Andy Bartlett is our Science and Engineering Director here at TopLine Comms. He has kindly agreed to take a moment from his busy schedule of managing PR for engineering companies to talk to us about how he got started, and what sorts of things our science team gets up to every day.
How did your career get started?
I got my degree in metallurgy and materials science at the University of Nottingham. I wanted to do engineering but wasn’t sure exactly what to focus on. Materials seemed like a solid foundation because they are involved in everything. When I graduated, I managed to get a placement with Rover Group’s Central Test Department, and I ended up staying there for ten years. People came in with broken car pieces wanting to know why they broke. We did a lot of testing and driving around test tracks; it was really interesting, high-level stuff.
Then, almost overnight, the company flipped from being an inward-looking company to selling services – but nobody was geared up to sell services. We were a company of 400 people with no marketing department. I ended up supporting the new marketing manager, and quickly realised that I loved the challenge of communicating technical things in a simple way.
I decided that I wanted to move into communication, but it was challenging since I’d reached a certain level of seniority – I had 10 years’ experience as an engineer. Countless times I was told that I “didn’t have the experience.” So, I contacted the IPR, which is the CIPR today, and they advised me to pursue a PR qualification. I joined the communication, advertising and marketing (CAM) certificate course at Matthew Boulton College, and spent two evenings a week studying after work. It was tough, but worth it to demonstrate my commitment to the jobs I applied for.
Finally, I found a job for a PR consultancy. It meant a 25% pay cut, but it was what I wanted to do. We worked for all kinds of clients, from heavy engineering like the British Castors company, to Greggs, to the National Association of Funeral Directors. I worked there for another decade and became account director. I enjoyed it, but once they asked me to work on a toilet roll brand, I decided it was time to return to my passion for STEM PR.
I found a job advert in The Guardian for a medium-size company specialising in science and engineering. They were looking for a ‘content creator,’ but I applied, interviewed, and they offered me the job the next day. I ended up running the accounts there as well, and that’s when I very first started working for Nexans, Saft and ABB, who we still work with to this day.
How does STEM PR differ from other sectors?
Greater demand for technical accuracy is the key. You can’t be fluffy, because most of the editors that we deal with are experts in the subject. That means you must understand the fundamentals of what our clients are talking about. It’s like Einstein said: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” We translate very complex information into something that is detailed, but accessible, which is a real skill.
What do you think has been the biggest change in the industry?
One huge change is the shrinkage of the media. When I started, there were dozens of publications to work with. Now, while there are still some excellent publications out there, most have disappeared or at least moved online. Marketing teams have also shrunk. Now internal departments are smaller, and companies are increasingly reliant on external agencies.
Research, which is fundamental to both PR and STEM, has also changed. If you wanted to know the background to a company in the past, you had to get their annual report, brochures, and make some calls. You can do that in minutes now, which is wonderful, but I think it’s extremely easy for people to do some quick research and come away with completely the wrong idea. There’s still no substitute for face to face.
What has been the highlight of your PR career to date?
I convinced a building restoration company to open up their workshop to the local community and press. It took a lot to get them on board, but when they did people were queuing around the block – we even needed a ticketing system. The coverage was great, and the client won so many opportunities with other businesses that day.
That’s it from Andy for now, but if you want to find out more about our STEM PR services, contact us today.