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Send in the specialists

Years spent gaining experience in the most unusual of places can sometimes be of great benefit. Jane Bainbridge talks to some PROs capitalising on their former lives.

JUSTIN SHAW


Current job Managing director, Communications Management

Former job In-house PR professional at the University of Hertfordshire

Shaw joined the agency 17 years ago and built up the education side until it relaunched as a consultancy specialising in this sector.

'The in-house knowledge breeds cultural knowledge of the education sector - its unique language, cycles, different financial year, how things operate and how to get the best out of academics and teachers,' he says.

'They are cautious people when it comes to promoting, marketing and publicity. They like to do their day-to-day job, but not shout about it. Competition and choice between institutions has increased, so now they have to shout more.'

BEKI JONES


Current job Programme manager, Say Communications

Former job Nurse, working across medical, surgical, geriatric wards, A&E and mental health units

After five years as a nurse, Jones joined Pfizer as a medical representative, before moving on to a medical education agency. Now at Say Communications, she says its integrated approach means she can combine elements of medical education and comms.

'My experience has helped me appreciate the pressure that healthcare professionals are under and understand the many cultures that exist within the NHS,' says Jones.

'My network of contacts within the therapy areas has been particularly useful when embarking on new accounts or researching new therapy areas. We always start by talking to clinicians, and my network is invaluable.'

CAROLE NORTH


Current job Director and co-founder, 90Ten Healthcare

Former job Trained as a home economist

There are some specialisms that particularly benefit from industry experience because of the level of technicality involved, such as healthcare and computing.

Carole North, director and co-founder of 90Ten Healthcare, trained as a home economist with the aim of working as a cookery editor.

'However, after the course I realised that I liked the PR aspects most,' she admits.

After several years working in PR for the IT and defence industry, a decade ago she set up 90Ten with Paul Tanner. North explains that healthcare communicators need to understand complex science and explain it simply, as well as appreciating patient needs and how that relates to health and medicines.

'In home economics, you have to do cookery demonstrations, presentations, sociology, physics and chemistry. Home economists often work in the community, explaining nutrition to consumers. These attributes are very useful when working on a smoking-cessation project, for example. I understand the basic drivers and human needs, and the psychology of the person,' she adds.

KAY GLOVER


Current job Head of body + soul division, Cirkle

Former job Handled new product development for ESPA

Glover started her working life selling shampoo to hairdressers and spent three years at ESPA working on new product development and internal and external comms.

'In my first sales job, I got a commercial grounding and an idea of what a sales force needs,' she says. 'In PR, we do sales all the time, even if we don't realise it.'

However, it was her stint at ESPA that gave Glover the inside knowledge that has been most valuable in her PR career.

'I worked in the marketing division, alongside the chemists and company founder,' she says.

'I got to understand the process of bringing a product to market, which I hadn't thought about before.'

Glover says the key things learned from this experience have been the process, rules and regulations of bringing a product to market; realising that PR is not about quantity, but quality; for clients, it is the articles they can show the sales force and customers that count most; the time pressures clients are under and why PR is not necessarily top of their priority list; and just how powerful agency and consultancy advice can be for teams working in-house.

RICHARD BOTLEY


Current job Account director, Mi Liberty

Former job Journalist on Shropshire Star and Shrewsbury Chronicle

Botley believes his experience of regional journalism, plus a degree in computer science, have given him the broadest grounding for technology PR.

'Most PR people have not built PCs and written programs,' he says. 'So when new business clients come in - and most are software - I have a feel for the challenges they face and understand their business. It helps that my team and I have an insight into how it works. There is nothing better than journalism training to hone your news sense.'

SIMON CLIFFE


Current job Head of content, IMN Group

Former job Group head of news, GCap Media

Cliffe's experience at GCap means his insight into what commercial radio stations are looking for in terms of news is second to none. IMN Group brought him in as head of content to exploit this insider view.

'Bauer, Capital and so on have only eight to 12 minutes a day of news slots because they play so much more music and ads,' says Cliffe. 'They are disciplined on the talk time allowed - it is very precious. So I have to take content and make sure it has an angle that radio stations are interested in. It has to have really relevant and relatable angles - there must be social ammunition to a story.'

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