The Douglas Smith Prize

by Simon Pugh, Weber Shandwick Account Director

Being asked to write a piece on how to be a successful young consultant is a double edged sword. On the one hand one should be flattered because it means someone, somewhere must think I have a vague idea what the answer is. On the other, it means apparently at the grand old age of 28 ½ I am no longer considered a young consultant myself!

There is no definition of what makes a good consultant, so I will (predictably) focus on three points that I think are relevant.   

I was lucky enough to begin my career at a great agency (and now work at an even better one!). What makes them exceptional isn’t the brand above the door or its history, it is the people that I had, and have, the privilege of working with. Herein lies tip number one.

There is no training course that can teach you how to do public affairs, no dummies guide to lobbying, no university course and no videos to watch on youtube. You need to learn by watching, listening and emulating what goes on around you. This doesn’t just mean in the office. Use those long train journeys to far flung industrial estates to extract the tips of the trade. Buy them a beer or a coffee and quiz them on how they started out.

Everyone should be interested in politics, but it is important to consider this in the widest sense.

At a training course I attended this week, one of Weber Shandwick’s finest purveyors of urban-cool communications told me I should watch Keeping up with the Kardashians. Now, on first inspection, it is difficult to see how I am to weave my new Kardashian-enriched knowledge into the latest select committee submission, but there is a very important point about the blurring of popular culture and politics. To be a great political communicator you need to understand that politics doesn’t stop once PMQs is over. It is about all aspects of people’s lives - sport, pop music, art and, God help us all, it might just be about the Kardashians.   

Tip number three is to remember what it was like starting out. As you ascend the agency ladder, seeking the Holy Grail that is becoming an account manager, surveying the many minions that now make up your empire, never forget what it was like to be a grad trainee. By this, I don’t just mean don’t be a total wally and force them to make you tea or pick up your dry cleaning, I mean take the time to help them understand what makes a great consultant too.  We learn from the people around us and, difficult as it is sometimes, you should never be too busy to educate and encourage. 

So, there we have it, a veritable cornucopia of wisdom. And today’s Brucey Bonus tip is don’t take it too seriously or it will drive you mad. 

I am lucky enough to be on the judging panel for the new Douglas Smith prize for a young public affairs practitioner (from agency or in-house) organised by the PRCA. We won’t be looking for best monitoring note or most accurate summary of a select committee hearing, we will be looking for passion, creativity, innovation and dynamism. That is the future of public affairs.

Simon is an Account Director at Weber Shandwick. And no longer young. Apparently.  

photo:Matt Cartmell
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Matt Cartmell
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