Victoria Main, director of media at Cambre Associates, on her passion for media relations, how the PR industry should cut down on jargon and dispelling the myth that communications is all ‘spin and Champagne’.
What media outlet/journalist can’t you start your day without?
I’m between Brussels and London, so I’ll cheat and name two. POLITICO‘s morning Playbook newsletter, penned by the inimitable Ryan Heath, is a must-read for anyone needing to know what’s going down in the heart of Europe. And for the ‘real world’ it’s hard to go past the FT, even if sometimes we’d like to.
You made the leap from journalism to PR a few years ago; what is the most important thing you learned from the transition?
To stay authentic and honest. I was an international journalist for two decades, and it’s my pan-European network and media knowhow that clients value. My counsel may not always be what they want to hear, but I’m loath to waste their money and journalists’ time on an approach that may appeal as a quick fix, but won’t achieve their goals. I’d add that it’s vital to retain the journalistic ability to listen. Having worked in-house as head of global media relations at Nokia, I can say there’s nothing worse than consultants who don’t (listen).
What three qualities do you ask from your colleagues?
Professionalism and competence go without saying, but let’s bundle them into one quality. I’d add – a sense of proportion and a sense of fun.
What is your favourite thing about working in comms?
That I’m paid to help clients – be they corporates, governments, individuals or trade associations – work with journalists, my favourite people. I’m really passionate about media relations, which can be an underrated and poorly handled branch of PR. All too often comms specialists (and their clients) forget that journalists are people too and that they, like the rest of us, have a job to do.
What piece of coverage from your career are you most proud of?
For the bulk of my time in journalism in Europe, I was a humble newswire reporter and therefore head of a team. Rather than cite any particular scoop, I’d rather point to the consistently solid coverage of the EU and Belgian corporates by the small bureau I led in Brussels for several years.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve done in the name of PR?
I’m still waiting for it! Quite often I’ve had to arrange briefings with journalists without being able to name the client in advance. But that’s cloak and dagger rather than strange.
If you could change one thing about the industry, what would that be?
The jargon. Coming from journalism where clarity is vital, I find words such as ‘outreach’, ‘deliverables’ and ‘learnings’ a clunky barrier to communication. In PR there’s often a puzzling tendency to avoid plain English. The opposite of journalism – and great Lucy Kellaway territory.
What is the most common misconception your friends make about your job?
I’ve tried to nip in the bud any fanciful notion that I’m an overpaid peddler of spin and sipper of Champagne.
If you weren’t in PR, what would you be doing?
I guess I can’t say journalism? Seriously, I’m loving the aspect of PR that I’m involved in – working with Cambre Associates to provide high–level media relations in Brussels, London and beyond to a range of clients. There’s so much variety that it’s like having several jobs rolled into one. Long may that continue! But, if pressed, I’d say some kind of niche networking business, such as an exclusive recruitment or dating agency.
What do you do to take off your business head?
I’m not big on ‘off’, but in London I do enjoy Pilates classes during the week and also Boris-bike rides along the Thames at weekends with my other half which end up somewhere delicious like The Delauney or Brasserie Zedel. In Brussels it’s jogging around the Etangs in my old Flagey neighbourhood. Best of all though are the restorative forays to our bolthole in Villefranche in the south of France, which are a tonic for all seasons.
What book would you take to a desert island?
This is my chance to say ‘anything by Jane Austen’. But I’d opt for almost anything by Agatha Christie except And then there were none, as there’s nothing as relaxing as a whodunnit by this mistress of intrigue. I’d also try to smuggle in Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos, which I love for its sheer malevolence. An amorality tale if there ever was one!
What piece of advice would you give someone hoping to break into the industry? Share your thoughts in a ’60 seconds’ feature by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org