Which F words should you use in a PR crisis?
1st February 2016
They say that youth is wasted on the young, but it sounds like Louise Vaughan, managing director of PR agency Acceleris, actually had a good time when she was a teenager, as she was certainly not focused on a future career: “As a teenager knocking around the streets of a Doncaster, my short-term priorities were predictable (The Smiths, boys, under-age drinking) and my career prospects poor.”
Vaughan says her saving graces were that she loved language and crafting a story which is what finally propelled her to seek out a career path in PR. She thinks, on balance, her younger self would have approved: “I think my teenage self would lament Morrissey’s lack of influence on my life (I’m no longer a veggie) but love the dynamism and creative opportunity a career in PR brings. Over the last year I’ve worked on campaigns across a dozen countries, ranging from fudge to fish and cars to content. I’ve dined on the food of Michelin starred chefs with Greg Wallace, chatted with royalty and then spent a day filming at the UK’s biggest waste recycling site and on board the country’s biggest freezer trawler. From the sublime to the ridiculous, you can’t top this industry for the variety, insight and access it provides.”
After graduating with a degree in English Literature, Vaughan took on a mix of short-term comms roles until she got her first break: “I convinced the Environment Agency I could manage communications around an £83M, 11km flood relief channel on the River Thames. The development was incredibly contentious, involving the compulsory purchase of gardens, celebrity objection and construction in high profile locations including Windsor Estate and Eton College. It was a baptism of fire but one that taught me the value of personal relationships in PR and the need to use ‘F’ words in a crisis – namely to be first, frank and fast in managing your response to a negative issue.”
Since then Vaughan says that like Edith Piaf and Robbie Williams before her, she has no regrets. “Thankfully there have been lots of highlights. Being appointed to the Acceleris board at the age of 35; working on the Manchester 2002 Commonwealth Games and experiencing first-hand the amazing pride it brought to the City. Being twice winner of both the UK Public Sector Large Agency of the Year and fiercely contested European Communications Excellence Awards – received most recently in Stockholm in December – is something I’m incredibly proud of. The fact a boutique agency can beat global giants like BP, BASF and Unilever is testament of what you can achieve with intelligence, insight and innovation – and a team fiercely ambitious about delivering award winning results. Real David and Goliath stuff.”
Vaughan is still excited to be working in PR, explaining: “The PR industry has a phenomenal opportunity before it thanks to Google and the increasing relevance of earned media. Marketing spend often dwarfs the average PR budget but to syphon some of this PR agencies need to change their approach, upskill their teams in digital strategy and showcase their capabilities to the people in charge of paid media. According to the PRCA’s Digital PR Report 2015, blogger outreach, web design and build and content strategies hold huge growth opportunities for agencies in 2016. Something we should all be looking to capitalise on.”
Of course, working in PR isn’t always plain sailing, and the danger that Vaughan is careful to avoid is becoming a “busy fool” by over-servicing clients and not sufficiently being rewarded for work or results. “What value do you put on an idea? Part of my role is ensuring we capture this, charge the true value of what we deliver and reap the benefits for our entire team”.
When it comes to passing on her learned wisdom to others, Vaughan says: “You’re master of your own destiny. Work hard, read lots, understand the wider agenda and how your business, product or service fits into it. Build your network, believe in your ideas, rejoice in results and seize every opportunity to try something new. Who knows where it will take you?”