Patricia Yates chats with us about the journey from physics to journalism to PR
Role: Director of Strategy & Communications Organisation: Visit Britain Twitter: @patriciayatesVB Patricia Yates was featured in the 2015 PR Week Global Power Book. As part of our #PRProSeries, Janie Emmerson, MD of Communications at Hanson Search, interviewed Patricia to find out how she made it in the industry.
Why did you get into communications?
I read Physics at university, but I really wanted to do something that allowed me to be a bridge between science and the people, because of the frustrating tendency of the British to say with pride ‘oh I can’t do maths’ or ‘I don’t understand science’. I got a job in the IPC Science and Technology press. They paid you buttons but gave you a proper training in journalism. I then moved into travel and got a job editing Holiday Which? That was a brilliant job. After it, I freelanced for a bit before taking up my current role at Visit Britain. I’d gone from being a journalist to working for a tourist board, and I faced all those frustrations that people who change sides feel, such as pitching in a story and thinking “oh, for goodness sake, I could write this!”
What personal attribute has most helped you succeed in your career?
I’m pretty nosy and curious; that comes from the scientific training. That curiosity is a key driver in communications because you have to understand what your company is trying to do, the messages it is trying to put out, the questions people will ask and the impacts your actions as an organisation will have. This means that you can provide the right sort of challenge internally too.
What would you say has been the biggest challenge that you’ve overcome?
I think one challenge is the changing nature of journalism. How do you get a story in the right place? How do you get your messages out? Do you want it in print because that’s what the chairman reads or do you want it in the Daily Mail online because of its huge global reach? Or do you want it in the Telegraph because that’s what the politicians read? Dealing with the changing nature of how media is consumed and how it is consumed differently in different markets is a huge challenge. Another challenge is hiring and retaining good people who are self-motivated and able to take the ball and run with it. I am probably quite challenging as a manager as I do like to agree priorities and then I expect people to go away and do it.
Who would you say has been the most inspiring person you’ve worked with?
Sheila McKechnie who was my boss at Which? She was just ballsy, absolutely ballsy, a fearless campaigner. She had a number of attitudes that I thought were absolutely right, particularly if you work with the government, there’s a sort of seniority, a hierarchy. She’d challenge this by getting junior members of the team doing meetings who were good at their stuff and knew the detail. She was brilliant; quite feisty about the women who worked for her and how they should be treated.
What is the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?
It changes according to what time in my life we’re talking about. My godfather, when I was looking for my first job, said to think of myself almost as a product - it’s about building up your capabilities and selling yourself. I think getting that mind-set that will help you to succeed is so crucial but schools and universities aren’t very good at preparing young people for this. At a different time, when I was first made a director, I received some great advice from our HR director. I wanted that director job and he said you don’t just pitch to the CEO you pitch to the whole senior management team. I did, and it was horrible. I had to phone people up who I didn’t know awfully well and ask them to support me. It was absolutely the right thing to do because when the CEO asked them about me, they had the idea that I could do the job already as I’d planted that seed in their mind. That advocating internally was crucial at that moment.
In ten years’ time, what do you think will be the biggest change in the global communications industry?
I still find the balance between print and online fascinating. The shift towards people only wanting to know about things that interest them, and being able to select this online, is quite frightening If people only want to know about the things that interest them, then how do you reach them? I think some of it is down to confounding expectations. You need to do something surprising so that it cuts through the noise.
What would you say are the three words that best describe you as a communicator?
I can make complex ideas simple, so I suppose you could say I’m an interpreter or an ‘explainer’. I’d also say that I’m passionate and enjoy developing my team.
Apart from your current role, what would be your dream role within communications?
I do occasionally get head hunted and I’ve noticed that very few jobs have the breadth of the job I have here. Promoting Britain around the world is pretty neat. I do love a challenge so maybe a big global role would drive me too. —
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