Perveen Akhtar: Making a smart move

The UK PR manager for Intel is aiming to rid the brand of its 'dry' image as the firm joins the smartphone scene. Sara Luker reports.

Perveen Akhtar: 'We have to help people see that Intel is more than just a sticker on your PC'
Perveen Akhtar: 'We have to help people see that Intel is more than just a sticker on your PC'

At the recent Mobile Phone Congress in Barcelona, Intel announced its arrival to the smartphone scene through industry tie-ins with Orange, Lava International, ZTE and Visa.

This is the first of many planned departures for the brand as it strives to grow its global consumer presence.

Intel's UK PR head Perveen Akhtar has the same drive - to move the brand away from its dry, technical image and communicate directly with consumers.

'We have to help people see that Intel is more than just a sticker on your PC,' she says. 'It is the technology behind music, digital arts and the power behind everyday technology. We do really cool stuff and people need to know that.'

This desire to be cool has seen Intel sign up US hip-hop musician will.i.am as director of creative innovation and ask him to rework its familiar dum-dum-dum-dum Intel Inside jingle.

Akhtar, 41, has a youthful complexion and a sense of fun. Her secret? 'I'm not married and I don't have kids,' she says, laughing.

Her deep Manchester accent has not softened during her time working in the South, and it is a voice that seems to fill whichever room she occupies.

Like many before her, Akhtar had little intention of working in PR when she started out as a journalist.

She was working on Bolton's Metro when Rob Wilson, a Conservative candidate for Bolton North East, called her to ask why she never put anything in the paper about him. 'I was quite rude to him at the time and said that he never did anything interesting enough,' explains Akhtar.

Her direct approach resulted in Wilson setting up an interview for her at Brodeur PR, an agency with which he was involved.

She dodged Brodeur's first call offering her the job and took some time to consider whether leaving journalism was for her. But leave she did and headed for Windsor.

After three years at Brodeur, Akhtar moved to Weber Shandwick then Banner Corporation, until a role at electronics firm 3Com provided her first in-house move.

Akhtar's official office is in roundabout-filled Swindon - although she spends most of her time working from home or the offices of Intel's agency Hill+Knowlton Strategies in Soho Square. It is here she meets with PRWeek, with her agency contact sat beside. 'I spend so much of my time at their offices,' she says.

'I use their facilities to meet journalists, contacts and hold meetings, plus we also have the odd drink,' she adds cheekily. This is when most of the best ideas are created, she confesses. 'We vibe off each other and are normally at our most creative away from the meeting room.'

Jonathan Simnett, business development director at Chameleon PR, who interviewed Akhtar for her first PR job at Brodeur, said: 'Perveen is forthright, pragmatic and passionate. She still sees the world through the eyes of a journalist, which is why she gets so many stories published.'

Akhtar's blood boils at what she describes as 'inane' PR stunts that still litter the industry. 'I love Intel because it lets me combine my passions of art and music, and really push the boundaries to be as creative as I want to be,' she adds. 'Great PR is creative, strategic and brings real value to a brand - it isn't about grabbing the media's attention with a silly one-off stunt.'

Akhtar and Hill+Knowlton were behind the Intel 'Remastered Project', an exhibition that used technology to create new interpretations of famous paintings such as Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper.

Being so immersed in the tech world, it is somewhat of a surprise to hear that Akhtar hated computer studies and was forced to take them by her dad. 'He said computers were the future but I didn't see it - I just wanted to do history and arts,' she confesses. 'I ended up working for one of the biggest names in tech - who would have thought it?'

How does Akhtar promote a brand rooted in the dark servers of b2b tech world? 'It's all about telling stories that excite consumers,' she says. 'If I can't get excited about what we're trying to promote then I wouldn't promote it - it's as simple as that.'

One of the main appeals of Akhtar's job is that she can work in the consumer and corporate worlds. 'I can work with the CEO on briefing the press on our financial results and help an unsigned act to get a record contract,' she says.

Iain Mackenzie, former BBC technology journalist and now pan-Euro comms manager at Facebook, says of Akhtar: 'When she calls, nine times out of ten it is going to result in a story getting printed, and it will be the story she wants to get printed. That's not because she strong-arms journalists - rather she delivers such a compelling, fully formed product every time.'

One could certainly imagine journalists taking to Akhtar. She speaks her mind, does not hold back and says things she probably should not, which might explain why her agency did not leave her side during the interview.

As this article is published, Akhtar will be in Australia getting ready to see Duran Duran in concert - she is a huge fan. It is the start of a two-month sabbatical, travelling to meet friends at various stop-offs including Hong Kong, Bali and Thailand. She will return in mid-May and promises to go online to update her Facebook status, tweet and post pictures on Pinterest.

She has certainly come a long way from the computer-hating girl of her teens.

CV

2005 UK PR manager, Intel Corporation; PR consultant, AOL, Edelman and FleishmanHillard

2003 PR manager, UK&Ireland, Cisco Systems; International comms manager, 3Com

2000 Account director, Banner Corporation; Account director, Weber Shandwick

1997 Account manager, Brodeur PR

1993 Reporter, Metro, Bolton

TIPS FROM THE TOP

What was your biggest career break?

Making the move from journalism to PR in 1997. I met Rob Wilson, now a Tory MP but at the time an associate director of Brodeur while he was standing as a candidate in my local constituency. I interviewed him when he was first unveiled as the Tory hopeful. He put me forward for an interview, I got the job and have never looked back.

Have you had a notable mentor?

Wilson and Jonathan Simnett, who was also a director at Brodeur. Simnett has been a key influence in many of my career decisions, always willing to listen and offer advice.

What advice would you give to people climbing the career ladder?

Always strive to do the best job you can. Work hard and the rewards will come.

What qualities do you prize in new recruits?

Ambition, drive and passion.

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