that tension?
Jane> I try to navigate the tension with humour and, if that doesn’t work, brutal honesty (which admittedly can sometimes lead to more tension). There are still C-suiters who are shocked when they hear that their, for example, regional door drop campaign won’t make the FT and insist that it’s because I’m not excited enough about the work.
LBB> And what other common misconception do you advertising/production people have about comms and PR?
Jane> That we’re all posh young blonde women who are perpetually excited about everything we do.
LBB> To what extent do you feel 'the work speaks for itself'? To what stage of growth can a business rely on this mantra to gain more clients?
Jane> That mantra mostly comes from senior creatives with a Norma Desmond complex. And it didn’t end so well for her did it?
LBB> When it comes to getting coverage for a creative campaign in the consumer press, how should creative teams go about working with their agency’s comms and PR experts?
Jane> As much as possible, invite PR and comms into the early conversations so that we can feed into and expand the scope of the work.
LBB> When a business is faced with very bad news, what’s the key to getting through it?
Jane> Being prepared. Get ahead of the story and put your side out there before the narrative gets taken over.
LBB> Generally speaking, how do you approach the hack/flack relationship?
Jane> By being honest, respectful, having a laugh and making sure their time isn’t wasted.
LBB> How does doing comms and PR for the advertising world differ to other industries you’ve worked in?
Jane> I’ve mainly been involved in the creative industries since graduating so I don’t really know many others. I tried teacher training but the experience of getting a class of 35 15-year-olds interested in Chaucer made journalism look like a walk in a park. I really enjoyed journalism, apart from being shouted at by the occasional PR or CEO for not getting how amazing a story was.
LBB> What are the most useful tools in the arsenal of a PR professional working in advertising and creative industries right now?
Jane> It’s about having an editorially-focused mindset in order to generate the most compelling ideas, angles, insights and content – and being able to do it at speed.
LBB> In your opinion, how has the role of a PR professional evolved during your career span ? Have things changed greatly or do core tasks / principles remain the same?
Jane> Some core principles remain but now it’s all-consuming with social media and an incredibly fast-moving news cycle.
LBB> What frustrates you about the way the media and PR have changed over the years?
Jane> When some news events don’t get the context or the analysis they deserve because the cycle moves on so quickly. ‘I’m looking at you, Michelle Mone
LBB> And what excites you?
Jane> Right now everything excites me because I just got a negative Covid test after weeks in isolation. The thought of going to my local Tesco Express again is giving me goosebumps.
Photo credit: Bronac McNeil