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You must be excited by the power of ideas and unafraid of uncertainty, says Newgate senior partner Deborah Saw

Her earliest dreams to be a diplomat or QC highlight how Deborah Saw always had ambition, a talent with words and keen analytical skills – these have helped her get to her present role as vice chair and senior partner at agency Newgate Communications. Here we grab a quick ten minutes of Saw’s time to ask her how her career has evolved and for some advice for succeeding in the comms industry.

What did you want to be when you were a teenager?
I don’t think any teenager has an ambition to have a career in PR. It’s often a career one falls into. It certainly was in my case. When I was teenager I thought about a variety of careers: foreign correspondent, the Martha Gellhorn or Lee Miller of my age, reporting from the front line whilst bombs fell around me; diplomat, well ambassador to Washington or a barrister, pleading my cases at the High Court and, of course, I would have been a QC. When I look back I think these ambitions although unfulfilled, reveal that I had already recognised certain character traits that have proven to be valuable in my PR career: a facility with words; analytical skills; wanting to get to the top and eager to be at the heart of things.

Would my teenage self be pleased with the way things have turned out?
I have had a great career working with some fantastic people but teenage me would be appalled by the number of meetings I have sat through. Teenage me was an impatient soul but I think she would be impressed by the sheer variety of issues I have experienced. She hated being bored and I never have been.

How did you get your first break?
I got my first job by answering an advertisement in The Times which was entitled, ‘Do you want a career in Public Relations.’ To be honest I didn’t really know what PR was, but I knew I could put across an idea. I think the big break was working with Reginald Watts when he started his own agency. Some of innovations he pioneered are still best practice today.

What is the best career decision you have made?
That’s an easy one, starting Newgate with my colleagues.

Any career regrets?
Not starting Newgate earlier.

Why Newgate?
There’s always a degree of luck in starting a business and Jonathan Clare and I were very fortunate to be thinking of starting an agency when David Wright, the chief executive of Porta, was looking to develop a group of marketing communications companies. Before we started Newgate we spoke to a great many board directors and directors of corporate communications about what they wanted from their advisers. Time and time again we were told that PR agencies were structuring themselves for their own benefit and not in the interests of clients. Whist many agencies said they took an integrated approach purporting to offer clients a total view of their communications issues and challenges very few of them could actually offer it so that’s why we built an agency that could.

What are the greatest challenges of your present role?
You must always one step ahead, looking out for the issues and trends that are just emerging and developing new products and services to respond to them.

What advice can you give to others in the communications industry?
Always be excited by the power of ideas and unafraid of uncertainty. When that is in the air clients need us the most.

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