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My biggest failure and how it helped my PR career

If you haven’t failed at anything, then you have missed out on some valuable life lessons. Here PRs describe some of their failures that have helped them the most in their careers.

Taking the wrong job

Francesca Baker-Brooker, communications consultant at expert network And So She Thinks: “My biggest mistake was getting wooed by fancy offices, drinks Fridays and big corporate mission statements that mean nothing. I got sick, so sick I nearly died, and had to leave the job and London. What it taught me is I can craft a career that works for me on my terms, where I tell stories of people doing great things for the good of the world, where my mental and physical health is of importance to the director (me!) and I can tailor my work around it, and that genuinely makes me excited every single day.”

Not taking the right job

David Alexander, managing director of sports PR agency Calacus: “My biggest failure came when I went against all my instincts and turned down an opportunity of a lifetime.

“As an only child, I’ve always been independent and taken the initiative, making choices that went beyond my safety net. I’d been in a new agency role for a few weeks, just getting my feet under the table, having fought hard to get hired in the first place.

“Then an old contact, highly connected and experienced former client got in touch and wanted me to become his right-hand man, learning and supporting him in the world of high-level communications.

“I was torn, because I knew what a great opportunity it was, how many people I would connect with and how much I would learn from his successful organisation. But I didn’t want to let down those who had helped me get my agency role, so ultimately I turned it down. Within a few months, I was made redundant from the agency and he had found someone else to work alongside him.

“Ultimately, I have forged a different but equally enjoyable and challenging role with my own agency, but I often wonder how much my life would have changed if I’d made the leap to work alongside him.”

Hiding the truth

Richard Cook, founder of agency Champion Communications: “My biggest failure was failing to own up to a mistake, that blew up in my face….

“Years ago, working for one of those big agencies, I had a client that sponsored a Formula One team which lead to a press event in the paddock club at the Monaco Grand Prix. I was a senior account exec and was sent single-handedly to manage this press event. I had no idea that when the Grand Prix was on it is virtually impossible to enter Monaco. Despite a 5.00 am alarm I ended up unable to attend the press event. Rather than tell my terrifying boss, I told the client and my boss that everything went fine.

“Of course the F1 Team told my client that nobody from the PR agency turned up to the press event. My lessons: Be Prepared. Tell the truth. Don’t be a scary boss. Ensure my team is properly supported. Get a helicopter.”

Poor grades in exams

Meredith Ash, senior account director at agency Splendid Communications: “My biggest failure is probably missing the mark on my AS levels, and having to retake. From that, I learnt firstly that ‘work hard, play hard’ has to be equal in measure, but that overall, preparation is key. You only get out the effort you put in which is something I’ve taken with me as I’ve progressed in my career.”

Failing multiple driving tests

Fiona Faint, digital PR manager at PR agency No Brainer Agency: “One of my biggest failures was failing my driving test.... not once, but twice before I passed third-time lucky.

“Initially, learning to drive made me feel very nervous and I felt out of my comfort zone driving on busy roads, feeling like I didn't know what I was doing. It took perseverance as it wasn't something that came naturally to me.

“I learnt that the reason why I was so nervous is because I was overthinking it, feeling like I was the only one in that position, where in reality, there were lots of people in the same position, just starting out as a learner on those busy roads.

“My learning-to-drive experience taught me so much, and I was able to apply those learnings when I started out in my PR career. When I moved to London for my first job, I reminded myself that everyone starts somewhere and just going for it is the best thing you can do. Pushing outside of your comfort zone is such an important skill because it's the best way to learn new things and develop.”

Helen Lewis, director of agency LitPR: “I was such a swot at school that I passed all my tests (except maths!) with flying colours and studied hard to achieve. But I just had no clue when it came to driving. I took the test three times and each time got more and more nervous. When I had to do a hill start my foot was shaking so much that I couldn't even put it down on the clutch. When I passed eventually I couldn't believe it. I felt such freedom and it was worth it.

“I felt embarrassed that all my friends were passing on the first go and I was failing, but I just knew deep down that I could do it once I calmed the nerves. And on the third go I finally passed... my lesson there was to never give up on something you really want.”

Terrible typo

Zoe Hiljemark, PR consultant to professional photographers: “One of my biggest failures was when I was in the first few months of my PR career. This was back in 2003. I was a bright-eyed account executive supporting a colleague who was planning a national food exhibition.

“We had celebrity chef Brian Turner as the special guest of honour - one of my roles was to support with copywriting for the daily newsletter that we produced on both days of the exhibition.

“Unfortunately, to my horror, it seemed that I had misspelt Brian as ‘Brain’ Turner several times throughout the copy. We must have both proofed the content, but somehow it slipped the net before the newsletters were printed and hundreds of copies were distributed to attendees and press. Cringe!

“This taught me to always triple-check copy and to never just read what I want to read, but to focus on reading what is actually there. “

Failing to speak up

Lisa Gibson, head of comms and PR at PR agency Yours Sincerely: “My biggest failure was in my early PR career, when a very senior colleague suggested what I thought at the time was a pretty naff PR idea. I shut up though, because what does a junior account exec know? Obviously the story flopped, which was especially painful as I was mostly in charge of the sell-in.

“What has it taught me? Three important things. Firstly, always speak up regardless of who you're talking to. Secondly, always listen to everyone's opinion, regardless of who you're talking to. Finally, you're never too senior to get stuck in to a sell-in, it's all too easy to lose sight of what makes a decent story.”

Wardrobe malfunction

Joe Thomas, founder and creative director: “Part of the in-house team at Virgin Media, I had my first chance to meet, brief and host a presser for Sir Richard Branson for a big event in central London. A whirl of adrenaline I got to the venue to discover I'd forgotten to pack my smart trousers in my bike bag - luckily we were surrounded by clothes stores and I had 30 minutes to spare.

“The lesson: if you're hosting anything, always be their early and if you use the bike as your main means of transport, always double-check what you pack in your panniers!”

As for my own experiences, I relate to nearly all of the above, so I now realise that I am a bigger failure than I realised! What did all my many mistakes teach me? That failure sucks… but also that it is never the end of the world.

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