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 speak to former Uncommon managing partner Rowena Vithlani, who has joined Manifest as its new UK managing director. 

What are the greatest challenges and opportunities for the PR and communications industry over the next 12 months?

I’m not going to talk about AI and emerging tech, although I see that as leverage for the creative industry to get paid for high-value strategy and ideation. The greatest challenge over the next year is rooted in how we can build creative businesses that are scalable and profitable at a time when marketing budgets are under the most scrutiny, clients need more bang for their buck, there’s political and economic instability and many clients are forced to look for short term ROI over brand building due to commercial pressures. With the added impact of major elections this year, we’ll need to be adaptable to the inevitable change that comes and embrace those as opportunities.

What’s the best PR campaign you’ve seen recently and why?

I love the So Many Dicks campaign by E.l.f. Beauty for its simplicity and single bloody-mindedness. And it has the evidence and data to back it up. The diversity in the boardroom topic is not new, but they’ve brought a fresh perspective to it to keep it on agenda and more importantly, they live and breathe this through their values, business model and products.

What work from your team are you most proud of over the past year?

At Manifest, I’d say our work on The Social Feed campaign for Tommee Tippee. We took the very real insight of the challenges new parents face with mental health, and societal pressures around bottle feeding, and turned this into an advocacy message for new parents to celebrate in the diversity of their unique bottle-feeding journeys without prejudice or pressure. It delivered a unified bottom line across purpose, people and profit.

In my previous role at Uncommon (less than a year ago so it counts!), I’d say leading the EA Sports FIFA game rebrand to FC. Arguably the biggest rebrand in the world of entertainment and lives in and out of game. The journey to get to the triangle FC logo was incredible and I knew I was part of something major in gaming and football culture that would become a reference point. I learnt so much along the way around branding, design and craft.

What have you learned about yourself over the past couple of years?

The importance of psychological safety in the workplace, and how this can make or break people. Agencies talk about building culture and initiatives to do this, but it’s much more than that at its heart. Culture starts with how people feel when they show up to work and if they can speak-up freely in a meeting or express their opinion which might be at odds with someone more senior than them, without fear. If they feel safe, they’ll do this, but if there’s not a safe space for healthy discourse, they’ll hold back, minimise themselves, lose confidence and eventually leave. Lots of agency leaders still have a way to go with this, as they lead ‘businesses’ instead of ‘people’, and it’s something that I’m very intentional about at Manifest.

How do you switch off and maintain wellness?

I go for bike rides with Laila, my nine-year-old daughter. She’s now at a level of competence where we can talk about our days while we’re on a leisurely bike ride and for me that’s a major milestone. After years of following her bike around on foot while she learned to stay upright when pedalling, it’s a dream come true. The simple things.

What cultural source (eg book/podcast/movie/TV show/music artist) has provided creative inspiration for you lately?

I’m a bit of a podcast junkie and throw a podcast on at every opportunity I have. It’s a mix of The Diary of A CEO (I’m also reading the book of the same title), Happy Place, Feel Better, Live More and Uncensored CMO. Different podcasts feed the different sides of me, and always make me feel nourished.

If I wasn’t working in PR/comms I would be…

A coach. It’s a passion that turned into a side hustle and one that keeps me interested in others, a better listener and fuels how I can help unlock potential in those around me. I’m a better person for it all round.