60 Seconds with Gay Collins, Montfort Communications

Gay Collins, one of the three founding partners of Montfort Communications, on what she loves about her job, her advice for people looking to get into financial PR and the role of The 30% Club. 

What’s the highlight of your working week?
There’s so much to choose from. Nothing beats coming into the office and getting a buzz from seeing the business that Hugh Morrison, Nick Miles and I have recently created and being with the team we’ve put together. It’s totally reinvigorated my passion for PR. A close second is reading a high profile article in a top tier publication that’s on message. Or a brainstorming session with colleagues where you come up with creative and exciting ideas. Or giving advice that you feel is going to really make a difference. Or a pitch to an exciting new client that went well and where you think there’s been a true meeting of minds.
I could list many more…

What’s the biggest myth or misunderstanding about financial PR?
That it’s about spin and not substance. As reputation becomes ever more central to organisations and their leaders it’s essential that we really understand our clients’ business issues, their marketplace and how to give advice that is original, deliverable and measurably of value. Many underestimate the senior access that the top financial and corporate PR advisers get, and the potential we have to shape the agenda for CEOs and the companies they run.

What’s different about Montfort from your previous agency incarnations?
Whilst I remain focused on financial services, Montfort has a broader reach across sectors and also goes much deeper into strategic counsel and high level advisory work. I also think we are more focused than any other agency in getting the most senior and effective team in front of clients.

Would a vote for Brexit be an ‘interesting’ challenge for financial PRs? How far ahead have you or your clients been able to plan with such an eventuality in mind?
The vote itself should be a personal rather than a corporate issue, but clearly the aftermath will be business critical if there is change. I’ve had many discussions and been involved in some planning, but modelling the exact impact is something of a “finger in the air” job.

You’re on The 30% Club’s steering committee. Can you take us through what the club is and what your work for it involves? 
The 30% Club is a voluntary organisation that seeks to create change by increasing the number and influence of women in senior roles within business. My role is to co-lead the PR group and sit on the UK Steering Committee.

How close are you to achieving your goals with The 30% Club?
I think we’ve gone from ‘why do it?’, to ‘how do we do it?’, and there’s a momentum and a mindset that won’t be reversed. Much of the progress has been on non executive roles; improving the executive pipeline will take longer and needs sustained effort and often a change in culture and practices to reach our goals.

You’re also a non executive director of JP Morgan Overseas and a board member of Cancer Research UK’s Women of Influence. What’s behind those roles?
The first, because I’ve advised many investment trusts throughout my PR career. Knowing the industry from the inside is crucial and this role gives me perspectives on the emerging issues, regulations and concerns, which in turn helps me advise clients more effectively and authoritatively. As for the Cancer Research UK role, where we mentor and raise money for female research fellows, I got involved because the attrition rate for women who are scientists is even worse than in banks, and if we can keep them in science longer, we can hopefully beat cancer sooner.

What is the best piece of career advice you’ve received?
The harder you work, the luckier you become.

And what would you advise someone starting in financial PR today to do?
Read, absorb, find an inspirational person to observe and follow and go that extra mile.

Which chief executive do you admire as a communicator and why?
Helena Morrissey [CEO of Newton Investment Management and founder of The 30% Club] – she has the art of bringing people with her on the journey and getting through a mountain of activity effortlessly – a true inspiration.

What do you to do to switch off from your professional life?
It’s not really a question of switching off. That’s a rarity. Rather it’s about ‘extra-curricular’ and managing time and opportunity. My family is front and centre of that and I’m constantly amazed by their support and humour.