Fern Canning-Brooke

Successful buisness women at Edelman PR agency

Untitled design (12)
Tell us about you and your biz? I’m lucky enough to work with some of the brightest, creative, tenacious, fun and connected people in the industry, as MD of Edelman. We are a PR agency with earned media and social media experts, creatives, strategists, producers, videographers and designers, all working together to create incredible campaigns for our clients. Campaigns that really resonate with people, and offer business impact. And importantly, doing work that we are proud of.

Did you ever come across any roadblocks or adversity by being female?

I’ve been fortunate throughout my career to work with male and female leaders for whom gender isn’t part of the equation and I feel that I have had every opportunity equally. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve certainly come up against senior execs and ex-clients in industries which were traditionally male years ago, and have felt that perhaps they questioned my judgement and experience. I wondered whether that was because I was a woman, or because I was relatively young (back then!) for my senior position. But to be honest, it made me more determined to show my grit, my worth and earn their respect…lift their eyebrows and make them think differently. Regardless of where that adversity came from.

Did you face any challenges along the way?

As a female working in the auto world from quite a young age, I certainly had to deal with some difficult situations with men who thought that a female PR in motoring might be a euphemism for something quite different. I dealt with inappropriate comments and advances often, and witnessed female journalists being treated in the same way. In every case, I spoke up, I made it clear that it wasn’t right, wasn’t respectful and that it needed to change. It didn’t matter to me how senior that person was, I dealt with it and didn’t hide it under a rug of make excuses for the behaviour.

How do you support and empower other women in the industry?

At Edelman, we have Global Women’s Executive Network, which is focused on gender equality across our network, and includes both men and women. We’ve organized for some of the most accomplished female leaders to host intimate sessions with our staff, and we have launched an Opportunity Talks program, which connects junior females with senior leaders across our network to host small sessions focused on coaching, mentoring and inspiring. Our own Lean In Circles program is a robust mentoring and sharing programme, designed to empower women employees across all levels at Edelman through group mentoring and peer coaching. So – yes, we do a lot at Edelman with this in mind!

I also speak at events, to share my stories and learning about being a female leader. I was most recently a keynote speaker at a Women in Leadership Summit, and the women I met that day were all inspiring, yet we all shared a commonality in that we didn’t want to shout about our achievements. I almost didn’t do the talk when I was asked, because of that. I asked myself what could I possibly teach these accomplished women? Then I remembered how frustrating it is when we ask women to be on panels and they shy away, while men usually jump at the chance. So I did it, sharing my personal journey and learnings, which I hoped would be of some use – even as just a comforter for these female leaders to know that they’re not alone in some of the experiences they were going through. The number of delegates who contacted me afterwards with words of thanks was absolutely heartening.

What is your advice for females in your industry?

Probably the same advice I would give me men in my industry. Maybe because of the leaders that I’ve worked with, I feel as though I am pretty gender neutral. I want to support and empower great people in our industry, regardless of any labels that might wrongly be placed on them – race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, background.

So my advice would be to be a decent human being and bring your true self to work, every day. Not some corporate version of yourself. Show your true colours, let people understand you and take the time to understand them. Give a damn about the people you work with – take the time to get to know them and really listen to them. Not just sharing everyday pleasantries out of politeness. Have conversations that matter!

Give a damn about your work. It doesn’t define you, but if you don’t care about what you’re doing every day, then you’re in the wrong job. You owe it to yourself and anyone else that you touch, to get out of there, because your lack of passion will bring others down.

Don’t make the mistake of giving your life over to your career. Give yourself time. When you are at work, be fully there, present and in the moment. But recognise what you need in order to give this much of yourself, and take it. Take time to recharge your batteries and press pause.

And I’ll pass on one of the greatest pieces of advice, given to me by Serena de Morgan, my leader in London and still my mentor today: “it’s not when everything is going well that will make you a strong leader. It’s this. It’s the tough times that will really make you”.

This is sage advice, and something I have repeated over and over – to myself and to others. Because she was right. You have to learn from everything, you have to dig deep and find solutions.

Who is your role model?

I honestly do not have one role model, I have many. It’s not a famous face that I’ve never met but imparts crafted knowledge through books. It’s the people that I have had contact with and who have shaped me along my journey.

I’ve had incredible leaders and mentors along the way and I recognized their individual qualities and let these be my inspiration. From Serena de Morgan and Michelle Hutton, who balance life and work, show real care in their people and love what they do, to David Gallagher who has such an incredible mind, takes the time to really understand the people that he works with and approaches work with a sense of humour, to Steve Spurr who has a collaborative style and takes time to listen and support no matter how busy he gets. To the many peers and colleagues I work with who inspire me too – their approach to life, where they get their influences and creative inspiration from, their positive attitude about the future, their absolute hunger to keep up with social media and innovation. To my dad, who has such a strong work ethic, an entrepreneurial mind, manages to keep up with pop culture even now, and does all this whilst putting his family first and having a lot of silly laughs along the way.

No matter who you meet, every day is a school day and a role model can be anyone, not just shiny leaders on pedestals or someone who has written a book. For me, it’s about noticing what inspires me or moves me to want to be better at life, work, love and friendship…and accepting that it’s ok to fail sometimes. So long as you learn from it. I’m not a fearless leader or wonder woman, I’m simply human and learning from others on my journey.

To find out more about Canning, check out the links below: