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When PR becomes family: we talk to family members who work together

You might be glad to separate your home life from your work life, but for those who work alongside their nearest and dearest in PR, that is not such an easy option. PROs who work alongside their partners, or in the same business as their parents, discuss the pros and cons of having close relations at work. One key theme emerged, which is whether you are working alongside a family relation, or a romantic partner, it is important to separate family loyalty from business, in order not to cause resentment from others in the office. Simon Turton, owner of agency Opera Public Relations, says: “A person’s ability should be judged on merit – in the case of a family member excelling in a company, they should be promoted because they are genuinely good, not because their dad is MD, so that fellow employees do not question the promotion (or are less likely to do so).”

Working with parents

Working with parents is particularly tricky, as there are bound to be others who suspect nepotism. But for the two professionals below, having inspirational fathers who work in PR, has only been of benefit.

Kirstin Kaszubowska, associate director at PR firm Good Relations:
“I studied psychology, art and English literature and didn’t have a clue what I wanted to be ‘when I grew up’. Dad talked about telling stories, coming up with creative ideas and getting underneath the skin of human behaviour. To me his job sounded like the perfect combination of all the subjects I already enjoyed.

“And in the 10 years since he inspired me to give it a go. Not only have I loved my job, but I’ve also learnt a lot more about creativity, human psychology and telling great stories along the way.  

“We’ve worked in the same organisation for many years. Inside and outside work we have huge admiration and respect for each other. Most people know we are related and some are surprised when they learn that we are. We don’t hide it, but equally we don’t make anything more out of it than it is. Two professionals each with their own experience, each adding value to clients and team members in their own way.

“Do I turn to him for advice? Of course! He advises leaders across the globe and he has a knack for making things that seem unattainable feel well within reach.  

“As for how we ended up at the same organisation. Right at the beginning of my career I did work experience for a few of the companies in the Chime Group. One of whom offered me a full-time AE role. The CEO at the time relished telling me that when she put through her request for the new hire, Dad replied that he hadn’t been consulted. She responded that she wasn’t in the practice of asking permission from the fathers of her potential new employees."

Tarquin Henderson, director of energy management business ReEnergise:
“With my moderately lacklustre academic track record, my father decided that I would be better off going straight into work and where better than within his own PR and publishing business, Henderson Group One. I was 18 and pretty unsure what I wanted to do for a living.

“Four years later and with a wealth of experience behind me, I was able to secure my first ‘proper’ job as an account exec at the wonderful Kingsway PR. My first account was Apple Computer – it doesn’t get much better than that.

“Working with Dad was undoubtedly the best start I could have had. He gave me the broadest range of opportunities to learn the basics but was never a soft touch. In fact he was a pretty strict taskmaster. He expected me to deliver to the level of the other members of his team.

“I feel very strongly that the best way to understand the creative and project management skills required to be great in PR is to learn within a business and not in a classroom. I think PR is ideally placed to embrace the rise in formal vocational training.”

Working with spouses

When it comes to office romances, having relationships at work could give a boost to your PR career, according to research from health and safety law consultancy which surveyed office workers and found that there nearly two-thirds of those who had been in an office romance thought it had benefited their work and career. But what about if you end up getting married? Two PROs discuss how working alongside their wives helps them, and their work.

Mike Sottak, managing director, EMEA at PR firm The Hoffman Agency:
“My wife and I have to PR to thank for getting us together in the first place. We met when she was an account exec at an agency that supported the software company at which I was working as an internal PRO. We later went on to start our own small consulting firm, building it over the course of 15 years, before I took on my current role. Toni still runs our consulting firm so there is an additional business aspect for us, beyond just the day-to-day mechanics of both being in PR.

“For the most part we see a lot of synergy and benefit from working in the same field. Being able to bounce ideas back and forth in a casual, familiar way is a comfortable contrast to the sometimes formal corporate/agency world. Even though we don’t work on the same clients (although we are familiar with each other’s), we are able to have four eyes and ears on the markets we serve and frequently share tips on developing stories and trends, as well as developments with key editors and analysts. We can also commiserate on client issues and other frustrations involved with our business. The main downside is the risk of ‘taking work home’ and spending too much time talking-shop on family time. So we try our best to separate our work and personal lives, although it’s sometime convenient to have some overlap on either side.”

Simon Turton, owner of agency Opera Public Relations:
“My wife is Opera PR’s company secretary and she looks after all our accounts (as well as looking after her own clients). Even thought we’re a small (boutique) agency having your finger on the pulse of the numbers is at least as important as being able to formulate and direct client campaigns. I value her role in the company and she plays an essential role in the business. At the end of the day we may discuss work issues, but generally we focus on the other priorities when the computers are off.

“As well as doing the accounts, she also reads all our proposals and, given that her background is not in PR, it is great to have her as a sounding board for discussing various projects.

“As for a general rule of employing relatives, I think that you do need to be careful to avoid accusations of nepotism – especially in the case of children, siblings or cousins being brought into senior roles in family businesses and leap-frogging long-serving employees for promotion.”

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