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How Nick Barron constructed a PR career

Nick Barron, managing director, corporate reputation at PR firm Edelman, says he wanted to be an architect when he was young, but is delighted to have constructed a career in comms. In our quick, ten-minute catch-up he discusses how his career has evolved and why it is vital to be well-read if you want to get ahead in PR.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

I wanted to be an architect. I am always worried about anyone who grows up wanting to work in PR – it’s such a nebulous discipline, I think the best people in the industry fall into it through a love of writing, argument, politics, performance or creative problem solving – or just by developing a passion for a particular subject and wanting to share it with the world.

Would your teenage self-approve of your career now?

I grew up in the late 1980s/early 90s, worrying about nuclear war and mass unemployment. My teenage self would be happy I had a job and didn’t live in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The fact my career involves pontificating for a living and occasionally doing cool stuff would impress him.

Why did you decide to work in PR?

I didn’t. I started in the sports industry and I had a vague idea that I wanted to “run” something. As time went on, I became more and more focused on marketing and then specialised in communications. I worked for eight years at The FA and by the end, I had decided I wanted a complete change of career. I couldn’t work out how to escape the “sports PR” pigeonhole people told me I was stuck in. I figured I could get out of sport or I could get out of PR but I couldn’t do both – so I joined Edelman’s corporate team, with the aim of spending a year or two there before leaving to do something else entirely. Then I found I really enjoyed working agency side – where I could combine a discipline I was good at with the opportunity to run a business. Here I am 11 years later.

How did you get your first break?

I was getting towards the end of my time at university and had no idea what job I wanted. I wandered round a few jobs fairs feeling totally uninspired – unless you wanted to work in banking or accountancy (or had a practical degree), the route in to the world of work seemed totally impenetrable. Then I heard somebody from The FA doing an interview on the radio and I thought it sounded interesting, so I wrote him a letter (yes, I am that old) and I think he was so surprised and flattered to get the letter that he gave me an interview. To this day, I am amazed that more people who want to work for Edelman don’t just write directly. People seem to think they need to go via recruitment firms or reply to specific job ads, but they don’t. The agency jobs market is so liquid that every good agency is on the constant hunt for great talent.

What has been your best career decision?

Moving to Edelman.

Why Edelman?

Firstly, it’s got the scale to offer constant variety – there are always new people and clients to learn from. Secondly, it’s got the ambition and hunger to try new things – each year I’ve been here, we have grown, invested and innovated. Thirdly, we’re independent, which means we can say what we really believe about communications. We don’t have to worry about upsetting holding company bosses.

And what about your role in Homemade? 

Homemade London is an experiential business my wife founded when she finished her career in television. Mostly, I just get to live out my entrepreneurial fantasies vicariously through her, but being involved has taught me a lot about business.

What are the biggest challenges of your present role?

Balancing the question of “what’s next?” with the immediate priorities for the business. The corporate reputation team I run is now more than 80 people and we have a lot of clients. I could spend 24 hours a day just dealing with the daily challenges a business of that scale throws up, but in this industry if you are not moving forward, you die. Fortunately, I have an amazing team, who are not only very good at their jobs, but also want to do new things, so my job is to set direction and support people’s good ideas.

What advice would you give to other PROs? 

Read widely, because being able to draw on a diverse set of ideas is incredibly powerful. Write shorter documents, because good communication is succinct.

Article written by Nick Barron, managing director, corporate reputation at PR firm Edelman

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