Hi Neil. When did you take up your current position?
I started at CIPA in August 2014. Before joining CIPA, I worked for the Probation Association, the national membership body for the Probation Trusts of England and Wales. As the Association's PR and Communications Manager, I held the most senior communications position in the probation service outside of Government, briefing politicians and creating and managing many national media appearances by senior probation chiefs.
How did you find yourself working in the world of associations, having started your professional life as a journalist?
After leaving journalism I moved into PR, working for a city agency before moving into the public sector. My entrée into the membership sector came when I joined the Probation Association.
Are you a member of an association and, if so, why is membership important to you?
I am a member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations and I often attend CIPR’s public affairs group events. These keep me plugged into latest practice developments and political tips and ideas. It is important to network with peers to exchange thoughts about your profession.
Can you pick out a career highlight from the last year or so?
CIPA’s response to Brexit stands out as a highlight of the past 18 months for me. While much of the legal landscape is facing a period of confusion and uncertainty, there’s a more positive story to tell about patents and the work of patent attorneys. The European patent system operates beyond the European Union and its institutions and, therefore, the European work of UK-based patent attorneys will continue completely unaffected by Brexit. I have been at the forefront of promoting this “business as usual” message to key markets around the world. In the immediate aftermath of the EU referendum, I worked with CIPA’s numerous friends and stakeholders in the USA, China, Japan, Korea and other countries to ensure our message had as wide a circulation and publication as possible.
I also played a leading role in a pan-organisation initiative to produce international marketing materials, including a brochure and animated video, showing why clients overseas should continue to choose UK IP professionals. Post-referendum, CIPA also worked closely with the UK Government to push ahead with plans for a single European patent court, the Unified Patent Court, and I worked very closely with CIPA's President and colleagues in Government on this front. This is just some of the Brexit-related business I’ve been involved with. It’s been hectic, but rewarding!
What is the best thing about working in an association?
It is difficult to pick out one thing, but perhaps it’s simply the people and the camaraderie that comes with working with skilled membership professionals who are all committed to providing the best services for members. Of course, office camaraderie exists elsewhere in the professional world and I have worked with some tremendous people in both the private and public sector. But in my experience, those working in membership are a special breed and I love working alongside them. Plus the members themselves. They are volunteering their time for the greater good of their profession and it is rewarding to be able to add value to their efforts through my skills and expertise.
What is the most difficult thing about working in an association?
Decision-making can be a slow process in associations, as decisions may need to be approved by a committee and then again by a Council or Board. In communications there is often a need to move quickly, for example on a media a statement, and so to have your plans slowed down by internal bureaucracy can, at times, be frustrating.
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing associations in the next two or three years?
We are fortunate in CIPA that Brexit will not have such a potentially damaging effect as on other professions and sectors. But no-one will be immune from more general effects on the economy. The effects of Brexit are likely to be profound and unpredictable and associations will have to face its challenges alongside their members.
What advice would you give the younger you starting out in an association, based on the experience you now have?
Find a job in the membership earlier! It is a rewarding and friendly sector to work in.
Why be anywhere else?