Meet the team

Meet the Berkeley team: UK MD Lynsey Barry talks leading the PR agency through Covid

Written by Claire Slobodian

2 September 2020

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Meet the Berkeley team in our new regular blog series. Every month, we’ll be interviewing a new team, or team member about their background, their work at Berkeley and their thoughts on the wider PR industry. This month, we’re starting by introducing Berkeley Communications’ UK Managing Director, Lynsey Barry.

Lynsey was appointed Managing Director in February 2020, moving from her role as Operations Director to take the helm just before the lockdown period kicked in. Find out how she built up the agency culture during the pandemic, her proudest moment in PR, and how she feels Covid may have changed the PR industry for the better.

Tell us about your PR background

My first PR job was as a police press officer in Hertfordshire. It was a great start to my career and gave me the love of crisis comms that I still have today. I then spent a year as a communications manager at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust before moving into agency life about 12 years ago.

I came into the agency world in quite an untraditional way, having spent eight years working in house first. I wasn’t sure if agency life would be for me, but from the moment I stepped through the doors of my first agency I’ve never looked back.

I love the fast pace, the variation of clients and working across lots of different sectors. I’ve been lucky enough to work on everything from consumer retail to cloud migration with a bit of beauty thrown in for good measure.

What’s been your proudest moment in PR?

There’s been lots of proud moments, but getting a Chief Constable’s commendation for my work on the Buncefield Oil Depot explosion has to be up there. It happened just after the London 7/7 terror attacks and the adrenalin was racing as we tried to work out what caused it.

Thankfully it was a freak accident, and no one was hurt, but I will never forget walking into the press office and all of the 15 phones ringing simultaneously with enquiries from media from all over the world. It took multi-tasking to a whole new level.

What three qualities do you think make a great communicator?

Being a good listener, knowing your audience and being able to translate what someone says into what they mean – it’s an artform!

What’s been your favourite PR campaign this year?

I feel almost disloyal saying this, as McDonald’s continues to be one of my favourite ever clients, but KFC has really nailed the memorable PR campaigns over the last few months. Dropping the ‘finger-licking good’ slogan rode the tricky line of making a serious thing funny and doing it well.

Image: KFC/Mother

You’ve been appointed MD in Berkeley’s 32nd year. How has the agency grown in that time and how do you see it expanding under your leadership?

Berkeley Communications is one of the longest-running independent agencies in the business, and its longevity is down to adapting to the ever-changing communications landscape. Storytelling is a huge part of the agency’s success story, and I intend to take that to the next level.

We are also building out our content and digital marketing offering – coupled with our storytelling approach, it is an exciting area of growth for us.

This has been a challenging year for all industries. What did you find the biggest challenge for the PR agency during the pandemic?

In some ways PR has been needed more than ever throughout the pandemic and compared to other disciplines we have been lucky. But the uncertainty has been hard to navigate.

I am a planner and while change is always good, the sheer speed that the world transformed has left the whole industry a bit bruised and battered. Especially when it comes to the stability of retainers and being able to hire.

Do you think there are any ways that this year has changed the PR industry for the better?

I think it’s put PR on the map again and re-cemented its place as a key part of the marketing mix. When lots of companies had to pull ads or marketing spend, media relations and social media became the top channels for them to talk to their audiences through.

Our industry has gone through a bit of an identity crisis over the last few years with the onset of new disciplines but I think post-Covid we will see companies really focusing on content that can be used across all channels – and that’s where PR really comes into its own.

How have you managed to build a company culture while working from home?

The way the agency has adapted to working from home has been one of the best surprises of lockdown. If someone had told me pre-Covid we would take 40 people who almost solely worked in the office and got them all working from home in the space of a week I would have laughed. But that is exactly what happened.

As with most companies, we have tried lots of different things to recreate the office culture virtually from afternoon tea breaks, to easter egg gift vouchers. But the most effective thing has been the simplest – trusting the team to work in the way that suits them and giving them the autonomy to flex work around their family and home life.

Many clients have told me that they have seen no change in productivity over the last few months and I am so proud of the team for that.

How do you see PR changing in the next five years?

If the last few months has taught me anything it’s that it’s hard to predict a week ahead, never mind five years. One thing I do know for certain is that the industry will continue to evolve and reinvent itself.

No matter how the channels change, the one thing that will stay constant is that content is king. A good story will get you everywhere.

And finally, who’s your favourite storyteller?

I would have to say Roald Dahl. I loved him as a kid and have great memories of my Granddad reading George’s Marvellous Medicine, Danny the Champion of the World and The Twits to me and my sister. The best thing is that my six-year-old niece is now discovering him too and the stories still resonate over 30 years later. That’s the sign of a great storyteller.

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