In May, we launched our attempt to identify the top 50 in-house communicators in the North.
Today and tomorrow we publish the results of the research process that followed, the first known guide to the most senior PR and comms representatives working for our region’s leading brands and organisations.
The Prolific North Top 50 In-house Communicators 2015 has been sponsored by Havas Media Group.
Our research process involved a broad consideration of a number of factors including company size and market presence as well as each individual’s experience, area of responsibility and achievements.
A requirement for inclusion was that each individual had to be based in a Northern office, or to at least spend the majority of their time based in the North.
Early on, we also decided that due to the number and quality of contenders for the list, we would include a maximum of one person per company.
See the full list below:
The Prolific North Top 50 In-house Communicators
Arla UK broke through the £2bn revenue barrier last year and employs 1,000 people at sites across Yorkshire, around 500 of whom are based at its head office, dairy and national distribution centre in Stourton, near Leeds.
Attenborough has led comms since 2013 having spent three years in a similar role at Premier Foods. For the majority of her career she has worked on either a consultant or interm in-house basis, during which time she has headed corporate comms for SABMiller, led comms at Siemens and been global PR manager for Hilton Hotels. Demonstrating her versatility, she’s also held permanent senior comms roles at Mondi, M&S and the Financial Times.
One of several poachers turned gamekeepers on our list, Bailey made his name as a journalist at the BBC, rising from reporter to editor of its Economics and Business Centre, where he led a team of journalists producing programmes including 5 live’s Wake up to Money and the Today programme on Radio 4.
He left in 2008 to join global agency Kreab Gavin Anderson, before moving to Bradford-headquartered Morrisons in 2011. His time at the supermarket has coincided with the mainstream emergence of the likes of Aldi and Lidl – contributing to a reduction in Morrisons’ market share from 11.7% to 10.9% over the past four years – but new CEO David Potts appears to be stemming the tide.
Black joined the club as head of internal comms in 2011, but took on the external brief on an interim basis when Liverpool’s previous director of comms, Jen Chang, left Anfield by mutual consent in late 2012 after a disastrous six-month spell in the job. She was confirmed in her current role in April 2013, just three days before Luis Suarez decided to sink his teeth into Branislav Ivanović during a match against Chelsea, thereby triggering one of the more memorable, and protracted, comms crises to face a football club in recent times. We trust Black had nothing to do with the team’s decision to wear Luis Suarez t-shirts soon after…
Born and educated in Scotland, Black previously held senior corporate comms and PR roles at WYG plc, NTL (now Virgin Media) and Scottish Enterprise.
Brown, whose role also has responsibility for marketing, leads a central team of around 20 at the £48million Palatine Centre, where most of the university’s services have been based since 2012. Among his key responsibilities are new media strategy and implementation, corporate publications and corporate affairs.
Prior to joining the university in 2006, he worked for agencies in the North East and London, something of a career shift after a first degree in medical microbiology. Outside the office, he’s a business mentor for the Prince’s Trust and a member of the Institute of Advanced Drivers.
It’s been a challenging couple of years for the Co-op’s communications department, with a veritable blizzard of negative publicity accompanying its near collapse in 2013, not to mention the tabloid saga of the Co-op Bank’s former chairman, Rev Paul Flowers (a group of investors subsequently injected almost £1bn into the bank in return for a 70% stake, meaning the Co-op Group no longer has a controlling stake).
The fall-out from that period has triggered significant structural changes across the group, and in February that included an overhaul of the PR department. Out went Nick Folland, and in came Church, who had spent the previous four years in Melbourne heading comms for Coles, Australia’s second largest supermarket chain. He also spent a decade as Tesco’s media director and even enjoyed three years at Her Majesty’s Pleasure, running media relations for the Prison Service.
As well as familiarising himself with all 27 people in the Co-op’s Manchester-based team, Church led an intensive comms campaign in May to encourage members and staff to vote in the group’s ‘One Member One Vote’ AGM, the first time all 2.9 million eligible members had been allowed a say in how the mutual was run.
Craig always harboured an ambition to be a journalist, chalking up work experience at the Tameside Advertiser and BBC Radio Manchester and studying journalism at the University of Central Lancashire. But after qualifying, with two jobs on the table, he turned down a reporting role on a trade magazine and instead took up the more lucrative offer of a press officer role at Tesco. It’s proven to be a good decision.
His reputation was firmly established at Manchester Airports Group, where he was head of external comms for almost a decade. His unflappability in a crisis was particularly useful during the ash cloud crisis of 2010, when an erupting Icelandic volcano caused a virtual shutdown of airspace across Europe. At one point Craig spent 33 hours in the office without sleep.
His return to the world of supermarket PR came in 2013, when Asda took him across the Pennines to lead its comms. He now leads a 15-strong team across Asda and George, based both in Leeds and in Lutterworth in Leicestershire. “More than any other company I’ve worked for the communications department is at the centre of everything the business does,” says Craig.
MediaCityUK must represent something of an oasis of calm for Davies after the rollercoaster of two years spent in charge of publicity for The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent… although given the breadth of her remit at the BBC now, she would probably disagree.
Her areas of responsibility now include Sport, English Regions, Children’s, 5 live, the BBC Academy, Learning and Religion & Ethics, as well as BBC North, BBC Birmingham and BBC Bristol, and she leads a team of 20 across those three bases. Although she spends a considerable amount of her time at other BBC sites – she’s a member of the England, North, Birmingham and Bristol senior management teams, working closely with Peter Salmon – she is usually based in Salford for three days a week.
Before her two years alongside Simon Cowell, Wolverhampton-born Davies held a host of other BBC jobs, including head of comms for Radio 1.
Cheshire-based Pets at Home continues to go from strength to strength, with turnover hitting £665million last year and the number of stores now approaching 400.
Dowling, a keen skiier who worked as a ski rep in the French Alps during his gap year, leads a comms team of 31.
Charlie Du Pre
Formerly a semi-professional rugby player with spells at Leeds, Harrogate and Preston Grasshoppers, Du Pre heads a three-man team at B&M’s Liverpool base. The discount retailer is rapidly becoming a major player, employing 16,000 staff and growing sales by 30% to £1.65bn in its most recent accounts.
Du Pre’s team has a hefty remit, responsible for all PR and internal comms as well as marketing (including POS and store signage). Much of the team’s PR activity surrounds new stores, with 35 opened this year already (including its 450th, in Devon, last month) and its expansion programme is to be accelerated over the next year.
Named as the CIPR’s Young Professional of the Year in 2003, Edwards has held three of the top council comms jobs in Yorkshire. Starting at Yorkshire Bank, she led comms at the City of York Council for three years before taking a similar role at Leeds City Council. She left to take her current role – covering England’s largest county – in 2008.
Once again, communicating the realities of austerity has been high up the comms team’s agenda, with cuts from council services amounting to £73m to be found over the next four years, on top of savings of £94m that had to be implemented by March this year.
A trained economist with 20 years’ experience in corporate affairs, Elliott is responsible for employee and external comms including media, sustainability, government relations and public policy. Leading a team of five (plus agency support) from MBNA’s Chester HQ, Elliott is also a member of the company’s leadership team.
Elliott’s team has recently been involved in publicising MBNA’s take-up of Apple Pay, making it the first financial company with a Northern base to do so. The team managed to secure a mention in 90% of the service’s launch coverage.
Prior to MBNA, Elliott held a raft of senior comms roles at the likes of Lloyds Bank, BP, RBS, Standard Life and Levi Strauss & Co, as well as the unenviable task of handling media relations during HBOS’s bail-out in the 2008 financial crash.
When not out on his bike, the father of three dabbles in languages – French, German, Russian, Dutch, Chinese and Spanish, to name but six.
Evans joined her former client to head up its PR, communications and content marketing team just as it was listing on the stock market with a debut valuation of £1.2bn. She’d previously headed the Manchester office of Beattie Communications, single-handedly winning the PR account for Shepherd Group in what was then the office’s biggest account win in six years.
Previously, she held in-house PR/comms roles at Shop Direct Group and Bentley Motors after over 10 years on the agency side with the likes of SKV, Staniforth and SASS Brand Communications.
Fellows started her PR career with roles at Lonely Planet and TUI Travel before moving to Asda, where she stayed for nine years. She went on to Kellogg’s, where she managed PR and communications across Europe and was a member of its UK Board.
But working for Bettys had remained an ambition ever since she used to sit in the famous cafes as a child in North Yorkshire, and in 2013, her wish was granted. She leads a team of eight across the Bettys, Taylors and Group parts of the business, with the ongoing sustainability debate faced by any food manufacturer today requiring regular comms involvement.
Aside from Bettys, her other passion is baking bread, with her sourdough starter nearly as old as her daughter and, she says, almost as precious!
A native Mancunian now living in Salford, Ferns served as president of the students’ union at Lancaster before staying on to work in overseas student welfare and recruitment. He went on to the University of Salford before joining the Victoria University of Manchester in 1985, and has worked in media relations, corporate promotions and marketing at the university ever since.
Appointed head of PR in 2001, he led the communications and branding project when the Victoria University of Manchester merged with UMIST in 2004, when he also took on his current role. He leads a team of 25.
Ford will be familiar to any journalist who has ever worked on a Manchester crime story – before joining First Transpennine Express in January, she’d headed up the press office at GMP since 2009, and was a part of its comms team for 13 years in all. She now leads a team of four at the Manchester city centre-based train operator, with the persistent threat of industrial action giving the team plenty to occupy it in terms of planning and management.
Outside the office, Ford is a regular at Sale Water Park’s fitness bootcamp classes.
Fox has worked in comms for a variety of public, private and not-for-profit organisations, most recently as director of policy and communications at Ombudsman Services and before that as director of corporate affairs at the Information Commissioner’s Office. The Regenda Group, where she has led comms since 2013, is a not-for-profit housing group with around 12,000 properties across the North West, assets of £474m and a turnover of £53m.
Despite a very small comms budget of £284k – three quarters of which is the staffing budget – she’s successfully delivered a major rebrand and has put in place a radically different comms strategy.
An expert on data protection and how Freedom of Information has influenced PR, she recently wrote a chapter on the latter for a CIPR book, Chartered Public Relations.
The most senior comms person at the council was up until recently Sara Tomkins, the assistant chief executive (ACE) of communications and customer services. However, following a review of the comms team, that role – established in 2010 to bring all of the council’s communications under the leadership of one person – will no longer exist, with Tomkins leaving. A new head of strategic communications post will be established in its place.
It’s perhaps no surprise that the council is having to review its operations – a Freedom of Information request by Press Gazette earlier this year discovered that at 77, it had by far the most number of comms staff of any council across the UK.
Those staff are divided into two divisions ‘Content and Strategy’ and ‘Operations and Commercial’. Green leads the former division, having worked in various mostly comms roles for the council since 2006.
Despite the tough trading environment that has affected some of its supermarket rivals, Iceland has fared well, growing sales by 3% in 2014 to £2.7bn. The retailer’s two-person PR team is led by Hughes from the company’s headquarters on Deeside Industrial Park in Flintshire, with much activity surrounding its buoyant expansion programme, with 43 new stores opened last year alone.
Jackson has been at the Yorkshire – the second largest building society in the world, with assets exceeding £35billion – for over 30 years, starting as an insurance clerk before taking on a media relations brief in the late 90s and then moving into her present role in 2007.
Sarah Dean Kelly
The Health and Safety Executive’s Communications Directorate comprises a whopping 50 people: editors, a digital team, designers, press office and internal and strategic communications. Kelly heads the team, having joined HSE as head of external comms in 2009 before taking on her current role three years ago. She’d previously run the press office at Greater Manchester Police for eight years.
Under Kelly, the Liverpool-based HSE has recently run an award-winning campaign to highlight the issue of tradespeople putting themselves at risk of exposure to asbestos, Britain’s biggest workplace killer. The campaign was launched publically by the minister responsible for health and safety, with tradesman turned footballer Stuart Pearce fronting the PR.
Outside the office, Kelly upholsters footstools from scratch under the name ‘Nellie K’ (inspired by her great-grandmother), making them to order and sourcing material and buttons from all over the world.
Beginning her career in the early 80s as a journalist, the Huddersfield University graduate spent seven years at Manweb before an 11-year stint at Scottish Power, where she led comms in Wales and the North West before becoming UK Government and Community Affairs Director. She’s also worked for the the Central Office of Information.
A restructure triggered her departure from Scottish Power and she joined United Utilities, the UK’s largest listed water company with a head office in Warrington, in 2006.
A lifelong Evertonian, Kenyon joined the Toffees last year when Alan Myers left to join Blackburn Rovers. He had previously worked at the club on a part-time basis as interim director of marketing, and in fact Kenyon’s remit is broader than Myers’ in that it also includes marketing.
Kenyon’s appointment marked a professional return to the sport he worked in for several years direct from university in Leeds, first as a coach within Major League Soccer and then as an executive in charge of development for the UK business of an international sports coaching company.
He joined Kenyon Fraser – the agency his journalist father Roger had set up in 1990 – in 2003, was appointed a director in 2004 and became MD in 2005. He’s also chair of the Chartered Institute of Marketing on Merseyside.
Kloss has had a front-row seat throughout City’s extraordinary transformation over the past 15 years. Joining the club in 2001 – the year City were relegated from the Premiership alongside Coventry and Bradford, while neighbours United won another title – she has survived seven managers and the turbulent Thaksin Shinawatra era, with the club she has supported all her life now indisputably a global player both on and off the pitch.
A Cambridge graduate who initially trained as a detective with the Metropolitan Police, Kloss manages a team of 18, based in Manchester, New York and Melbourne, plus a network of agencies. Aside from the usual rollercoaster ride that comes hand in hand with our national obsession, Kloss’s team has been particularly involved recently with the development of City Football Group, the creation of New York City FC and the acquisition of Melbourne City FC.
MoneySuperMarket’s head of PR is Dan Plant, but he is based at the company’s London office and in any case the day-to-day management of its PR operations falls within the remit of his deputy, Lawler, who took on the role last summer. Previously, he had managed the financial services’ PR team, and has also held roles at Bank of America, the Co-op Bank and NatWest.
A huge non-league football fan, Lawler has recently been appointed chairman of the North West Counties Football League. His involvement with the league began over 25 years ago, when he became the youngest club secretary in the country at the age of just 15.
Lovett is about to chalk up her 15th year at York as part of an 18-strong strategic marketing and digital communications team, based at the stunning Heslington Hall, which rises like a rose amid a sea of concrete Clasp buildings that comprise much of the main 1960s-built campus. Changing both students’ and visitors’ impressions of this “grey and uninviting” campus has been a key concern of the communications department under Lovett’s leadership.
Working with a creative agency, she has led a campaign to bring it to life, installing images, key messages, displays and giant photo cubes around the campus. The result, the department says, has had a dramatic impact on the way students, staff and visitors feel about being at the university. Such creativity is second nature to Lovett though – in her spare time she makes art dolls, one of which (a pirate), has its own Facebook page.
Marsh joined Leeds, the UK’s fifth largest building society with over 700,000 members, in 2013 with a marketing and e-commerce brief and she led its rebrand and website redesign last year. Her current role, which she took on at the start of the year, adds responsibility for the corporate and internal communications agenda.
Over the course of her 25-year career, Marsh has worked on both agency and client side, and led marketing, customer management and digital services during a five-year spell at the Department of Work and Pensions.
McNamara, a former journalist, joined Daisy in 2007 and was promoted to her current role – encompassing all internal and external comms for Daisy and its business units – five years ago. Her time at the Nelson-based company has been an eventful one – she’s been involved in both its flotation on AIM in 2009 and its privatisation earlier this year. The latter involved McNamara’s four-strong comms team taking a “multi-channel and multi-discipline approach”, such as leading the financial advisory team, liaising with key business press and producing video and written communications internally.
Outside the office, McNamara is a former captain of Accrington Stanley Ladies football team.
Readers of a certain age will remember Cheadle-born Newman well from his 18 years on TV, most notably as a sports correspondent for BBC News and a foreign correspondent for TV-am, where he covered the first Gulf War. He had originally trained as a print journalist at Preston Polytechnic and cut his teeth on the Knutsford Guardian and the Cadishead and Irlam Guardian.
His PR career began with a bang in 2000 when he took on the high-profile role of director of communications of The Football Association. He ran the England press office during a particularly turbulent time for English football, not least the resignation of Kevin Keegan, the redevelopment of Wembley and the publicity surrounding Sven-Goran Eriksson’s relationship with Ulrika Jonsson.
He went on to lead comms as a rejuvenated Liverpool made the most of its stint as European Capital of Culture, before taking his current role in 2008. During that time, Peel’s flagship North West media hub, MediaCityUK, has grown to the point where it now hosts over 3,000 BBC staff, as well as the likes of ITV, dock10 and over 200 other businesses. It recently hosted one of the leaders’ debates in the run-up to the general election.
Pearson enjoyed over a decade at MUTV, Manchester United’s television station, before joining Betfred in 2009. The bookmaker is by turnover the biggest company in the North West – £8bn – and employs over 10,000 staff.
Pearson, a former student DJ, leads a team of two at the bookmaker’s head office in Warrington and a satellite office in MediaCityUK. As well as sponsoring this year’s World Snooker Championships in Sheffield, Betfred also provided PR support, filming all press conferences, interviewing players and providing a news and gossip service through its social media channels, not to mention taking care of the needs of a press room of journalists throughout the marathon 17-day tournament.
A recent Freedom of Information request from Press Gazette found that Leeds City Council had the second highest number of comms staff in the country, a total of 47. It found that this included 20 communications officers, 10 communications managers, nine senior communications officers, five communications assistants, two senior communications managers and one head of communications and marketing. The latter position is filled by Reid, who initially joined the council as head of comms in 2007.
Prior to that, she led comms for the Education Leeds authority.
In common with other budget retailers, Nisa has flourished during the recession and now boasts annual sales of over £1.6bn. Rimmer joined the company in 2007 and heads a team of three at its Scunthorpe head office, as well as editing Your Consortium, the in-house magazine distributed to all Nisa’s independent members.
Originally joining as PR and comms manager, Rimmer stepped up to his current role when Becky Campbell left in 2012. High up on his agenda is communicating the community work done by Nisa’s stores, of which there are more than 2,500 across the UK.
After initially working as a journalist on car magazines, Roberts’s career in PR has seen him regularly upgrade his way through some of the most famous motoring brands on earth. Starting with a press officer role at Ford, he went on to hold positions at Nissan, Land Rover and Mercedes-Benz before joining Bentley in 2012. Promoted to his current role in December, he leads a team of 22 internationally at the firm’s Crewe HQ, with regional offices in Germany, the US, China and UAE.
A qualified tennis coach, a particular highlight for Roberts arrived earlier this year at the launch of Bentley’s new concept car, the EXP 10 Speed 6, in Geneva. The team’s comms strategy generated a PR value of over €6.5 million over a seven-day period, making it the most covered car, according to Prime Research media evaluation.
Of the 35,000 people BAE Systems employs in the UK, 11,000 of them are based in Lancashire. Its most senior communications representative in the North is Jon Bonnick, who heads communications for the Military Air & Information business, but Bonnick is only filling the position temporarily while a permanent appointment is made.
Of the permanent staff currently overseeing comms in the North, the most senior is Kate Roberts, who heads up communications for the Vehicle and Munitions businesses. Roberts has just clocked up 14 years at BAE, having previously held a comms role at a printing company in Leeds for 12 years.
Rock is into her 12th year leading the comms team at the University of Liverpool, having previously held a similar role at American oil multinational Halliburton. The university consistently ranks in the Top 30 nationally, something only helped by Liverpool’s resurgence as a city over the past decade.
Rock began her career in the late 80s at the BBC, first as a producer and then a PR manager.
Assuming his current post in January, Rubel’s wide-ranging remit includes responsibility not just for external and internal comms, but also group strategy, customer experience and transformation, the latter giving him the reins over Shop Direct’s £100m+ investment programme. After 10 years in a succession of management roles at Procter & Gamble in Switzerland, he joined Liverpool-based Shop Direct five years ago, initially in a role that covered marketing, advertising and PR.
His corporate comms team at the £1.74bn-turnover business includes 13 members of staff, with separate consumer PR teams looking after the group’s most well-known brands, Very.co.uk and Littlewoods.com.
Rushton spent her early career working for a number of London agencies, latterly MS&L Worldwide where she was a director on the Proctor and Gamble account. She moved north in 2009 to become head of PR for Golley Slater’s Leeds and Newcastle offices.
She moved in-house at £895m-turnover furniture business DFS in 2013, based at its head office in Doncaster, and leads a team of two, with agency support. Recent internal comms activity surrounded the company’s stock market flotation, with the objective to ensure that all employees across over 100 stores, three factories, two wood mills, distribution centres and warehouses knew about the plans and that they had an opportunity to buy shares in the business. The outcome was that DFS employees invested upwards of £850,000 through the Employee Share Offer.
The former Wirral Grammar School pupil started his career across the water as a journalist for Channel One Liverpool, the now defunct local TV station owned by Trinity Mirror. He established himself in PR for the NHS before taking on his present role at Lancashire – the UK’s fourth biggest council and the biggest in the North by population served (1.2m) – in 2010.
Perhaps unsurprisingly given the timing of his start, his first job was one of radical restructuring: indeed, he led a downsizing of the council’s comms staff by more than 50%, with multiple teams replaced by one central service. The team now amounts to 35 in total, but the issue of cuts continues – the council must slash £547m from its spending by 2018, and there’s an ongoing external and internal communications programme to support that plan.
Also high on the council’s comms agenda at the moment is the incendiary issue of fracking, and over 60 media descended on County Hall two weeks ago as councillors met to decide on the planning applications while a large protest assembled outside.
Smith took on his newly created role last month, joining from Paddy Power, where he had been head of external affairs since 2013. Prior to that he worked in politics for 10 years, including a two-year stint as a special adviser at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and four years managing the parliamentary office for the Shadow Culture Secretary.
Smith’s role includes responsibility for all of Leeds-based Sky Bet’s relationships with politicians, regulators and the media.
Stephenson had spells at Scarborough Building Society and Aviva before joining McCain Foods in 2008, initially to set up the company’s internal communications function. She took up her current position, with responsibility for corporate comms for the GB region, in 2013, and leads a four-strong team from McCain’s UK head office in Scarborough.
Given the increased scrutiny on the food industry nowadays, it’s no surprise that much of the comms team’s efforts are focused on stressing the quality of the ingredients that make up McCain’s chips and wedges, and their place in a “healthy, balanced diet”. Stephenson’s daily yoga practice – she’s a qualified yoga and ballet teacher – should mean she stays calm in any crisis though.
Sykes began her First Direct career back in 2006 as a graduate trainee, seeing through a number of placements within different areas of the company, including leading an eight-person call centre team. Her first communications role came in 2008, and she was promoted to her current role two years ago, responsible for media relations and internal comms.
The Leeds-based bank’s comms team has quite a reputation to preserve – a recent survey by research firm Nunwood saw First Direct overtake John Lewis to be named top in a customer service survey of 260 brands.
Oldham-born Townsend took up the post in 2004 when Paddy Harverson left to become the Prince of Wales’ communications director. His previous role, press secretary to the then Minister for Sport, Richard Caborn, had already given him experience of handling major sports issues, but surely nothing on the scale that such a role at United now brings. Last month, United confirmed its position as the biggest brand in world football, becoming the first club to pass the $1billion mark in terms of brand value.
The death of much-loved Coronation Street star Anne Kirkbride earlier this year illustrated well how Troup and her team are called upon to assist with much more than simply programme publicity. From announcing the death to seeking privacy for her funeral to helping organise the media coverage of the public memorial, Troup was at the forefront of a story that had captured the media’s attention.
Taking on her current role seven years ago, Troup manages a team of 11 in the North (seven in Salford, four in Leeds) and five down on the South Bank in London. She splits her time between all three locations. Prior to joining ITV, Troup worked in newspapers in the Warringon area and was the first PR manager of Brookside.
A council ‘lifer’, Turnbull has been with Cumbria’s comms team since 1992, with overall management responsibility since 2010. In common with other councils, her team’s job has almost exclusively focused on “communicating the need for change to staff and residents”. That change is of course the devastating cost of austerity: in Cumbria’s case, that has amounted to a total of £153m in cuts so far, rising to over £200m over the next three years. The comms team itself hasn’t escaped: a consultation process is almost complete on a restructure that has seen numbers reduced from 25 to 12.
A total of 96 million journeys are made on Northern Rail services each year, and it’s the job of Watson’s 10-strong team in York to manage the communications fall-out: media relations, social media and customer comms, as well as internal comms for 5,000 staff.
Joining Northern Rail in 2006, Watson took on her current role four years ago. The comms team tends to come to the fore in times of bad (train strikes, for instance) and good, such as high-profile events like the Tour de France Grand Depart last year, Tour de Yorkshire this year and the Three Queens celebration in Liverpool. Its work for the Tour de France included installing over 100 volunteers on stations as ambassadors.
Watson joined the company last year in a new role created by CEO Angela Spindler as part of a strategy to improve the profile of the group’s brands, which include Jacamo, Simply Be and Gray & Osbourn. Working out of its Manchester office, Watson oversees all communications for the £835m-turnover group, which includes a five-strong press office.
Watson has two decades’ of experience in retail PR, most recently as director of PR at Debenhams, where he was credited with pushing the department store’s use of more diverse models and the banning of retouching to alter models’ body shapes. Prior to that he spent nine years as head of PR at Asda, where he oversaw the launch communication of the brand around the globe in Wal-Mart territories.
A former account manager at what was IAS b2b Marketing in Manchester, Wheble has headed up the M&S Bank press office since 2011 and this year her remit was extended to include internal comms. She leads a team of four at the bank’s head office in Chester.
An accomplished horse rider who has competed in advanced level dressage, Wheble has needed a steady hand during a busy period for the comms team. First came the rebrand from M&S Money in 2012, and a similarly substantial communications effort was needed when the bank launched its first mainstream current account last year, as well as its first savings account in March.
A career in journalism appeared to beckon for Wheeler after he edited the student newspaper at the University of Manchester, but he moved straight into PR and spent his early career agency-side with the likes of Weber Shandwick and Harrison Cowley.
After a year at MyTravel, he joined Kellogg’s in 2008 and has risen through the ranks to his current role, which gives him overall responsibility for all external and internal comms, brand PR, CSR and government relations in the UK and Ireland. Operating out of the cereal giant’s UK HQ in Old Trafford, Wheeler leads a team of six.
Williams joined Think Money, the Manchester-based financial services provider, five years ago and took on his current role in 2013. He’s worked on both agency and client side in the sector for over 25 years, having initially started at the Nationwide Building Society. He went on to be a co-owning partner and joint MD of Lansons Communications, advising clients including PayPal, Saga and MoneySuperMarket.com. The latter lured him as director of comms in 2008, where he stayed before a move to his current employer.
Think Money, now a £75million turnover business with around 800 staff, is based at purpose-built offices in Trafford Park with an on-site gym and Starbucks.
One of the UK’s leading providers of social housing, the Riverside Group broke through the £300m turnover barrier last year with assets now totalling £1.8bn. Based at its main base in Speke, Woodcock manages the five-strong corporate comms team and oversees all the PR functions for the company. Current issues involving the team are welfare reform, anti-social behaviour and transparency.
Once the first woman waterway manager employed by British Waterways, Woodcock spent eight years at Chester Council as comms manager before joining Riverside in 2009.
Read more: The Prolific Northerners Top 100