Julia Herd chats with us about Richard Branson, taking risks, and staying true to yourself
Role: VP of Communications Organisation: HTC Twitter: @JulesHTC Julia Herd was featured in the 2015 PR Week Global Power Book. As part of our #PRProSeries, Janie Emmerson, MD of Communications at Hanson Search, interviewed Julia to find out how she made it in the industry.
Why did you get into communications?
As I liked English, Drama and French at school, I thought that I wanted to go into journalism. I did a Communications A-Level and then joined a Journalism degree in Sheffield. At the time, I decided that I wanted to have a relatively broad level of experience across journalism; it wasn’t just about the writing, it was also about the media production side for me. However the part of the course concerning editing show reels etc. was replaced with a module about the history of the BBC, which was not exactly stimulating! It honestly made me wonder if journalism was right. I started to look at jobs where you needed a similar skillset, found out about PR and looked at the best courses. I transferred to Bournemouth University’s PR degree, which was the best then and perhaps still is now. During my placement year I joined a company called Consolidated Communications. I went back there after university and I haven’t left PR since.
What personal attribute has most helped you succeed in your career?
I’m really determined. I think being sheer bloody minded helps too - in a nice way, not in an aggressive way. I believe that the only time you can ever fail in life is when you don’t try. I’ve taken calculated risks and been very determined about where I want to get to and what I want to do. If you’re not determined and focussed, I don’t think you will ever get anywhere.
What would you say has been the biggest challenge that you’ve overcome?
I would say the biggest challenge is learning that you can’t win every battle. Sometimes even though I know I’m right, and I propose a route, I will get over-ruled. It’s a challenge getting to that stage where you can accept this and learn to work with people who don’t necessarily know much about communications; they see it as a reactive tool, rather than something that can help grow a business. It’s about learning how to listen, take on board other points of view and work out where you can win for the greater purpose.
Who would you say has been the most inspiring person you’ve worked with?
Every good person I’ve worked with, whether senior or junior, has delivered something that has helped me look at things differently; whether that’s how I view them, or how I view a project. One inspiring person was Richard Branson, who I met when I was very junior at Virgin. He is hugely invested in his employees and ensures that he has the best people on board to do what he needs them to do. He understands what he is and isn’t good at and knows that he must find people to fill in the gaps and help him grow his business. He’s good at recognising talent and investing in people. He’s also not afraid to take a gamble and just says “onwards and upwards” when things don’t work out. The public doesn’t tend to remember the things that didn’t work out for Richard Branson! I’m also inspired by my current boss at HTC, Cher Wang, for different reasons. She is hugely determined and started HTC from scratch. She’s got great vision, and can see what’s going to be successful in the next few years way before other people do. She’s very savvy. I think you either have that or you don’t.
What is the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?
Be yourself. I think that I’m a ‘Marmite’ sort of person, you either like me or you don’t. The advice I’ve been given is that while you do need to flex a little bit when working with other people, you shouldn’t change who you are because who you are is what has ultimately made you successful.
In ten years’ time, what do you think will be the biggest change in the global communications industry?
PR is still seen as something which can help solve a problem, rather than something which can help stop a problem appearing and drive a business. The majority of businesses don’t have PR professionals on the board, and we’re only brought in when something goes wrong. That isn’t effective. Because of working with the media, customers and influencers, we can often see what is happening before other people can. I think companies are going to be using this more to their advantage, so that communications will help develop their five or 10-year plan.I think that in the next 10 years, a PR or communications person will have a seat on the board at every big company. I also think that the role of the PR person is going to change. At the moment PR operates in silos between digital, media, public affairs etc. I think it will all be more integrated in the future and people will need to learn to be much more well-rounded. Agencies will need to change in this way too. We will then see more people wanting a career in PR. The down side is that more people will think they’ll be able to do PR. That’s going to be problematic in terms of making sure we still have people with the right skills. The way PR is set to change will open up opportunities but also put the industry in some precarious positions.
What would you say are the three words that best describe you as a communicator?
I’m honest, I speak plainly and I understand people.
Apart from your current role, what would be your dream role within communications?
I absolutely love where I am now and working with the brands that I do, but I’ve always wondered about setting up on my own. I’d love to have a small events company geared around private parties and events. I think private events are very “people-focussed” and that I would fare well in that environment. I’d also be interested in setting up in PR on my own, or in setting up a charity supporting those who have difficulties having children. If I had more time on the side, I’d do something like that.
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