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Insights & advice from Alex Clelland- agency partner, financial journalist and head of banking comms

07 Apr 2017

1. Can you give me a brief overview of your background and experience?

I've been in PR for around 15 years after five years as a financial journalist and a previous career as a probation officer and social worker, which I think has served me well in communications in terms of psychology and working with people. I've worked in-house for around 10 years, largely at banks headquartered elsewhere in the world, and spent five years at agencies. Most of my work has been in financial services but I have branched out into technology and leisure and hospitality in my current role, which is really enjoyable and an interesting change.

2. What would you say are your three key attributes that contributed to your career success?

I would say the things that have driven me forward, and continue to do so, are curiosity, taking a long-term view and a lack of preconceptions about people and issues. This is what took me from prisons to the bond desk at Reuters and now to promoting hotels in Cape Verde.

3. You have moved from journalism to in-house to agency to in-house and back again to agency again.  That’s quite an achievement.  What three skills have enabled you to make these transitions? 

I don't see it as that much of an achievement or a particularly radical move. It's just part of developing as a communications professional by taking the most interesting opportunities available at times when I felt I had outgrown what I was doing. Being interested in people helps, as does wanting to try different things, and being willing to take a risk or two.

4. For people working in an agency, in-house can be viewed as ‘the grass is greener’.  What was your biggest frustration about working in-house?

I would challenge the idea that they are as different as people like to make out. In-house you still have an evolving roster of clients and you share many of the same challenges as being in agencies. But in short, the biggest frustration about working in-house has to be interminable meetings where your attendance is mandatory and your interest is, at best, marginal. Agencies, on the other hand, don't have enough meetings.

5. Your top tip for influencing C-suite?

Listen carefully but always say your piece. You're being paid for your counsel and people want to hear it (just be careful how you say it).

6. What is the most important lesson you have learned in life so far?

Sit down and shut up. Or don't just do something - sit there. It's far too easy to react to events without thinking them through, in both our personal and professional lives, and we run around frantically to feel like we're doing something. I have had to work hard at this and meditation helps. I have had a few close shaves with extinction because of chronic health problems and that teaches you patience and perspective. You don't have much choice. 

7. What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve been given along the way and by whom?

My boss at RBC, Derek Hutchison, gave me a very useful tip for the art of persuasion - before any important meeting try and pick off each individual in advance. Then you're way ahead when you walk in the room - no surprises. It works for clients, media or internally.  He also had a saying for when things went wrong - "Nobody died". That's an important perspective when you feel you have failed. 

8. In one sentence, what is your definition of a great PR?

A great PR needs to know when to listen, when to talk, who to talk to and what to say.

9. You are incredibly busy in your professional life, what do you do outside of work to de-stress?

Play music, read comics and jump in rivers. Rinse and repeat.

10. What should the industry do to improve employee wellbeing?

I'm really fortunate to have flexible working arrangements which take into account my health issues and help me stay on top of my game without compromising my wellbeing. My issues are chronic but everybody has times when they would benefit from more flexibility in their arrangements. As an industry we need to be more aware of how we can get the best out of people. Sometimes that means putting them in charge of their work lives to find a balance.

Thank you Alex for taking part in our interview.

At The Works Search we are dedicated to securing 'best in class' professionals, top 5% industry performers.  We focus on executive search for senior corporate and financial communications professionals and have a 100% delivery track record for search assignments. 

If you are a senior professional and interested in being interviewed for our Thought Leaders Connected newsletter, we would love to hear from you.  Call Sarah on 07765 258 602 or email sarah@the-works.co.uk

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