My big career decision: How to stay true to myself while ‘selling out’?

Do you have to make a choice in your career between generating a decent income and work that has real meaning for you?  This was a decision I really struggled with until I realised that it was not necessarily a binary choice and I’m reminded of when, 30 years ago, I took the decision to ‘sell out’.

This was huge for me at the time. An arts graduate, I had got off to a great start in my career in a distinguished book publisher, followed by a period as the first PR at The Guardian newspaper.

I could quite easily have stayed in those roles long-term: I was in my comfort zone, working with like minds and finding my work worthwhile.

But I also knew that I was under-paid for my experience.  I was in my early 30s – and definitely wasn’t earning enough to achieve my lifestyle aspirations.

I took a job in the financial services industry: they took a chance on me as their first PR and I took the risk that I could work in what seemed an alien environment. In some ways it was, but the PR issues in retail financial services proved to be fascinating, and I stayed in the sector 10 years, going on to work in leading professional services firms Andersen and Clifford Chance.

It was a move that I really needed to square with my conscience. But it occurred to me that I could continue to be actively involved in the arts world. I took on voluntary PR work at Eastside Arts, a charity developing young people through participation in the arts; was a board member at children’s theatre company Oily Cart; and joined the development board of Dance Umbrella, the international festival of contemporary dance.

It worked for me. I felt I could stay true to myself and it also gave me a stimulating career in sectors which, it turned out, I really enjoyed, particularly the big professional services firms. Importantly, I (gradually) earned a more impressive (and appropriate!) salary, which has given me more freedom in the latter stages of my career than I would have had otherwise.

It taught me that this is, indeed, not a binary choice and, if I’d realised it at the time, the decision could have been taken with a lot less heartache!

Observations from lockdown: Is Mentoring the new Must-Have?

We all know it’s a good idea to have a career mentor.  But working from home – or being furloughed – seems to have led to an explosion in the demand for mentoring this year. 

I signed up as a mentor in the well-received CIPR Fellows’ Mentor Scheme in April and started mentoring three PR professionals in May.  I also started to mentor some of the team at an international PR agency where I am a non-executive director.  Plus I currently find myself acting as a ‘sounding board’ to a growing number of friends and business contacts on interview technique and career planning.  This is definitely the year of mentoring – and not just for me.  

What have I discovered from this experience?

The current environment (affecting those at work and those whose roles are at risk) has prompted a lot of people to take stock of their working life, their current role and what they want to achieve in the next few years.  This is a good time to seek advice from an interested third party, someone who is not associated with your employer, and not necessarily a friend or family member.  My findings are that there are some noticeable trends in what motivates this interest in taking professional advice.

Whether you are aiming for promotion, seeking a move, planning in case of headcount reduction, taking opportunities for personal growth, or simply trying to make the absolute best of your current role, self-development plans are critical.  

These can be focussed on training needs but are more typically aspects such as building a network, positioning yourself in your current workplace, or identifying what you need to do to earn the promotion or new job: how to make it all work for you.

The first of these – building a network – is an analytical task of identifying who you know, who you should know, and how to go about meeting those people.

The second – positioning yourself or, as I think of it, ‘building your professional brand’ – incorporates identifying your strong points, working out how to make them even greater strengths, and making sure you are recognised for them.  This will help you achieve that more senior role, or position you advantageously in the job market.  It also helps to identify in which areas you need training or a skills refresh and explore what’s available.

If you are thinking of a move, this is a good time to think about what sector you would ideally like to concentrate on and what truly motivates you – and focus on practical steps to help you get there.

Mentoring is a gradual process and often a bit of a voyage of self-discovery for the executive being mentored.  It is also absolutely fascinating for the mentor: you can be giving feedback on a proposal or CV, offering interview or presentation rehearsal, giving practical pointers, or simply listening with a sympathetic ear.

The challenges of working in lockdown have been many, but it has clearly given people an opportunity to reflect, analyse and plan.

There is definitely a healthy market for mentoring at the moment which could lead to a greater focus on career development which in turn will pay dividends when we eventually emerge from lockdown.

Personal reputation and your professional brand: planning for the long-term

Actively develop your professional brand to build your business or your career.  Identify your professional and personal strengths, work on ways to develop to your full potential, and position yourself for the long-term.

Talk to your ‘Sounding Board’ and find your way through to success

Have you ever encountered one of these scenarios?

  • You have been promoted but do not have clear objectives
  • You have been given free rein in a senior leadership role but feel ‘imposter syndrome’ kicking in
  • You know you get results but have lost your way
  • You have ideas to improve the business but no-one is listening
  • You need to work out what your next career move should be

Gaining access to mentoring and guidance is key to achieving goals and professional ambitions. My ‘Sounding Board‘ offer grew out of people turning to me as a source of confidential and professional advice. When faced with career decisions, they need a conversation – or series of conversations – with someone outside their immediate circle who can bring a fresh perspective.

Whatever the issue, it helps to talk. And it is great to find that you are not alone with your problem.

If you would like to discuss how I could help with a short-term issue or longer-term positioning and personal brand, contact me on

How to be the best PR team in town: what does the business need from you?

It can sometimes seem as if obstacles and hurdles are being thrown in your path, frustrating your efforts to concentrate on priority areas and deflecting you on to random demands from your ‘200 or so internal clients’.

But it is possible to introduce focus, agree priorities and achieve longer-term goals which will benefit the business, gain recognition, and make your job more fulfilling. Areas to address include:

  • Becoming advisers to your internal client
  • Communicating with your internal client
  • Establishing priorities and measurable aims 
  • Defensive and sensitive issues
  • Goals and measurement

 If you would like to discuss how I could help with training or workshops, contact me on

Andersen: The Story of a Crisis

After the collapse of Andersen following Enron’s bankruptcy, we in the media team found that, although the firm’s reputation was, at the time, destroyed, our reputation as a team and as individuals survived and, in some ways prospered, as we earned the respect and (after the event) empathy of the media. It taught me that personal reputation is very real and can be managed – just as we all learn to manage the reputations of the brands we work with.

Learning with Anne Groves

Here are details of some of the training sessions on offer. All sessions are designed to be bespoke for each client


Building your professional reputation and developing a ‘personal brand’

Reputation management is not just for firms and corporates.  Everyone has an individual reputation: you can actively develop yours to build your business or your career.  This session will help you identify your professional and personal strengths, work on ways to develop to your full potential, and help you to position yourself for the long-term.


Develop a professional network that will support you throughout your career

If your heart sinks at the thought of ‘networking’, think again: you may not realise that you already have more of a network than you think, and this session will help you plan to extend and develop it in helpful directions.  We will analyse your existing connections, identify who you should be getting to know, and explain how to get organised and build a long-lasting and productive network.


How to develop from a talented implementer into an adviser to individuals and institutions on brand and reputation

Every PR practitioner, whether in-house or agency, reaches a stage where they need to evolve from a talented and diligent ‘do-er’ into an adviser who provides guidance on communications issues, planning and implementation.  This course is designed to prepare practitioners for this transition.


Why you should practise handling crisis situations and defensive issues

Many organisations will experience a crisis – but all will experience defensive issues which need to be handled sensitively.  Doing this is one of the key skills of an effective PR practitioner and preparation is critical. This course addresses practical ways in which to anticipate potential problems and also how to prevent a defensive issue turning into a crisis.


Become the best communicator you can be: how to be effective – in a style that is true to yourself

Why are you communicating? Why are you communicating and to whom? What impression do you want your team or your audience to take from this? What response do you want from them? What outcome are you aiming for?

How do you communicate effectively? How do you, as a senior manager, communicate – in large and small groups and in formal and informal situations? What is your personal style?  How can you build on this to increase your effectiveness?

Where is this leading? Where are you leading your team? How will you articulate your vision? What are the messages you want to get across? What makes people follow leaders? How will you know if it’s been effective? How will you measure your success?


What does the business need from you?

Becoming advisers to your internal client: Planning, training, identifying opportunities. Representing the outside world into the firm: what’s topical, who is writing, advising on external commentary

Communicating with your internal client: Managing expectations, explaining the PR process, investment in relationships, significance of coverage

Establishing priorities and measurable aims: Communications plans for each priority area: aims, audiences, messages, targets, opportunities and measurement

Goals and measurement: 6 and 12 month goals; target commentators; evaluation against main competitors; measurement of damage limitation and what didn’t appear

Clients and Testimonials

What clients say

Anna Ward, Global Head of PR, Herbert Smith Freehills

‘Anne taught a session on handling crises and sensitive issues for our global communications senior team, and the feedback was unanimously positive. The training focussed on practical communications advice, based on real-life examples, and the inter-active part of the session gave the group a real challenge to work on.  We learned a lot. Anne also made a valuable contribution to a subsequent firmwide crisis management scenario exercise. ‘

Elspeth Wales, Head of PR and Communications, Burges Salmon

‘Anne has provided us with strategic and tactical communications advice over a number of years and brought a practical and discreet approach, in-depth knowledge of the legal market, and an understanding of the firm which was very helpful to us.’

Sarah Goulbourne, Co-Founder, gunnercooke

‘Anne advised us on PR and brand positioning in our early days and, more recently, led some well-received workshops at our Annual Symposium to advise gunnercooke partners on building their personal professional brand.’ 

Meg Sullivan, Founder, The Quorum Initiative

‘Anne has brought a wealth of knowledge and contacts to supporting Quorum in London and has been an energetic ambassador for us.  Her training sessions in NYC and London on building a personal professional brand have been invaluable to our members. Our community seeks Anne out for sage advice on positioning yourself in the market and communicating effectively.’

Professor Heather McGregor, CBE, Executive Dean, Edinburgh Business School and Founder, Taylor Bennett Foundation

‘Anne was a highly effective director of the Foundation for four years and, as an Ambassador since 2016, has continued to be a dedicated supporter. She taught the inaugural TBF post-graduate programme based at Edinburgh Business School in 2018, which represented a significant development in the reach of the Foundation.’

Other clients include:

Pinsent Masons: Interim Head of Communications 2009 – 10

CMS – Interim Head of Communications 2010

Addleshaw Goddard – Training for PR team

Dentons – Consultancy advice on brand positioning

City Disputes Panel – Consultancy advice on profile building

Commentary and Insights

Your Sounding Board:

Personal reputation and your professional brand – planning for the long-term:

How to be the best PR team in town:

Andersen: The Story of a Crisis: