UK Communicators of the Year 2021 (numbers 20-16) revealed by PRWeek

Which individuals have got their message across most effectively in this tumultuous post-pandemic year amid the so-called 'roaring' twenties bounceback for PR?

Welcome to PRWeek's countdown of the UK's best communicators of 2021, compiled by the editorial team. PR professionals are excluded – our focus is individuals from other walks of life, whether that's politics, entertainment, business or something else.

We're honouring people who have risen in prominence or significantly enhanced their reputations this year due, at least in part, to their comms prowess. Some highly regarded communicators didn't make the cut on the grounds that 2021 was not a breakthrough or stand-out.

The list is, of course, entirely subjective, but we hope it contains a few surprises and plenty to think about. Today, we reveal the entries ranked 20 to 16. The remainder will be published in the days ahead, so stay tuned...

20 Emma Raducanu, tennis player

Whether charming ex-pros, the tennis establishment, or the general public, Raducanu has proven to be an adept natural in front of the cameras and under the spotlight that a rapid rise to fame has brought with it. Commentators admired her general demeanour and performance in front of the lights. Throughout, she has appeared calm, unfazed and endearingly normal amid all the fuss. As a trilingual Brit born in Toronto and raised by her Romanian father and mother who is from Shenyang, China, her fan appeal stretches far and wide – boosted by a savvy but informal approach to social media, even speaking fluent Mandarin on Weibo.

It’s hard to overstate her achievements this year in making the world top 20 with a fairytale win, beating fellow teenage sensation Leylah Fernandez in the US Open final at Flushing Meadows. She became Britain's first female Grand Slam champion since 1977 – and the first qualifier ever to win a Grand Slam title.

Just 48 hours after winning the title, the then 18-year-old Raducanu attended the Met Gala in New York, rubbing shoulders with A-list celebrities and sports stars. She joined the likes of Rihanna, Justin Bieber and Lorde, as well as Lewis Hamilton, Venus and Serena Williams and Simone Biles.

Raducanu’s meteoric rise also saw her on the red carpet for the No Time To Die World Premiere as well as a cameo appearance on the perhaps less stratospheric Sports Direct Christmas advert.

Her one possible misstep so far was to axe her temporary coach Andrew Richardson – who helped Raducanu win her first major trophy – drawing some criticism over her judgement and focus on tennis. Days later, Raducanu crashed out of Romania’s BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells with a second-round defeat. England rugby union head coach Eddie Jones became embroiled in a backlash for 'unfair' remarks about Raducanu following his claims she was burdened by “distractions” that had affected her form on the court.

19 Emma Pinchbeck, chief executive of Energy UK

The former climate activist turned trade association chief executive has cut an impressive figure this year, during which she appeared as a panellist on BBC Question Time and discussed the implications of the agreement at COP26. It was clear she knows of which she speaks when she admonished the Government’s efforts during the climate summit and told the audience that the private sector was frustrated at the fact that it was now moving faster towards decarbonisation than the public realm.

Pinchbeck managed to combine the business with the emotional case for rapid change when she used her platform to tell the Government: “Do better by my daughter. Do better by all of us… It’s the right thing to do. And if you stick to fossil fuels you’re going to get left behind.”

18 Jack Monroe, food writer and activist

The food writer and activist is a prominent anti-poverty campaigner, helped by her effective use of social media and a back story – as a single mother on benefits, who has lived in real food and fuel poverty – that adds credence and authenticity to her messages. Along with Marcus Rashford, Monroe helped publicise the meagre food parcels for vulnerable school children sent by Chartwells in January – turning a viral picture into a major national story, and a corporate crisis that prompted action from the catering company.

17 Professor Gail Whiteman, founder of scientific group Arctic Basecamp

Media-savvy Whiteman and the group of scientists and researchers she founded known as Arctic Basecamp were among thousands of activists and influencers to attend COP26. But the difference with Whiteman was that she and her band came to Glasgow armed with a 4,000kg block of ice that they allowed to melt for the duration of the summit as a stark reminder to delegates of the knife-edge humanity stands upon. In a photocall to end them all, Whiteman told the assembled media: “Our message is that this iceberg is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the climate emergency.”

16 Richard Walker, MD of Iceland Foods

The Iceland boss and committed conservationist has been banging the drum about environmental issues for years (see his pledges on palm oil in 2018), and in November vowed to become the first UK supermarket to be "plastic neutral" by offsetting its remaining 'plastic footprint' by recovering and recycling plastic where possible.

The firm also pledged to work towards going plastic-free on own-label packaging and called for an internationally standardised system to ensure the integrity of plastic recovery and offsetting schemes. The latter is typical Walker – by publicly upping the ante with a new environmental challenge to rivals, he gives the impression of a company committed to transparency and action on the most crucial issue of our time.

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