Likewise for me. As someone who came into the field only in my late 20’s, I have been fortunate to have encountered some very skilled communicators who have taught me a lot, and who I remain very grateful to.
If we think hard, I’m sure most of us would be able to think of people who have influenced us.
If they cared to read my words, it might make them blush a little, but I’m doing this as a sort of stock-take for my own purposes. So if you don’t like it, call it a complement.
I’ve not ranked them in any order; just as they come to me. I might add more in the future.
1. Kris Stewart: former Chair of the Wimbledon Independent Supporters Association, first Chair and CEO of AFC Wimbledon
Kris gave me my ‘big break’. As a frustrated fan of Wimbledon in 2001, peering at the commencement of the now second slowest car-crash in football history (trumped of late by Portsmouth) via the Weird and Wonderful World Guestbook, I can still remember his response to my frustrations: ‘Brighton Womble, email me.’ I did, and thus I ended up on a rollercoaster ride with other members of WISA, as we battled to prevent our club’s league place being sold to the new town of Milton Keynes.
We didn’t succeed, but what we built was twice as magnificent as what went before. As the man at the helm, Kris’s reading of the situation at almost any given turn was expert, and his eye for detail in how he said what he said might have seemed like pedantry late at night when we were trying to agree his latest Yellow and Blue column, but it was critical; he knew that he had to get it right, and get it right he did.
He’s known for his line at the AGM of WISA after nearly a year’s campaigning, when we were exhausted and emotional having been beaten by an ‘Independent Commission’. “I just want to watch football” he said. Right line, right time, every time.
What I love is that I still remain a friend, and that he’s just an ordinary fan again like the rest of us.
2. Phil French: former CEO of Supporters Direct,
Phil gave Supporters Direct a kick up the backside at a time when we needed it.
Having come from The Premier League, and with a political background, he was a smart, well seasoned operator. In some respects he was similar to Kris in that he knew that crafting the message was critical, as was maintaining relationships. Most of all for me, he showed a trust in people’s judgement – my judgement – that is critical for any PR or communications professional only really just starting out. To be able to do that under someone of Phil’s calibre was very fortunate.
Some might baulk at the idea of control, but I’ve learned from Phil, as I did from Kris, that if you get the message right, you give yourself a chance.
He went on to be a Special Advisor to Andy Burnham as Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, (Andy was also Chair of Supporters Direct for a time) and is now Director of Public Policy at the ECB.
3. Paul Simpson: former Head of Press and Publicity at Radio One, and now consultant and PR lecturer, and lover of Fine Fare.
Paul is someone who believes things should be done differently. He believes that PR should be done with integrity, that PR’s should in essence have an ethical code, and has done most of all to instil in me a view that ‘spinning’ is not the way to do it; that instead honesty is the best policy. He’s also angry with the World and how it works, and so, like Kris, he tries to change it bit-by-bit. I like that.
He doesn’t believe that PR is about telling everyone everything, but that realising that PR – even more so given the openness that social media has brought – is a window into the world you inhabit as a company or organisation, not as a tool to get people to look the other way when you screw up. In fact, at it’s best you should use PR as a way of ensuring you are ethical in what you do. It needs to reflect on everything you do, and always make you think; could I justify this in public if I had to?
Though also a friend, he also taught me on a media relations short-course at the University of West London. The skills I learned there have continued to serve me, and have been passed onto countless supporters’ trusts, football clubs and individuals that I have advised over the years. He also taught me to do it with style. I try.