The transition from Helen Mirren's personal banker to an NHS Trust comms director seems unlikely at first. Yet this is the unusual career path followed by St George's recently appointed PR chief.
Jean-Pierre Moser was taken on in the newly created role at the south west London hospital last September. Having started out as a banker to high net-worth clients, including the ‘extremely polite and friendly’ Mirren for four years, Moser eventually decided a career change was in order and embarked on a PR degree. A career in healthcare PR soon followed and he has not looked back since. ‘Terry Wogan started off as a banker too, so I am in good company,’ quips Moser.
Former colleagues have noted how Moser relishes a challenge, and handling comms for St George’s should prove his greatest yet. After a difficult period, when it was plagued by poor publicity and staff upheaval, recent stability at the famous teaching hospital means it is well placed to start telling its story with some conviction.
For Moser, St George’s requires nothing less than a total shift in culture, given a profile that is practically non-existent.
Indeed, the 41-year-old wants to elevate the trust to rank among such NHS big boys as Guy’s and St Thomas’.
‘St George’s has so far been comfortable in its south west London and Tooting bubble and has failed to shout about the work it has done,’ says Moser. This is something he is clearly determined to rectify.
His return to the NHS, after an earlier posting at St Mary’s NHS Trust, was influenced by the importance placed on comms by St George’s chief executive David Astley. ‘That was a real area of weakness here before I joined for one reason or another. I have been brought in as a director and member of the board, which is indicative of how seriously David is taking the issue.’
Part of Moser’s role includes building a team and he has already begun the challenge, having recruited two new comms officers to bring the total team to five.
Luckily, Moser’s former colleague at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, Beverley Parkin, believes he is an ideal man for the job.
‘He was always fantastic at building teams,’ says Parkin, who is currently director of policy and public affairs at the Royal Academy of Engineering and who worked with Moser for eight years. ‘People tend to push themselves when they work for him. He is a dynamic manager, but is deceptively laid back.’
In his new role, there will be no chance for Moser to rest on his laurels. He has been charged with raising the profile of the trust and the specialist services it offers, as it attempts to gain Foundation status by 2010.
‘From talking to colleagues at the hospital, it is clear they are not always aware that the work they are doing will be interesting to the media,’ explains Moser. ‘And why would they? They are busy looking after patients. But they must always look at the bigger picture.’
The importance of the Government’s patient choice agenda poses an additional challenge for Moser’s comms strategy. ‘The fact that people have more choice in where they are treated means it is important that we up our game in terms of raising awareness of what we are good at. The neurology service here is second to none. As is the cardiology and stroke services. But we also need to know the things we are not good at and address them.’
Former colleague Helen Ashley, who worked with Moser at Hounslow Council, believes there is not a challenge Moser would shy away from. ‘He is not afraid of different issues and works well under pressure. He is certainly charming, and it was clear from the beginning that he would go a long way,’ says Ashley, currently director at Upward Curve.
Digital media is an area Moser is keen to investigate and an overhaul of the website is the next step in his comms plan: ‘We are also thinking about social networking. Younger people tend to get their information in a different way.
We need to be able to engage with the next generation of healthcare users because the landscape is changing quickly.’
Not that Moser is expecting any dramatic changes: ‘As with anything in the NHS in terms of comms, it is not likely to happen quickly. It is never going to be a top priority.
‘Comms is important, but in terms of resources, it makes absolute sense that they are aimed at other areas in the hospital, caring for patients. It does not mean that over time you cannot develop these services, it might just be a little longer.’
Biggest career break?
Not going to university straight after A-levels. I worked in Guernsey for four years in the banking sector, which not only gave me an excellent grounding but also a clear perspective of where I wanted to go in my career.
Advice for climbing the ladder?
Choose a career path that you will enjoy and with dedication and hard work the rewards should follow.
Have you had a notable mentor?
Not a mentor as such but Anne Gregory, CIPR past president, is someone for whom I have a great deal of respect for. She has worked successfully to raise the standards of the profession through starting one of the UK’s first PR degree courses in Leeds (where I was one of her students) and also through taking the CIPR to chartered status.
What do you prize in recruits?
The ability to communicate effectively with colleagues at all levels in an organisation and gain their trust by being known as someone who delivers on a project.
2008 Director of comms, St George’s NHS Healthcare Trust, London
2005 Head of corporate comms and membership, Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (RPSGB)
2002 Head of PR and membership, RPSGB
1999 Head of PR, RPSGB
1995 PR manager, St Mary’s NHS Trust, London
1994 Press officer, London Borough of Hounslow