This week we interview Laura Leggetter, Co-Head of Communications at SEC Newgate UK. Laura, who has built a successful career at leading PR agencies with a focus on hospitality and real estate communications, shares with us her thoughts on the misconception that women ought to emulate men or ‘man up’ to achieve senior roles. Humility, empathy and vulnerability are the key attributes that Laura believes have helped her get to where she is today, along with an appreciation for yoga, travel and a strong lippy!
1. Can you give a brief overview of your background and experience?
Agency side for 25 years, focusing on hospitality and real estate communications (also a statement lipstick wearer, globetrotter and yogi).
After time with Lexis and FTI amongst others I found my home in 2018 at SEC Newgate working with a crew of quite jaw dropping talent and clients. Here my key remit sees me solving complex challenges and helping our clients to see around the next two bends in the road. For real estate in particular I enjoy crafting communications for large opportunity areas and issues management which can get quite juicy. With my hospitality clients, guiding on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, (D,E&I) strategies and embedding good internal comms practice are also my areas of real interest.
2. On International Women’s Day this year, you shared your thoughts about providing a company culture of opportunity for all that should be embedded in management. How do you put this into practice at SEC Newgate?
Thankfully, I work for a company that has the culture in place to give its colleagues, regardless of gender, the opportunity to pursue leadership positions. I am lucky also in my Co-Head role at SEC Newgate to work alongside an incredible colleague Alistair Kellie. We are a real example of a duo that performs by seeing what the other doesn’t. Too many suggested solutions to encourage women into senior roles are founded on the misconception that women ought to emulate men or ‘man up’. Feminine leadership belongs to all of us and is one that recognises and understands that we are here to connect, learn, share and evolve. Integrated with healthy masculine qualities, it creates space for truly brilliant leadership and I am 100% given space to do this at SEC Newgate.
3. Great companies seem to seek your advice and have followed you in your career. What is the secret to success when creating and executing a client’s comms campaign?
I have worked hard to nurture colleague and client relationships and do my very best by them, and as such have created a super network of people who genuinely want to work with each other over and over. As a result I’ve been invited to work on some incredible brands (Expedia and Belmond for example), and for some of the capital’s most important areas including delivering placemaking campaigns and initiatives for sites including Nine Elms, Canary Wharf, Capco’s Earls Court, as well as putting destinations like Covent Garden on the map from a residential perspective. I am spellbound by place and story-telling and feel a strong responsibility to guide clients on enhancing people's experience in the spaces or places created.
4. You launched a dairy-free food business in 2011 from your kitchen which is now a globally recognised brand – very impressive! What inspired you to do this and how did your PR experience help you in this endeavor?
My husband, as a physio and nutritionist was always being asked what alternatives there were for those who wished to avoid dairy so we took the brave decision to launch a coconut milk product, at a time when no one had heard of the super powers of coconut nor the term dairy free. We borrowed an ice-cream maker, did some tastings with friends at a local bar, shook hands with an old friend to help us fund the packaging and dove straight into the world of food production. There were some dark times, working through the night to try and secure listings with retailers but we got there and my comms skills came into play when we put together investor decks, presented to retailers and put together crowd funding campaigns. We were then spotted by the founders of Gu who took over the brand ten years later. It clearly didn’t put us off though as we went onto launch another gut-health focused product, this time in the form of protein snacks.
5. What has been your most memorable work moment?
Pitching to a delightful gentleman Mr Paul Pennicook, Director of Tourism at The Jamaica Tourist Board in Kingston. It was an incredibly formal process with scoresheets and the team all standing on a stage in a boardroom. Years earlier, my father had pitched to the same Mr Pennicook for the same account, in that same room and to pick up a client and a relationship from my dear Dad was a real moment.
6. There are not enough female MDs in communications, it takes grit – what are three attributes which have helped you along the way?
7. Please share the best piece of professional advice you’ve been given along the way and by whom?
Claire Gillingwater is an incredible individual that has really influenced the way in which I present myself, my teams and our work. I first met her in 2001 working at FD (now FTI) and her guidance on personal impact has stayed with me ever since.
Claire’s advice to me was to have a number of topical conversation starters up my sleeve (always linked to breaking news), the power of a firm handshake and to dress for your day. I will always be the most overdressed but the power of a polished appearance, I believe, is a reflection of the care I give to other matters in my life, clients for example, their business included.
8. Would you mind sharing a work failure, something that stung at the time?
Losing a pitch is always tough. Emotions run high and I find it very hard not to take it personally. The good news is that generally if you have delivered good ideas, shown capability and chemistry within your team and with the client prospect they will eventually come back to you. At SECN we try to create an environment of psychological safety so that when things go wrong, as they do, we try to focus on the learning and growth phase of the loss or mistake.
9. What or who inspires you and why?
100% Oprah. My favourite quote keeps me focused. “Challenges are gifts that force us to search for a new centre of gravity. Don’t fight them. Just find a new way to stand.”
Her mantra to always give it your best and to do whatever you are doing with pure enthusiasm, means you’ll be able to do that thing in the perfect way. When your attitude becomes one of positivity and success, they are the things that you attract into your life with speed and ease.
10. Do you have any hidden talents?
I am a hot yoga fiend and at the age of 40 (something…) my ability to still do the splits always goes down well as a party trick or at least continues to impress my three very inflexible kids and husband.
Thank you, Laura!
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