Steve Earl chats with us about PR, big challenges, and his dream job
Role: Managing Director Europe Organisation: Zeno Group Twitter: @mynameisearl Steve Earl was featured in the 2015 PR Week Global Power Book. As part of our #PRProSeries, Janie Emmerson, MD of Communications at Hanson Search, interviewed Steve to find out how he made it in the industry. Why did you get into communications? It’s not going to be the most straightforward of answers! When I was a kid, I was told a story of how one of my ancestors was at the Battle of Trafalgar, working alongside Lord Nelson. He was basically the communications head, and one day Nelson had given him orders to write up a very long message to try and rally the troops and get them fired up to go into battle. My forefather said that instead they should go with “England expects every man to do his duty”, because it’s shorter and communicates the message better. An early example of comms consultancy perhaps. The rest is history. I heard about that when I was five, and it got me thinking about how people communicate, and the importance of doing things with clarity and purpose. From that, I got into reading and writing more, started to think about words a lot and ended up going into journalism. I did that for a few years and then moved over onto the other side of the fence, communications. Not been ensnared in any battles yet though, at least not military ones. What personal attribute has most helped you succeed in your career? Understanding people and how they will react to your communications. Being clear and direct also helps. Other attributes that I think have been useful include being fair, transparent, honest, stubborn and, perhaps above all, just being able to get stuff done. What would you say has been the biggest challenge that you’ve overcome? Being threatened at gunpoint a couple of times as a journalist. One incident was when I was covering a tragedy and the bereaved family waved a shotgun in my face. Other than that, something that has been both a massive opportunity and challenge in my career is the rise of the internet. It has changed the way we communicate, changed the concept of distance and changed media fundamentally, affecting both what we do, and how we do it. Who would you say has been the most inspiring person you’ve worked with? I often think about a guy called Tim Hoang, who I hired 10 years ago as a receptionist and is now digital communications head for Blackrock Investments. He was Bradford born and bred and had never had any cheese other than mild cheddar before he moved to London. He was brilliant. The reason he is inspiring is not just that he is hard working, tenacious and determined, but that he really instinctively, understands communications and is absolutely dead-pan honest about it. Within a week of joining us, he’d got himself on the BBC as a story about moving from Bradford to London as a wide-eyed kid. He just said “Oh, I just talked to them about it and they thought it might be nice to do a mini-series on me”. Impressive. He was so disarmingly honest. It was an inspiration, in terms of his courage as well as the vision he had about what he wanted out of his career and how hard he was prepared to work to ensure he got it. What is the best piece of career advice you’ve been given? Do something for the people that pay you every day, and tell them about it. In ten years’ time, what do you think will be the biggest change in the global communications industry? People, first and foremost. People come into the industry today with a certain perception of what we do for a living, and I think what is actually going to be required in the future - and in many case already is - will be very different. It will be about finding the right skills, expertise, attitude and cleverness. And they are big challenges because we basically need to find people who are natural communicators rather than people who are merely publicists. Finding the skills and talent required, and ascertaining what that ‘looks like’, is something that is still evolving at the moment. What would you say are the three words that best describe you as a communicator? Honest, determined and disruptive. Apart from your current role, what would be your dream role within communications? It would have to be Head of Comms at Manchester United. Not that there’s too much positive to communicate there at the moment.