10 Minutes with PR Pro James Turner
Role: Head of Communications Organisation: @Greenpeace Twitter: @jamesturn James Turner was featured in the 2015 PR Week Global Power Book. As part of our #PRProSeries, Janie Emmerson, Managing Director of Communications at Hanson Search interviewed James to find out what makes a PR pro. Why did you get into communications? I was formerly a broadcast journalist. I worked in politics and on various other issues. So I suppose I’ve always been in the communications sphere. I have a knack for making complicated things sound as simple as possible. And if you go a long way back, I suppose my mother would say I always had an answer for everything, which is probably true of a lot of people in the communications industry. I enjoyed writing and, as I say, communicating complicated things clearly, so it seemed like a natural fit. As I got older, I got more involved in activism. I wanted to take some of the big issues in science and in politics and translate them to the general public so that more people could get involved and feel like they had a stake in these things. That’s really where my career has progressed to today. What personal attribute has most helped you succeed in your career? Probably trying to remain cool under pressure. I’m sure a lot of people say that, but I think in communications it’s absolutely critical. The ability to spot a good story, or at least what different outlets might see as a good story, and to be able to bring out those diamonds from the rough. And I would say an ability to work quickly is probably the most important attribute. To ensure you don't have hundreds of emails sitting in your drafts folder waiting for completion, but to actually start and finish them quickly. I suppose, more than anything else, my ability to keep an eye on lots of different types of information has been helpful. It’s very easy these days to get sucked into a particular type of newspaper, TV or internet source. But to actively try to broaden your horizons and listen to other points of view, I think that's crucial. What would you say has been the biggest challenge that you’ve overcome? I suppose thinking about actual projects when we had 30 activists locked up in Russia a couple of years ago for piracy was certainly the biggest crisis in my career. I helped in that campaign while the lead was taken on by one of my colleagues. I think all of us who worked on the Arctic 30 story experienced it as the biggest crisis of our careers. Not just because it was a communications problem, but because it was a humanitarian problem involving some of my best friends. Those were people I worked with on a day to day basis and suddenly they were behind bars in a Russian prison. Together we did overcome it. They got out and they are all now getting on with their lives. Some of them are still at Greenpeace, still on ships, and some are in the office with us today. So it’s very heartening to see them back. Who would you say has been the most inspiring person you’ve worked with? I’m going to say a guy called Andy Bichlbaum. He is from a comedic duo called ‘The Yes Men’ in the United States. They dress up as senior businessmen and impersonate corporate leaders. They do analysis on their behalf saying the kind of things that some of these large businesses would say if they were a little more honest about their work. That combination of comedy, a brilliant stage presence, creativity, and this serious activist streak. I think it’s a very rare combination. Working with Andy, with his energy and fun, but also his sense of purpose has been inspiring… I think he gets my vote. What is the best piece of career advice you’ve been given? Someone said this to me fairly recently so it's on the tip of my tongue. They said, “It’s not about what you do, it’s the space you inhabit”, and I’ve been thinking about that a lot. It means when people come and talk to me, what kind of person are they answering? What am I promoting within work? What qualities am I looking for in people? And what projects do I get from it? It’s thinking about how I’m showing up in different spaces and inhabiting space for my organisation. I think it is very good advice. In ten years’ time, what do you think will be the biggest change in the global communications industry? I think that the biggest change that I’ve seen in business currently is the arrival of purpose as a crucial element to success. By that I mean what the company stands for, what they’re trying to do in the world that goes above and beyond. I think that has a clear impact on the communications industry. Not only do we have to understand how to communicate that purpose more effectively and in a more sensitive way, but also the agencies and companies themselves will need to think about their purpose. They will need to think about whether they have any guidelines for their clients, whether they have a purpose statement on their website, and how they’re going to attract the best new graduates into this industry who want more than the benefits package. They want to know what we’re trying to achieve in the world. I think that purpose revolution is not simply limited to other types of businesses. I think it will absolutely transform the communications industry. What would you say are the three words that best describe you as a communicator? I would like to think cool, clear and creative to stay with the C’s. Apart from your current role, what would be your dream role within communications? Oh, wow. I think my dream job doesn’t necessarily exist yet, but it’s related to what I was talking about before. It would be helping to show the world that we’re making a hell of a lot of progress in amongst all of the doom and gloom, pollution and climate change. There are some people and organisations doing fantastic things in the field of clean energy and in poverty reduction. I would love to help people understand all the different hopeful things that are happening in our world.