PRWEEK AWARDS 2003: Gold - The PPS Award - PR Professional of the Year

WINNER - NICOLE LANDER, HEAD OF PR, WOOLWORTHS

Despite being a national institution for more than 90 years, Woolworths has nevertheless faced challenging times over the past two years. Its introduction to life as a publicly listed company, after its demerger from the Kingfisher Group in 2001, was tumultuous, and its debt of £200m didn't help.

Yet head of PR Nicole Lander has been credited with this award after taking on two of the biggest challenges for the high-street store: changing the perceptions of both the media and the public, and repositioning the company in the City, ensuring the chief executive was presented in the right way.

Lander's huge experience in the retail sector resulted in Woolworths headhunting her in 2001 from Tesco, where she had worked for six years.

Her roles encompassed corporate affairs manager and then, in a lateral move, international corporate affairs manager, a remit that took her to central and eastern Europe, and to Taiwan to set up a press office. Before joining Tesco, Lander ran her own company, Nicole Lander PR, lobbying for Sunday trading for the Shopping Hours Reform Council and the National Association of Sunday Shop Workers.

On joining Woolworths, Lander overhauled the PR department - after three months, just one original PR team member remained in place. She also reviewed the group's retained agency, Weber Shandwick, replacing it with Joe Public Relations.

A key role for Lander is ensuring the buying public is aware of Woolworths products outside the Christmas period - more than half of its stores' footfall comes during the festive season. And the challenge during Christmas campaigns was for Lander and her team to reverse traditional perceptions of the retailer. This has been accomplished with great success. The Sunday Times Style section ran a feature citing Woolworths as the 'new cool', and coverage of the repositioning of Woolworths's products ran in national and major regional newspapers, as well as in the consumer press, from Prima to Vogue.

Lander's originality, flair and creativity have clearly had an effect on the City too. The company's share price has doubled since the demerger from Kingfisher, from 24p to 48p. Shares in Woolworths jumped almost 15 per cent on the news that it had recorded its strongest first-half sales growth for two and a half years this summer.

As a self-confessed workaholic, Lander will embrace the new challenges coming Woolworths's way, such as the news that the founder of the Joe Bloggs clothing empire, Shami Ahmed, has amassed a percentage holding in the high-street retail group.

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