International Women's Day 2021 | Spotlight on Laura Barnes, Group Brand Director, Handley House

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Contact Laura Barnes
laura.barnes@handley-house.com

In celebration of International Women’s Day, Benoy is spotlighting female trailblazers and aspiring leaders creating real impactful change. We sat down with Laura Barnes, Global Brand Director/Board Member for our parent company, Handley House to hear how she has forged a career in marketing and communications.

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Tell us about your career to date, what drew you towards Marketing & Communications?

Firstly, I should confess that I didn’t set out to have a career in marketing and communications! As a child, I absolutely loved school and although not academically brilliant, I did well across all subjects. I especially liked history and went on to study that to degree level. I had had such a positive experience at school and always imagined I would go on to become a teacher so it came as a bit of a shock to discover that on graduating from university, I felt institutionalised and needed to go out and experience the​‘real’ world. I registered with a few recruitment agencies and decided that anything would be better than nothing. With a very sparse CV, I was sent for an interview with a PR agency in Soho who were looking for an admin assistant. I had no idea what a PR agency did but my mum said that​‘public relations’ sounded perfect because I was sociable and very good with people! That was 1999. I got the job and never looked back.

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What do you enjoy most about your job?

I have been lucky to experience so much variety in my career. Having spent half my working life agency side, I got to know a lot of sectors from FMCG (fast moving consumer goods), to transport, financial services, retail and education. With a natural curiosity, I enjoyed learning about my clients in those sectors and solving their problems. This variety has meant that over 20+ years, no two days have ever been the same.

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Is there anyone you would say has inspired you in your career to date?

Generally speaking, the PR and marketing sector is quite female-dominated so from the very beginning, I’ve worked with some incredible women. That first job in 1999 was working for an agency called Paragon Communications which was founded by a formidable woman called Julia Thorn. She had this amazing ability to bring people together – it didn’t matter that I was junior, I got the same opportunities to be part of brainstorms and meetings which pushed me to prove myself – and in doing so, I was awarded Newcomer of The Year and a bottle of fizz! There’s no doubt my exposure to so many new experiences in the first couple of years of my working life accelerated my career, and confidence.

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Define a great leader — what are some traits you think great leaders possess?

I think that a great leader is a people person. That sounds like horrible marketing blurb but what I mean is that leadership isn’t about being in charge, it’s about looking after the people around you and acting with integrity, honesty and humility. A great leader doesn’t measure the work they do but rather are measured by the work they inspire others to do.

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What are some strategies that can help women achieve success in their workplaces, especially in male-dominated roles or industries?

Know your worth! Particularly if you’re a woman working in a male-dominated industry, having a strong sense of self-worth helps to build confidence which in turn generates a feeling of trust in your abilities and judgement. Linked to this is learning how to self-promote. Research has shown that, in general, most women feel uncomfortable talking about their accomplishments and if nobody apart from those you work closely with know about your contributions, you’re in a more vulnerable position. Finally, I am a big fan of mentoring and coaching programmes. Identifying a senior woman that you can establish a relationship with can be a critical sounding board for you.

Knowing what you know now, what three pieces of advice would you give your younger self?

  • Listen more and don’t be afraid to ask questions — many people have been there and done it so learn from them.
  • Trust your instincts – there’s a lot to be said about feeling your way through life not thinking your way through it.
  • Things always get better with time – one day you’ll realise those nerve racking experiences were character building and helped to build your resistance. 
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