Andrea Ward is the Head of Media Relations at abrdn. She talked to PressChoice about the very different challenges she faces fielding questions about Chinese medicine at home in Scotland, being flown to Reykjavík by Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson, or putting together a travel guidebook.
She spoke to PressChoice about the importance of resilience, her time as a travel writer and the big issues facing investments.
PressChoice: Any unusual questions recently?
Andrea: Like any PR, I don’t like to be blindsided although of course I will be surprised sometimes. We had an enquiry this morning from a shareholder about Chinese traditional medicine – I thought, right, here we go, I didn’t pre-empt that coming in today.
PressChoice: How has the cost-of-living crisis affected your PR strategy at abrdn?
Andrea: Internally, abrdn bought forward a pay review for employees on lower salaries and gave out a pay increase. Whereas we wouldn’t have ordinarily made this internal decision public we changed our approach and were proactive about putting it out there in the media. It sent a positive message, and we always notice that the mood music internally is very much affected by what it is externally.
We always try to engage with journalists and show them that we understand the challenges that people face. So, yes, definitely, our communications have changed to be much more sensitive to the cost-of-living crisis.
Of course, we have to acknowledge that we’re a business, but we do try to make the industry accessible – start a dialogue with our audience about what we think is going on and how we can work with clients and investors providing guidance and insights from our in-house experts.
PressChoice: Investment companies are increasingly heavily regulated, which must restrict how you go about your comms strategy. How do you manage that challenge?
Andrea: In PR, I try to pre-empt what questions we’ll be asked. As we approach the Autumn Statement, I know we’ll be asked about our alignment with The Investment Association for example. It’s getting more challenging to keep on top of it all because it’s constant change. We work very closely with the compliance and public affairs teams to make sure that we always know what each team is thinking. Good internal stakeholder relationships help navigate the change but it’s always been a highly regulated industry so we’re used to the balancing act and sticking to the rules.
PressChoice: What are the major topics coming down the pipeline for the investment industry?
Andrea: ESG will continue to be important. From a PR perspective, you have to be very careful about what you say on that topic, there’s no point straying into territory where you might be accused of greenwashing. We stay away from sweeping statements and stick to short ones substantiated by facts.
Climate and biodiversity are a big thing for us, we won a net zero award recently, and governance is an area that I really like - I work closely with our active stewardship team. We delivered some interesting PR this year on mining companies, we requested miners treat human rights with the same respect that health and safety are afforded. A number of mining companies signed up to our call for action in this important area.
Inflation and interest rates are other ones. As part of my role, I have to be mindful of all parts of the business – high-interest rates mean different things to the platforms compared to the asset manager. I have to wear multiple hats and think, how are we going to position something that might be good for one part, but not for another. You’re always going to have that in a large organisation. We just try to come up with a strategy that’s mindful of everyone’s voice.
PressChoice: How do you think that the skillset you and your colleagues employ has changed over time?
Andrea: Everything feels a lot faster, the days when a journalist’s deadline was in 48 hours are non-existent now. As PR you hone your skills to work quickly but you also have to develop a thick skin for when things don’t go your way. A write-up might not turn out the way you’d like it to, journalists might not be interested when you’re trying to get a story out there. You can’t take it personally or get upset. Resilience and tenacity are two qualities you develop along the way.
PressChoice: What are some memorable moments in your career outside of the normal enquiries?
Andrea: I did some work for a hedge fund that was looking to buy water rights in Iceland so once I got to visit and go up a glacier, which I loved. What made it particularly memorable though was that Bruce Dickinson flew us out there on his band’s plane. Iron Maiden was emblazoned down the side of the aircraft. Turns out since he’s a pilot he needs to do a certain number of hours flying and we just got lucky.
PressChoice: What do you like to do for fun?
Andrea: One thing that helps me be a little more zen is Gyrotonic. It’s an equipment-based exercise that helps with your posture and stretching - I’ve been doing it every week for about a decade now. I love travelling as well. I lived in Hong Kong for a while which was great – the weather especially so compared to Scotland. After I left, I travelled around Europe and did some freelance writing, I even did some freelance writing and put together a guidebook. France is next on my list.
PressChoice: And finally, we always like to ask what advice you would give your younger self.
Andrea: Take every opportunity that comes your way. That’s why I went to Hong Kong, set up the guidebook – it all teaches you something and hopefully you meet some interesting people along the way
Andrea Ward, Head Of Media Relations at abrdn
Interview and article by Isabel Donaldson – PressChoice writer and researcher