Victoria Dean, chief executive officer of Portland, on the PRmoment Podcast

Welcome to the PRmoment Podcast.

This week we’re chatting to Victoria Dean, chief executive officer of Portland about her career story. 

Portland has 350 employees globally and 270 in London. It has offices in Brussels, Paris, Berlin, Washington, Nairobi, Singapore, Doha and London.

Victoria’s career has been a fascinating journey - she has spent the majority of her career working for The British and Commonwealth Foreign Office, in various non-communications roles including head of the political team at the British Embassy, Washington, the British High Commissioner Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean and the head of strategic finance.

She was also the global head of public policy at Google before taking up the global CEO role at Portland earlier this year.

On the show today we’re going to talk to Victoria about her time at The British and Commonwealth Foreign Office and Google, she’ll be talking to us about what a modern public policy role looks like and how it overlaps with the world of public relations and communications.

Victoria will also no doubt tell us why she left what I would say is one of the top 5 public policy roles globally to return to Portland earlier this year.

Before we start the PRmoment Awards 2023 are now open for entries - do check out the awards site PRmomentAwards.com

Thanks to the PRmoment Podcast sponsors, The PRCA.

Here’s a summary of what Victoria and PRmoment founder Ben Smith discussed:

2.30 mins Victoria worked in The Foreign and Commonwealth Office for the British Government for 16 years - what are the good and bad things about working for the government?

“When there’s less money about you have to be more thoughtful about recognition”

“The other big thing about working for the government is - politics… You have to be aware of that and be apolitical”

“The very best secretary of state I worked for was William Hague”

7 mins Is there a sweet spot about how long a secretary of state should serve?

8.30 mins Victoria has had multiple roles in The Foreign and Commonwealth Office - what were her favourites and how did these prepare her for a second career in communications and public relations?

“Diplomacy is PR”

9.30 mins Victoria’s first comms role was as the UK Government’s spokesperson for Europe in Brussels for the Blair government.

13 mins Victoria talks about her time as the High Commissioner of Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean.

15 mins Victoria was the 3rd employee of the Department for Exiting the European Union. She left her role as the High Commissioner of Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean because she had lots of experience in Brussels and the UK government was in a panic as a result of the Brexit referendum!

“For the first time in my career, the advise I was giving was unwanted and not really listened to”

“In papers, I wrote in those early days (post the referendum result) ‘the situation with Northern Island will be very difficult' and here we are 7 years later”

19 mins Victoria reveals the reason she left the Foreign Office was that she feared the UK would make a mess of Brexit.

19.30 mins Victoria talks about her first stint at Portland - learning the ropes of agency life.

20 mins Victoria talks about her time as global head of public policy at Google.

“The reality is there is no business operating anywhere in the world that isn’t increasingly affected impacted by government, politics, regulation (or) legislation.”

“How we, collectively, regulate the internet is one of the biggest questions of our time, so when the phone call came to go and help Google think about how it does that - I jumped at the chance”

“What I discovered is that it's (the regulation of the internet) a messy space”

“Public policy now plays a much bigger, more relevant and more senior role on most exco boards than it has before”

23 mins Where does a public policy role meet a public affairs role or a corporate affairs role?

24 mins How does Google do advocacy?

“I don’t know if I want either the government or Google to be entirely in charge of the decisions about how my content is moderated and what I do and don’t see”

26 mins The regulation (of the internet) will be a collaboration between individuals, the government and companies - and that’s really new to us and we don’t know how to do it”

30 mins Why did Victoria leave Google to become Portland CEO?

31 mins Where does an ex-public policy leader take a PR and communications firm?

“If we (Portland) get very much bigger in terms of the number of people we start to become a different type of agency…There is a place for that in the market but I don’t think it’s our place… I would like us to go deeper and build greater expertise”

36 mins What do the type of clients who are attracted to Portland want from their PR and communications agency?

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