'How I made it' featuring Jo Hooper, Head of Corporate Communications at Which?
For our latest inspiring stories series, 'How I made it', we're interviewing the cream of the crop across all facets of communications and marketing. This is where you'll learn about how the best in the industry got to where they are today and hopefully pick up some tips along the way to help your own career progress.
We caught up with Jo Hooper, Head of Corporate Communications at Which?. Joining the business after stints at the London Chamber of Commerce and Westminster City Council, she leads a team of 12 across three specialisms to build and protect the reputation of the UK's consumer champion.
We sat down with her and talked about how being stubborn has helped her get ahead, the importance of lunch breaks and why there’s still a lot of joy to be had from leaving tech behind and digging out a notebook…
How did you get into the communications industry?
I got into the industry half by design and half by accident. I had a Politics degree and originally wanted to work in politics. I graduated in 2008, right in the middle of the recession. I looked at jobs with MPs and in Parliament and found that I would likely have to work for free in London for a year in order to progress to a paid role. And I realised that wasn’t the sort of industry I wanted to go into; one that perpetuated only rich people working in it. Instead, I started looking at public affairs agencies and I was offered a paid internship with Golin – then Golin Harris – in PR and comms. I did that for about eight months and thought “yeah, I’m good at this” and took it from there.
Did you have a big break?
I guess my big break was getting a job here, at Which?. It has allowed me to make the shift into the strategic role I’ve been gunning for my whole career.
Do you have a routine that keeps you sane on those crazy days?
I’m a driven person; I’ve always known where I wanted to go with my career. So I don’t really struggle to stay focussed - in fact if anything I tip over the edge and am too focussed. But one of the things that really helps me love my work is our team. I have a team of 12 across three different specialisms; they’re really motivated and we all look after each other.
Also, for me it’s important that I recognise that I need to take breaks. Even if I’m having a mad day, I’ll take a lunch break and go for a walk in Regent’s Park. It’s about realising that you can’t push on through forever.
Do you have a mentor or someone who inspires you to succeed?
I was lucky enough to get a place on the Women in PR mentoring scheme, which is for senior woman in the industry who are mentored by other women at the top of their career. I’m being mentored by Alison Jeremy, Director of Communications at the NSPCC, which has been amazing. It also came at the perfect time. I’d got the job I’d always wanted and that is a point at which you need to reflect – who am I now going forward in my career? Ali has been amazing at seeing my potential and value.
Before that, I was very inspired by my first boss, Delia Hyde, CEO of Rain Communications – now part of the Four group. She’s a really driven, tenacious, clever woman. When you work for her you work hard but you learn a hell of a lot. Working for her for three years really gave me a good grounding in PR and comms and helped me build a good work ethic.
What three words would you use to describe yourself?
I asked my team this, and they said: clear, motivational and honest.
With the knowledge you have now, what advice would you give to your 20-year old self?
I guess it’s the same advice I’m giving myself now; stay focussed but not too focussed. Stay driven but be open to opportunities and don’t be so hard on yourself. One phrase that gets bandied about a lot in agencies is “It’s PR not ER.” There’s a tendency to see communications as life or death. Yes, it’s important - it’s challenging, interesting and I’m very passionate about it. However, that doesn’t mean that you can be, or have to be, perfect.
I’ve beaten myself up throughout my career, so I’d tell myself that you need to recognise your value, that you’re good at your job and make sure that people know that.
As a female leader, tell me about your experience of getting to the top – have you faced any obstacles that you weren’t expecting?
I haven’t faced any obstacles I hadn’t expected. I’m short and I look young, so in the past I’ve been told to dress different and to sit differently in order to make people think that I’m older. However, I’ve never found that damaging and it didn’t hold me back. I’m a really stubborn person, so it just made me want to do things that people didn’t expect. And I hope that even though I may look 15, when I open my mouth people realise I’ve got something worthwhile to say.
What are things businesses can do to improve diversity in the workplace?
The first thing is to be honest about things like the gender pay gap. Here at Which?, we have 4% pay gap versus a national average of 9% and that makes me really proud to work for this organisation. Another thing is to ensure there are role models in the right places. It’s important to have those inspiring people who others can see and think ‘oh yeah I could be that person’, regardless of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, disability or otherwise.
What is the one piece of tech you can’t live without?
I’m a bit of a granny; I’m trying to have less tech in my life. However, the low-tech tool I can’t live without is my notebook. I know if I flick back far enough there’s notes from any meeting I’ve been to. And I find if I write something down I remember it better. I’m a logical and methodical person and I enjoy being able to see my thoughts and ideas on paper.