Jane Wilson, CEO of the CIPR, reports on life beyond London

“Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford." Samuel Johnson

Like Johnson’s friend Boswell, I am a Scot who has been drawn to London. It is a tremendous city and without doubt the political, financial and, at a national level, the cultural centre of the United Kingdom. It’s no coincidence that within the CIPR the biggest regional group comprises those who live and work in the capital.  But it is not the only option for those who want a rewarding and challenging career in the communications professions. Whisper it in the streets of Marylebone and Mayfair, but there is life outside London and it’s teeming with creativity.

I started my career in marketing at a very local level as marketing director for a car dealership chain in the west of Scotland. There are two things that have stayed with me from that period; a clear focus on measurement and results, and the ability to be creative on a small budget. My boss was a sales director and in the days before the Barcelona Principles had his own measurement matrix which was based on the number of times he used the F word in our Monday meetings. When budgets are tight and teams are small, there is no room for conversations solely about output. Even back then it was all about results and I would have been given short shrift around the board table if my report had been filled with a list of activities I’d undertaken rather than revenue generated. 

At the CIPR we are currently celebrating the best work from our nations and regions with the PRide Awards. As CEO, I’m lucky enough to be a regular guest at these events that take place right across the UK and I have had the chance to meet some hugely creative practitioners who live and work outside London. But it’s not just those working in consultancy who have inspired me. At last week’s West of England event I was bowled over by the number and diversity of organisations that have PR at the heart of their business. From foodies to festivals organisers, they know the value of good local PR and prefer to work with those who know their market inside out. I also got a sense that the work-life balance is more attractive without the daily grind of London transport.

But it is not just local organisations that can reap the rewards of working from what those in London often call ‘the regions’. Even though its employees lobbied MPs at Euston station in the 1980s in a bid to stay in the capital, the Health and Safety Executive did finally make the move from Whitehall to Merseyside and now operates a successful and efficient media relations team from its offices in Bootle. Technology clearly has made a difference. As HSE communications director and CIPR treasurer Sally Sykes explained to me recently, her team can now spend their weekends climbing mountains and “update the website from the top of Mount Snowdon”.

For me personally, while my heart belongs to Glasgow, my head is currently firmly in London. However, I do recommend that we would all benefit from looking for talent and creativity beyond the M25.


When can we be creatively brave again?