Throughout 2015 PRINZ will interview senior PR practitioners about their career, discovering what they believe is the key to being successful in PR, what tips they were given and have used in their career, and what they expect of a junior PR practitioner in 2015.
Kate Woodruffe, FPRINZ, Financial Markets Authority
Kate is a B2B communications specialist who is passionate about delivering meaningful change and measurable business results. She has spent the last 10+ years working across a number of industries and disciplines including engineering, ICT, transport and public sector consultation. Kate is a previous PRINZ Award winner, contributed to the PRINZ Northern Committee for three years, and was awarded PRINZ Fellow status in 2013.
How long have you worked in PR/Communications industry?
I’ve worked in PR for about 13 years, but my previous careers were also in the broader communications disciplines – copywriting, publishing, marketing and design, and a bit of English teaching while overseas.
What attracted you to the industry?
When I returned to New Zealand after a number of years in Japan I was looking for a change of tack, so went to see a careers counsellor. After an hour or so of discussing my experience, skills and interests he said “you should go into PR, it would be a perfect fit for you.” I decided to take his advice and haven’t looked back.
Did you complete tertiary study? If so, what and when?
I went into tertiary study quite late in life – I completed a BA in Japanese at AUT in my mid-thirties and tacked a Graduate Diploma in PR and Communications onto the end of that, following the advice I’d received from the careers counsellor. I’ll never forget the interview I had with Joseph Peart when I applied for the course – he gave me a real grilling and actually declined me at first. I reluctantly enrolled in the marketing diploma instead, but continued to pester Joseph until he relented. He accepted me into the course about a week or so before classes started, so I had to take all my marketing texts back and swap them out. I then made it my mission to prove he’d made a good decision!
What do you think is the most significant industry change you’ve experienced?
I’d have to say the proliferation of online and social media, which has further swamped our audiences with content, changed the way newsrooms operate and made everyone a potential publisher. I think this has also shortened the currency of a story has and the time we have to respond to an issue. On the positive front, I think today’s time-poor journalists are much more open to receiving quality content from PR people than they used to be – emphasis on the word quality.
If you were a junior in the industry today do you think you’d need to handle your career differently to how you have done?
In terms of the choices I’ve made to move around through agency and in-house across a range of B2B industries, no. But if I were a junior today I’d be immersing myself in the social media and digital channels that weren’t around when I started out.
What has been your favourite piece of work to date?
That’s a tough question, as I have a lot of favourites! For a long time I looked back on the Northern Gateway project as a career highlight, but I think my time at Spark (then Telecom) might have superseded it.
The magic was in the combination of working for a great company and top CEO, with hugely talented people, on interesting work. In terms of a specific project, my favourite would have to be an op-ed I wrote for Spark Digital CEO Tim Miles. I really enjoyed working with Tim to understand the story he wanted to tell and articulate it in a style that was authentic to him. The day the piece was published Tim had a client comment on how well it resonated, so not only was the process fun, but it really worked for the business. It’s really important to me that my work contributes to the successful delivery of hard business objectives – I’m not a fan of ‘fluff.’
What is the most valuable piece of career advice you’ve ever been given?
Cedric Allan once told me that the only real job security you ever have is being good at what you do – if you focus on that you’ll never be out of work. He was right! Being really good at your job won’t necessarily mean you’re never a victim of restructure or other corporate hazards, but it will ensure you can quickly land your next job.
I pass this advice on a lot but add that alongside being good at your work, you should also be pleasant to work with.
Who do you look up to/who did you look up to as a young practitioner?
There were a number of people who inspired me early in my PR career – Joseph Peart, Aline Sandilands, Cedric Allan, Michelle Boag, Jill Dryden, among many others. I admire so many of the PR people I come into contact with through my work – we are a diverse and talented industry! I consider ongoing engagement with industry colleagues critical to professional and personal development – PRINZ events are great for this type of networking.
What do you expect of young practitioners that they may not be aware of?
While I will look at a graduate’s grades or an applicant’s professional experience, it’s really the quality of the interaction I have with them that makes the biggest difference in terms of hiring decision and their ongoing success in the role.
When I hire I find myself referring to ‘attitude.’ We measure performance based on how we work as well as what we do, and in my experience skills can be taught, but a good attitude tends to be hardwired. In practice a good attitude means a number of things to me:
- being genuinely interested in the job and taking an interest in the broader workings of the business
- self-confidence and self-awareness
- punctuality, positivity and willingness to learn
- ability to work as part of a team
- ability to use initiative but also to ask the right questions.
Thanks to Kate for sharing her insight. If you would like to be involved in this series please email firstname.lastname@example.org.