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Be kind, nothing else matters

taylor bennett foundation alumniYesterday I said goodbye to the Taylor Bennett Foundation at a gin fuelled evening. Here’s what I said in my speech (minus the tears):

Yesterday I saw a LinkedIn update by Zubair Ahmed, who had just started a new job as Creative Director at Interventus. Zubair was part of the first group of trainees that went through the Foundation’s PR traineeship programme – and we also happened to grow up in the same town and went to the same school so I always felt an affinity with him.

That first group of trainees taught me a lesson I have never forgotten.

In week eight of the traineeship the graduates have to write appraisals of themselves and their colleagues. It’s possibly the hardest task they have to do in the entire ten weeks. As I was reading this group’s appraisals I realised that one of the trainees (not Zubair!) has plagiarised another’s work.

I went digging around on our network to look at his previous work and noticed that of the six trainees, he was the only one to save his work on the shared drive. The others all kept their documents on memory sticks.

I was really, really cross with him. It was the first time we’d ever run a programme. We’d been so lucky to get Brunswick on board to sponsor it and they had put so much time and effort into these young people. He had possibly jeopardised them ever wanting to be involved with us again, and robbed future graduates of the chance of a place on another programme.

We decided to speak to the other trainees to find out what they knew, and it turned out they had realised in about week 2 that he had been copying their work. When I asked them why they hadn’t brought it to our attention they said ‘because we wanted to be kind to him.’

We allowed him to finish the programme, and never told Brunswick (until now!) what had happened. He left the UK without a reference from us and we’ve never heard from him since, but I am convinced we did the right thing and he learned a very harsh lesson about honesty, authenticity, and the kindness of other people.

That act of generosity by the trainees – who we had expected to ask us to kick him off the programme – has stayed with me for the entire 11 years that I was at the Foundation.

I have learned many, many things from our graduate alumni over the years, but the gift of kindness is a precious thing indeed. If you can be kind, nothing else really matters.

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Leaving the Taylor Bennett Foundation

Taylor Bennett Foundation Alumni and Sarah StimsonToday we announced that I will be leaving the Taylor Bennett Foundation at the end of October 2018. I have been there since the very first meeting about it between the Foundation’s visionary founder, Heather McGregor, and the then director of employability at the University of East London (and, still, trustee of the Foundation) Femi Bola in 2007.

At the time I was running a small recruitment agency in the Taylor Bennett Group. That company, Unicorn, still exists today and the Foundation started as a small social good programme on the side. Within two years the traineeship we’d devised and ran, initially with Brunswick, took more of my time than Unicorn did and we hired someone else to run Unicorn so that I could develop the training in more depth.

My responsibility was to support the trainees who came through the programme with their aim to be as employable as possible in the world of communications, without stripping them of their individuality and ethnic identity.

In 2013 we became a charity and in at the end of 2016 I stepped up into the CEO role when the previous executive director moved on. My focus switched from developing the programme and teaching the trainees, to the sustainability and growth of the organisation.

It was a massive learning curve and I knew I would have knowledge gaps so at the same time as taking the new job, I also started an MSc in Charity Marketing and Fundraising at Cass Business School – which I will finish next month.

I took the CEO position with several goals in mind:

  • To double the amount of people we support into the industry each year. This year we have quadrupled the previous numbers with the launch of the really brilliant Summer Stars scheme.
  • To raise the profile of the Foundation. I have lost count of the meetings, breakfasts, lunches, dinners, parties, and awards I have been to in the past two years. I have written endlessly to people in the industry to urge them to work with us, and I have enjoyed every minute of it.
  • To forge stronger relationships with organisations in the industry. In the past two years we’ve been the PRCA’s charity of the year, we’re partnering with the Media Trust to host a joint alumni event later this year and a number of industry professionals (including Matt Cross of Hotwire and John Brown of Don’t Cry Wolf – please give generously to their fundraising pages) are running the Royal Park Half Marathon on the Foundation’s behalf in October.
  • To make the organisation financially sustainable. Most of the Foundation’s funding comes from the industry in the guise of sponsorship. The traineeships are expensive to run as all the trainees are paid and receive a travel allowance and there is the cost of the trainers, back office, IT, marketing, staff and so on and so on. We’ve had to be very creative about cutting costs and raising funds and we are in the best financial position we’ve been in in a decade.
  • To secure long-term office space. We’ve moved 8 times in the past 4 years. In September we move into an office space with a 12 month lease, with potential to extend it and very importantly, it’s within our very limited budget. This is hugely important to give the staff some stability.
  • To build stronger links with our alumni. We established a shadow board, led by alumnus Kuldeep Mehmi, and have held several alumni events to support them in their ongoing PR careers.
  • To strengthen our board with new trustees and, as it turned out, a new Chair and Vice-Chair.

We have achieved all of those things, and more, so the time is right to leave the charity and hand it on to someone who will take the strong position it is in and push it further into growth.

There is more to be done. I would love to see more work around outreach at universities and schools, a more formal relationship with our alumni and supporting them further as they progress in their careers, expansion of the Summer Stars scheme and further expansion out of London – we launched in Edinburgh for the first time this year. I would love the industry to really get on board and take ownership of the diversity issue and put its money where its mouth is – things do not change over night and the Foundation is doing fabulous work with amazing young people but that all costs actual cash. This is challenging and exciting work for whoever my successor will be.

Over 200 organisations have supported the Foundation in the past decade. I can’t tell you how many individuals but my guess would be in the thousands.

194 graduates will have been through the Foundation’s 31 traineeship programmes by the time I leave in October. 97% of alumni are employed and over 60% work in PR and communications. Over 600 graduates have benefited from coming to our recruitment assessment days and received very detailed feedback which we hope will help them with their job searches. (nb: We are recruiting right now for the autumn programme in London, please spread the word to BAME grads!)

A further 50+ have been through our mentoring programme since the end of 2016, and 34 took part in this year’s Summer Stars PR lectures and work placement programme.

I am so proud of all our alumni and feel so much joy each time I get an email saying one of them has been promoted, or got a new job. They are fabulous ambassadors for the Foundation.

After over a decade it was a terribly hard and emotionally challenging decision to leave, but it is the right time to explore some new opportunities and I have a number of exciting projects to announce later this year.

I have learned so much in the last eleven years. In that time I have had some very difficult conversations with some very challenging people and have left the room, or put down the phone, and sworn and/or cried. I have counselled alumni through personal tragedies and difficult career decisions, and seen them get married, have families, and flourish in their chosen career paths. I have learned not only how to manage our staff, but how to manage trustees (which is an art and other Charity CEOs will tell you it is one of their biggest challenges but the Foundation is very lucky to have an incredibly supportive board). I became a charity trustee myself at ELATT to learn from their CEO and to see what pressures are put on boards so I could understand the trustee experience better.

I also did other things to expand my horizons and broaden my skillset. I continued this blog and set up PRcareers.co.uk, I wrote a book (SO hard), I had two children (not as hard as writing a book – but good for brushing up on organisational skills), and won a diversity award.

Like everyone, I have made mistakes and, I hope, learned from them. I have admitted my weaknesses and earlier this year I took on an executive coach in order to reflect more deeply on what I am really good at and what I could do with improving on. It can be painful to examine your faults and uncomfortable to acknowledge what you excel at, but it was hugely liberating too.

I am enormously proud of everything we have achieved and have been very lucky to have worked with some wonderful, dedicated people who go above and beyond every single day. It has been a huge team effort of the staff, trustees, our partners at Taylor Bennett and the sponsoring agencies, and all our supporters. I have also developed my strengths and my new ventures will take full advantage of those – more of those projects in the autumn.

I have had overwhelming support both personally and for the Foundation itself from so many people. I started writing a list but there are so many I can’t possibly name them all and I would be bound to forget someone unintentionally so please know that if you have ever given time or money to the Foundation, or your guidance and support to me, I am endlessly grateful for it.

Thank you.

I am so, so sad to be leaving the Foundation. Dear PR Industry – please look after it.

 

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Opening the door can have a huge impact

My dad died two years ago at the age of 65. He could be a difficult man and I often see some of his not so pleasant traits in me – pig headedness, competitiveness, and a need to be in control. But he could also be kind, generous, and mischievous.

He was wired that way for good reason. As a toddler he had polio (anti-vaxxers, stay away because I will not entertain your rubbish – a vaccine would have improved his life – and lengthened it – immeasurably). As a result, his right leg didn’t work, he wore a calliper and in the final years of his life was confined to a wheelchair permanently. He knew that the odds were stacked against him and when that happens being pig headed is an asset.

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6 ways to work with the Taylor Bennett Foundation

If you’re an employer in comms and PR, either agency side or in-house, it’s likely that diversity is up there on your corporate agenda.

I’ve written before on different initiatives which can help you tackle diversity issues in your organisation and thought now might be a good time to highlight all the ways you could get involved specifically with the Taylor Bennett Foundation.

The Taylor Bennett Foundation was established in 2007 to improve access to the PR industry for young people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds (BAME). We do this through an award-winning ten week traineeship programme, mentoring, and summer internship placements. Over 150 PR employers support these programmes by donating, hosting visits, offering mentors, and offering work placements.

Sponsoring a programme
Each year we run a number of 10 week PR traineeship programmes for BAME graduates. 97% of our alumni are employed and over 60% work in communications. These programmes are a large commitment for the sponsors which previously include Brunswick, Finsbury, FTI Consulting, Talk PR, Edelman, MHP, The Red Consultancy, Charlotte Street Partners, and Standard Life Aberdeen.
If you would like to discuss sponsoring one of these programmes email sarah@taylorbennettfoundation.org

There are also a number of other ways to get involved:

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Taylor Bennett Foundation appeals to PR community

TBF TraineesThe Taylor Bennett Foundation has been around since 2007, and is widely regarded as being at the forefront of taking action on the lack of ethnic diversity in the PR industry – in other words, we get results.

In the world of non-profits we’re considered a small charity, with an annual turnover of less than £300,000 a year. Much of our funding comes from our generous PR agency sponsors but that only covers about half the cost of running the organisation, our training and mentoring programmes, and supporting our alumni. We have to fundraise for the rest. To expand our programmes and increase the number of young people we help, we have to fundraise even more.

So when Stephen Waddington offered to brainstorm ideas for fundraising in his influencer session at #PRFest, my colleague Anne jumped at the chance to ask if the Foundation could be the focus of that work.

As you’d expect with a room full of creative comms people, lots of ideas came out of that session. Some we have used successfully in the past, some we have previously discarded as non runners, but one idea in particular struck us as something we’d not yet had a bash at and so, we’re giving it a go.

The Taylor Bennett Foundation 10th Anniversary Fundraising Appeal was born.

We’re aiming to raise £50,000 by the end of the year with our Just Giving campaign which will enable us to continue to run four training programmes next year, expand beyond London and launch a profile raising campaign in BAME communities to promote PR as a viable career choice.

Everyone I talk to about the Foundation tells me what great work we do, that the industry needs us, that the graduates need us and that we are making a difference not only to the diversity in communications, but importantly offering opportunities to young people who would otherwise not have access to PR as a career.

We have honed our programmes so that they get fantastic results. Over 70% of our alumni work in communications. Over 700 graduates have attended our assessment days and had detailed feedback to help with their job searches.

We have the skills, knowledge, passion and experience to deliver brilliant teaching, mentoring and work experience to BAME graduates, but none of it is possible without the funding.

So we are asking you, the PR industry, to demonstrate your commitment to improving diversity in the industry by digging deep and giving to our fundraising appeal. Your donation will make a real difference to a young person’s life.

Thank you.

You can donate to the Taylor Bennett 10th Anniversary Fundraising Appeal here.

This blog has also been published on #PRfest

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UnAwards 2016 – what next?

A couple of weeks ago I went to Birmingham for the first time ever to attend the Comms2Point0 UnAwards 2016.

UnAwards are not like the usual glitzy Grosvenor House affairs.  This was much more casual – held in a cinema with sweets to watch a movie with. It was a pretty full house and it was really clear to see that the comms industry is thriving with some really interesting and innovative campaigns being show cased.

To top it all off, I won the 2016 award for diversity, sponsored by the NUJ. Continue reading

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6 habits of highly successful PRs

6 habits of highly successful PRsI’m currently mid-way through delivering the current Taylor Bennett Foundation programme. We’re also about to publish our impact report, which spells out in stark figures the outcomes we’ve achieved over the past nine years including this astonishing statistic: 93% of our alumni are employed – 81% of which are working in PR & communications. That’s pretty good going.

 

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