#50Over50: Suzy Giles

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

In a world of increasing globalisation it helps to have a global view and a life time of travel has given Suzy Giles just that. And it’s more important than ever now she finds herself in The Hague working in ESG communications (Environmental, Social and Governance) for ERM, the world’s largest consultancy focused solely on sustainability.

Suzy’s story is, in some ways, quite typical of a practitioner now in their 50s. Born and raised in Liverpool she was the first in her family to go to university as part of that move to widen participation in higher education. But from there, not so typical!

“I loved Liverpool but I was driven from a young age to move away and do something different  – education gave me that opportunity,” says Suzy.

“Back then I didn’t know there was any such thing as a career in communications, but I felt I wanted to do something in the field of media.” Journalism was on the cards for a while.

I realised for the first time the impact PR could have.

However, while at university in Nottingham Suzy started a part-time job  at Nottingham Playhouse which she loved and it was here she got her first taste of the power of PR.  Suzy picks up the story: “We were trying to sell tickets for an Alan Bleasdale play and  the press office got an interview for him on BBC Radio 4 and from then the phone didn’t stop ringing and we were sold out in minutes! I realised for the first time the impact PR could have.”

They were exciting times meeting celebrities who came to the theatre – Brian May, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman to name just a few. But Suzy was soon to take off on her first travels.

“I think our admin director saw something in me and reminded me that  I wanted to travel and so instead of applying for arts communications jobs in London,  I trained to teach English as a foreign language and off I went to Milan. An eight-month contract turned into three years and I ended up, still in my mid-20s, being director of studies for the school  with 600 students!’

“I think they saw potential in me that I hadn’t seen myself – which has actually been a bit of a theme through my career. It certainly gave me a lot of skills plus the ability to speak Italian!”

Back in the UK Suzy started working for the University of East Anglia (UEA) in their English Language Centre, where at the time, they were struggling to recruit students.

So, Suzy being Suzy, she set about putting things right with a revamped website and new programmes. It soon saw her joining the university’s international office and travelling the world to recruit students. Mexico, Brazil, Russia, Vietnam, South Korea and Japan were just some of the destinations leading to her platinum KLM flyer status!

Seriously though, this opportunity increased her global outlook but again showed her the positive impact PR can have.

“The impact on people’s lives through study could be incredible. When someone received funding to study in the UK they would take that learning back to their country and improve lives for others. I remember one student from Sierra Leone who came to do a Master’s in International Development to then return home to help  people communicate better about the disease Ebola, and so save lives. And it all started with a communications campaign to get him there in the first place.”

Now as a consultant in ESG communications Suzy feels her work is still having a positive impact – something that really matters to her.

Sustainability wasn’t new to her when she joined ERM in 2021. Suzy had worked with climate scientists at UEA and witnessed climate denial first hand as far back as 2009, when the university’s emails were hacked in a bid to try and prove that its scientists had manipulated data to make climate change look worse than it was. It’s the subject of a BBC drama.

“The international media were on our doorstep,” says Suzy.  “And I witnessed first-hand the danger of misinformation.”

It’s still controversial today of course. “We’ve done a good job showing people the world is warming – we have the Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Agreement, but it’s frightening to see a reversal of commitments in the UK  and an ESG push back in the US. It presents challenges for organisations in terms of communicating the continued importance of this work with employees when they witness this,” says Suzy.

One thing Suzy is clear about is the need to communicate hope and the message that people can do something. “It’s dangerous to always talk in the negative, yes it’s good to wake people up to the issue but don’t leave people thinking that they can’t do anything about it.

It’s our job to do what we’ve always done and make the complex as accessible as possible.

“It’s our job to do what we’ve always done and make the complex as accessible as possible.”

Suzy shares her knowledge and expertise as chair of the CIPR ESG Panel and is committed to lifelong learning having completed both the CIPR Professional PR Diploma and the Association for Measurement and Evaluation (AMEC) Certificate with us at PR Academy.

“It’s a fast moving world and we need to stay on top of things by always learning – both on the job and through professional qualifications,” she says. “The PR Diploma for example gave me a framework for the advice that I was giving my senior leaders and that improved my confidence.”

In Suzy the PR and communication profession as a great advocate for ESG and sustainability communications. We’re lucky to have her!