Behind the PR scenes with Fiona Wishart

Fiona Wishart

Welcome to another week.

How was your weekend?

Mine was going pretty well and then one of my sons got sick and we spent Sunday at two hospitals.

He is back home now and watching End Game on the sofa, with the dogs.

While it might not have been the weekend I had planned, looking at the silver linings we had a day together, watched a couple of movies while he was being cared for by amazing NHS staff, and I took the peddle off work.

Yes, I was worried about him and after no sleep, we were both tired, but having a different focus is sometimes what we need.

I loved hearing from Fiona Wishart, Founder and MD of FWD-Communications and how she not only launched a new business during the pandemic, but also looked after herself.

While we are so busy pleasing others, the PR world can be hard and like the news agenda, is doesn’t stop, but sometimes you need to have that night off and just catch up with yourself.

I hope you enjoy reading about Fiona’s experiences as much as I did.

Please tell me a little bit about you?

Where to begin? Growing up I attended an all-girls boarding school in the south of England which was definitely an experience, to say the least. I studied Drama and Theatre Arts at Goldsmiths University of London which was also an interesting experience. Being very sheltered at school where the height of excitement was a 1-hour disco with the local boy’s school, I moved to London where my University was extremely liberal, and it really threw me into adapting to new ways of life. I wanted to be an actress, always loving being on stage, but after a year of hardcore drama school, I realised it wasn’t for me. I had no idea what I wanted to do after University as I had never been given career advice. The most my school did was make us take a ridiculous flow chart quiz which almost always pointed me into either a teacher or social worker, both very respectable jobs but neither appealed to me. I was pretty naughty at school, always rebelling against the rules with my parents constantly getting letters informing them of me being suspended or gated for various offenses, usually relating to getting caught smoking in the woods. In my last year uni, my father who was a banker, suggested Financial Communications, so I got myself an internship at Brunswick Group in Dubai where my parents lived, and the rest is history. 

I would love to know more about your career path and where you are today? 

My first job in PR was working as an intern at Brunswick Group in Dubai, with big banks and consultancy firms as clients. During a meeting with one of the partners about how my internship was going, I asked him if Ernst & Young was a jewelry shop from the High Street, confusing it with Earnest and Jones, and he told me then and there that he didn’t think finance was for me, and had I considered lifestyle? 

From there I worked for several agencies in lifestyle, building a contact database in Dubai, and getting to grips with luxury. I then moved to London for a year working for a Fashion showroom in London who distributed amazing Australian resort wear brands. I loved my job, it was a lot of fun and the brands were creative and interesting, but I missed my Dubai life, so I packed my stuff and headed back. 

I joined an agency that had an extremely good reputation for luxury fashion working with huge brands such as Valentino, Net-a-Porter, Versace, etc. so I was super excited to get my head in the game with luxury fashion. This however led me to one of the worst 6 months of my life! Luxury fashion was not for me and that’s not to say I didn’t have amazing mentors who helped me, the world of fashion needs thick skin and that is something I don’t have or want. I will never forget being at Paris Fashion Week crying in my hotel room each night because I was so worried about getting fired. Thankfully I was moved off the fashion team and into lifestyle! 

The Head of the Lifestyle department (who was the world’s greatest boss) and myself spent two years building the lifestyle division of the agency, working with some of the greatest names in hospitality. Of course, then the pandemic hit, and life was turned upside down, but the positive outcome was that it created a pathway for me to start my own business and I have never been happier. After years of working for amazing agencies, I wanted to start my own. I have learned what makes a good leader and what makes a good client/PR relationship and armed with this I have been able to create something exciting.  

How did you deal with the pandemic when it came not only to work but also self-care and dealing with the unknown? 

Even before the pandemic, I was a huge believer in self-care! Self-care not only in the form of a weekly face and hair mask but taking time for yourself and ensuring that you are fully rested and recuperated. When the pandemic hit and we were locked in our houses, I joked that lockdown was just my way of life and I enjoyed that time to slow down and do very little. 

From a work perspective, things were very emotional as the agency I worked for was hit hard as was everyone. We had many clients pause their retainers and we had to put more than half the office on furlough. Working in a PR agency creates strong bonds with your colleagues, and each time we had to inform employees they would no longer be getting a salary was very heartbreaking. 

The first month was extremely hard as we had meeting after meeting deciding what to do, how to handle the situation, no answer was the right answer. A few months in and anxiety levels were high as there was no light at the end of the tunnel and as Directors, it was our job to be the stable touchpoint for our teams, difficult when you yourself don’t have a clue how to make the situation better. I dealt with all this by trying to stay positive even if I didn’t feel it, if I spoke to a team member or the CEO, I would be positive and energetic. When a person is positive it catches, and I always wanted to make sure that I was radiating this to help others who weren’t feeling that great. Don’t get me wrong I had some tearful phone calls with one of the Directors who was my rock through the whole thing, but for the most part, creating a positive environment for others was my main goal. 

In my personal life, my housemate who is also my best friend created a routine. We would take care of one another, whether it was making each other teas and coffees, cooking dinner together, watching a movie, or going on a walk, she was my saviour. Self-care can come in all shapes and sizes, but the best self-care is the one you feel when you are taking care of another person and they are taking care of you. We said on a daily basis how thankful we were to have each other and that is how I got through it all, but having a solid, calming presence to pull me out of the dark times when things got too much. 

The unknown was the worst part for me as I am a chronic planner. I love a plan, I plan my days from what I’m going to eat to what I’m doing down to the hour. The unknown is not something I enjoy, and I did not deal with this very well. My housemate is excellent at not worrying about the future and I dealt with the unknown by having someone stable and sensible telling me to stop worrying. In the end, I relaxed a bit by creating this positive environment and enjoying the process rather than fighting it. 

If you have a team, how did you help them get to grips with the changes? 

My approach to a team is always to listen to them, never dictate, and let them try their strengths. This has always been my way of working and it’s the best way to deal with global changes. Lots of media have been made redundant so our media lists for distributions have been cut down massively. I talk through adapting and understanding the media, being more thoughtful with pitching no more blanket send-outs, or follow up phone calls. By creating small changes internally, that are effective and smart, such as having open discussions with the media about what content they are looking for or how they would like to receive it is a great way of filtering information and being more efficient. Efficiency is key when it comes to PR and even more so now that times are a little tougher. I have never been a fan of micromanaging, so being constantly on top of a team when they are already in a tough spot won’t help motivate. As a leading manager, your team needs to feel like you’re in it with them too because you are. We are in this together and we are a team, it is not me and them, we create success together. 

How are things looking on the work front now? 

Launching a new agency just as the world came out of lockdown might seem a little mad, but it’s the best decision I ever made. I always said I would never open my own agency, yet here I am! I’ve always had fantastic bosses and mentors which is what gave me the confidence to start something myself. My agency is lifestyle and hospitality and I can see the industry is picking up. Brands have much less money to play around with, equally, they understand the value and benefit of PR when delivered in a creative and effective way. 

How do you take time out to look after yourself and what do you consider to be the non-negotiables? 

My number one non-negotiable is spending time by myself. I need a few weekends and a few nights a week completely alone to reset and rest. In PR we talk to people all day every day and I’m a strangely extroverted introvert with lots of friends and social plans but enjoy being by myself much more. I need that time to do things like all my laundry, cook dinner for myself or binge The Crown without anyone in the room. 

Do you think people in the PR world are generally good at looking after themselves and how do you think we can be better? 

I don’t think PRs look after themselves at all! We are the first to pick at our work, feel anxious or stressed because we are the ultimate people pleasers in life. We can always do better by trying as hard as possible not to take work home (massively guilty of this) or in our working from home lives, shutting your laptop at an appropriate time. If you are doing work until late at night then you are not managing your time well and you need to rejig things on your to-do list. 

Another way to be kind to yourself is to disconnect emotionally, a very hard one, and a skill that comes with time. Don’t take things personally, if a client is frustrated at something and can be a little rough with you, then work out a way to create a solution to the problem. If it’s not going to matter in five years, don’t spend five minutes stressing about it, deal with the problem, and move on. I have made a commitment with my agency to not keep clients on if they are causing overt stress and tension to my team because it is not worth it, no amount of money is worth someone’s mental health. 

What words of wisdom would you offer others working in the PR and media world when it comes to knowing your self worth? 

Self-worth and self-confidence in the workplace come with experience and it takes time to develop, allowing yourself the time to learn skills along the way which will give you confidence. If you presume you know everything from the beginning, you will never ask the right questions. I earnt my worth by working extremely hard and listening to my managers and directors. The true meaning of self-worth is ensuring you never feel less than. It is so easy to feel like you’re doing a bad job if something doesn’t turn out the way you want it because you are always relying on a third party with no tangible results, but you are not doing a bad job, that’s just PR. Keep going and secure that coverage, create that relationship with a tough member of the press, be indispensable to your agency by working hard and being that positive driving force in the office. Self-worth in life is not something that can be learned; it has to come from within but taking the steps to be the best you can in the job, will organically give you a confidence boost. 

 How do you think the industry will change as a result of COVID-19, or do you think we will go back to how we worked before? 

I don’t believe we will ever go back to the way we were, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. We were living in an industry of excess with brands constantly wanting more and more. More events, more coverage, more gifting, and with that all being stripped away we were finally able to focus on what is important. Our industry has realised that you don’t need a big fancy event to launch a product and I honestly can say hallelujah to that! Every PR on this planet can agree that having to confirm double the number of guests promised to account for a 50% drop out is no way to live. We don’t need 50 pieces of coverage to get traction on a launch or product because there aren’t 50 places for it to go anymore. Quality over quantity is how we will operate, and this is a much more effective way of delivering success. 

What’s your proudest career moment? 

My proudest moment to date has been the launch of my agency. When I got my first retainer fee in the bank and I saw the business certificate, it all felt real.

If you didn’t work in PR, what would you do? 

I think I would have pursued acting and probably not had a lot of success, who knows? It’s hard to imagine as PR has been for me from day 1. 

What would be your ideal day off?

My ideal day off is actually what I plan to do this weekend! I would get up, make myself avocado on toast, go into central London, get a facial or manicure, or some kind of self-care activity. Walk to Whole Foods for lunch and buy ingredients for a spaghetti Bolognese, then come home and cook, watch a film with a face mask and go to bed at 9pm. If you had asked me this question 5 years ago, I probably would have given you a completely different and more exciting answer, one that would have ended in a wild night out not PJs by 9pm. 

What motto do you live by? 

Who cares? That is my motto! 

Does anyone really care if your business goes under? No. Does anyone care if you eat an entire Dairy Milk bar and don’t go to the gym the next day? Absolutely not. I have spent so much of my life caring what other people thought of my relationships, what I looked like if I was successful in my job and I’ve realised that no one really cares and you’re not disappointing anyone if you are not perfect. 

You can find out more about Fiona and her work on the FWD Communications website, and she’s over on IG as Fiona Wishart and FWD Comms.

If you want to make new connections, network with peers, share your wins, and gain coaching and mentoring support from a PR with expert knowledge and experience, why not come on over and join me in the PR Pro Hub on Facebook and you’ll never second guess yourself again. 

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