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 chat to Victoria Dean, CEO of strategic and political communications firm Portland, which this week launched a joint venture with sister Omnicom agency Ketchum to support clients through the 2024 triple elections in the US, EU and UK. 

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

Talent, talent, talent. Our industry is all about our people and their thinking and ideas. In a difficult economic climate, keeping staff motivated and focused is the biggest task. It’s also about to be a fascinating and bumpy 18 months on the political landscape with elections in the UK, the EU and the US. Advising clients on how to get ready for, analyse and navigate those changes is exactly the work Portland was built for. And we’re really excited about our joint initiative with Ketchum – Beyond the Ballot – to provide clients with deep political analysis and Ketchum’s consumer data and analysis, to help them get ahead of the likely changes coming.

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

I loved Dove’s recent Cost of Beauty campaign on the many faces and stories of young women in recovery from mental health conditions, and we’re hearing more and more from our corporate clients on how they can address mental health and women’s health issues among employees. I believe wholeheartedly that as nation we still don’t open up enough about mental health, or indeed about poor mental health. And yet openness on the subject is critical to acceptance, understanding, support and funding. So it was wonderful to see a really sensitively handled piece of storytelling about how very many women are facing challenges, from anxiety to body dysmorphia to depression and everything in between. More of this openness please!

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

At Portland we’re privileged to work for a fantastic range of clients, and in the past year we’ve supported them on everything from supporting the All-England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club (AELTC) during Wimbledon and handling international media for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, to helping raise awareness of the Tessa Jowell Foundation across the UK, to running the Ibrahim Governance Weekend in Nairobi for the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, right through helping huge brand names like Pfizer and KPMG and Diageo navigate all sorts of change in their businesses. We love organisations that are trying to do something big or complex, in shifting circumstances.

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

That leadership is hard and a privilege in equal measure. This summer marks one year for me as Portland’s CEO. I love this job. And every day is stretching and testing. Getting the balance right between tending to the urgent vs the important is on my mind every day.

How do you switch off and maintain wellness?

I’m not as good at switching off as I should be. But I’m lucky to live in the Kentish countryside and I can almost feel the stresses of the day melting away as my train from London Bridge in the evenings leaves the big smoke behind and the views switch to rolling hills and trees. I am the proud and besotted owner of a small black fluffy dog called Rocky, and committed to my daily stomps around the fields with him, which definitely help to keep me sane.

What cultural source has provided creative inspiration for you lately?

We’re all big podcast fans at Portland, and are lucky to call Alastair Campbell our own, so first choice has to be The Rest is Politics. I’m currently reading ‘Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow’ by Gabrielle Zevin, which is about friendship and the gaming world, which is unfamiliar to me but such a big part of life these days. And last weekend I took my kids to Frameless, an immersive art exhibition in London that allows famous artworks to flow and move around you, which we loved.

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

Somewhere in deepest, darkest, rural France, running a tiny wine bar and making my own cheese. Actually, that’s my retirement plan, truth be told!