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North West Business Desk, Women in Business – a talk with Vanda Murray

As Operations Director one of my core job roles is developing and leading the implementation of Refresh’s professional development and training programmes. The great irony of this is that, in taking care of everyone else’s development and networking needs, my own can sometimes be overlooked.


This is something I vowed to ensure didn’t continue during 2019 and as such I recently spent an afternoon at the Hilton’s Cloud 23 bar in central Manchester for a talk with Vanda Murray as part of a Women in Business event hosted by the North West Business Desk.


With over 20 years of senior management experience across a range of B2B and B2C sectors in the UK, Europe, USA and Asia, Vanda now holds a wide range of non-executive directorships including Manchester Airports Group, Bunzl, Redrow and Fenner. She is also chair of governors at Manchester Metropolitan University.


It was fascinating to gain an insight into her experiences as a leader, as well as her views and visions for the future. Here’s what I took away from the talk.


Always play to your strengths

Ever since coming across Zenger Folkman’s The Extraordinary Leader over a decade ago, I have been passionate about the philosophy and approach that if you do what you are good at and what you love, you will be happier and fulfil your potential.


Here at Refresh, we’ve identified the fundamental competencies to be a competent PR professional and have created the Refresh Academy which equips our people with these core skills.


However, we recognise that the difference between being good and being great lies in identifying, building and utilising an individual’s unique strengths. This is why it was a breath of fresh air to hear Vanda highlight the importance of regularly taking a skills audit.


By doing so, we identify strengths that can be developed and refined to become specialisms, and also areas that require more work. Each of our team has different strengths across many different areas, which enables us to weave these in with one another in order to create a well-rounded agency that covers all bases of PR.


I’ve been with Refresh for three years and over this time have worked hard to achieve what we have today – a highly competent, high performing team full of different personalities playing to their strengths. Through helping people realise their potential and work to the best of their abilities we have created a great place to work.


The 4th revolution – be ready for it

It was no surprise that technological disruption and its impact on business remained a focal point throughout Vanda’s talk. Ultimately, every decision we make at Refresh comes back to how technology will impact our business and how we can remain responsive and flexible during a period of rapid change.


Vanda cleverly incorporated autonomous vehicles (AVs) into her talk to highlight why being proactive and flexible is so important for businesses of today. With car production forecast to decline by 70% over the next 20 years, AVs will last one million miles, and are expected to reduce fatal accidents by 90%, saving 400,000 lives each decade and $190bn a year in healthcare costs.


But as one problem is being solved, a second is being created. A reduction in road traffic fatalities will lead to a reduction in organ donation as vehicle deaths account for roughly 20% of all organ transplants.  But where there are problems, there is opportunity, and in Silicon Valley they are working on technology to 3D print human organs.


Vanda stressed that, like Silicon Valley, businesses need to be removing the fear of the future and getting ready to change. In the past week alone Refresh has received five new briefs, and for each one the team has come up with new and innovative ways to approach them, using much more than just traditional PR to deliver results for our clients. These efforts have been rewarded as of late, with our clients saying we are the most creative PR agency they have worked with.


By seeing problems as new opportunities to innovate and provide new solutions, businesses and their employees can be acting now to ensure they have the skills required for the future. Teams must be agile, creative and work collaboratively to drive innovation, change and growth.


The future of PR

Both listening to Vanda, and reflecting back on the talk since, my mind kept coming back to how everything she said could be taken back and applied to Refresh. This can be seen most clearly in two instances. First and foremost, as businesses become increasingly competitive, they will have to be more creative, bigger and bolder in their approach to stand out from the crowd. As such PR will play an increasingly important role in the marketing mix, bringing brands to life and ensuring they rise above the chitter chatter of the market with a clear voice.


Second, and perhaps more importantly, PR is well placed to come through these revolutionary times (in terms of how businesses operate and the technology that we use) ultimately being viewed as even more valuable than it is already. Much of the focus of Vanda’s talk was about the need for businesses to be creative, innovative and collaborative – all skills and attributes that come naturally to PR professionals. If the opportunity is taken PR as a sector will be able to not just shape the marketing and communications of businesses but also take our core skills and help drive forward other areas of the business as strategic consultants.  


As I continue to develop the Refresh Learning and Development framework I will be ensuring that these core skills sit at the heart of it, from our Graduate programme up to our Executive Development programme. And in doing so I will be confident that Refresh PR is ready to seize new opportunities and that any Refresh team member is fully prepared to work in a world that will be crying out for their expertise.






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