How army skills help me in my PR career

Major Paul Smyth was recently awarded an MBE for his media work on operations in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan. Out of uniform, Smyth works for PR firm Hill and Knowlton Strategies and leads on all of the firm’s defence and security clients in London. Here he discusses what attracted him to join the reserves and how his army training has helped him to succeed in the (relatively) peaceful world of PR.

I was surprised to find out that an action man such as Major Paul Smyth once set his sights on becoming a sculptor. He explains: “When I was a kid I always wanted to be a soldier. But as I grew up my artistic side took over and I set my sights on being a sculptor. Four years at art school cemented that desire. But, I also realised that I wasn’t likely to become the next Picasso.”

As being a sculptor was not an option, but wanting an alternative career where he could also apply creativity, Smyth started out in marketing and advertising, but found that it was PR that he really enjoyed: “I haven’t looked back since. What is amazing is that I have been able to combine my childhood dream with my work and do it in a way where I have dictated the terms. One of the great benefits of the reserves is that you get to fit it around your life and pick and choose what you want to do and when.”

Smyth finds that being in the reserves allows him to have adventures and explore all his talents – not to mention the world: “Clearly, the army offers the opportunity of adventure like no other employer. In the 12 years I have been in the reserves I have been all over the world and have been lucky enough to experience all sorts of things, including the odd life-changing event too.”

Smyth has spent plenty of time risking his life on the front line in places including Iraq and Afghanistan, but has found the army taught him a lot more than combat skills: “I have had the opportunity to travel all over Europe and the Middle East. I have also received some excellent training which I would never have had access to at work. As well as the classic leadership training that everyone benefits from in the army, I have been trained in photography, filming, editing and graphic design, all of which are invaluable in my day job. I have also had great fun doing all sorts from advanced off-road driving courses to scuba diving.”

So how does Smyth manage to juggle being in the reserves with working in PR? This is where his planning skills are put to good use: “One of the things the Army does best is planning. That means you usually have advanced warning about all the requirements, sometimes up to 18 months ahead. As a result, it is usually relatively straightforward to get the balance right, not only between the army with my career, but just as importantly between work and my family.”

Smyth has learnt that the army and PR have more in common than you might imagine: “Looking back, there are two common themes about all of them. Firstly, there is an element of just going for it. In a way it’s about having the conviction and confidence to push through an idea and make it work. The other element is making the most of technology. I have always loved gadgets and taking pictures and as content becomes more and more important in PR, having the skills to make it is vital. Those two things have enabled me to travel all over the world and experience some pretty incredible things.”

Having so many adventures mean that Smyth has plenty of stories to tell, and telling stories is another vital PR skill: “Humans are hard wired to tell stories and that is in essence what PR is all about. There isn’t a human on the planet who doesn’t like a good story, so whatever the future holds in both my civilian and military careers it will be focused on storytelling and communication.”

Major Paul Smyth has been in the reserves for 12 years and has spent four of them mobilised in support of operations. Following his last deployment to Afghanistan he published a book, Blogging from the Battlefield about the tour, in order to raise money for the Royal British Legion.

Paul Smyth was interviewed by Daney Parker