10 Minutes with PR Pro Nan Williams

Role: Owner Organisation: Four Communications Twitter: @nanwilliams Nan Williams 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 Nan to find out what makes a PR pro.

Why did you get into communications?

When I left university, I headed off to Barclays International, as it was then, and trained for a year in banking. I had studied languages at university so my intention was to work internationally. It was a good move in that I learned quite a lot about finance, but I was seconded to their marketing department for three months, and realised that was what really interested me: marketing, public relations, and communications. I set about identifying agencies to target after that first year and then joined Charles Barker. It was the largest PR company in the UK at the time. The whole process was really about reaffirming that I did want to work in business as that always interested me, but also discovering that the marketing and communications field suited my particular talents. I made the move into the field then and I haven’t regretted my decision.

What personal attribute has most helped you succeed in your career?

I think doggedness or determination is definitely one. In our world, the ability to manage many myriad things at the same time is essential. An ability to cope with stressful situations is another. But not only coping with them, you’ve got to enjoy them, particularly on the agency side in fields like crisis management, which I have done. I’m a big fan of business and management skills in PR companies as well, so not long after I’d set out on the agency side, three or four years in, I decided to do an MBA. That made a huge difference in terms of really honing those business, financial skills as well as the consulting and communication skills. I think it’s that combination that is terribly important if you’re going to run agencies.

What would you say has been the biggest challenge that you’ve overcome?

I suppose it’s the ability to manage everything simultaneously and not let your career slow down. I have two children. They’re now in their early 20s and I’ve been a single mum almost throughout their upbringing. I definitely did not want my career to slow down but I also wanted to give them all the attention in the world. It’s that ability to make sure you are able to do a lot and not care when you do it. If you have to go home at a particular time to enjoy your evening with your kids, and then log back on at nine o’clock to work for four hours, you just do it so you can have the best of both worlds. That was a challenge.

Who is the most inspiring person that you’ve worked with?

There are three people who really inspired me, all from my early days at the Charles Barker table. First there’s Angela Heylin, who is extremely well known in the agency world. She’s retired now, but ran Charles Barker when I was there. Managerially, in terms of inspiring people and building energy, she was very good. When I was doing more consulting rather than managing, I was in corporate affairs, public affairs and crisis management, and there were two people for whom I worked who were pillars of inspiration. One was Robert Keen and the other was Tim Traverse-Healy. Tim, coming out of the back end of World War II, was at the real beginning of public relations. And Robert Keen was on the crisis management and public affairs side. Intellectually they were both massive forces and really inspirational. They put us through our paces.

What is the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?

Be ambitious. If you want a successful career, there really aren’t many barriers if you’re determined. If you want variety, you can work internationally; you can work in different fields of communication; you can work with myriad industries and companies. And the people you will meet are fascinating and interesting. As long as you’re ambitious, you can carve out a role for yourself that can make you very happy and fulfilled.

In ten years’ time, what do you think will be the biggest change within the global communications industry?

I think a combination of two things. The acceleration of response speed is only going to continue. With the melting together of different cultures and increasing cultural understanding within territories and across borders, the combination of those two things will require people who have that global cultural sensitivity. We will need people who can make sense of that quickly, when you’re trying to promote a product, service, education, or in a crisis situation. The speed of response combined with that cultural sensitivity will be crucial. They’re here now, clearly, but I think that will grow increasingly important.

What three words would you say best describe you as a communicator?

I think diplomacy, doggedness and nosiness.

Apart from your current role, what would your dream job within PR be?

I’m perfectly happy with my current dream job. If I had to choose the next one though, I think it would be very similar, but more international.

Posted on 27.01.2016

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