Our interview with Tania Littlehales, Head of Product PR at Marks & Spencer.
Please tell us about your career path to date and how you came to be in your current role.
I did a Business Studies degree at Westminster University and took marketing and PR modules in my final year there. I did a year in industry during my third year which I spent working as an editorial assistant for a cosmetics trade publication. I enjoyed the writing but knew I wasn’t really cut out to be a journalist. What I did find fascinating though was working with PR’s for the first time and seeing the breadth and scope of what they did.
After graduating I applied for the graduate scheme at consultancy Biss Lancaster and after a pretty rigorous interview process was offered a role there as graduate trainee. I spent 7 years there working on mainly consumer accounts and worked up to Account Director. I then had the opportunity to go on secondment to MTV Europe as Acting Head of Corporate Affairs, covering a maternity leave, which was a fantastic chance to see what working in an in-house role was like. From there I moved to be Head of PR at the National Magazine Company (now Hearst UK) and spent two years there before getting the role at M&S as Head of Product PR.
What (and/or who) do you attribute your successful career progression to?
A combination of a number of things – hard work; putting myself forward to get involved, especially early in my career; working for and with some great people; being willing to learn and try new things – and to admit mistakes and learn from them! Being interested in news stories and media generally. And really enjoying what I do and what PR can achieve. In some ways I was lucky that I found a career that I enjoyed and have been pretty good at.
You are heading up an influencer programme that aims to generate more positive media coverage for M&S. How will the programme go about achieving that?
It’s not only about positive media coverage as the whole PR team works on that every single day. The influencer and opinion former programme is more about connecting with people who have platform or a voice in a variety of ways that ultimately reaches our customer and making sure that they are as informed and educated about what makes M&S and our products unique or special, as the journalists who cover us all the time.
What are your top 3 tips for building strong relationships with the media?
Understanding their needs – deadlines, context, what they do and don’t cover, their reader, what makes a story for them
Being quick to respond and being flexible and always meeting their deadlines
A genuine, open approach
How do you juggle having a successful career and twin boys?
Prioritising, being organized, a supportive partner and a great nanny! They’re a fantastic reality check and no matter how bad a day you have had they put it all in perspective and are guaranteed to make me laugh!
What advice would you give to women aspiring to high-profile careers?
I always remember a lecturer when I was at uni saying in one of our lectures that if you got offered a job you liked or one that paid loads of money, take the money every time. I would disagree with that and say try to find a job or a role that you really enjoy and work hard to be the best you can be at it.
Remember that not everyone is going to be the next CEO and you need great team players and do-ers as much as future leaders. Always hire people who are better than you. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice or to take a risk. Be willing to help and do things outside your remit – you will learn more, get exposed to people you might not meet otherwise and people will recognise you as a good person to work with. Give praise where due no matter how small it might be, always say thank you and if something has gone wrong, give criticism quickly, succinctly and move on.