PR Rising Star is an interview series from MediaHQ that talks to up-and-coming PR professionals. It looks into why they decided to follow a career in PR, their predictions for the future of the industry and their favourite book of the last year.
Sophie Drake is Director at the PR company Story Comms in Birmingham. After graduating from Birmingham City University in 2015 with a BA in Communications and Media Studies, Sophie began as Junior Account Executive at Story Comms, after working throughout her college years in different PR and marketing roles.
Sophie is now a Director at the company, and below she gives a detailed insight into her journey to working in the PR industry, the changes that she would like to see in PR and her best binge watch recommendation.
Why did you decide to follow a career in PR?
For me it was sports or media. Media swung it for me because of the future potential and career path - I loved media studies at school and did it for my A-level.
I found it fascinating looking behind the curtain and examining what brands put out into the public domain and what it meant about them and what they sell/stand for.
When digging into media careers, I looked at journalism and then stumbled onto PR. It attracted me because it was a people-led industry that blends creativity with business.
Specifically, tell us about your route into working in the PR industry?
From Cornwall, I did my media studies A-Level and then took a gap year (not travelling, but working in retail and playing football) before deciding I wanted to go after a media and communications career. I then applied to University in a big city - I was after something that was a far cry from the countryside life - and got into Nottingham Trent, Birmingham City University and UWE. Birmingham edged it because it had the best ratings for media and comms.Before University, I was offered a placement working as a PR assistant in-house for Busy Bees Benefits - the employee benefits arm of childcare business Busy Bees. So I got 12 months of experience before going into my first year - I then did my degree and carried on working part-time at Busy Bees, alongside working in the press office at Birmingham City University and doing some music and creative photography/media and social media jobs on the side.
When entering my final year, I met a journalist who knew a lady who was setting up a PR agency called Story Comms, and he introduced me to Amanda.Story Comms founder and MD, Amanda Lowe offered me a job working near-full time but flexibly in my final year. This was an exciting proposition for me as it looked like the opportunity to help shape and grow something - plus she had the big agency experience, energy and gravitas that I hadn't seen elsewhere when looking for other placements and opportunities.
The rest is history - we're now in our eighth year, with a team of 10 and a kick-ass proposition - and I've worked my way up from a Junior Exec to Director.
What is your favourite thing about working in PR?
People. It's always the people for me. Building and nurturing relationships with incredible experts and communications pros who work for some of the best B2B businesses out there is exactly why I got into the industry.
At Story Comms, building and growing a team of happy, productive and talented individuals is one of my favourite things.
I love a job that blends creativity with business. At Story Comms, we work in the corporate and business to business world, as well as having a fast growing consumer arm and a studio in development where we'll offer our own video and creative services. It's a hugely exciting time for our growth.
If you could make a lasting change in the PR industry, what would it be?
Talent with a focus on diversity and inclusion. The sector is doing great things to make our industry more open to talent and those that may not have previously had the opportunity to progress a career in PR, but there's still work to be done. We're founding supporters of Socially Mobile for that very reason, and are investing heavily in working with universities, youth organisations and whoever possible to try and open up more opportunities - not just for those with degrees.
I'd also like to have a lasting impact on education. Less so the industry, but the way it’s taught would better equip future talent with the right skills. Much of PR’s academic teaching is around theory, campaigns and planning - and while that’s all so valuable, the biggest gap we see in the talent coming through is the ability to do the basic stuff like writing releases and reporting etc. Teaching these basic PR skills should be integral to its academic teaching.
Name one person who has influenced your career and tell us why.
Amanda Lowe, for giving me the chance to get stuck into her newborn business and for this wild ride so far. I didn't want to just work for just any agency, where I'd be working out how they work or doing things how they've always done it.
Name one communications tool you couldn’t live without.
The JBH PR Percentage Calculator, it helps to present percentages in a more poignant way.
Tell us about a campaign or piece of work that you’ve worked on that you are proud of.
We've started to get a real specialism in the Boomer and over-55 market. Our recent 'Shut out, forced out and overlooked' campaign with 55/Redefined was a big 2021 highlight for me.
Alongside a major paper and research putting the spotlight on ageism in the workplace and the value of over 55s that got us headlines, we launched a more consumer facing video called 'Dance Like Everyone's Watching' shaped to tackle the outdated misconceptions of age with Bridgerton actor Ben Miller - it was a fun and creative campaign that achieved some big results across channels.
Finish this sentence. “The best way to connect your story to your audience is by…”
Speaking to an issue that they care about, using hard-hitting facts and insight and backing it all up with personal/storytelling. For B2B brands, that often means taking off the corporate mask and being more human.
What is your favourite hobby?
What is the best book that you have read in the last year?
David Attenborough's A Life on Our Planet.
What is your binge watch recommendation?
I'm a sucker for Suits (it's so bad it's good).
Name three trends that you think will be important in the PR industry in the next 5 years.
Blurring of the lines between B2B and B2C.
The rise of 'cancel culture' and 'buy-cotting' and how brands respond to risk/crisis and issues.
Remote working/talent shortfall - how we look outside our industry to bring or nurture the best future talent.
Which social media site is the most important to you and why?
I love Twitter - not least for the character limit because it forces brevity and creativity, but also for the speed and volume of content. You’ll never not be surprised by what you see or learn from it. You have to love the PR fails that journalists call out too - reminders of what not to do!
Name one staple of the PR industry that you think will die out in the next five years.
I think reporting is going to go a long way. The days of activity reports or traditional reporting will be over - we're moving away from this and much more to live tracking and real time activity updates using new platforms.
This means our clients and team have less time on the admin and more time on the work.
It was founded by entrepreneur Jack Murray in 2009. Our cutting-edge software is the best, fastest and most accurate way to find the right journalists, build media and pitch lists in seconds, send press releases and get results.
The comprehensive MediaHQ database lists the details of every journalist, and media outlet in the UK and Ireland and is full of time-saving features.