PRoust Questionnaire: Helen Reynolds

Helen Reynolds

The PRoust Questionnaire provides a quick insight into a public relations practitioner’s interests and point of view, as well as her or his professional beliefs and values.

If you are not familiar with the original 19th-century Proust Questionnaire, please see details at the end of this post.

PRoust Questionnaire answers from Helen Reynolds:

1. What are your most striking characteristics as a PR practitioner?

I think it’s ‘realness’. Unlike the stereotype of the PR practitioner —  as the champers-quaffing, designer-body-con-dress-wearing, VIP – I’m more of a whisky down the pub, earnest, and not very trendy type. I think being fairly self-aware makes my work more relevant.

It’s easier to experiment and occasionally cock-up (then learn) when not presenting an image of professional perfection.

2. What is your principal fault as a PR practitioner?

I’m not into the details – I love the big idea, the creative problem solving and the community engagement but when it comes to implementing the nuts and bolts of a campaign, I just want someone else to sort it out.

I find the world too interesting and get thoroughly bored by routine and finer details of processes. My accountant is a man of patience and persistence.

3. What is your favourite occupation in PR?

I love a bit of comms strategy — specifically social media strategy and content planning. Give me the opportunity to set objectives and steer the creative and I’m in my element.

4. Why do you work in PR?

It’s fun! I’ve always been curious about society and human behaviour and have always loved to write and create — doing public relations for social good is being paid to do what I spend all my time thinking about anyway.

5. What is your idea of PR nirvana?

I love local government and creating a real change — so it might be something like working on a behaviour change social media campaign to get people to drive more safely or report abuse.

I also love inspiring other communicators to be bolder and have more impact so it might be running a workshop on making more creative content.

6. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery in PR?

Expectations of spin: when someone has done something wrong and their first instinct is to cover it up somehow.

At some point in their career, I think most PR people encounter the corporate psychopath — someone power-hungry, who will lie and bullsh*t and trample over whoever it takes to make a gain. You can persuade them that openness and honesty is a PR win, but it’s hard to like working with them.

7. What qualities do you most admire in a PR practitioner?

Integrity. And I’m inspired by in-house PR people who challenge their organisations. They earn the right to advise and shape where they work so that it makes better decisions and then communicates them brilliantly.

8. What qualities do you most dislike in a PR practitioner?

Gutlessness, apathy and jobsworthiness (if it’s not a word, it should be). I want PR people to use their skills to do excellent work, not just unquestioningly try to please a manager or a client. I also dislike PR people who want all their learning and development on a plate — only gaining new skills when put on a course.

There are PR people I’ve met who couldn’t name a favourite blog, don’t consume news or magazines and can’t see the point of Twitter. If you don’t get personal pleasure geeking out about something, it’ll be hard to understand the audiences you mingle with.

To be an interesting PR practitioner, you need to be an interested PR practitioner.

9. Who would you describe as a PR hero or villain?

The villain is Max Clifford. Even before news of his sex offences, he symbolised everything that I don’t want to be associated with.

10. What do you most value in your professional contacts?

I value curiosity.  I love when I find someone who can join me in a fascination with a subject and share experiences and information about that interesting thing.

There are many people who generously share what they know that influence me — the mentors and coaches who don’t know they do it.

11. Have you ever been influenced by a PR campaign?

I certainly have! From school with the Green Cross Code to adulthood with anti-speeding campaigns (I never drive over 70mph), and now with my Apple everything.

12. Where would you most like to practise PR?

I’d love to work more outside the UK. I took a trip to Boston last year and visited MIT and I was blown away by the work of the Media Lab and their generosity in sharing research. I’d love to work there.

Generally, I’m always happy anywhere to do with government or learning that lets me think about the future and affect social change.

13. Has a novel, film, play or other work of fiction ever influenced you as a PR practitioner?

The Century Of The Self gave me a sense of history,  responsibility and justice in PR.  

And Curb Your Enthusiasm for helping me feel understood and accept the Larry David inside me as I encounter the wonderfully weird world of PR.

14. Who do you think has great public relations?

Coke. The proof of this is that I drink gallons of Diet Coke – I think their focus on social sharability is amazing, letting each generation see this unchanging, fizzy stuff as relevant to their lives.

They’re also awful. I should stop drinking the stuff when I know about their dodgy practices in South America. 

15. Which real, historical or fictional person or brand would you like to give a reputation makeover?

Mick Hucknall. Bono. The bloke from Coldplay.  I don’t care for much of their music but they all share a reputation that seems fueled by mean-spiritness.

Mick Hucknall (of Simply Red fame) seems maligned because he had the cheek to be successful and popular with women while being ginger. And Bono seems to want to use his influence to talk to word leaders and make change. Arrogant maybe, misguided even, but it seems to be well-intentioned and isn’t that different from the more respected role of being a charity ambassador. There are worse things than trying to do good things even if they fail.

More credible artists seem to get away with awful decisions and behaviour.

16. Who is your favourite writer?

Gogol. He one of the authors I can happily re-read. Hilariously funny, often weird and the political satire in both The Government Inspector and Dead Souls says as much about modern bureaucracy as anything written today

17. What one thing is essential to your PR life?

The iPhone. It is magical and (thanks to over-reliance on Google Maps) I’m literally lost without it.

18. Groucho Marx is quoted as saying he’d never join a club that would have him as a member. Which PR club, association or tribes do you belong to—and why?

I’ve never wanted to be in many clubs, nor have I been invited! I admire the work of bodies like the CIPR and PRSA but I get most value from mixing in lots of circles – I’m a bit sluttish that way!

It’s good for me to be the least-knowledgeable in the room sometimes — so I go to tech meet ups, unconferences and things like the Boring Conference so I can soak in the philosophies and thinking from cliques and circles that wouldn’t accept me as a fully fledged member.

19. Where do you most like to do your professional networking?

Twitter. Without moving off my sofa, I can access the brains and larks from some of the most interesting people I can think of, all over the world. I’m quite shy and chatting before real-life meetings really helps me be braver in approaching cool people.

20. What’s the best career decision you ever made?

Taking a PR job I thought was perfect for me then hating it. I quit after a matter of weeks and was forced to set up my own business. A brilliant mistake.

21. What skills and abilities do you think tomorrow’s PR leaders need?

Adaptability – you can’t just learn how to manage a Facebook page or write a press release and think that will be enough for the rest of your career. The internet is changing our communication habits rapidly, trends and techniques will change and we have to spot trends and know how to attract attention.

22. Which talent would you most like to have?

Can I have three please? Organisation. Patience. Suffering of fools.

23. How would you like to end your PR career?

At the age of 150 with a comfortable and technologically enhanced body, surrounded by good, clever people who love me.

24. How would you describe the current state of public relations?

More talent than snakeoil salespeople, but with room for improvement.

25. What is your PR motto?

It’s social media, not corporate media — nobody wants to read your boring press release.

Helen Reynolds helps public service organisations with fun and impactful digital PR campaigns, and advises on how to boost staff professional development and better collaboration with the people that organisations serve. She also runs a series of lively in-house workshops on social media and communications. Helen has won quite a few awards for her work, but doesn’t like to talk too much about that.

The best way to connect with Helen Reynolds is through Twitter: @HelReynolds, her website: or Linkedin. She also doodles via work it out with a pencil.

The PRoust Questionnaire was originally designed to reveal one’s personality. Its name and popularity as a form of interview has roots in the responses given by the French writer, Marcel Proust. His first set of responses came at the end of the nineteenth century, when he was still in his teens (from an English-language “confession album”).

For PR Conversations we have adapted this original idea with questions that offer a public relations’ perspective. It is fun to compare and contrast responses as the series grows. (See below.)

If you would like to be invited to complete our PRoust Questionnaire for posting on PR Conversations, please visit our Crowdsourcing suggestion form.

Earlier PRoust Questionnaire respondents:

Gregor Halff

Tina McCorkindale

Andy Green

Sean Kelly

Helen Slater

João Duarte

Catherine Arrow

Stuart Bruce

Fraser Likely

Jane Tchan

Sean Williams

Al Clarke

Léa Werthman

Estelle de Beer

Don Radoli

Toni Muzi Falconi

Richard Bailey

Jane Jordan-Meier

Nelly Benova

Peter Stanton

Mat Wilcox

Anne Gregory

Markus Pirchner

Heather Yaxley

Judy Gombita

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4 Replies to “PRoust Questionnaire: Helen Reynolds

  1. Thanks Judy and I’m very happy to represent Wales!

    There were number of factors in why I hated that job. It was a fantastic role with lovely colleagues but I think the main problem was that I was flattered to be offered the role and in my decision to take it focused on the aspects I liked – like travel and salary.

    But the culture wasn’t as I had imagined – it was quite traditional and the atmosphere across all the teams was reserved. I felt I missed being surrounded by people on a mission.

    In public services, staff often moan, mess-up and back-stab, but there was never apathy – work moves quickly as these organisations deal with so many services that impact on people’s lives, and on dwindling budgets.

    It taught me about my motivation and that I thrive in fast-paced, complex environments, where a creative and decisive strategist is needed, and not stifled.

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed your answers, Helen, and I’m so glad you agreed to be respondent #26 (and the first from Wales).

    Regarding the “What’s the best career decision you ever made?” part: “Taking a PR job I thought was perfect for me then hating it,” would you share what aspect of that particular job you despised?

    For example, the corporate culture (or values), or perhaps the composition of staff in that particular department (I imagined the kind where people weren’t team players or generally snarky/spiteful in attitude). Maybe the size of the organization? Or the blandness of the work? Or maybe that the job was simply about marketing communications, with very little “reputation, value and relationships” PR?

    I await your answer to my probing question with baited breath.

  3. Hi Helen,
    Thanks – about time someone mentioned the corporate psychopath (a truly universal type).

    What’s your advice on dealing with them (other than distancing or firing)?


    1. Thank you Gregor! I loved reading your PRoust answers.

      My approach to the corporate psychopath is (as distancing or firing aren’t often options) patience in enduring them. I’ve always tried to be really clear about what advice or decision is right for the organisation first and then make a persuasive argument, that starts with how that will personally benefit the ‘corporate psychopath’ in question.

      Working with, rather than around, them is massively emotionally tiring those so I choose my battles wisely!

      I’d love to know how you deal with this inevitable scenario!

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