From baton twirling, to beekeeping, to stand-up: The secret lives of PRs

It is hard enough doing the day job when you work in PR, but many PRs have other strings to their bows. Here we find out the surprising secret talents of ten comms professionals.

Baton twirling

Jo-ann Robertson, president, global markets at PR agency Ketchum: “Baton twirling was my life for over 25 years, a sport that is a combination of dance, gymnastics, and twirling. I was a relatively late starter at age 10, and by 13 I was at my first world championships. They said I had natural ability. I was fearless, dedicated, and ambitious. I spent every waking moment that I wasn’t at school or uni with a baton in my hand and I would watch videos of the then world champion, Stacey Singer, over and over to master some of her signature moves. I won the first ever British Baton Twirling freestyle championships and held on to my title for five years until I retired. I went on to be a coach where many of my athletes won British and European medals, and then a judge where I was chief judge at the World Championships in Nottingham in 2014. Baton twirling gave me many of the life skills I hold dear today and I made lifelong friends from all over the world.”

You can see Jo-ann in action below.

Romcom creator

Arjun Singh is global creative operations director at integrated agency TEAM LEWIS: “The son of a West Indian father and Indian mother, I took an unconventional career path into the world of advertising.

“After over two decades in the creative industries, I wanted to see more people who looked like me. Coupled with this, a number of my peers and friends from South East Asian backgrounds haven’t felt comfortable talking about their sexuality and in particular being gay.

“A serendipitous meeting with Sophie Cairns (the founder of ŠITE Productions) saw Sophie encourage me to harness my experience and write a short play - so Rajesh & Naresh, the British Asian Queer Romcom, was born. We’re proud to be taking this labour of love to the Edinburgh Fringe.

“I’ve had the opportunity to combine my understanding of marcomms and need to entertain with delivering a serious message. Normalising the conversation through cultural insight and playful humour and bringing it to the mainstream, I hope will help Gay Asian men feel more comfortable coming out.”

Stand-up comic

Vix Leyton, head of PR and content at shopping community Pepper.com: "I got into stand up by accident; I was phobic of public speaking, but I was sick of complaining about male, pale and stale panels at conferences when I was part of the problem by refusing to put myself forward. I did a comedy course to get over it once and for all, and tweeted that it had given me a bit of a taste for it, not really expecting anything to happen. As is the nature of Twitter, comedian Mark Watson saw my tweet and invited me to get over my fear by learning stand up for charity as part of a 26 hour show he was doing; I said yes. Shortly after I got my first ever real gig, three years years later I’m taking two shows to Edinburgh Fringe thanks to my brilliant company Pepper.com, which is letting me use a fusion of leave and remote working to pursue a dream. Less of a side hustle, more of a dual hustle; it’s never too late to change your life.”

Another PR talent who is at the Fringe this year is Mark Borkowski, find our more here.

Performing singers and musicians

Adrian Talbot, global CFO at PR agency Hotwire: “Music has been a passion and a part of my life from a very early age. I started out on piano, but the last 17 years has been dominated by choral singing. I have probably sung in the Royal Albert Hall a dozen times now and, as a bass in the City of London Choir, I have even been part of a chart-topping recording of the Nation’s Favourite Christmas Carols, commissioned by Classic FM.

“Five years ago, I had the idea of finding all the musical talent within Hotwire and I created our very own in-house band called The Borderless Thinkers. The band is made up of members from across all our offices globally and we perform every year at our annual company Bootcamp, as well as at company meetings and Christmas parties. It keeps on growing and I’m probably now more famous within Hotwire for the band than as CFO!”

Jennie Marsden, senior account executive at agency Viva PR: “I got a scholarship to study voice at The Royal College of Music in London at 18 and spent four years there, and then got a place on the Genesis Sixteen young artists training programme with renowned consort group, The Sixteen.

“I sang in some incredible places including the Royal Albert Hall, The Barbican, Royal Naval Chapel at Greenwich and travelled to Norway, Santiago, Vienna, Berlin and Dresden. I sang for a GUCCI perfume advert, featured on numerous BBC radio programmes and a couple of Songs of Praise programmes.

“Personally, I found making my hobby my job didn’t work for me and I lost that raw, joyful buzz that a lot of people experience when singing. Keen to get that back I decided I needed to do something else and find out who I was outside of ‘being musical’.

“Now in my sixth year of working in PR, I wish I’d done it sooner. Whilst on paper the change of career looks totally random, singing is all about storytelling and communicating a huge variety of emotions to a large audience. Ultimately that’s what we do in PR and that’s the element I love most.”

Author

Dan Harding, director at PR agency 72Point: “During the pandemic and juggling multiple video shoots (four to five a week) I wrote an important book for the LGBTQ+ community and its allies, Gay Man Talking - All the Conversations we Never Had . The book is being published next month, and I'm proud (nervous) of it coming out. For anyone working a full-time job and then doing a hidden talent on the side, then putting a heartfelt product out there, I applaud you. It's been a journey and a lot of late nights. I think it's so important to celebrate peoples talents outside of their nine to five, encouraging people to pursue passions and excel in other areas.”

Chief pickler

Laura Sutherland, founder and director of communication and business advisory Aura: “I’ve always loved cooking and experimenting with recipes, but I did study and work in hospitality before I started working in public relations, over 20 years ago.

“I started The Glasgow Pickle Co during the lockdown. It’s a hobby as much as anything, but my online shop gets a fair turn and I’ve now got monthly subscribers to Laura’s Pickle Pantry, an exclusive product every month.

“Funnily enough, around 20% of my customer base are PR and comms pros! You can find me at glasgowpickle.co - but bring your wallet 😉”

Beekeeper

Tim Gibbon, founder of communications consultancy Elemental: “Roughly 11 years ago, I was introduced to beekeeping. My father-in-law has over 30 beehives. I’ve helped look after them, from maintenance, spinning honey to preparing honey in the jars. Bees are the beginning of many things.


“I don’t get the chance to bee keep as much as I like, but when I do, it’s magical. I do things the natural way with the bees, giving back to the hive and ensuring that they can thrive, not just survive. Moreover, the honey that we source isn’t the sugar-filled lazy way. It has to be from how they naturally live and not sugar-water-filled nonsense.

“Any chance to embrace nature shouldn't be missed.”

Reiki master

Sarah Lloyd, owner of PR agency, Indigo Soul PR:  “It’s not really a secret because I told the Daily Mail once (!) but I am Reiki master, angel communicator, crystal healer and intuitive card reader. I love to work with energy and now don’t just offer Reiki Healing sessions, I fully integrate it into my PR business. I pull tarot cards for clients as part of my PR strategy. I also use Reiki, not just as a healing modality, but in everyday life and I rarely go anywhere without a bag of crystals. For a while I set up my own Reiki healing practice alongside my PR business; but soon realised like everything in life they were not mutually exclusive.”

Spoken word poet

Ed Parshotam, freelance copywriter and communications consultant and freestyle hip-hop emcee: “Your eyes don’t deceive you: when I’m not writing a thought leadership piece on programmatic advertising or securing coverage in a B2B automotive publication, I’ll be dropping furious rhymes on the mic.

“I used to describe myself as a spoken word poet when asked about my interests in job interviews, but I’ve since realised there’s little to gain from pandering to the bigotry - whether real or perceived - of prospective employers. If someone were to decide I’m not the right cultural fit based on the things I love, I’m happy to take their word for it and move on.

“For the more open-minded, I’m able to talk about how improvising in front of an audience offers transferable skills that I can draw on to sell ideas to clients. Meanwhile, writing lyrics - which means making use of multisyllabic rhyme, slant rhyme, mosaic rhyme and assonance - exercises the same part of the brain that helps me produce more engaging white papers and reports. Mic drop.”

As for my secret talent, I am very good at having afternoon naps… so if this feature is sending you to sleep, just think of the poor person who is struggling to stay awake writing it!

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