After a BA hons from LSE and MSc from University of Edinburgh and a brief stint with the Financial Times, I started working as Marketing Executive for the Scottish Government before moving to the Scottish Cvic Forum to be Development Officer. I then headed south and started as Development Manager at the Association for Citizenship Teaching in London and then joined the European Parliament Information Office, where I now deliver an ambitious public affairs programme to engage the British public in topical political debate.
What does your current role entail on a day to day basis?
Communicating the European Parliament. Lecturing, engaging in social media and website management, managing schools and teacher training programmes.
How are you finding the task of engaging the British public (and especially young people) in debate about the role of the European Parliament and the EU?
It's a tough nut to crack, especially with the mainstream media being what it is. Young people are less likely to engage with formal politics, but when they find out more they're generally very interested and full of ideas.
The EU is a complicated beast. It's complex and difficult to understand. If it hadn't been complex it wouldn't be fit for purpose, so it's a bit of a catch-22.
How important is using social media in any engagement strategy? What advice would you give to public affairs practitioners in carrying out a successful strategy?
Essential. You have a message; you need to get it out there. Social media is one of your most powerful tools, but like any power tool needs to be used sensibly.
What advice would you give to someone considering working for an EU Institution?
There are lots of ways in. Look out for the official FCO competitions if you want to be a civil servant, but you can also become locally employed, be a consultant or work for a political party for example.
What are the main differences to working in a charity and for public sector bodies?
Timeframes: I've worked in smaller charities where when I had a good idea I could just implement it. In a larger organisation (whether public or private) there's a much bigger hierarchy to win over and more complicated procedures so things can take much longer. However, it's really reassuring in a larger organisation to have specialists for things like HR and accountancy which means that I can concentrate on what I'm good at and what I enjoy rather than having to turn my hand to everything that needs doing.
Which campaign/issue are you most proud to have been involved in?
Keeping citizenship and political education on the school curriculum in England. I played a key role in the Democratic Life campaign.
What do you enjoy about working in stakeholder engagement and public affairs?
I love the interplay of ideas and the feeling that I'm making a difference to the democratic accountability of my country and beyond.
Would public affairs practitioners do well to integrate more broader marketing and comms practices into their work?
Of course! We have to understand our role in a broader context. We need to understand the interplay between branding (what we look and feel like to our audience), our means of engagement (website, social media, premises) and our public affairs. How people engage with us, respond to us and react to us is based on their perception of us - which may and may not be founded in reality! We need to ensure that all the messages we give out are coherent and reinforce one another, therefore an understanding of this in its entirety is essential to help you understand your own job and especially if you're going to move up into management.
How important has your postgraduate study been to your career?
When I started my first job I was miserable and couldn't see how I could ever hope to land my ideal job. I looked at the job ads for my ideal job and saw that they all asked for a postgraduate degree. 14 months later I had one and I've never looked back in terms of my career. However I've often thought that a more practical qualification might be useful too.
It was great to go back to university and to have a second chance at being a student once I understood how to make the most of it.
What’s been the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?
Never take a job rejection personally. It just means that someone else is deemed to be even more capable than you. Just keep on applying!
If you could timetravel back to your final year at University, what career advice would you give yourself?
Don't listen to your parents! The cleft between work and play is only as large as you make it. Work can be fun. It's not one or the other.