Agony Aunt: Jackie Elliot on how to stay out of nasty office politics

The chairman of Cathcart Consulting gives her verdict on your professional conundrums

Beat the competition

There is one particular PR firm I would like to join but so would many other people. How do I get my foot through the door?

I know someone who got the job of her dreams by treating each stage of the interview process as a separate new business pitch. From the moment the recruiters first phoned, through HR, junior managers, directors and right up to the final session with the MD, she approached each meeting as something to be won: researched topics and people, rehearsed scenarios and scripted conversations, and never assumed that she was through until each session had a tick in the box. Use that approach to secure the first introduction and then follow it through, step by step. And remember that the most successful interviews leave the interviewer with a clear and positive sense of what you can do for the company – not a penetrating understanding of what it can do for you.

Stay out of office politics

I work in the press and PR department of one of our largest national charities. I love the work but hate the internal politics – the worst I have encountered. It’s as though doing good externally gives everyone permission to be vile internally. Help!

I wonder if this is endemic throughout the organisation – regardless of level or department? If it is long-term behaviour, tolerated and perhaps even encouraged by manipulative senior managers? Whatever the cause, distance yourself from it and try to create a nucleus of loyal (to the organisation) and professional conduct that can become a benchmark for others. Don’t engage in discussions about personalities or individual behaviours; do not encourage ‘confidences’ and never ever repeat anything to anyone that is told to you in confidence. Refuse to blind copy people ("The work of the devil," is how one boss once described blind copying to me). Be as straightforward in your dealings with all your colleagues as you can. Avoid one-on-one meetings if possible and circulate a short, action point note after every meeting. Be as civilised to your subordinates as you would be to your boss. If this nastiness is inherent in the culture of your employer, it will be difficult to eradicate completely but that doesn’t mean you have to be part of it. Although it has been said that those who complain about office politics are often the ones most engaged in them...

The phase that’s here to stay

I have been reading a lot about ‘integration’ and how important it is. Do you have a view about whether it is just a phase for us?

Well if it is a phase, it’s a long one. I have been reading about integration for nearly 40 years. When UK PR grew up properly in the 1960s, advertising agencies took note. The smart ones bought into the business, the smarter ones worked out how to develop integrated campaigns, using earned and bought media. The PR people handled earned (and owned) media with advertising and direct marketing providing reach and control. Now integration seems to mean the seamless co-ordination of social and mobile media within all of the above. Take the time to understand what works and what doesn’t with mainstream advertising, sponsorship, database marketing and every other platform and technique available to you. PR practice is a diverse and powerful discipline and can be even more successful when working in partnership with other marketing and comms methods.

Got a problem? Contact Jackie at

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