At which time do you wake up in the morning?
I set my watch alarm for 6.45am so that I can take the dog out for a walk. He has taken over the household since his arrival just over a year ago!
What is the first thing you do?
Make a cup of tea for me and my wife and then eat breakfast whilst listening to the Today programme on BBC Radio 4.
Which news sites do you read (if any) in the morning?
Over breakfast I’ll read the email summary of what is the Times and also the Politico London Playbook email. They are essentials for me along with listening to the Today programme at the same time. It’s the same on days off as well….
At which time do you go into the office (or start working remotely)?
I am currently running my own consultancy business so my day starts at 9am in the loft room. When I do go into London for meetings then I try to make the most of those days. It’s nice to see people, chat and drink nice coffee.
How many times a day do you check emails?
Way too many. When an alert pops up on my phone, I am completely guilty of then tapping to read the whole thing. I have got better by setting a ‘focus’ profile so that I do not get distracted by all the alerts.
When is your first meeting?
I usually try to go for around 10am but earlier, if needed. That allows people to get into offices, fulfil childcare arrangements or prepare for the day / the meeting without putting anyone under too much pressure.
How do you plan your meetings across the week?
I am pretty relaxed about when meetings are planned for. So many people do different working days and times of days that I try and be as flexible as possible. Preferably not too late into the evenings though.
What is the split between internal and external meetings?
Only have just started CWE Communications means that I don’t really have to deal with that challenge at the moment. Something that I do need to do is ensure that I get sufficient breaks away from the screen and out of the same room. But that is a ‘working from home challenge’ that many face.
How do you follow news development between meetings?
There are a few Twitter accounts that I have alerts for and I do regularly take a look at the BBC site. I have just started to use Apple News to ensure that I get access to a broader number of sources which will be helpful for clients as well. But I need to get better at using it.
How do you organize your calendar?
I wish I had a proper system but I don’t. I tend to think about the tasks for the week ahead and then try to allocate sufficient time each day to achieve them. But I do get distracted such as by writing this blog as soon I received the questions.
How do you take notes?
That is a bit of a mix but I always have a notebook and pen. I am quite old-fashioned in taking written notes, jotting down ideas, drawing diagrams. But I also send myself emails and use voice memos so my phone is also a constant companion.
What is your relationship to Excel?
Infrequent. I can use it but I have to remind myself of even some basic functions every time I use it.
What is your favorite app & why?
There are a lot I rely on but my favourite would have to be either WhatsApp or LinkedIn simply because they help me to engage and keep up-to-date with current issues.
How many external lunches do you have a week?
In the new role not too many at the moment but I hope to increase it at least two a week as such meetings can be great for delivering new business.
Where do you keep up to date on Public Affairs?
It is a whole range of different insights. Your own Persuaders podcast but others as well. Emails from Politico (London Influence), PubAffairs, the Superlobby Community. Posts from practitioners on LinkedIn. Blogs that I read and chats with friends, former colleagues and networking events. A whole range of sources as you would see if you looked at my note book!
What is your best tip for managing work/life balance?
Have a set of priorities and stick to them, do not let them slide. So, if that is needing to go for a run in the mornings then do that. If you need to be around at home to cook the evening meal or read a bed time story to children then make those immovable. If they slip then other it will happen time and again. Do not let it.
What do you do to unwind?
Watching football, as a big Liverpool supporter, but also reading and watching Nordic Noir. What could be better than some grisly crimes in a snowy, isolated location?
How does your desk look?
A few too many bits of paper but I do regularly tidy. There is something quite cathartic about having a clean-up.
Do you answer emails on your phone?
Yes. I have an email signature set up so I can reply from anywhere. Sometimes a keyboard can be handy but I dictate emails on the go as well.
Name a PA pro in the industry you respect and why
That is such an unfair question! There are so many and I often respect them for different aspects of their work. I could point to Jonathan Hopkins and Joe Brice from my first job; the late Byron Criddle who supervised my PhD; Tim Clement-Jones who I worked with at DLA Piper; Kevin Craig because of his creation of a successful business (PLMR); Jackie Nixon who has offered me help and support throughout my career. I hate having to single people out! But I would say that I count all of them as friends.
When you go on vacation, do you still answer emails?
Yes, I have never been very good at completely turning off but the nature of the roles I have had has often meant being available all the time.
Which book did you read recently or are you currently reading?
I normally have a small pile of books beside the bed and on the desk to read. Currently it is Lemon by Yeo-sun Kwon, Happy Moments by Meik Wiking, and How To Tell A Story by the Moth. A bit of a mix!
Which skills will PA pros need the most in 5-10 year?
Being able to build relationships will continue to be critical. But we all have to work out how AI will help us to do that as well. The idea that anyone can ignore its impact, even in Public Affairs, is wrong.
Which time do you go to bed?
Typically around 11.30 after watching some TV and then some reading as well.
Do you prefer LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or TikTok, and why/why not?
I am not really into Tik Tok and spend less time on Facebook than I used to. LinkedIn is probably the one for me because it helps networking and business development. They are my focus at the moment.
How big is your PA department (PA employees)?
Currently as an independent consultant it is just me.
Where is the PA departments placed in your organization?
When I head the public affairs and communications consultancy within the law firm, we were based in the Planning and Infrastructure department because it always had a Parliamentary angle as well. But I worked with Partners from across the firm so I never really felt we have one departmental home. We represented the whole of the business.
Where should the PA function ideally be based in an organization & why?
I really do think it depends on the nature of the organisation and the challenges it faces. I have worked with teams based in External Affairs, Legal and Regulatory, Marketing and others. Each has its pros and cons. I think it is all about the effectiveness of the team and how well it reaches out and makes ‘friends’ across an organisation. The better the team does that then the less departmental boundaries and distinctions matter.
About Stuart Thomson
Stuart Thomson is the Founder of CWE Communications, a public affairs and reputation management consultancy. He blogs, podcasts and is the author of books including ‘Reputation in Business: Lessons for Leaders’.
He is happy to connect on LinkedIn.