Interview: From Taylor Bennett Foundation student to senior government comms operator at DIT in three years

Kiran Collier, a graduate of the Taylor Bennet Foundation's 2014 programme, which helps people from black and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds get a job in PR and comms, took a gap year to broaden his horizons and then returned to the UK with a passion to work in the industry.

Kiran Collier, now senior media officer at the Department for International Trade, thinks diversity in PR and comms is improving
Kiran Collier, now senior media officer at the Department for International Trade, thinks diversity in PR and comms is improving
Three years later - and with a stint in financial comms already under his belt - Collier is a senior comms officer for the Department for International Trade. 
But is Collier’s swift trajectory unusual for someone from a BAME background, or is he the vanguard of a new breed of diverse comms professionals?

Collier, 29, who is of mixed British and Indian heritage, grew up in Telford and studied politics at Sheffield University, before working in financial services for a few years then taking a gap year to travel and decide what he wanted out of life.

A passion for comms

Prior to travelling in Latin America and Asia, he was not even sure what comms was, but after some research he discovered that the required skills matched those he had acquired at university and his previous employment, and he was drawn to the idea of public affairs or corporate comms.

He says: "I saw the profession as a good fit…I wanted to work in comms but I struggled to find a way into the industry as I had no experience or industry connections. As I wasn’t too aware of the industry as a whole I didn’t really have too many preconceptions."
    
Some people from BAME backgrounds thinking of joining the PR and comms industry face pressure from their parents because they would prefer their children to pursue traditional careers like law or medicine, but this was not true of Collier.

When I explained [to my parents] what a career in comms involved and where it could lead they agreed it was an exciting and promising path to follow.

Kiran Collier
He says: "My parents have always been very supportive and encouraged me to make my own choices. When I explained what a career in comms involved and where it could lead they agreed it was an exciting and promising path to follow."

The TBF programme

Collier’s next step was to join Taylor Bennet Foundation's (TBF) competitive (and over-subscribed) graduate programme, which helps BAME candidates get jobs in PR and comms.

He describes the ten-week course as "extremely demanding" and fast-paced.

By the end of the course, it got pretty intense.

Kiran Collier on the TBF graduate programme

Students sought to meet as many people in the industry as possible and make a good impression, all while completing coursework and arranging social networking opportunities to unearth job interviews. "By the end of the course, it got pretty intense," Collier admits.

The hard work paid off and, before the course even ended, Collier had secured his first job in comms, working for City-based financial services company Royal London in the press office and drawing on his previous experience in the sector.

He says: "Their director of comms was closely linked to the TBF. She clearly felt they would benefit from taking on someone who had come through the programme and this encouraged me to apply and accept the role."

Moving to the public sector

However, a year after taking on the role, Collier decided to move from Royal London into public sector comms, taking up a junior comms post with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and rising to a more senior position before leaving to join the Department for International Trade, where he is now a senior media officer.

He explains that he regarded his previous private sector role as a stepping stone, which helped him develop the skills and experience he draws on today.

I felt it was important to work in a sector that directly affected people’s lives and wanted to see the outcomes I produced influence actual change for people and help make a difference.

Kiran Collier on why he switched to public sector comms
Collier says: "I felt it was important to work in a sector that directly affected people’s lives and wanted to see the outcomes I produced influence actual change for people and help make a difference."

The young comms professional describes his current role as being "hugely varied", dealing with reactive enquiries one day followed by briefing ministers or travelling with them on visits the next. 

He adds: "Whether it’s managing huge stories in the nationals or explaining niche policy changes to specialist media, we are always trying to listen and connect with as many people as possible from all sections of the community, across the whole of the UK."

The difference between public and private sector comms

For Collier, there is little difference between working in private and public sector comms, in that both require one to identify targets to speak to and influence, the only difference being the ‘who’ and the ‘how’ in each case.

He says both sectors are actively working to promote opportunities for candidates from BAME backgrounds, with many private sector firms choosing to work with TBF.

He adds: "A number of public sector organisations now run 'name blind' applications designed to create a level playing field for those that may have experienced discrimination in the past, as well as running a number of work experience programmes specifically targeting BAME candidates."

The challenge for BAME candidates seeking jobs in PR and comms

For Collier, the biggest challenge he faced trying to get a job in the industry was trying to make contact with people working in it.

Growing up away from London and having no connections to the industry was clearly a huge hindrance. I imagine this is something experienced by many BAME candidates.

Kiran Collier on the challenges faced by BAME candidates
He says: "Growing up away from London and having no connections to the industry was clearly a huge hindrance. I imagine this is something experienced by many BAME candidates who are bound to have fewer opportunities to gain the experience needed to get that first internship or job when they are so underrepresented across the industry."

Collier thinks there are "massive issues" for BAME candidates because of the unconscious bias of recruiters, as well as breaking down "entrenched old-boy networks". 

A lot of change is being made and my team has a very diverse mix of workers. However, speaking with friends at agencies or that work in public affairs or financial PR, this isn’t reflected.

Kiran Collier on the patchy progress of diversity in the industry

The scale of the industry’s diversity problem is different, depending on the sector, thinks Collier.

He says: "Personally, I feel in my sector a lot of change is being made and my team has a very diverse mix of workers. However, speaking with friends at agencies or that work in public affairs or financial PR, this isn’t reflected."

Mentors are important for any young professional trying to enter the industry, but they are even more crucial to people from BAME backgrounds.

Collier, who regards his managers so far as his mentors, adds: "BAME people are so underrepresented in the industry [that] a mentor can help open a number of doors they may not have known existed, as well as acting as a champion for you in wider arenas."

 

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