#50over50: Elizabeth Maclean and Mike Evans
About the author
Ann is a co-founder of PR Academy. Her special areas of interest are internal communication, change management and project communication. MSc, Dip CAM, MCIPR
Elizabeth Maclean and Mike Evans have recently joined forces to launch Herdwick Communications.
Some people might be of the opinion that hitting your 50s is a time for winding down, but if our occasional #50Over50 series has shown us anything, it’s that this view is old-hat.
Elizabeth and Mike are a case in point. “Launching Herdwick has taken at least 15 years off me!” laughs Mike. It certainly seems so, talking to them both online (Elizabeth from Dubai and Mike from France) the energy shines through.
At PR Academy we have known Elizabeth for some time, she is a graduate of the CIPR Professional PR Diploma and qualified in digital communication with us too, she’s a real advocate of lifelong learning and ethical practice.
So why strike out on their own now? Over to Elizabeth: “I’ve consciously divided my career between agency and in-house. I think if you are going to be advising clients you need to understand what it’s like in-house. But setting up a business wasn’t something I had imagined I’d do.”
Elizabeth and Mike worked together in the airline industry in Dubai and felt that they did their best work when they worked together.
Setting up in business wasn’t something Mike had in his plans either. He explains: “The thing is when you reach your 50s you know what you’re good at and what you want to do. As Elizabeth says, we work really well together and when you find someone you can work with like that it suddenly feels like exactly the right thing to do and the right time to do it.”
Perhaps there is a positive advantage to setting up in consultancy at a later stage in one’s career? Mike says that’s definitely the case. “You’re giving counsel from a place of knowledge and extensive experience which is what the client really needs.
“And speaking personally, it’s brought a new enthusiasm for what we do, I can’t wait to get the day started and I start it with a spring in my step!”
Elizabeth agrees. “We’re all going to have more phases to our careers and having the opportunity to set up Herdwick provided us with the next phase in ours.”
As well as a perception that we should all be winding down in our 50s some may think that while a mature practitioner has experience, are they staying relevant in a changing communication landscape? For Elizabeth and Mike this is high on their agenda. Coupling up to date skills and knowledge with years of experience is a powerful combination. Elizabeth says: “This is why I did the digital diploma with PR Academy for instance.
I felt the PR industry was a bit behind the curve on social media and I knew it would become key for the sector. The day after I submitted my assignment, I had an interview for an in-house role which I got and was able to build a team from scratch, immediately applying what I had learned.
Elizabeth and Mike are also an example of a successful hybrid working that many have come to embrace following the pandemic. While the business is UK-based, Elizabeth divides her time between Dubai and London, while Mike can often be found in France. As they build an international client base this is a real benefit. “We can go wherever the client needs us to go,” says Mike. “In our kind of work that call for help may come at 2am, you don’t need to be in an office.”
Through Herdwick, Elizabeth and Mike will be drawing on their experience to partner with in-house teams to develop communication strategies, crisis and reputation management. They have identified a strong appetite for what they can offer. Both have worked in a high-risk operational environment so understand the importance of managing risk to avert issues and crises – but also what’s needed if the worse does happen.
Working together in a new business is very different to being in-house together but Elizabeth and Mike have a good formula. “We’re both hard workers” says Elizabeth and neither wants to let the other one down!” They’ve also had lots of support and encouragement from others in the industry with plenty of tips and advice on setting out on your own.
Although there is an international feel to the business it has a very English name – Herdwick is breed of sheep from the Lake District in the north of England. So, what have sheep got to do with PR? Well, Mike comes from a Cumbria farming family and knows the breed well. What the Herdwick is known for mirrors their own ethos and qualities. The lovely Herdwick sheep find themselves in a challenging environment and need resilience, strength, capability and an ability to see the path ahead, even on a misty Lakeland day!