PRWeek UK 30 Under 30 Newcomer: Rachel Besenyei, BrandContent

We hear from Rachel Besenyei (25), head of growth and social, BrandContent.

PRWeek UK 30 Under 30 Newcomer: Rachel Besenyei, BrandContent

Besenyei, who "fell into" PR after studying politics and philosophy at university, joined BrandContent in 2018 after stints at insurer Admiral and agency 89up. BrandContent describes her as the force behind many positive changes at the firm – altering how the business operates, making it more socially and environmentally responsible and setting a high standard for others. Most notably, this can be seen in her work towards getting B-Corp accreditation for the agency.

Meet the PRWeek 30 Under 30 Newcomers 2020

Judge's comment: "Having such an impact on the business is excellent; making it industry-leading in terms of benefits is something she should be really proud of."

What made you want to work in the PR industry?

PR has the capacity to change things, whether that’s by uncovering bad practices that cost consumers time and money, spotlighting issues that incite global movements, or just making people smile.

In the wrong hands, PR can also change things for the worse: media in the UK is owned and controlled by a handful of people, and we know that big brands and political parties across the world spend millions on PR to evade responsibility for the work they do. I want to work in PR to provide a counter to these shady firms, providing journalists with genuine stories and insight to incite positive change.

How does working in PR differ from your expectations?

Having studied politics at university, I expected the PR industry to be full of ‘spin doctors’ who developed messaging and soundbites for politicians and big corporations in an effort to make them sound more human. A lot of PR is about communicating in a certain way – not only to get coverage, but to steer the way in which the issue is covered. But I’ve been happily surprised by the way that positive change-making campaigns, even the most serious and hard-hitting ones, have the capacity to be creative; clever and fun.

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

Practically speaking it’s been a lot more challenging to cut through: lots of people have been furloughed (or, sadly, made redundant), both within our industry and at media outlets across the country.

People are more sceptical of government advice and the things they read. With so many brands vying for media attention, fluffy or tokenistic efforts just don’t stand up and it’s been heartening to see how many brands have dug deep or offered genuinely useful insight or tips, rather than sending out releases patting themselves on the back.

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

The Government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis is leading us into the worst depression for hundreds of years. Budgets will continue to shrink and consumers will have much lower disposable income. PRs will need to be strategic and pivot more quickly to other channels to help their brands maintain sales, and they’ll need to keep finding clever and insightful ways to cut through and add value to consumers beyond driving clicks.

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

The PR industry has a well-known diversity problem: 92 per cent of people in PR are from white backgrounds (up from 88 per cent last year) and 28 per cent went to a fee-paying school, four times the national average. We often shout about being a majority (66 per cent) female industry, but the jobs at the top are crowded out by older white men: the gender pay gap is 21 per cent and, of 51 senior moves reported in PRWeek over one month last year, only four of the individuals involved were not white. 

We need a more diverse range of people in PR. Brands are incredibly influential and if we’re advising on and shaping their comms, it’s important that the advice is reflective of a diversity of experiences.

As PRs we’re very good being self-congratulatory and we know how to present facts to our advantage. A lot of the ‘diversity and inclusion’ efforts in our industry are tokenistic and, while they may attract a more diverse intake to entry-level roles, the attrition rates and make-up of senior level staff shows you that they aren’t doing enough.

Meet the PRWeek 30 Under 30 2020

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