UK Communicators of the Year 2021 (numbers 15-11) revealed by PRWeek

Who got their message across most effectively in this tumultuous year.

Read on for the second instalment of 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.

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 15 to 11. The remainder will be published in the days ahead, so stay tuned...

15. Mina Smallman, mother of murdered women Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry

Mina Smallman is a former Church of England archdeacon and the first black woman to have held this rank, but she has also become a lightning rod for how the police treat people from minority ethnic backgrounds.

Last year, she experienced every parent’s worst nightmare when two of her daughters, Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry, were murdered. The tragedy of Smallman’s loss was exacerbated when two Metropolitan Police officers, tasked with preserving the crime scene, took photographs of her daughters’ bodies and shared them on social media.

A subsequent inquiry by the Independent Office for Police Conduct found that the Met failed to follow its missing persons policies during the investigation into the disappearance of the women, but said race was not a factor. Throughout the ordeal, Smallman has remained calm and dignified in her comments to the media.

But she has criticised Met Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick’s “shoddy” behaviour and has called for the police force to “get rid of the rot”.

14. Greg Jackson, Octopus Energy chief

The energy crisis sent a clutch of suppliers to the wall in 2021 as rocketing wholesale gas prices sent costs soaring for energy firms.

Greg Jackson was one of the few who has not changed position in supporting a price cap from the beginning, despite calls from smaller suppliers for it to be lifted. Without the price cap, many households would have had to dig a lot deeper this winter in the face of a massive hike in energy costs.

While companies have gone bust, Octopus Energy’s tentacles gripped nearly 600,000 customers from Avro Energy, one of the companies that failed. The Octopus chief said he was shocked that some firms were placing “one-way bets” by signing up new customers – but buying the energy later. In effect, this fixed and agreed purchasing energy prices in advance – a fatal detail as prices later soared.

Jackson is known as a mouthpiece for the challenger energy suppliers and is vocal with his opinion, especially on what has proved to be a vital bit of forward planning.

13. Feargal Sharkey, musician and activist

The former frontman of Northern Irish punk band The Undertones, Feargal Sharkey has for years been a leading voice in the campaign to protect the UK's rivers and streams from pollution. Recently he has been calling on the Government to introduce stricter measures against water companies guilty of dumping raw sewage into the nation's waterways, as well as decrying what he says is 30 years of underinvestment by the water agency.

In October, after MPs voted against an amendment to a bill in that would have put legal duties on these companies, and ahead of COP26, Sharkey told the Border Counties Advertiser: “In days we are about to stand on a global stage and commit hypocrisy on a global scale, lecturing about climate change when we are killing every river in this country. How can you stand on that stage and expect respect and credibility and lead the world into a future with less carbon when they know well you are killing some of the rarest ecosystems and strangling every river in the country? They have utterly failed to regulate the water industry."

Harnessing his existing platform, Sharkey's tireless and unrelenting efforts to hold power to account in this area have thrust these issues into the mainstream and instigated real-world change.

12. Meera Naran, road safety campaigner 

Earlier this year road safety campaigner Meera Naran was awarded an MBE, which she immediately dedicated to her son, Dev, who was killed aged eight, when a lorry hit his grandfather's car on a smart motorway in 2018.

Since then Naran, from Leicester, who is a senior lecturer in clinical pharmacy, has crusaded to make smart motorways safer and played a key role in developing an 18-point safety plan for this controversial development in British transport.

"I’ve chosen to use my grief to change it into something positive and save the lives of others. It’s my purpose and it keeps me going,’ she explained. This year Naran has continued to campaign hard and effectively, appearing regularly on national television and speaking at high-profile highways conferences.

The impact of Naran's tireless efforts, despite continuing her academic career, is being felt. In the autumn the House of Commons Transport Select Committee made the recommendation to pause the rollout of using all lanes – including the hard shoulder – on smart motorways in a report that raised further questions about their safety. The report said the decision taken in March 2020 to make all new smart motorways ALR (all lane running) roads was “premature”.

11. Anne Boden – chief executive, Starling Bank

Anne Boden founded the challenger bank Starling in 2014. It began life offering fee-free checking accounts through an app and only recently, since branching into lending and business banking, has it begun to break even. Last month Boden, still the chief executive, said this British digital bank expects to go public in two years’ time.

Having an impressive female boss of a successful bank is rare enough, but more than that Boden is a tech visionary and a great communicator. She recently candidly admitted that when the pandemic struck she was uncertain of the impact on Starling and its business model, but she decided to throw open its doors to loans for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

“We didn’t know whether it would be a trickle or whether people were desperately wanting those loans,” she told the Financial Times, but added that “the move to digital has been accelerated by 10 years by the pandemic.”

Boden’s fresh approach to finance can be symbolised with another quote: “The banking industry has woken up and realised there is a lot to learn from other industries.”

Read: UK communicators of the year 2021 (numbers 20-16) revealed by PRWeek

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