In our Headliners series of conversations, we get under the skin of PR and communications leaders around the world who have made PRovoke Media headlines recently, uncovering what they see as the greatest challenges and opportunities for the industry, where they find inspiration (and how they switch off), what they’ve learned about themselves, as well as the creative campaigns they love and the work they are most proud of.

In this week's Q&A, we talk to Dan Smith, who has been at Headland Consultancy for more than 11 years and was named as managing director earlier this year. Last week, Smith launched the agency's 'Collaborative Corporate' research and approach. 

What are the greatest challenges and opportunities for the PR and communications industry over the next 12 months?
Everything feels fragile at the moment. The climate, the economy, geo-political tensions, the quality of public discourse. The next 12 months will require PR professionals to put faith in the power of communications to support long-term, optimistic thinking. Finding time to do that whilst so many businesses feel under pressure will be difficult, but potentially hugely rewarding.

What is the best PR campaign you’ve seen recently and why?
I love football, and (biasedly) believe football clubs can connect with people in a way that no other type of organisation can. The recent mental health campaign by Norwich City FC was brilliant and incisive in its simplicity.

What work from your team are you most proud of over the past year?
I will no doubt sound like a proud dad, but Headland has done a range of brilliant work in the past year across financial, corporate and sustainability comms, public affairs, brand campaigning and strategy and insight work. Some highlights include putting ‘Votes at 16’ on the agenda with the Body Shop, TikTok’s Eurovision takeover, the launch of KFC’s employment accessibility scheme, Hatch, through to getting the UK’s retail banking industry to follow TSB’s lead in guaranteeing victims of fraud are fully refunded.

What have you learned about yourself over the past couple of years?
Cynicism has limits. Which is a shame.

How do you switch off and maintain wellness?
Running my son’s under 10s football team. People talk about the need to be “in the moment”. You genuinely have no choice but to be utterly present when you’re trying to teach and entertain a bunch of enthusiastic nine-year-olds who are living for their Sunday football match. It’s good for the soul.

What cultural source (eg book/podcast/movie/TV show/music artist) has provided creative inspiration for you lately?
I binged The Kominsky Method on Netflix while suffering from a recent bout of covid. It may have been my virus state of mind, but it was a lovely and subtle reflection on what matters in life. In healthier times, I have a strict media diet of 6 Music and The Economist, topped up with bedtime reading of pop-psychology/business/politics/sociology books.

If I weren’t working in PR/comms I would be…
In another job existentially threatened by AI.