Next month Siobhan Kenny will swap the cut and thrust of life at
Downing Street’s Strategic Communications Unit for that Soho-based
glossy magazine mecca, the National Magazine Company. The obvious
question is: why? Despite a first job as information officer at TV-AM
back in the days of Anne and Nick, the 36-year-old north Londoner has
never strayed far from the civil service.
As a vital cog in the No 10 communications machine, she is more
manifesto than magazine material. After TV-AM came press officer posts
at Scotland Yard and the Home Office. Armed with a language degree,
Kenny then took off to Strasbourg as senior press officer for the
Council of Europe, the human rights organisation which set up the
European Court of Human Rights.
A year later, in 1993, she joined Downing Street’s press office, where
she witnessed the historical change-over from Conservative to
’It was one of the most exciting jobs I could have had at the time,’
remembers Kenny. ’A day like that only happens once in your life.’ Under
Alastair Campbell’s wing, she helped build the Strategic Communications
Unit, a department designed to improve the co-ordination and
presentation of Government policies. Her colleague of four years, deputy
press secretary Godric Smith, describes her working style as action
personified: ’Siobhan has an engaging personality but a ruthless focus
on delivery,’ he says.
’She doesn’t just talk, she does. She revolutionised our communications
with the non-news media.’
And this is where the move to the National Magazine Company starts to
make sense. Eighteen months ago Kenny had the idea of involving women’s
magazines in Government policies. She set up a central contact point for
editors to call people within the communications unit who understood
their audiences and deadlines - a first for No 10. ’The Government had
not always looked at telling its own story to the majority of people its
policies affect,’ she explains.
Kenny invited a host of editors from magazines as diverse as Take a
Break and Vogue to attend a Q&A session with drug czar Keith Hallawell
and Tony Blair.
Another venture saw editors from teen magazines like J17 discuss a
report by the Government’s Social Exclusion Unit on 16- to 18-year-olds
who leave school early with few prospects. Aside from gaining valuable
input from editors and a pile of cuttings ’up to my neck’, Kenny made
stacks of contacts and a few friends. She says it was ’inevitable’ she
would jump ship to magazine publishing.
’I enjoyed working with the editors so much I thought I could slide in
there,’ she says. ’I know a lot of NatMags’ editors already, which is
half the battle.’ Kenny is unsure of her exact aims when she arrives,
but one thing she definitely wants to do is to push forward the editors
of NatMags’ 12 titles including Harpers & Queen, Cosmopolitan and Good
Housekeeping as spokespeople on issues affecting their readers and
maintain links with the Government.
NatMags managing director Terry Mansfield acknowledges her new job will
be ’entirely different’ to Number 10 but explains that one of his
editors sung her praises so loudly he had to listen. ’The communications
director has to understand what the story is from the journalist’s point
of view rather than pushing out PR puff and Siobhan has that
understanding,’ he says.
Terry Tavner, editor of IPC’s Woman’s Own agrees. Tavner met Kenny when
she took her to meet Hallawell and a heroin addict for an article she
was writing on drugs. ’Siobhan has a fantastic understanding of women’s
magazines,’ she says.
’Her background is making stories work, albeit Government ones. She has
a nose for what is great PR. She can spot a story and knows how to place
it. She has great contacts on newspapers, good people skills and is
completely unflappable. Best of all, Siobhan makes things happen. I
think it’s an inspired appointment.’
1992: Senior press officer, Council of Europe
1993: Senior press officer, Downing Street
1998: Strategic adviser, Strategic Communications Unit
1999: Communications director, National Magazine Company.