For this PR interview, I spoke to Leigh Greenwood, the PR Campaigns Manager for nationwide weightloss service Slimming World. Leigh gave me such a huge insight into how his work as a Journalist led him to work in PR, how a CIPR post-graduate diploma changed his career and the traits and skills aspiring PR professionals should have…
How did you first decide to start working in PR?
“Well I always loved writing, but growing up I wasn’t really aware of PR as a possible career path. CIPR research suggests that unfortunately this isn’t unusual and even in 2013, more than 70% of 14-16 year-olds said they were unfamiliar with what a career in PR involves.
It was only after I began working as a journalist at a weekly newspaper that I started to see PR as a potential career option. Journalism skills like fact-finding, building contacts, spotting a good story and strong writing ability are all important to PR, so that experience definitely helped me to get my first PR job. It was at a charity called the British Dental Health Foundation (BDHF) and it probably didn’t hurt that in the interview I was able to show them an article I’d written about one of their dental health campaigns.”
What led you to start working at Slimming World?
“I began working at Slimming World in 2008 after spotting an advert for a Senior Press Officer job in the Derby Telegraph. I’d gained good experience as a sole Press Officer at the BDHF working on health news stories and corporate publications, but this was a chance to learn more as part of a team at a bigger commercial organisation that had recently been named the sixth best company to work for in the UK by the Sunday Times. The fact that it was still in the health sector was appealing too. I can remember arriving for interview and being hugely impressed by the offices, which were much bigger than I’d imagined and everyone was so friendly, including the senior directors who were in my second interview. I just got a great feel about the place and really wanted the job, so I was delighted when I got it.”
Did you do a Communications related degree?
“I studied English and Media at University. There’s no doubt that doing any degree will help you to develop key PR skills like research and writing. However, a solid understanding of PR theory and best practice becomes much more important as you progress and begin to take on a more strategic role. Two or three years ago I did the CIPR post-graduate Diploma and it has completely transformed my career. It enabled me to see the big picture of what PR can achieve and given me the understanding, tools and confidence to manage much bigger campaigns. I enjoyed it so much that I got a Distinction and I really do put a lot of the skills I learned into practice on a daily basis. We’re all dedicated to learning in the Slimming World PR team and have all completed or are in the process of completing CIPR qualifications and we regularly attend PR and social media training events and conferences.”
What is your favourite part about working at Slimming World?
“The best thing about working at Slimming World is that you’re supported to make your role what you want it to be. There is a real focus on development. The company paid for me to do the CIPR Diploma and regularly fund my attendance at key conferences for additional learning. I’ve been promoted twice since I’ve been here and am now the PR Campaigns Manager, which is an area that I’ve naturally gravitated towards. It’s great to be part of a successful company too. Since I’ve been here the company has grown from 200,000 weekly members to around 800,000 weekly members. Now I can’t take all the credit for that, but it’s nice to know that I’m playing a part.
The other really important thing is that we’re so well treated and looked after. There is a really positive atmosphere in the company and many staff benefits. We’ve got a gym onsite and the staff restaurant is pretty amazing too. Sometimes the hardest decision of the day is what to have for dinner!”
Could you describe a ‘typical’ day in your PR world?
“It’s really important in PR to be aware of what’s happening in the external environment. If you’re not listening to what’s happening then there’s every chance you could come out and say something silly when you do speak. Our day starts with a round-up of the day’s obesity and health related news stories. From these stories I’ll be looking for opportunities to provide news comment, considering whether there is the potential to build a feature around any new research or findings and building our knowledge base on issues for future comment or campaigns.
I may also be working on a longer lead research-led campaign idea. Last year, we won the CIPR’s ‘best healthcare campaign’ for the Midlands award for our ‘what’s your tipping point?’ campaign, which looked at how drinking alcohol past a certain ‘tipping point’ can impact on what we eat and our physical activity plans, which can contribute to weight gain. Campaigns like this are all about collaboration and we’ll typically work with a wide range of teams internally, including Nutrition & Research, Marketing & Events, Web content, Design and many more, so being personable and able to develop strong internal relationships, as well as external ones with journalists and other influencers, is essential.
It’s quite likely that I’ll be doing some social media activity on a typical day. At Slimming World we have a great cross-departmental content planning team, led by me, that plans and posts content in line with the aims of the business across our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Pinterest channels. There’s lots of debate in the industry about where social media sits, but for me it’s about storytelling, conversation and relationship building, which are all areas of PR expertise, so I think it’s really important that PR is involved.
Overall, PR at Slimming World is incredibly varied and, on a typical day, various members of the team could be working on placing an eating plan and free membership offer in a women’s magazine, working with our charity partner Cancer Research UK on the PR for our latest fundraising campaign, supporting a member who is talking to a national journalist, news agency or TV reporter, commenting on an obesity-related news story or writing a letter to an influential health organisation or politician. We’re a close team too so many of these activities will involve some collaboration or at least a bit of chatter!”
What advice would you give to aspiring PR Professionals?
“My advice would be to take PR seriously and to see it as a profession rather than a job. PR doesn’t always have the best of reputations and there is a perception in the outside world that it’s all about ‘spin’ or, worse still, fluffy publicity, but modern PR has moved way beyond that. With the rise of social media and genuine two-way communications, organisations are held to account and so are required to be much more transparent than they used to be. Spin is, thankfully, no longer an option and when organisations try it then they are invariably called out.
One of the most important skills of a good PR professional is judgement. If you’re the person your friends ask for advice when things go wrong (or ideally just before) and you’re good at listening, writing, researching and relationship building, have an interest in digital media, can take a decent photo/video, are the kind of person who looks for a story in the numbers and doesn’t glaze over at the thought of evaluating your work to show your worth, then it appears you have the makings of a pretty great PR professional. And the really good news is that it’s an incredibly fun and rewarding job too! You get to be creative with other people, you get paid to write, clever technical people will turn your ideas into infographics, videos, interactive quizzes and maybe even scientific posters if you’re involved in a serious research project and if you go out for a coffee with a nice journalist then you can pass it off as ‘relationship building’ – even though you had a really nice time. And nothing beats the feeling of coming into work the day after the launch of a campaign to a desk full of national newspaper coverage or seeing a social media post take off and go viral.
In the changing media landscape, the role of the PR professional is becoming increasingly important to companies who recognise the importance a strong reputation. It’s an exciting time and you’ll enjoy being part of it.”
Thank you, Leigh, for such a big insight into your PR world. I particularly loved your criteria for aspiring PR pros:
“If you’re the person your friends ask for advice when things go wrong, you’re good at listening, writing, researching and relationship building, have an interest in digital media, can take a decent photo/video, are the kind of person who looks for a story in the numbers and doesn’t glaze over at the thought of evaluating your work to show your worth, then it appears you have the makings of a pretty great PR professional.”