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PR Week Mentor Scheme Launch: My Experience

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Claire Foster

Deputy Head of News, Direct Line Group

I had worked in financial services and motoring PR for over a decade when I decided to apply for the Women in PR, PR Week mentor scheme, holding various roles from account director to media relations manager.

I’d been looking for a mentor for a while, but it is difficult to find someone who is the right level of seniority, who has the time, and will be truthful with you and definitely not someone who has a vested interest. Being part of the Women in PR, PRCA, community has given me access to senior women in the industry.

I first met Gay Collins for breakfast near her office. We talked about my background, experience, frustrations and goals. I am often approached for roles outside of my company, but the brand and culture are very important to me. At Direct Line Group I am able to work across Churchill, Privilege, Green Flag, as well as Direct Line itself. It has the variety of working in an agency mixed with the benefits of working in-house. I am lucky to work with some of the best PR and marketing agencies in the business, from Citigate to Frank, Unity to Brunswick, Saatchi and WCRS. The mix of corporate and consumer, and the willingness and encouragement to experiment with new and emerging trends has meant I am still excited to come into work.

Gay’s first observation was that I obviously love where I work, so there’s no point pushing me for a higher role at another company. She said, ‘let’s get the most out of your current role’.

Being in a job for eight years, I suppose I am comfortable. I know my industry, my stakeholders and it’s important to still push myself out of my comfort zone. The first thing I put myself forward for after meeting Gay was as a speaker at a PR Moment event on integrated campaigns. I met with Gay beforehand to plan and she, and the Women in PR network were tweeting support for me on the day.

Gay also suggested regular 121s with our head of brand and social media. I promptly set these up and as a result, I have an excellent personal development plan and more stretching objectives.

Gay also encouraged me to take ownership of our PR, SEO, digital and social planning day which was a huge success. The feedback from all attendees was exemplary and a good leadership exercise for me.

The final thought from my mentor was, whilst I have no commitments, why didn’t I try working in New York for a while. I was contemplating this when the Women in PR newsletter came into my inbox, with a networking trip to New York on it. My head of PR and CMO very generously agreed for me to be able to go and it was a fantastic experience, even attending the first Global Women in PR network event.

For me, 2016 has been my most rewarding. Now the deputy head of news at a FTSE 100 company, marketing secretary for the Women in PR committee. I have won three internal awards for my management of the flood crisis, I was asked to judge the CIPR and PR Moment awards, speak at another PR Moment panel event, and I’ve even been short listed as PR professional of the year. The support I have had from my mentor, and my head of brand media relations have been the catalyst, I have simply taken ownership and made it happen.