Smarts masterclass panel

PR and communications masterclass with Smarts Agency

Posted on May 17, 2023

This week’s masterclass saw our community welcomed into Smarts’ Agency offices in Covent Garden to hear from an expert panel about the various different roles that make up the PR & communications industry. Our community got to put their questions to PR leaders, influencer specialists and marketing professionals and network with said experts and their peers!  

Award-winning PR agency Smarts is shines in traditional PR, as well as modern practices from influencer management to content marketing, helping brands such as Diageo, Zalando and to be culturally relevant. Smarts is one of PR Week’s fastest growing agencies and were named PR Week’s One to Watch for 2023.  

Chaired by European CEO, Greg Jones – who has 26 years’ experience in the industry – the panel included Yen Bui, part-time influencer manager at Smarts and part-time freelancer; Vicky Janway, chief client officer at The Gate London (part of Smarts); Nneoma Ulu, a communications director at Smarts with over 12 years’ experience in brand communications; and Rachel Watt, a communications director at Smarts who works exclusively on the Johnnie Walker whisky global account. 

One thing our panel were keen to emphasise was the fast-paced nature of PR, talking of everyday campaign and project multitasking. Vicky said: “The fast-paced nature of it is so energising when you’re in the thick of it. If you enjoy flitting between projects, then this is your industry”. This can be ideal for anyone who has lots of different interests, Nneoma added the main reason she loves working in comms is because “no two days are the same and there’s not many industries where you can be constantly curious, learning and excited about what you do”.  

While the excitement of working in a fast-paced environment and meeting all kinds of people may sell the industry to you, all of our panellists kept coming back to the one core skill: creativity! When explaining why she is so energised by the industry she works in, Vicky said, “When you get a brief from a client to do something, you’re essentially starting with a blank piece of paper, and you get to manifest what that turns into, for example, when it gets put in the news. The product we sell clients is creativity.” While Rachel wanted to let the audience know that “there’s a tendency to worry when you’re starting out that your ideas are silly, but you should expand your ideas as much as possible by looking at industry news and going to exhibitions.” 

Nneoma implored the audience to make the most of their transferable skills – creativity and inspiration being one of them. “Being proactive, being open to experiences, how you view the world: everything is transferable. Probably more than any other industry, people want to know what you’re interested in more than anything.” She reassured the audience that while it’s good to have communication skills – they can also be taught; what’s really important is having a passion and letting it shine through.  

Vicky built on this and advised the Creative Access community that as passion can be an overused word, think about it through the framework of curiosity. “What do you gravitate towards that gives you creative inspiration?”, she continued that it’s important in interviews to frame the word passion with an explanation of what it is about PR and comms that makes you passionate. Ultimately, use your interests and sell them as part of your value. Nneoma added: “If you have a real interest and have done a bit of work experience, or have started a blog, or started your own TikTok channel, all those things show your value!” 

Yen and Rachel both agreed that confidence helps. However, Rachel emphasised that confidence doesn’t mean you “have to be the loudest person in the room” telling the audience that “some of the best people I’ve worked with in PR are the hidden gems”. But one thing our panellists did vouch for was that when working in PR you have to be a ‘doer’. Yen explained: “It might sound obvious but need a good work ethic when you work in influencer marketing, you have to be proactive”.  

Because comms is a fast-paced and deadline-driven industry, our panel emphasised the importance of having open communication with your line managers and teams to ensure you receive the support you need. “You’re ultimately all part of a team”, said Greg. While Nneoma explained that no one you work with wants to see you struggle. “Ask your manager to help you with your to do list, ask them to help you to prioritise and what can be pushed back. Be open and solutions-focused,” she told the audience. All of our panellists explained that as an industry, PR and communications is full of supportive and enthusiastic people who want to see you thrive and develop.  

Yen reminded the audience to set boundaries and when you are feeling stressed, and that you have to remember, “this is just your job”. She explained her unique position as a freelancer allows her the privilege to turn down projects that she doesn’t stand behind. However, speaking from a permanent employee’s point of view, Greg stated that in 26 years he’s never worked on a project which was completely at odds with his morals – because he has always worked at agencies which share his values. He advised anyone searching for a comms role to do online research and drill in to questions about how the business selects which clients it works with in interviews.  

Finally, Rachel left the audience with some parting advice for what she’d tell her younger self: “develop your skills in the workplace, you don’t have to know exactly what you want to do when you’re first starting out”. She explained: “I now have more to bring to the table than I did when I first started out, so if I wanted to go into a different space or a career, I have more to offer. Get your foot in the door, start out where you can, and later down the line you’ll work out what you’re good at.” 

This masterclass was extra special as we also announced two brand new internships with Smarts! Check them out here and don’t miss the chance to join one of the most exciting agencies in London.