Alison Clarke chats with us about PR, tenacity, and the best advice she’s ever received
Role: Principal Organisation: Alison Clarke Communications Twitter: @pitchwitch Alison Clarke was featured in the 2015 PR Week Global Power Book. As part of our #PRProSeries, Katie Simpson, Managing Consultant at Hanson Search, interviewed Alison to find out how she made it in the industry.
Why did you get into communications?
It was by accident, actually. I joined a division of Mars as a graduate trainee working in their subdivision, Pedigree Petfoods. During that process, I did a stint in the marketing department. I then moved over into external comms and recognised the importance of what we would now describe as stakeholder engagement. I remember the progress we made in terms of building the reputation of the business, and influencing on relevant issues, such as responsible pet ownership. And I remember thinking that it was clever. This was actually about dialogue, conversation and engagement. If you don’t have a dialogue and a relationship with people, how can you possibly expect your voice to be heard? At the time, I thought, ‘this is the smartest department I’ve worked with,’ and not just because I was enjoying it. So when it seemed to be time to move on, I put my CV out there and started talking to PR agencies. The rest, as they say, is history.
What personal attribute has most helped you succeed in your career?
Never giving up. I think tenacity, picking yourself up and dusting yourself down, and keeping going, whatever the circumstances, is absolutely essential. This industry is great fun but it also throws a lot of knocks at people. I think it’s also essential for clients because you have to be relentless in your focus on their objectives and how you achieve that for them, which often comes with many challenges. And when you go into consultancy, or network management, as I have done, you have to keep your foot on the gas all the time. You have to weather knocks and disappointments and then bring people with you and ensure they know you’re never giving up; you will get there in the end.
What would you say has been the biggest challenge that you’ve overcome?
At a point in time, which I’m pleased to say is historic, my opinion was considered to be less important because of my gender. I definitely experienced that in my career and I found it a real challenge, because it wasn’t the world I was used to. I hasten to add, this was not at any of the consultancies I’ve worked for. They were the complete opposite – they created every opportunity for me and were totally empowering. However, I’ve had experiences as a consultant – and quite a senior one – of giving a company advice and knowing that my gender is influencing their appetite to listen to what I say. I found it appalling and I’m not very good at hiding my feelings, so the challenge for me was probably finding a way to zip up my lips and sit on my hands. But I’m pleased to say that was a long time ago.
Who would you say has been the most inspiring person you’ve worked with?
Lord Chadlington – he and I go back a long way and worked together at an agency that was acquired by Shandwick. He created fantastic opportunities for me, and I don’t think I’ve ever let him down. He saw my ambition and helped me realise it. He is great to work with because he is brilliant at his craft. He’s also very smart, commercially speaking. He is a true gentleman, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t tough. He didn’t get where he is today without being smart, sharp and ‘on-it’, but he does so with charm, and an elegance that I have not seen in any leader like him.
What is the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?
It was advice from my first chairman when I joined an agency called Welbeck Public Relations, which became Welbeck Golin Harris. The Chairman was Denis Inchbald, former president of the CIPR, who sadly died some years ago. He always said to me “My dear, never annoy anyone on the way up, as you’re sure as hell going to meet them on the way back down.” I’ve never forgotten that advice. And I think there are some people in our industry today that ought to take a leaf out of that book!
In ten years’ time, what do you think will be the biggest change in the global communications industry?
Communications, mobile data and consumer enfranchisement and empowerment makes the world more complicated and complex. These will be challenges for anyone who works in the communications business. It’s just going to get harder, faster, more multi-channel, busier, and noisier, so to cut through is going to get even more challenging. Comms will become increasingly paramount, as will be the way you engage with stakeholders and find a way to reach them with the right type of messages. I see a great future for the comms industry because – as we see on an almost daily basis – there is always someone who is falling foul of this ever-changing world which everyone is trying to make sense of, and I don’t see it getting any easier any time soon.
What would you say are the three words that best describe you as a communicator?
Transparent. Enthusiastic. Totally committed. And I think anyone who has worked with me would agree with that, though there are probably some other less favourable ones too. What you see is what you get. I do what I say. I mean what I say and I deliver on my promises.
Apart from your current role, what would be your dream role within communications?
I think I’ve had my dream job, actually, when I was running the Asia Pacific region at Shandwick, which became Weber Shandwick during that period. There’s not one that I would put ahead of that, to be honest, which may sound unambitious of me. I was getting to work in a region of the world I love – learning, engaging, and enjoying the speed and spirit of it. I’m as fond of it today as I was then, and that for me was a dream job.
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