#50Over50: Tehmina Boman-Behram
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
Many of us find ourselves working in communication more by accident than by design. The great strength of this is the experience and knowledge gathered in other fields that helps us to be better practitioners.
It might be knowledge of what it’s like to run a business, to employ people or it might be a special skill or area of expertise.
Tehmina Boman-Behram who I spoke to for the latest in our series of #50Over50 interviews is a case in point.
I met Tehmina when she joined us at PR Academy for the CIPR Specialist Diploma in Internal Communication. She lives in the West Country and as I’m from Somerset we had plenty to chat about!
What I didn’t know until I talked to Tehmina for this feature was what an interesting career she has had and how the skills learned in her early career are now more relevant than ever.
Tehmina began her career as a photographer following a degree in the subject at Nottingham. Once qualified, she made the move to London to work as a freelance photographer. She’s most proud of the work she did for charities including London Lighthouse. “It was a centre for people with HIV/AIDS” she explains.
“Lighthouse led the way in people-centred care and really helped break down the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS that was rife at that time. I am very grateful to everyone at the centre who gave me permission to photograph them, from the dedicated staff to patients on the residential unit as well as ‘off duty’ celebrities, visiting quietly to lend their support away from the glare of the paparazzi’s lens. Having said that, there were incredible scenes when Elizabeth Taylor visited London Lighthouse in 1991 with everyone swept up in a whirlwind of Hollywood glamour. One of my photos was published in the Daily Mirror the next day.
“But life as a freelance was tough – the best way to make a living was with a staff job but they were hard to come by. So, I moved into picture research – I worked at the BBC in a dusty old picture library, everything was still organised on card indexes!”
From there Tehmina moved to work first at the Press Association and then for Corbis Images, a start-up funded by Bill Gates and one of the first online picture libraries (subsequently sold to Getty Images). This sales role, which included some exciting trips to New York, brought her a new set of skills in sales and client relationship management.
She and her husband – who was also working as a picture editor – could see that digital was changing the world of photography and the newspaper industry as a whole
Freelancing followed on the picture desks of London-based magazines and newspapers, including titles as disparate as Heat Magazine and The Independent newspaper. But both she and her husband – who was also working as a picture editor – could see that digital was changing the world of photography and the newspaper industry as a whole. It coincided with a desire to move out of London and back to a more rural environment.
So, in a total career change, they moved to Somerset and established a successful organic food delivery business as franchisees for Riverford Organic Farmers, a business which they ran for 15 years. This was Tehmina’s introduction to marketing, communication, events and social media.
Alongside the business she also undertook temporary contracts in local government communications, and it was then that it hit her that she hadn’t done any structured learning since her degree.
I was heading towards my 50s and felt that my confidence needed a boost. I had really been picking things up as I went along and I wanted to underpin it with something and be confident that I could do what people were asking.
During COVID she began work with the local County Council as an internal communication officer. “I was initially a bit disappointed as I wanted to do something a bit more glamourous – perhaps something in digital. I thought ‘this is going to be dry and dusty’ but actually it was the best thing that could have happened!
“I genuinely find internal communication fascinating and it’s where I want to spend the rest of my career.”
By this time Tehmina was into her 50s. “I think there is a common perception at this age that even though you are good at your job, your age means you don’t want to progress and the danger is you start to think that about yourself!
“I was enjoying my role but felt a bit stuck. I’d been looking at doing the CIPR Specialist Diploma in Internal Communication for ages and one day I just decided to go for it! I had to fund it myself and I wasn’t sure that I could do it. But I remember Kevin our course leader saying ‘you can do it and we’re here to help’ and that gave me the confidence I needed.”
Tehmina has also found that the skills learned in her very first career are now ones that so many communicators need today – knowing what works visually.
“In some ways, leaving photography and work on a busy picture desk, albeit a bit of a rough and ready environment, was hard – it took me a while to come to terms with it, but here I am back using many of those skills! I understand what makes a good picture, how to brief out photography or film work, how to light for the right image.
“Employees often only have a short amount of time to engage with your content and if you can draw them in with a good image – you’re on the way to them engaging with the whole message.”
Tehmina hasn’t looked back since gaining her CIPR qualification. She now volunteers with the CIPR South West Committee, is doing CPD and considering becoming chartered.
I’ve been really inspired talking to Tehmina – what a wonderfully varied career. And when she isn’t doing all of the above she loves her West Country life and being in nature. When we spoke it was her birthday and she was heading to Exmoor for a weekend in the outdoors – wonderful!
Our occasional #50Over50 series sets out to celebrate mature practitioners. At the same time we want to demonstrate to young practitioners that PR and communication careers come in all shapes and sizes which is why we love to feature those who don’t seek the limelight.