10 Minutes with PR Pro Lesley McLeod
Role: Director of Communications and Public Affairs Company: Energy UK Twitter: @mcleodabout Lesley McLeod was featured in the 2015 PR Week Global Power Book. As part of our #PRProSeries, Janie Emmerson, Managing Director of the Public Affairs, PR and Communications Practice at Hanson Search, interviewed Lesley to find out what makes a PR pro. Why did you get into communications? It was an odd way of doing it. I had been a management trainee with a bank when I first graduated and I liked working with the public. But as I got promoted, I saw less of the public and more of the paperwork. So I did what they advise you to do. I wrote down a list of all my strengths and weaknesses in the job, and discovered that my weakness column was much longer than my strength column! So I just I changed the headings on the columns and decided that all the negatives would become positives. The fact that I talked too much and liked meeting people - things that in a more process-driven job were demerits - became merits. I did an MBA with marketing as that seemed to better fit my personality. Basically, I changed course. What personal attribute has most helped you succeed in your career? There are probably a few… Resilience. The ability to bounce back when things don’t go as planned and not be phased when things go wrong. The ability to function on little sleep helps too. And, despite that lack of sleep, having quite an ordered, methodical process in my mind behind it all. Knowing what needs to be done and having that process helps me work through the challenges. And hard work. What would you say has been the biggest challenge that you’ve overcome? The banking crisis. I was the Executive Director of Communications at The British Bankers Association. I had worked for Angela Knight when she was a government minister and, when she became Chief Executive of the BBA, I went with her. I thought it was going to be a job about improving customer service and how banks related with their customers. Then Northern Rock collapsed - and I didn’t sleep for about 18 months. Angela was doing a huge amount of interviews every week. For that entire time, there were only two weekends that I didn’t have to arrange interviews or set up an outside broadcast. Because it was a crisis across international trading deadlines, it was a 24/7 role and I was the out of hours contact. There were moments when I just thought I could do with a combination of more people, more sleep, or cloning. Personally though, the biggest challenge for me was coming to London. I grew up in a small Scottish town and when I arrived I thought everybody in PR was tall, glamorous, Oxford-educated and, basically, better put together than me. I found it quite a struggle to overcome initially, but I came to realise those things didn’t matter. I may not look like these other women in PR. I may have gone to Edinburgh rather than Oxford. But I know what I’m doing. My first job here was at the Home Office press office. I was thrown straight in with government ministers and senior journalists and I had this moment of ‘yes, actually I can do this.’ Who would you say has been the most inspiring person you’ve worked with? Professionally, it was a chap called Adrian Moorey. He was the Director of Communications when I arrived at the Home Office. He showed me the ropes and taught me an invaluable lesson about story development. In order to be able to manage a story, it’s not enough to see the next step. You need to see the long game. You need to work out from the beginning, ‘if I do this, they’ll do this; and if I do this, they’ll do that.’ Plotting out all your moves and predicting theirs. That was useful, and it gave me the confidence to operate. I thought he was very good. There have been others who I have found inspiring - I particularly liked working for Michael Howard. What is the best piece of career advice you’ve been given? Don’t give up. Learn your trade and stick to it. If something doesn’t work, there will be another way. In PR, there are rarely any absolutely wrong answers. You have to continue working at it, even if that means doing boring or menial tasks. I’ve found that you learn a lot more from being the person who stands out in the rain with photographers than the person doing the glamourous bits. If you’re looking to be glamourous, don’t get into PR. And don’t get into it to ‘PR’ yourself. Do it if you want to do the best PR for your clients. It’s not about you, it’s about them. I think too many people in PR forget about the client. Learn your craft. It’s not a profession, it’s a trade. Learn to do it properly and don’t cut corners. In ten years’ time, what do you think will be the biggest change in the global communications industry? I have thought about this a lot, and certainly the biggest changes in the last few years have been the increasing use of digital media. It has changed what we do so radically, in such a short space of time, and the speed of change is accelerating. I wonder if there is something coming that we don’t even know about yet. For instance, 24-hour rolling news, as we currently have it, will no longer exist. Even now, it’s becoming more magazine-like. The newsfeed and social media are integrating. I think there is going to be a lot more self-reporting. I expect there will also be more ‘self-PR’ and I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing. As news reporting is increasingly being driven by personal experience, PR might also move that way. There will be a lot more niche PR. And I think there will be fewer boundaries between design and PR. Today your print has to line up with your web, and it has to work on mobile, desktop, and tablet. I think all of that will come together. What are three words that best describe you as a communicator? Loud, indomitable, loyal. Apart from your current role, what would be your dream role within communications? I would like to work with people who are not exactly in crisis, but who have a challenge they want to communicate across the whole spectrum, combining public affairs, media and design. I would like to provide full service packages for people. I would also like to help organisations restructure their communications within their own framework. Where I can go in, train people, put it right and then leave. I like building teams and processes, but I am not actually the best person to run them in the steady state. I like a politicised, high-octane environment. I have thought about whether I would like to become a CEO one day, moving into a management-only role, or stick with communications. I’ve decided that I don’t think the general CEO role is for me. Although I can do the management, finance, and personnel stuff – it doesn’t hold my attention. I want to have fun in my job.