Author & Assistant Tell All!

The PA Hub Development Event

Deloitte Leeds, 4 September 2014

After surviving the glass elevator and reaching Deloitte’s offices on the tenth floor overlooking City Square in Leeds, I think every PA Hub member and guest was ready for a drink! Thankfully, there was a fully-stocked bar on offer to accompany some delicious canapés provided by Crafthouse and Angelica, which we all sampled whilst browsing the exhibitor stalls. It was great to meet new faces on the exhibitor stands, including SmartaidUK, a Yorkshire social enterprise.

After a solid hour of networking, which in the PA Hub world never quite seems like long enough as there are so many people to catch up with and new faces to meet, we headed through to the main conference room. In a slight departure from the usual PA Hub style, Marion had decided to spice things up a little with an evening of slightly raunchy speakers.

Although Jane Linfoot and Katie McEwan come from very different professional backgrounds (one is an author, one is an assistant), their stories have striking similarities. Both women have made quite startling career changes, and in very different ways their work life shifts are linked to developments in the literary world. Jane told us about how the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon helped to blow open the romance writing field, and Katie explained how this development changed the market for Ann Summers as curious readers went shopping, hoping to emanate their book heroines and heroes.  Both women are working in a post-fifty shades world and learning what this means for their respective professions, which thankfully made for a very interesting evening of complementary presentations for us!

Jane Linfoot kicked off the presentations, telling us about being a romance author and writing for the Harper Collins ‘Impulse’ imprint. Jane talked us through her inspirational career path, moving from architect to property developer and then on to being a published writer. It was so interesting to hear about Jane’s journey as an author, from what inspired her to first put pen to paper and begin writing a romance book, through to what being a published author means in day-to-day working life. Jane talked us through the process which led to the publication of three books in under two years, including How to Win a Guy in 10 Dates, The Right Side of Mr Wrong and finally High Heels and Bicycle Wheels.

Jane also shared some industry knowledge with us, such as how the romance book market is changing, the ‘hotness’ scale of romance writing, and also the competitiveness of this area. I couldn’t believe that a romance book is sold every six seconds, meaning that Jane is working in one of the most challenging -yet potentially lucrative- fields of publishing. One of my favourite parts of the evening was hearing a collective sigh of relief as Jane shared with us a little-known secret: reading romance releases the same endorphins as going to the gym! This of course means that reading on our kindles is pretty much the same as pounding the treadmill…or so we would like to think.

The overriding message of Jane’s talk was encouragement and positivity. It was very inspiring to hear how career risks can pay off so spectacularly, and also fascinating to see how Jane framed her career change as ‘doing something for herself’. Jane highlighted how, as women, we so often try to please everyone else and forget about doing things for ourselves. We put our family, children, husband, boss, sister, cousin (the list goes on) before ourselves, and may overlook the chances we have at work. So, Jane’s message was to do something for ourselves, and to make that thing career-related!

Next, it was onto one of the real high-flyers of the assistant world, Katie McEwan, who is the self-proclaimed ‘girl from Essex who became PA to the queen of sex’. That’s right, Katie is PA to Jacqueline Gold, CEO of Ann Summers.

Katie’s presentation gave the audience a fascinating insight into her ever-evolving role, how she came to work at Ann Summers, and what the future might be for the role.  It made sense for Katie to start her story by telling us about her journey from graduation to the moment she got the life-changing call from the recruitment consultant who was looking for a PA for Jacqueline. Katie’s career change was not a simple one – it had taken her a long time to get into the position she held within the media world. However, what shined through in Katie’s presentation was her ambition, and this is exactly what drove her to consider the job with Jacqueline.

Although I knew a little about Ann Summers before hearing Katie’s presentation, listening to her made me look at the company in a completely different light. I had no idea that their lingerie is produced in the same factory as luxury giants such as Myla and Agent Provocateur. Also, despite its sexy reputation, at the core it is a business run by women, for women. This is a rare thing in today’s world, and a real inspiration to hear about. Katie’s explanation of the working environment is very telling – she describes it as “Hugely empowering, great fun and never a dull moment, in an environment where every employee is encouraged to raise their head above the parapet.”

I was absolutely astounded to hear about all that Katie’s current role involves. Her position means leading a team of six, heading up the executive support department, managing the cost centre budget including planning and forecasting, driving the PR strategy, managing charity associations and handling the charitable budget. Amazingly, Katie combines these professional accomplishments with an amazing set of personal achievements.

Katie also touched upon the role of the assistant and the importance of the executive support role as being a central point within an organisation and the epicentre of information within a business. Assistants are unique in that they are accessible to staff across all levels, and combine this accessibility with sensitivity, years of experience and in-depth business knowledge. It was particularly enlightening to see Katie’s vision for the future of the assistant role as evolving more towards being that of a business assistant: an advisor, mentor and executive business leader who is involved in strategy and owns business initiatives.

Katie also highlighted the importance of having a boss who understands your ambition and is willing to help you to spread your wings. In Katie’s case, this has meant getting involved in the PA world. Through judging PA competitions, presenting at conferences, and networking, Katie has been able to meet like-minded and talented PAs, which in turn has helped her to discover and understand her own role, and continually improve.

Overall, it was a very enlightening evening with a slightly sexy theme, and definitely a standout event in the PA Hub calendar which members will be talking about for months to come.

By India Woof

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