The tumultuous times of Claire Walker
You get to go to a good few lunches as a journalist, but one of my recent highlights has to be meeting up with Firefly’s CEO Claire Walker, who has known the best of times and the worst of times. Walker kept her business and family on track despite the tragic loss of her husband, and Firefly co-founder Mark Mellor, almost five years ago to cancer. She has also had to deal with a recent office fire that has left the company working in temporary offices. And now she is planning a summer wedding! You might think she would be tearing her hair out, but Walker remains cheerful, calm and collected. Just the attributes that would have stood her in good stead had she listened to a careers advisor who suggested she become an air hostess. Thankfully for the PR industry, Walker had other ideas. Here she answers a few nosey PRmoment questions about her career, how it started and what advice she can offer to those just starting out.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I wanted to be a professional tennis player, but my careers advisor suggested being a journalist or an air hostess. At the time it all seemed plausible, but I didn’t appreciate the discipline needed to be a tennis player, the articulation required to be a good journalist and frankly at 5’2” I was too short to qualify as an air hostess.
Would your teenage-self approve of your career now?
My teenage-self would be delighted that I escaped the boring countryside to live an exciting life in London, but disappointed I’d forgotten most of the lyrics to the London Calling album by The Clash. I fancied myself as a punk rocker, playing base with the college band ‘Verity Vaseline and the Lubricators’. Teenage rebellion?
Why did you decide to work in PR?
I worked in sales and marketing for a joint venture between EMAP and BT called Micronet 800. PR was by a million miles the most exciting part of my job. Micronet 800 sent the first email live on TV in 1984 and we broadcast software code to be downloaded via an acoustic coupler. Quite a PR coup!
How did you get your first break?
I wanted to join Sterling PR, now a part of GCI. I had heard about the agency from a friend, it had a growing tech team. I rang up the MD (Adrian Wheeler) and sold myself in. He didn’t have much of a choice.
What has been your best career decision?
I had three wonderful years at Sterling, and then after the GCI merger I decided to go it alone. Only 25 years old, gutsy but inexperienced, it was a huge risk. But the timing was right to launch a new tech specialist agency and Firefly took off like a rocket.
Why Firefly Communications?
In 1988, I was cautioned by my elders against choosing such a silly name and why use Communications and not PR? The trend was to use surnames or something less ‘frivolous’. No one will take you seriously they said, so I did it anyway, and the name has worn well for 28 years. Communications has been more appropriate as we have always offered more than straight PR.
What are the biggest challenges of your present role?
The boundaries between all marketing disciplines are blurry. This is an opportunity and a challenge. Many clients want us to manage and build their reputations, and plump their pipeline or market share. This involves a broad range of communications activities so we build multi discipline, multi-channel comms campaigns that deliver the results required.
What advice would you give to other PROs?
Feed your mind. Everyday understand something different about who you are targeting, how they digest information, what interests them, what else is going on in their world. And never be complacent. You might know a lot, but you can never know it all, or know enough. So keep learning.
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