International Women's Day

The women at the top of on-trade PR and marketing

By Stuart Stone

- Last updated on GMT

International Women's Day: PR & Marketing
International Women's Day: PR & Marketing

Related tags: Women

Those in PR and marketing know everything about the businesses they support. The people who head a company's PR departments or own their own businesses are in enviable positions. Here six women at the top of the on-trade PR game tell their stories.

Name: Sophie Herbert

Job title:​ Marketing director, Beds & Bars

How you got there:
I started eight years ago as an intern as part of a new venue opening in Paris. I loved the company and wanted to progress, so applied for an internal marketing assistant role eight months later.

Sophie Herbert

After a few years in this position I then became the UK and Paris marketing manager, to then take on the group marketing director’s role in early 2018. At this point I was also asked to join the board – and, of course, accepted!

Since then I have grown my awesome team and we are delivering some incredible results within the bar and hostel industry.

Where you see yourself next:
In the short term, there are a lot of exciting projects on the horizon for Beds & Bars that I am very much looking forward to leading.

We have had some amazing successes over the past few years and my focus right now is to continue driving this success and, ultimately, the business forward.

I also have an incredible young team and I want to provide the very best platform for them to learn and excel in their careers.

Biggest issue for women in our trade right now:
There is a massive opportunity for both more men and women to join the sector. We have a lot of work to do still in regards to showcasing leisure and hospitality as a strong career choice.

There are so many great initiatives being set up to encourage this including the Women’s Speed Mentoring run by Ann Elliot as well as a great annual Women Entrepreneurial conference (highly recommended!).

It has also been great to see so many more women presenting and inspiring more women to speak at industry events. I managed to win a place on the BT Sports Athena Women Mentoring programme a few years ago (now Plan B, see link here​), and this 12-month mentorship really assisted in my overall development and confidence.

Access to more opportunities such as this would be great.

Your advice to others who want to achieve what you have:
For me it was about taking myself outside of my comfort zone.

Every year I set a few personal business goals that I know will help me develop and grow. This has improved my confidence in what was quite a male-dominated industry.

Case in point: I absolutely despise public speaking – but this January I agreed to speak at a marketing event in front of 150 people (I always asked why there were never many female speakers and so when I was asked I had to step up to the plate).

The lead-up to it was terrifying but the overall confidence it gave me that followed was totally worth it and has inspired me to step up and take on even more opportunities that maybe I wouldn’t have gone after before. Also, if you have an opinion or idea – don’t sit on it, say it!

Name: Maureen Heffernan

Job title:​ Managing director, Leisure PR & Communications

How you got there:
Having spent my career within the hospitality sector, starting out with Chef & Brewer, then learning pub management with Whitbread, I fell into communications and worked with the best of the best within Bass.

With Robert Humphreys MBE as my tutor and mentor, I was always destined to make a mark.

Maureen Heffernan

I then moved to work with Ian Payne MBE helping to put Bass Lease Co and Bass Leisure on the map and was fortunate to work with one of the industry’s great leaders.

The next stop was with the inspirational Mary Curnock Cook OBE, who was as dynamic as she was formidable, leading the communications and government relations for what was the leading professional body for licensed professionals, the BII, with 19,000 members.

I returned to work with Ian following the purchase of 3,000 bars from Whitbread and the formation of Laurel Pub Company – exciting times that lasted a relatively short period in the scheme of things as we sold the VC-backed business. It was then I formed Leisure PR.

Never a great fan of PR companies myself, always preferring the in-house route, at Leisure PR we strive to make a difference with consistent delivery the key to our success combined with our exceptional industry knowledge and understanding.

It sounds a breeze but, during that time, I combined being a mother to two lively boys, being a student as I progressed my learning, and working as a special constable as I gave something back to my community.

My journey has been achieved through the hard work, desire and dedication to make a difference in an industry I love.

Where you see yourself next:
In the latest pub or bar, checking out the operation and keeping up with trends.

Biggest issue for women in our trade right now:
I don’t like to split issues by gender. We have a number of challenges to face as an industry and it does not help by segregating issues by sex or sexuality.

We need to work collectively to find solutions as well as creating the opportunity for talent to thrive irrespective of gender be it female, male, transgender or whatever the latest denomination or non-demonination is.

Working together in an environment of respect and understanding, irrespective of personal preferences and promoting positive behaviours, will eventually phase out inappropriate attitudes that hinder efforts to improve diversity. Idealistic, maybe. Achievable, yes, if we all work at it.

What, if any, experiences of sexism in the workplace have you encountered?:
That would take way too long to answer, but you know what, I have always managed to manage it.

I’m not saying it was easy, or right, but it’s like any situation you find a way to address it, resolve it or move on.

The working environment has changed significantly, sometimes to the point of terror, with both men and women ever-cautious for fear of causing offence, be it sexism, ageism, racism, classism, ableism, anti-semitism or heterosexism.

None of these are exclusively a female issue but prejudices that should be addressed across the board.

Your advice to others who want to achieve what you have:
I’ve always had a ‘work hard, play hard’ approach to life and that has worked for me. I would say find what you love to do so getting up in the morning is a joy every day.

If you’re not in a role that makes you feel like that, work out what it is you want to do, and set your plan to get there.

I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a long time, then I found PR and thought ‘this is it!’ (Robert Humphreys has a lot to answer for!).

After a day’s work I then spent my evenings and weekends, working around my family, gaining all the relevant professional qualifications I could in order that I could survive and thrive in a profession and industry that I love.

Find your place and be the best that you can be, at whatever level you are at, and fortune will shine on you – often in mysterious ways!

Name: Jenny McPhee

Job title:​ Head of brand for the Alchemist

How you got there:
I very much fell into my first role as business development manager in 2013 joining from an accountancy firm where I worked in insolvency.

Jenny McPhee

I was part of the opening team for the first Leeds venue that launched in the newly built Trinity shopping centre.

 In 2015, following the management buyout with Palatine PE, I was promoted into a brand development role and four years later I’m now responsible for brand direction in all its forms.

I absolutely love my job It’s such an exciting business to be a part of, full of so many creative and talented people. I am proud to have helped to grow the brand from three bars to a nationally recognised business operating 14 sites across the UK and Aether Bar in Liverpool.

It was great to win Best Brand at The Publican Awards last year, which really cemented that success.

Where you see yourself next:
I’m looking forward to delivering the onward brand development. This year, we have a huge focus on London and we need to continue to grow brand awareness in the city.

We also have plans to take the business overseas and I am beginning to develop relationships with potential partners with that in mind.

Biggest issue for women in our trade right now:
Sometimes I feel the biggest issue is self-belief. We know there are a lack of women in board or exec senior management positions within the industry, we have to keep pushing and believe in our talent.

What, if any, experiences of sexism in the workplace have you encountered​?:
Years ago, as a server, I worked in a Bar & Grill in Canada, we had to wear no less than four-inch heels and have a full face of make-up before being allowed on the floor.

Thinking back, I don’t know how this passed H&S and it annoys me now that I just accepted it. I am thankful that I now work for a business that places real emphasis on women in senior roles with 40% of those positions being held by women at the Alchemist.

Your advice to others who want to achieve what you have:
Hard work, lots of fun. Don’t take no for an answer.

Name: Louise Fernley

Louise Fernley

Job title:​ External communications lead, AB InBev UK & Ireland

How you got there:
I started out as a journalist intern for a finance publication and made my way to editor within six months. After that I moved into communications and joined the WPP agency Cohn & Wolfe, before moving to a new consultancy where I headed the team for AB InBev. I liked the people, culture – and beers – so much a secondment turned into a full-time role.

Where you see yourself next:
One of the great things about AB InBev is how fast-moving it is – we call it the world’s biggest start-up. There are always new challenges to take on and we have big plans for the year ahead…

Biggest issue for women in our trade right now:
We’ve come a long way as an industry but still need to get better at overcoming tired gender stereotypes around beer. Every woman I work with loves beer and it’s great to be leading the way on co-ed advertising and inclusive brands that everyone can enjoy.

What, if any, experiences of sexism in the workplace have you encountered?:
Thankfully, nothing in recent years, though there were some shockers back when I was a green intern in a newsroom. I’ve always had very strong female role models to look up to and learn from in the workplace, which was crucial in my career path. They didn’t just give me their time and advice, but also a real sense of what I could achieve if I worked hard. I owe them a lot.

Your advice to others who want to achieve what you have:
Someone who was concerned I was taking on too much once said to me, “you’re not at school anymore, you don’t have to always put your hand up”.

I disagree – never stop putting your hand up, asking questions and taking the opportunity to learn new things. My career has been far from planned but it’s always been very interesting.

Name: Ann Elliott

Ann Elliott

Job title:​ CEO, Elliotts

How you got there:
Eighteen years with Whitbread in marketing and operations and then set up my own business 18 years ago.

Where you see yourself next:
Still building my business

Biggest issue for women in our trade right now:
Lack of self-confidence and self-belief with few role models. The role models that there around are brilliant but there just aren’t enough women on boards.

What, if any, experiences of sexism in the workplace have you encountered?:
I started in the sector when sexism was rife – it’s so much better now. I have experienced countless experiences but you just can’t let them get you down. You have to move onward and upwards. It’s their issue not yours.

Your advice to others who want to achieve what you have:
You have to find your own way of working in a very male world on the whole – you, your experiences, your board and those around you will be different to everyone else.

Get support at home so you don’t do divert yourself from your career and/or your family. Generally don’t do the stuff that you don’t need to do. Work hard, deliver results and do the job ahead of you so that promoting you is a no-brainer to your boss or the board.

Ask other women for help and advice and network with them. Appreciate that you don’t have to work the same way as a man even though you might have to get the same result. And laugh – bring joy to yourself and others.

Name: Georgina Wald

Job title:​ Corporate communications manager, Fuller’s

How you got there:
I graduated in the height of the 1990s recession and applied for more than 50 jobs without getting a single interview! In the end I wrote to everyone I’d met during my sandwich year asking if they had any vacancies.

Georgina Wald

One of them did – a job in a small PR consultancy. I didn’t even know what PR was – but I took it and every job since has come from that one.

I spent three years there, followed by four years on The Publican​ newspaper as a journalist, two and a half years at the BII working for Maureen Heffernan, who taught me much of what I know, then seven years at Fuller’s.

In 2008, I left to head up the comms team at Domino’s Pizza where I ended up as head of franchising, before deciding that I missed the comms work and came back to Fuller’s in 2014.

Where you see yourself next:
Obviously there are big changes coming at Fuller’s – but I love my beer and pubs. I love it at Fuller’s – I work with some amazing people who I’ve seen progress over the years.

Then again, I still think I’d be a great presenter of the Radio 2 Breakfast Show​!

Biggest issue for women in our trade right now
 Women have made real inroads in our sector – if you compare The Publican Awards for instance now to what it was like in 1995 when I first started in the pub industry, there are a lot more women in senior positions.

I suppose the biggest issue is just getting equality to a point where we can all stop talking about it as it won’t be an issue.

What, if any, experiences of sexism in the workplace have you encountered?:
Honestly – I’ve never encountered any that has made me stop and think that I’d been victimised for just being female.

I think I’ve scared most men into behaving – but then again I did grow up in the 1970s so while I think things are so much better, I’m acutely aware that there is still a way to go.

Your advice to others who want to achieve what you have:
Just go for it – you are often limited only by your own self-perception.

Related topics: Beer, Other operators, Marketing

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