PRWeek UK 30 Under 30: Joshua Burrell, Transport for London

We hear from Joshua Burrell (29), senior press officer, Transport for London

Leading PR for the complex project that is Crossrail is no easy task, but Burrell has excelled. Highlights included managing the co-ordination of The Fifteen Billion Pound Railway, which was the most-watched BBC2 programme at the time. Burrell spent time as an advisor for the managing director of London Underground and chief executive of Crossrail Limited and won praise for his creativity through social media, PR stunts and budget-free partnerships promoting TfL's Emirates Air Line cable car – subsequent coverage fuelled a 60 per cent growth in journeys to ExCeL London.

Meet the PRWeek 30 Under 30 2020

Judge's comment: "Impressive results from a driven individual."

How does working in PR differ from your expectations?

I’ve always worked in-house, starting out in housing and then transport, which were both new industries for me. I knew I’d need to become a subject-matter expert, but never expected to become such an ambassador.

When I graduated with my journalism degree, I underestimated the breadth of things that a PR career might cover – the mix of proactive and reactive communications and working with journalists from a number of different publications every day, building relationships.

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

It’s been a surreal experience. I’m a Londoner (although recently moved to Hertfordshire) and with everyone now working from home, I’ve not seen the team in person for months. There has been constant scrutiny of TfL and our response to the pandemic and, although I have enjoyed being involved, it has been tough. My usual work focuses on promoting and encouraging travel, but that had to quickly change to asking customers to stay at home and make only essential journeys.

Working in a 24/7 press office I have fielded out-of-hours requests, as well as covering different shifts and areas of work (away from Rail, which is my usual focus) to communicate how we’re keeping London moving.

It’s not all been reactive enquiries – I’ve also been fortunate enough to work on exciting features, videos and more diverse stories promoting the great work everyone is doing. I also devised an idea for transport-themed video call backgrounds.

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

It’s been upsetting seeing colleagues in the industry wanting to work be furloughed or made redundant. I predict further job losses and some companies putting less focus on the importance of PR. Now, more than ever, PR teams will be essential in communicating key messages throughout the crisis and beyond – the industry should be protected at all costs.

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

I would love more diversity in the PR industry. As a black man, I have had to get used to not seeing many people that look like me at industry events. PR companies should look to be naturally more diverse with employees and campaigns, not just a tick-box exercise.

What is your 'side hustle'?

Outside of work I focus on my blog that covers travel, London experiences and some of my creative writing. Highlights include once-in-a-lifetime experiences in Hawaii and the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. I’m also looking at starting my own podcast series and [doing] some freelance proofreading in my spare time.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I hope to have launched the Elizabeth Line, London’s first new underground railway in a generation, built as part of the Crossrail project. I’ve promoted the line since 2015 and each milestone has been a career highlight, including the Royal visit naming the line in honour of the Queen.

I’d also love to mentor and promote PR as an exciting career for young people.

How do you switch off from work?

Exercising, reading, writing and watching films are all great ways to wind down. Leo, my two-year-old Picardy Spaniel rescued from Spain, also needs plenty of exercise and attention. My fiancée Olivia and I are planning our wedding for 2021, which is also a good distraction.

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