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The secret lives and hidden talents of PR people…

It is not news that comms professionals are a talented bunch, but many are also sporting heroes in their spare time. Other outside passions range from pantomime directing to photography. Here are some examples of what senior PR people do outside of the office and how these interests feed into their day jobs.

Pantomine director

Sara Lewis, divisional director at PR agency Berkeley, describes her love of pantomime and explains how it complements her PR role:

“Directing a pantomime is a natural extension of storytelling, which I do for my day job, albeit through an entirely different lens. I took on the role after my local amateur dramatics society, Slimbridge Variety Showgroup, was stuck for a pantomime director one year and after a glass of wine, I was coerced into the role!

“Creating a stage production is not just about telling a story; it’s about every person’s part in the pantomime and why their role is important. When I start rehearsals, I talk the cast through the story, describing their character and what part of the story they are telling. It makes it so much easier for the cast (especially the children) to understand how important their role is.

“Fitting into my day-to-day role at Berkeley can be challenging, but as with any project, a great team, plenty of preparation and a good old Gantt chart keeps us on track. It doesn’t stop the first night nerves though!

“The personal satisfaction in watching someone grow in confidence on stage is exciting. It takes piles of determination for some people to stand and perform in front of an audience; so seeing their excitement gets me hooked into doing it over and over again.”

(Horse) event manager

She might not have made the Olympics, but Dani Kerby, senior account executive at Berkeley, is justifiably proud of her success at eventing:

“When I was younger, it was my dream to go to the Olympics. But, it wasn’t the famous 100m sprint, or spinning around the velodrome that excited me – it was eventing.

“You might be wondering what eventing is? Well, it’s an equestrian sport consisting of three phases. Dressage (where you ponce around trying to look pretty), show jumping (jumping a course of brightly coloured fences) and cross country (where you gallop across fields and jump immovable fences such as logs and hedges).

“But why horses, and why eventing? As Sherlock Holmes once said, horses are dangerous at both ends and crafty in the middle – and he’s right – but the adrenaline is like nothing that I’ve ever experienced. This rush is the reason I learnt to ride, got my own horse, have broken most of the bones in my body and spent a lot of my life concussed – yeah, I’m not very good.

“Whilst the dawning realisation that I’m never going to be an Olympian (unless eating chocolate becomes a recognised sport), may have pushed me towards my second career choice of PR, unless I can help it, I will always be found on the cross country course.”

Marathon man

David Sawyer, director at agency Zude PR, has done eight marathons to-date. Impressively, his personal best time is just two hours and 42 minutes from London in 2015. Sawyer is planning to do London and Berlin (again) this year.

Sawyer lists six lessons he has learnt from his four-plus years marathoning, that are also applicable to PR:

  1. “You get out what you put in: that greasy pole ain't going to climb itself.”
  2. “Getting good marathon times does not happen by chance. You need to plan every aspect of your marathon campaign from training to recovery to nutrition to sleep to building mental toughness and resilience to dealing with injury setbacks. PR campaigns are similar. Behind every good PR campaign is a particularly anal account director; always with a plan b, and c!”
  3. “Name your goal, train for it then execute. Articulate it too. Let the client know.
  4. “Enjoy it. One thing marathoning has taught me is to savour the journey ‘cos it's not all wine and roses. If you don't like being a PRO, retrain and find another job.”
  5. “No man's an island: good PR comes through good teamwork and good marathoners are invariably members of running clubs.” 
  6. “Oh, and go digital. Like all good PROs. You might even discover The Joy of Strava.

Horse whisperer

Another woman with a way with horses is Rassami Hok Ljungberg, head of PR agency rassami. Here she describes how dressage demands profound communication skills:

“Communication is like breath to relationships, and the role of PR is all about creating or developing relationships, one-to-one and one-to-many. When most of us think of ‘communication’ we think about talking, reading or writing. However, there is a different kind of communication that happens with animals, in particular with horses, and it is all through the body. So whilst I am constantly working with my thinking brain in my day-job, when I indulge in my passion of horse-riding and dressage, I exercise and challenge a completely different muscle: feeling. Developing sensitivity of feeling in order to anticipate and react fast without talking, just through movement and balance. It is totally different to PR-work, but the aim of communication is exactly the same, which makes horse-riding so fascinating, challenging and addictive, possibly in the same way as PR.

“I ride several times a week in London as I have a share in a horse on loan, and this keeps me both sane and healthy. As a bonus, I go to Portugal for intensive high-quality training in classical equitation as often as I possibly can.

“Horse-riding is a complete antidote to the stresses of London life and work, and it is so refreshing to focus on feeling instead of constantly thinking. It puts screen-based work into perspective, which is healthy for us PR people who are expected to always be ‘on’.”


Simon Turton, owner of agency Opera PR, has found his passion for photography has been a bonus in his day job:

“Over the last few years there have been countless times when having my Nikon DSLR with me has meant that I have images to go with a story. Often, clients overlook booking photographers or even if they have booked photographers, getting the images through the appropriate channels means that they arrive too late.

“Whereas, I can respond far more quickly and ensure that we never have to revert to stock photography. As I own the copyright there is no issue about how many images the client can afford and – if you can believe it – some photographers charge by the size of the image you want!

“Of course, we build in the cost of photography but, if we’re working on a retained basis we simply provide that service at no extra cost – it’s all about going the extra mile.

“Finally, when I do look after the photography I know what shots I am looking for and can direct my subjects accordingly. And, if I need to refer back to any images, again, it’s easy: i simply go to my library and find the image my client needs.”

Whether you are running a marathon or running a stage production, having outside passions and goals do not take away from your day job, they add to it.

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