PRWeek UK 30 Under 30: Ashleigh McLeod, Housing 21

We hear from Ashleigh McLeod (26), PR and marketing officer, Housing 21.

In two years at Housing 21, McLeod has delivered excellent results for the not-for-profit retirement housing provider. Among the highlights, in February a story that she spotted about a resident achieved more 340 clippings, with coverage in outlets including in the BBC and LADbible. She also led a campaign to recruit a more diverse workforce to be care workers.

Meet the PRWeek 30 Under 30 2020

Judge's comment: "As a working parent I know how hard it can be to be effective in the industry, but it sounds likes Ashleigh is pushing aside all the barriers and forging a great career."

How does working in PR differ from your expectations?

I was 18 when I started working in PR and had all of these glamourous expectations of what it’s like to work in the industry. I quickly realised the hard work that goes on behind the scenes and the extensive research into complex industries.

The world of PR is not one-dimensional, as I had once thought. Of course print media coverage is great – and I still get excited about front-page clippings – but there are so many other elements of PR in the changing landscape that make my role so interesting.

I genuinely get excited about opportunities to influence target audiences.

Describe your experience of working in PR during the COVID-19 crisis.

The organisation I work for provides housing and care to older people in England. While many were furloughed or putting their campaigns on hold, our activity drastically ramped up. Journalists wanted to know what our approach was, customers wanted reassurance on social media and our website needed updating as and when government advice changed. There was a real need for an integrated approach and my team had to collaborate more closely than ever, while also being the furthest apart we’ve ever been.

Aside from this, I was also at home with a three-year-old, so let’s just say I have been very busy!

How (if at all) will the COVID-19 crisis change the PR industry?

We are constantly using our creative juices in the PR industry, but during the pandemic we have really been challenged. Creative brainstorms should be a walk in the park after this!

I also suspect the industry may go back to some of the more traditional methods that have been lost in recent years, such as journalist meetings and face-to-face communications. After lockdown, we will all be craving more human contact!

What one thing above all would you change about the PR industry?

In a word: diversity. If ever there were a time to mention this, it would be now. I want to see more brands get it right and I want diverse boardrooms to be normalised. In times like these, the responsibility is really heavy on BAME PRs and there are so few of us who hold senior positions.

There is much more room in the industry for people from different backgrounds. We need to be providing more seats at the table. There is no longer an excuse.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

The goal is to be running my own business and mentoring young men and women from disadvantaged backgrounds.

How do you switch off from work?

I always remove work emails from my phone when it’s not absolutely essential and give myself reasonable to-dos so that I feel satisfied when I leave the office. I also listen to podcasts, read books and binge-watch TV series. Money Heist is an absolute must if you are stuck indoors and all of your devices are looking at you.

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