PR Interview with Fiona Thorne, CEO of Fishburn Hedges

About the agency

What industry sectors does Fishburn Hedges specialise in?

The agency works across a broad range of sectors – financial and professional services, retail, energy and food/drink and disciplines including public affairs, crisis management (which we call ER – Emergency Relations), social media engagement, media relations and employee engagement, to name but a few.

What is special about the agency’s approach to PR?

We are able to provide specialist sector and discipline teams built around experts whose track records are as strong as any in a boutique agency, but who can be combined with borders or silos to create a team which is bespoke for every client. No two clients at FH ever have the same team.

What qualities do you look for in new recruits?

Intellectual curiosity and an overriding ambition to do great work for our clients.

What has been the biggest challenge for the agency?

In a world which is changing and moving at incredible speed, our challenge is to always be fleet of foot and stay ahead of that change, while remaining true to the values which have always made FH more than just another agency.

In your opinion, what are the main challenges facing PR today?

Although there are always challenges, overall I would say that there has never been a more exciting time to be a PR professional than today. The skills that comms professionals have honed in developing strategies and messages to persuade and engage audiences to change behaviour or manage reputation have never been more fundamental to business than they are now.

About clients

Can you list some of your most well-known, or respected clients?

Just a few of our clients include BT, Britvic, Nintendo, John Lewis Partnership, Barclays, Shell, LloydsPharmacy, Stansted Airport and Nestlé.

Tell us about one of your clients you recently worked with.  What was the company’s brief, your approach and the result?

One fascinating project the agency recently worked on was this year’s annual Holocaust Memorial Day. Our brief was to deliver quality national coverage to drive people to the HMDT website to either watch the film, sign up to the pledge or find out about events. 

Our approach was two-fold. Firstly, utilising the media appetite for Olympic-related stories, we developed a feature package with a Holocaust survivor who was an ex-Olympic and Commonwealth Champion and Zoe Smith, a London 2012 hopeful. Secondly, to enable us to hit the news pages on the day, we commissioned research, picking up on the Speak Up, Speak Out theme for the day. The research looked at how people are increasingly using social media to voice opinions and effect change, and also identified the inevitable risks and challenges this freedom of expression carries.

The week got off to a strong start, with the Mail on Sunday's You magazine publishing an interview with a Holocaust survivor and BBC Radio 2 interviewing a Bosnian survivor. On the day, The Daily Telegraph published a feature with the ex-Olympian Holocaust survivor and Zoe Smith. Positioned in the sports section, this piece enabled HMDT to reach a very different audience. We also released the Speak Up, Speak Out report, securing pick-up across nationals including The Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail and The Guardian.

How do you balance the use of social media and traditional PR in your work?

The answer is different for every client – the approach has to be bespoke. But it is certainly the case that these days it is rare for social media not to be right at the heart of the work we do for the majority of clients. 

Is there a potential client you’d love to work for?

It is always great working for household names and big brands – but it is the complexity of the issue which usually makes a piece of work the most fun and engaging for me.

What has been your most memorable work for a client?

The financial crisis gave rise to some of the most fascinating work I have done, but sadly much of it remains confidential.

About journalists

Which areas of the press do you communicate with the most and which media outlets or journalists do you find you work with the most often?

Fishburn Hedges is a broad agency, and we cover all types of media so it’s rather difficult to pinpoint one in particular. This is broad-ranging, but we’ve recently had a partnership with the Institute for Government with a series aiming to explore the relationship between media and government. This has been highly successful and we certainly look to do more of this type of thing in the future.

How do you build and maintain strong relationships with journalists?

As with all business relationships, it is a combination of getting the professional elements right (i.e. understanding what they need and when, etc.) combined with building a personal relationship over time.

How do you think the PR/journalist dynamic will change in the future?

As the definition of a journalist becomes increasingly blurred around the edges, while workloads for many increase, the trend towards tailored and bespoke engagement rather than mass distribution of information will continue.

About you

What media do you seek out first thing in the morning?

By 8.30am I will have skimmed, if not properly read, The FT and The Times on my iPad, watched 15 minutes of the BBC or Sky and had a quick look at Twitter.

Name three guests you’d invite to a dinner party and why…

Gitta Sereny (author, historian & investigative journalist) – she has an extraordinary ability to shine a spotlight on the human condition with understanding but without sentimentality; Nelson Mandela – just because he is a living legend; and comedian Peter Kay because there is nothing like laughing to put the world back in perspective.

Do you attend networking events? If so, which are you attending soon?

Yes. This week I’ve got two of the FH “What’s next” events in the diary – one looking at High Street trends and the other looking at the future of media regulation.

What is the best piece of business advice you’ve ever been given?

Hard work does matter.



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