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A behind the scenes look at the industry - 10 minutes with… Alex White


10 minutes with… Alex White

Tell us a little about your role

I have several roles - I’m not one to sit still and watch the world go by.

  I look after engagement within a specialist area of the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy.

  I head up comms and promotion for a civil service member-based organisation of nearly 6,000.

  I’ve launched a handful of small businesses over the last 12 years.

  I do freelance work specialising in the third sector.

  I’m a Non-Executive for Harbour, a charity helping people with drug and alcohol addiction.

  I have two children, 15 and 12, two cats, and a sausage dog called Dave. Oh, and a very strong addiction to Christmas (my tree goes up in October every year), just what you want to hear, in January.

 Which three words best sum up the Civil Service’s priorities and personality?

Brilliant civil service.

Which three words best sum up the Harbour’s priorities and personality?

Saving lives without prejudice (sorry, couldn’t squeeze it into three words)

What’s your best PR moment to date?

This may sound daft, but to this day, this moment still makes me smile. Many years ago, I was involved in a campaign to get civil servants more involved, engaged, and make the civil service a brilliant place to work. I managed to sweet talk David Hasslehoff into sending a personal video endorsement to a target audience of 30 somethings.

In a world where lines of communication usually come from ministers, permanent secretaries, CEOs, and government departments, the shock factor worked well and really made people smile during difficult times of austerity.

Another one involves a phallic fish which isn’t suitable for the PRCA to publish but do ask me if we ever meet?

What do you believe is the biggest challenge facing the profession at the moment?

From my own personal experience, the biggest challenge is evaluating what we do and winning the hearts and minds of those outside of PR and communications. The Government Communication Service (shameless plug) have done some amazing work in this area and this year, launched Evaluation 2.0. Although this guidance is aimed at the public sector, we can all take value from their Evaluation 2.0 work.

If you had to impart one piece of advice to a member of your team, what would it be?

Manage your time honestly. 

Within our profession, there’s a cultural expectation of long hours and always going the extra mile. I once heard someone brilliantly describe it at a PRCA event as “the disease to please”. Working long hours, seven days a week is not sustainable, you will lose passion, enjoyment, and burn out.

My advice has always been to be honest about what you can achieve and manage your time effectively. Work hard and smart. If you completely overload yourself, you will deliver a lot but will have no capacity or, importantly, energy when it really matters. In a time of crisis or intense pressure, that’s the time to shine. You need to be able to deal with the extraordinary, not just the ordinary.

Has pursuing a career in PR lived up to your expectations? Why?

I absolutely love our profession, I honestly can’t imagine ever working in a different profession.

I’ve always believed PR and comms is about people and influencing behaviour.

In the same day you might be considering the psychology of colour, the ethics of a PR stunt, and then working with under-represented areas of your community.

My role as non-executive will be the biggest challenge of my career. Our organisation is all about helping people with drug and alcohol addiction, giving them the best possible chance for their future. It’s the first time in my career dealing with real life and death. It’s also hugely challenged my perceptions.

If you could work for any brand, which would you choose? Why?

PRCA, obvs. If not PRCA, then either Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport

We all love the South West but what do you consider the key benefits of working in this region?

The South West is a region like no other. From bustling Bristol to the calm of the far Cornish coast, our region is massively varied.

I live on the Devon/Cornwall border, surrounded by beautiful natural landscape, stunning architecture, and history. I dropped my daughter to a hockey tournament on Sunday, during which I walked Dave Dog along the south west’s deepest gorge, visited a Saxon castle and had brunch at a 700-year-old stately home. All in one morning.

The South West is full of history and beauty and I do feel very lucky to live here.

What’s your PR secret?

My secret to PR is knowing your audience. Having broad, reliable and current insight will give you the right information to handle a crisis and ensure your campaign is effective

Get your audience insight right, the rest is easy. Well, when I say easy, perhaps I should say easier. Take time to evaluate what landed well and with which groups. Look at how different target groups interact, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram aren’t the only channels. Gathering and using evidence-based insight will always be beneficial.