This week, I was fortunate to pick up the PR Personality of the Year accolade at the PRCA Awards. The award was ultimately decided by public vote, following a PRCA shortlist (how I feel for those X-factor and Strictly celebs), so a huge thank you to all those industry colleagues and peers who kindly supported me.

Winning this award brought back memories and highlighted contrasts within the public relations industry from another highly memorable PRCA Awards ceremony. A decade ago, I picked up a similar award – for best ‘old’ PR professional at a PRCA event on September 11th 2001. Soon after collecting my award, at about 2pm, chaos began to erupt. Some “geeky” PR folk (largely tech PRs, ahead of the personal technology curve, as ever) were getting texts about the events unfolding in New York. News got around verbally, in the main; the awards ceremony concluded early and the room emptied fast.

It is incredible to remember that – just 10 years ago – texting was geeky and a relatively new phenomenon. By contrast, at this week’s PRCA Awards, everyone was texting and being tweet-tastic, with smartphones littered on every table. For these PRCA Awards alone, there were over 5,000 tweets including a live commentary on the night.

Going back to the 11th September 2001, we were glued to our monitors in disbelief, watching the repeats of the falling towers on CNN over the internet. It was the first time many people had watched video news over the internet. Bandwidth crashed and PCs froze under the strain.

What a contrast to today’s world, where we film, edit and upload videos for our clients (and ourselves) without hesitation, and anyone can develop and build his/her own video content channel.

And how the PRCA Awards have changed! In 2001, the ‘PRCA Frontline Awards’ was a relatively modest event – perhaps 300 attendees, mainly for frontline executives (the under-30s); definitely agency-only, no celebrity presenters, culminating in a few drinks and a light lunch buffet. By contrast, this week there were 900 PR industry people dressed up to the nines, at all job levels, in-house as well as agency, partying the night away at the London Hilton.

The champagne flowed freely on the night, although we are in a very different economic climate, and it seems the desire for gongs, recognition, celebration and a rip-roaring night out is as strong as ever. There were tables in the aisles and walk ways — it was packed. The ticket applications were over-subscribed with 100 people were on a waiting list, many of them short-listed entrants.

Personally, I don’t see the hunger for awards changing for a very long while, so the PRCA should book a bigger venue for next year.

Do you judge agencies by the awards they win? And if you don’t enter, or don’t rate industry awards, why not?

I am delighted but somewhat surprised to be the only woman (out of a shortlist of five) nominated as PRCA PR Personality of Year. According to the UK’s PR Week/PRCA census, the industry is two-thirds female (20,000 women in total work in PR). Over the years it’s always amazed me to see how many men attend the PR awards ceremonies; where do they hide during the day?

My gender throughout my career has been more of an advantage than a disadvantage. I howl with laughter at the letters addressed to Mr. Clive Walker. Do I look like a ‘Clive’? A greater hindrance is a surname starting with a ‘W’. Name lists that go in alphabetical order by surname are not my friend.

PR is a career choice I have never ever regretted. Only this week, with one of our clients trending globally on Twitter from a campaign we conceived and ran, the rush of adrenaline, the buzz and the excitement was as fresh as it felt on my first day as a junior PR exec in 1985.

I founded Firefly 23 years ago, in my mid-20s. Aside from delighting my clients, I had two crucial personal motivations:
1. Family: I wouldn’t have to negotiate with anyone over my own maternity cover (an unnecessary thought for the next seven years, as it happened) and I would fully support my colleagues in their balance of work and family life.
2. Learning: I would put myself on courses to develop my own potential, and I would ensure that all my colleagues would have the same opportunities of continual training and development throughout their career with Firefly. Talented people, high performers.

These motivations and beliefs are still at the crux of Firefly’s culture today.

Here are my 25-year PR career highlights in 10 points:

1. Founded Firefly Communications – 1988
2. Runner-up for PR Week Best New Consultancy – 1989 and 1990
3. First PR agency to be an Investor in People – 1991
4. Launched the first UK internet press centre – 1999
5. Joined the PRCA Board of Management – 1999 to-date
6. Won PR Week Consultancy of the Year – 2000
7. Named Best Old PR Professional – 2000
8. Became Chair of the Professional Practices Committee (Ethics) – 2002 to-date
9. Listed in The Sunday Times Small Companies Best Places to Work – 2003-2007 (highest rank achieved: no. 3)
10. Nominated for the PRCA PR Personality of the Year – 2011

Over a 25-year agency career, my lows of being a woman in PR are:

1. The late night taxi ride with a client who thought my role and responsibilities on his account also stretched to nocturnal activities.
2. Being mistaken by a hotel concierge for an altogether different kind of ‘PRO’. Note to all PR professionals: be aware of how a series of male visitors to a hotel suite may appear to the outside world (not everyone knows they are journalists and that your spokesperson sits behind that door).
3. At the age of 48 – by then a wife, mother of three, and having run my own agency for over 23 years – being introduced by one client to another client as, ‘Claire, our PR girl’. Grrr!

Nowadays, women are (or should be) so much better protected by their employers, and respected by their colleagues and clients. With nearly 50% of the PR industry aged between 25 and 34, and 60% of this age range female, a big challenge is still juggling a career with family commitments. I have seen and heard of too many talented women PRs give up on their careers post-maternity. It should not be difficult to find a way for women to find a balance and have it all. We have a shrinking talent pool – and a growing industry. We have to find ways to support and keep people.

Being nominated has prompted the LinkedIn posts you will see below, and I hope the discussions about preserving our evaporating talent pool gives employers a few ideas to think about, and our shrinking talent pool more reasons to stay in PR.

Comment on my discussion in the Network of PR professionals group in LinkedIn
Keep Mums. I’ve seen too much PR hot talent (Mums2b or Mums) leaving our industry. Our talent pool is shrinking. Got any tips for how to ‘have it all’?

Comment on my discussion in the PR Professionals group on LinkedIn
Stay or go? The economy and rapid technological changes have caused many people to flee our profession. How can we keep our (shrinking) talent pool?

Of course, I hope that the hundreds of current and ex-Fireflies, current and ex-Firefly clients, and the many thousands of people I’ve lectured or trained over the years, will vote for me; but if you like what I believe in and stand for, then please vote for me as the UK’s PRCA Personality of The Year. And like all good PR deadlines, you’ve not got long – just until Monday 14th November. Here’s the link.

Thank you.

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