Kirsty Leighton | The Innovator 25 EMEA 2020

Kirsty Leighton

Founder & Managing Partner

Milk & Honey

“The ideal working scenario for innovation is freedom to mess up. Bravery is richly encouraged, to try something new, with no fear of failure."

If you search for stories about Milk & Honey PR in PRovoke Media, there’s not one headline which isn’t outlining Kirsty Leighton’s latest innovation at the firm she founded just three years ago, from becoming one of the first B Corps in the PR industry and going big on the agency’s sustainability and purpose proposition, to appointing an all-female board. Milk & Honey was also named as the best agency to work for in the UK this year, rounding off a string of industry accolades for Leighton’s “people first” ethos. Leighton is inspirational in her commitment to doing business better and is a popular and respected figure in the UK industry, having brought her characteristic empathy, energy and enthusiasm to agencies from Text100 and WE to Weber Shandwick and Edelman; her last gig before setting up Milk & Honey was as MD of Hudson Sandler.

Where is the most urgent need for innovation within the PR/communications industry? 
PR in its broadest sense has always been about stakeholder engagement. We are good at that. Great at starting and maintaining conversations. Understanding audiences and adapting. Meaningful measurement remains a challenge.

How would you describe the communications/PR industry's level of innovation compared to other marketing disciplines?
I feel PR is an agile and adaptable field, we've had to be. We always listen first, it gives us the edge. Ahead of other marketing disciplines.

How have the events of 2020 impacted innovation in the PR and communications industry?
Necessity is the mother of invention! This year has put pressure on everyone. We have all had to flex and pivot and respond to the opportunities in front of us. I'm pretty sure there are more new agencies started this year than in a normal year, we have also seen our friends in media and publishing reduce. All external activations have pretty much stopped. So, we have had to be inventive telling client stories and being seen and heard.

What is the ideal working scenario for innovation?
Freedom to mess up. Bravery is one of our founding values and it is richly encouraged to try something new with no fear of failure. We all learn more from a failure than a success. We are lucky that are clients are brave too and open to inventive thinking.

Has 2020 changed the way you define/approach innovation?
Not how we definite it, but perhaps how we approach it. We have a saying internally, "if it is going to die, kill it quickly". It encourages us to move on and try something different.

What is the most important lesson you've learned this year?
Always be kind.

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider innovative.
There is something very freeing about setting up an agency from scratch. Taking all the learnings from a 20-plus year career and dismantling it. Creating a culture, an ethos, a value set and purpose and using that as a starting point.

Any habit/activity that you have added to your life this year that you hope to take forward post-pandemic?
I started well, I even started running. I'm going to start that again. When it's warmer!

How can the PR industry make real progress in diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) and what is the biggest obstacle?
We have to appeal to a broader audience. Be seen as a professional career, not just a trade.

What are you thinking about most these days? 
Growing my team and our skills (and fantasising about going on holiday).

Your bold prediction for 2021…
2021 is going to be another tricky year. I'd like to see the braver agencies continue to grow and absorb more digital and video capabilities. Continuing their rise within the marketing mix.