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What's it like to work in media at Aviva? Media Communications expert Sarah Poulter shares a day in the life
Aviva is well known for their groundbreakingly flexible parental policies - but what are they like in practice? To find out, we met with Sarah Poulter, Senior Media Communications Manager, who has worked at Aviva for the last 12 years. Read on as we talk last-minute TV interviews, the dramatic shift in media relations over the last 20 years and most importantly, mystery drama recommendations
What are the main responsibilities of your role?
My team is the main port of call for journalists – the interface between journalists and the company. I could be doing anything from tackling incoming journalist enquiries, writing press releases, monitoring any stories about Aviva, or any stories that could relate to us as a business. I also work closely with the social media team, arranging content for our social media channels, helping them to produce videos, and making sure that content is shared across as many platforms as possible. No two days are the same!
What time does your alarm go off?
Usually between 5:30-6am. I am an early riser, but I’m also early to bed, so it’s not that impressive! The first thing I do is get dressed, put on my dog-walking clothes and walk the dog. By the time I get home at 7am, the kids will be stirring, so I'll go up and turf them out of bed. When I leave depends on where I’m going to be – I work between London, York and at home. If I’m in London, I’m out the door early for the commute – in York, I usually drop the kids off to school and am in the office at around 9:10am. When I’m working from home – usually two days a week – it’s more relaxed, but then I do tend to log on earlier, and check my emails in between getting the kids breakfast.
What does an average work day look like?
Before I get to work, I check my emails for any breaking news that I need to be aware of. If there isn’t, great – I’ll walk the dog! But it's definitely something I have to keep an eye on.
It's a cliche that no two days are the same, but my work day can vary a lot depending on the news cycle and any campaigns Aviva is running. For example, this morning I’ve been researching people in the sandwich generation, ie caring for children and older parents at the same time. Later I’ll be recording a podcast with two people who are in that situation.
We’ll get a lot of journalist requests for case studies, so I respond to those every day – they're usually in response to something Aviva has done, for example, our equal parental leave policy. They might ask to speak to a senior person who was involved in setting up the policy, or be after some quotes from a father who’s done it. My job can feel like being a detective, working out what angle the stories will take.
What's your most memorable moment at work?
One that stands out was a day 10 years ago, when I worked on a project that required a lot of signing off and relaying back and forth. We all thought the story would never go out – but then when it did, it made the front page of the Daily Mail.
…In a good way?
In a good way! We’ve still got it framed in the office. I also really enjoyed working on the parental leave campaign. We did some filming with people who had taken equal leave, and they all brought their babies along – it was lovely. With projects like that, you really see the human side of people – it’s like the facade comes down. Everyone was really positive about the experience. It can sometimes be hard to find people willing to speak to the media, but with parental leave, everyone was falling over themselves to be involved.
What's your least favourite thing about your job?
I think in an ideal world I'd like to be able to plan more definitively. The excitement of an unpredictable schedule can be a double-edged sword – at any moment the phone could ring, and you’ll have to drop everything at a moment's notice. One such time was when we were asked by the media to talk about employee mental health. We went from that one initial phone call to speaking to local media, to getting in the car at 4am and driving to Manchester to be on breakfast television, all within 12 hours.
What does your evening hold?
I generally get home at about 6pm, when I inevitably sort out the day's fights between my children. Recently my husband started a new full-time job which has shaken up our schedule a bit, so I’ve really appreciated the flexibility at work. It’s great that you can leave early for a school assembly or a sports day without any judgement.
It's usually me that cooks the tea, as my husband gets back a bit later – if I ask him to cook it’s usually a takeaway. I choose meals that aren’t too demanding, and I plan ahead with batch-cooking and freezing at the weekends, so we eat a lot of chilli and casseroles. My husband gets sick of pasta, but I love it. It’s so easy!
How has Aviva helped to balance work with family life?
When I had children, staying on top of things became a military operation – it makes you very focused, and that’s something that’s stayed with me. Luckily, the new shift in awareness in the last few years means flexibility is genuinely accepted. As long as the work is being done, people don’t really care when you do it. In terms of stress levels, it really reduces that kind of present-ism panic. If we can work around life and family commitments and keep talented people in the workplace, why wouldn’t we?
How has the industry of media relations changed over the last 20 years?
Social media wasn’t a thing when I first started. At my first job, we were sending out press packs through the posts. I remember standing by a fax machine faxing out press releases, which is unthinkable now. I think we had one email account for the whole organisation!
Now social media has really taken over. We still do traditional press relations, but social media means we have our own channels where we can release the stories that we want. There’s a lot more control over what you put out into the world.
What advice would you give to someone working in your field today?
Have an open mind. Years ago, I thought I would never work in financial services – I didn’t think it would be interesting. Having worked here now for 12 years, I think any job is what you make it. Anything can be interesting if you can make it relevant to people. Working in media communications gives you the opportunity to work across lots of different areas – from diversity and inclusion to corporate responsibility for the environment.
If you didn't work in media, what would you do?
I’d like to bake cakes for a living, or do something crafty and creative, producing something with my hands. I have been recently watching The Great British Sewing Bee and thinking, I could do that! I couldn’t at all, of course. I think I’ve managed to break every sewing machine I’ve owned. So the idea is maybe best left in my head.
Finally, we've heard that you’re a mystery drama fan. Any recommendations?
I’m watching Line of Duty at the moment. I actually went back and watched previous series to check for anything I’d missed. I also like David Suchet’s Poirot, and Miss Marple – and I loved And Then There Were None on the BBC a few years ago. I'll watch anything from Midsomer Murders to Death in Paradise, all that rubbish. Wait, don’t say rubbish – all that excellent quality drama!
This article is sponsored by Aviva. Interested in working flexibly? Read more about Aviva, and browse their latest flexible roles on Mumsnet jobs.