“You’d be hard pushed to find a more interesting set of clients….I’m not sure there are places that offer that more than Portland,” says Daphne Cafritz, director at Portland. So what is it like to work at the agency and build a successful career there?
We sat down with three communications professionals from Portland - Daphne Cafritz, Lucy Rodrick and Sara Tracogna - to discuss highlights from their careers and gain some insight into what it takes to be a ‘Portlander’.
“We’re lucky to work on such an interesting range of projects” says Lucy Rodrick who, as a consultant in Portland’s health division, works “at the sharp end of some of the most high-profile issues in health and life science.”
She names her work campaigning for greater regulation of the beauty industry, specifically around Botox and fillers for younger people, as one of her highlights. “The current standards of regulation and lack of public safety awareness means there has been a rise in rogue advertising, unlicensed practitioners and botched jobs,” she says. “Our work has included advising MPs on the subject as bills pass through Parliament, which has been great.”
As an associate consultant working on Portland’s research offer, Sara Tracogna has exposure to a wide range of teams and clients from across the business. She highlights a project she has been working on alongside the health team with a leading name in the pharmaceutical sector, where she undertook multi-market, qualitative research, conducting interviews alongside translators across Asia, Europe and North America. “It was so interesting to work on all those markets, conducting really high-level and high-impact research. That was a fantastic opportunity.”
As a director, Daphne Cafritz works with Portland’s international clients, focusing on complex development issues across the world, from the fight against climate change, vaccine equity and gender equality, to misconceptions around migration. She is also part of Portland’s sports offer and is particularly passionate about sport as a driver of positive social change.
“Clubs, organisations and stars are in a unique position to bring people together to contribute to the world’s greatest challenges”, she says. “Athletes want to use their voice to generate awareness of causes that they care about. They have an ability to reach enormous groups of people and the power to effect rapid change. That’s an exciting thing to be a part of.”
An inspiring working environment
Cafritz, Rodrick and Tracogna keep coming back to one word – “open.”
“You get to work with lots of different people from around the business. Portland definitely encourages people to take the initiative and form their own networks,” says Rodrick. “If I have a question about a specific topic area, let’s take transport policy as an example, I feel able to go and speak to someone from around the business who knows about that area, so it’s very collaborative in that respect.”
“I love the fact that it’s not an intimidating suit and tie environment where you can’t talk to people,” says Tracogona. “It’s very open and inclusive.”
Cafritz agrees: “Portland brings together bright and passionate people. It’s a really inspiring environment to work in. There are always opportunities to exchange ideas and learn from others.”
Learning and socialising
Learning from colleagues is a big part of Portland’s culture, and it’s clear from Cafritz, Rodrick and Tracogna that the senior team aren’t the only ones to go to for advice. Rodrick says: “I’m constantly impressed by my colleagues at Portland. Everybody is incredibly smart, and that helps you up your own game and inspires you to do your best work.”
Also integral to Portland’s culture is the social element, says Tracogna: “Maybe it’s because I’m Canadian, but I’m not used to going to the pub this much with my colleagues! As someone who joined Portland during the pandemic, there was a really big effort to make sure I was welcomed and that, when we were able, we had opportunities to socialise.”
Rodrick agrees that, as people have returned to the office, there’s definitely been a buzz: “It’s been great to be able to have work drinks every Thursday and to use our fantastic roof terrace.”
The value of teamwork
Tracogna immediately highlights the value of teamwork. “Particularly in the research offer, we work across so many different account teams. I really enjoy that. You feed off people with really specialised knowledge and skills. The value of that is huge.”
Rodrick highlights the growing need for consultants to think beyond traditional boundaries between ‘PA and PR’. “When I first started out, I had quite a distinct idea of communications and PR versus policy and public affairs, and talked about the two as being very distinct.
“But now, I think that the difference between the two can be overstated,” she says. “Although the audiences can be very different, ultimately whether you’re communicating to policy-makers or the general public, a lot of the methods remain the same, and the importance of getting the messaging right remains.”
Cafritz says that the key thing she’s learned is the importance of trust between the consultant and the client: “Often, the biggest value you can bring to a client is spotting the thing coming around the corner that they may not have seen,” she says. “You also need to be able to present your views in a way that is helpful, constructive and considerate. Relationships take time to build but they are absolutely critical to what we do.”
Cafritz also says she’s learned that there is “no hierarchy when it comes to good ideas”, something that Tracogna agrees with. “It’s definitely nice when more senior colleagues want your opinion. As an executive, I couldn’t believe I was being asked what I thought by a director, but it’s great.”
Curious and inquisitive
Rodrick says that “people who are curious and inquisitive about the issues clients might face and are tapped into current affairs and the news agenda” find a home at Portland.
She also thinks that Portlanders thrive off variety. “You’re involved in such a wide variety of projects. I could be involved in filming for a video in the morning, then in a meeting about polling in the afternoon, then drafting an op-ed by the end of the day.”
Cafritz says Portland is simply a place where people get the freedom to pursue their passions: “We thrive when we work on issues and topics we care about. If you have an idea, a project or client you want to work for, nobody is going to stand in your way.”
Top tips for applying
As someone who has interviewed many candidates for roles at Portland, Cafritz says that the people who impress her the most are those who’ve got something original to say.
“You want to be able to get an impression of what someone is going to be like to work with. In my view, curiosity, ambition and diversity of experience are what will translate most effectively into new ideas and creativity when someone joins the business.”
Tracogna’s view is that people coming to Portland should be inquisitive and have a willingness to learn.
Rodrick adds: “My advice would be to have opinions and be interested in the world around you. There are communications challenges all around us. Take the time to think through what they might mean for organisations and private companies and how you would approach them.”
If you are an inquisitive, driven, switched-on comms professional, or are looking to get started as one, Portland is currently hiring across a range of levels. Take a look at Portland’s current vacancies here.