How making people laugh has helped to shape my career in PR and in comedy, by Julia Streets, CEO of Streets Consulting
24th April 2014
I fell into PR entirely by accident. I started out as the PA to the deputy chairman at Hill & Knowlton who taught me the ropes. I learned many lessons I hold dear today, including the importance of good-and-honest client and media relationships, and to remain calm under pressure. He instilled in me the importance of using clear and imaginative language to attract the interest of journalists.
I’ve always been a story teller and writer in some form or other and have never shied away from public speaking. Making people laugh proved to be useful to hold people’s attention and throughout my career too many people to ignore have asked whether I’d considered becoming a stand-up comic.
After more than a decade of consulting, I was headhunted to join the US brokerage firm, Instinet, to become head of marketing, communications and sales development for Europe. I then joined the stock exchange technology firm, AtosEuronext Market Solutions (today called NYSE Technologies) as global head of communications. When I left the exchange group, I decided to take some time out. That’s when I turned my hand to stand-up. I wrote a show, worked with another actor and director and took it to the Edinburgh Fringe Comedy Festival. Like so many thousands of performers, full of hope that the industry might find me, despite dedicating time, effort and money to marketing and PR (naturally), it was not to be.
I returned with an exhausted bank account, chalked The Fringe up as a formative experience and on that day I decided to call a recruitment firm and return to corporate communications. I was approached by Instinet to help it launch a new stock exchange. This, my first freelance client, attracted yet more and I’ve built up Streets Consulting a business development, marketing and communications consultancy, dedicated to helping firms in the weird and wonderful world of international financial services and technology.
I still regularly gig. My shtick is all about corporate life (I should note that no clients are harmed in the making of my material) and I believe I am the only comic who actually enjoys being in offices. Most of my gigs are corporate events and every week I do something comedy-related, whether writing my “watercooler” column in FM Magazine, appearing on the radio, MC’ing gala events, or speaking at corporate events or conferences.
My worlds collide in a mutually supportive way. Every year I host a City comedy gig bringing together my clients and a line-up of brilliant comedic talent to raise much needed funds for an amazing charity, Children in Crisis. I am proud to serve as a trustee and am deeply impressed by the real impact it has on the lives of children and their communities through education in hard to reach, post-conflict zones. I also serve on the advisory board of Funny Women, a business dedicated to helping women perform, write and do business with humour. Last year I was very honoured to be named one of Brummell magazine’s “30 inspirational women on boards”.
To aspiring PR professionals, my advice would be work hard and step away from the corporate buzzword mentality still so prevalent in the PR world. I was negotiating a contract when someone asked me if I’d like to “open my kimono“. Increasingly frustrated, I wrote a book called The Lingua Franca of the Corporate Banker about the need to use clear language, not least when working with international counterparties. Paradigm shifting, leading edge, next-generation technology really means nothing. What it does to help someone solve a challenge they care about is much more compelling.
I think the greatest lesson I have learned is that ultimately people do business with people they like. Everyone claims to be highly experienced and capable. Charm, dedication and making the client or journalist feel that you’re working hard to get results for them will take you a long, long way.
Written by Julia Streets, a business woman, writer and comedian. She is founder and CEO of Streets Consulting, a business development, marketing and communications consultancy for international financial services and technology firms