Claire Maugham, director of policy and communications at Smart Energy GB, on effecting national behaviour change around the government’s complete rollout of smart meters by 2020, how to avoid “24/7 workaholism” and how she persuaded the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to play instruments made from old energy meters.
What media do you absorb on your way into the office?
It’s traditional media for me when I’m on the way to work – I always have Radio 4’s Today programme playing on my headphones. Looking at too much social media before the working day begins stops calm, clear thinking about the day ahead.
What’s the first thing you do when you get to your desk?
The working day in comms isn’t about 9-5 desk time any more. I have to be constantly on top of the news agenda. The challenge is benefiting from that flexibility – for example, in spending better time with my three young daughters and working outside traditional hours when I choose to – while modelling a good work-life balance and avoiding 24/7 workaholism.
How did you get into PR?
My first job was in business-to-business tech PR at the A Plus Group (now Ketchum) – I joined on the day the company was sold to Omnicom and became part of the Brodeur group. Telling compelling stories about ‘middleware’ and ‘relational databases’ was good preparation for persuading the public to take an interest in the energy meters currently gathering dust under the stairs!
What do you enjoy most about your role?
Smart meters are coming to every home in Great Britain, which means we’re communicating with everyone equally, from senior politicians to ‘hard-to-reach’ communities. The great challenge is to keep opinion-formers focused on the big prize – the vital upgrade to our national energy system – while also reaching out directly to the millions of residents and businesses who’ll benefit from new technology. What I really enjoy is being part of a brilliant team which is working tirelessly to deliver it all.
What is the biggest challenge you face at Smart Energy GB?
The smart meter rollout is the biggest consumer-facing behaviour change campaign of our generation – no small task. We have to get every consumer outlet, from House Beautiful to Capital FM, to start talking about energy meters. We recently persuaded the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to play a newly-composed ‘Requiem for Meters’ on instruments made from old energy meters at Abbey Road studios!
What is the most effective way to prompt large-scale behaviour change through PR?
Empathise with the challenges facing people – warts and all – and empower them with ways they can take action. Nobody will trust you if they feel patronised or that a campaign is being ‘done to’ them. And don’t assume anything about the advocates people want to hear from – especially outside the Westminster bubble. I don’t think Boris is going to sway the referendum result, for example. Find ways to help real people to share real experiences.
What is the one thing that someone hoping to get into comms should know?
Make sure you have the insight and the diplomacy to get an organisation out of its own bubble – stop drinking the company Kool-Aid and understand how others see it.
If you could change one thing about the industry, what would that be?
Much of the PR industry hasn’t yet adapted to suit the new world of content. PR practitioners need to get better at telling a story in a media landscape where there’s less space for news. We have to lose the waffle and focus on telling authentic stories through engaging content. From sport to music to cooking, we need to use the things that people are actually interested in to bring the more complex issues to life.
What is the greatest misconception your friends make about your role?
That I’m a cross between Malcolm Tucker and Edina Monsoon.
How do you take off your business head?
I play violin in London’s Kensington Symphony Orchestra, one of the country’s best amateur orchestras. It’s impossible to think about work while I’m playing and it’s an incredibly powerful collective experience.
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