My Life at Grayling: Meet Sian, Director of our Cardiff office

We’re a diverse group of brand communications experts, corporate and public affairs specialists, strategists, researchers, data analysts, designers, creatives and consultants who come together to create powerful, simple solutions, that create advantage for our clients.

Our My Life At Grayling series delves beneath the surface of our work, introducing you to the individuals who breathe life into it. We sat down with Sian, a Director in our Cardiff office, to talk about her career journey and her role at Grayling.

  1. Could you share with us the journey that led you into the world of Public Affairs and agency life?

I’ve had quite an unconventional journey into Public Affairs. I was a political nerd as a child; my Dad ran the newsroom at BBC Wales, so politics and current affairs were regularly discussed over the dinner table at home. After finishing my languages degree, I worked in media and radio production in Cardiff for a year, producing business programmes for BBC Radio Wales. But twenty-three-year-old me was desperate to head off to the Big Smoke, so I landed a ‘proper job’ as a fintech industry analyst in London, where I advised some of the world’s leading tech companies. It gave me a great grounding in the commercial and consulting world, and in how to manage client relationships in particular.

I subsequently moved to IBM Business Consulting services, working on transformation projects for banks and insurance companies as a strategy consultant. But my hankering for media and politics never went away, so on a whim I decided to apply for a job as a Work and Pensions Policy Advisor in the Conservative Research Department. Luckily, I managed to cram just about enough knowledge about pension reform into my brain ahead of the interview to be offered the job – although I was told afterwards that I’d taken far too soft a line on ID cards!

After a couple of years at CCHQ, I moved across to the House of Commons, working for Philip (now Lord) Hammond as his chief political adviser, covering all aspects of the Treasury brief and keeping an eye on Conservative spending pledges. After the 2010 election, I went to work as his Special Adviser in the Coalition Government, in the Department for Transport and the Ministry of Defence. So I’ve experienced politics from the perspective of both Government and Opposition, which I find hugely helpful in what I do now.

After a couple of years in Government, I took a career break to have a family, during which time I moved back home to Wales and did some creative writing (I have an as-yet-unpublished political novel in the drawer at home, which I doubt will ever see the light of day!) plus some pro-bono marketing and comms work. I always planned to return to political life, though, and while I was on my extended maternity leave I did my best to get to London regularly and keep up with contacts from my previous world. That paid off when I was offered a role leading the Cardiff office for another national public affairs agency, working with clients such as Swansea University, Openreach and Ciner Glass. I did that for five years, before getting the call from Grayling to head up its Wales team.

  1. We’re keen to learn more about the Cardiff office at Grayling. Can you tell us a little bit about the team and the work you do?

We’re proud to have had a presence in Cardiff for over 25 years, and we definitely punch above our weight in terms of breadth of accounts and client delivery. Our clients are from a wide range of sectors, ranging from tech, to energy, to housing and transport. We’ve got some really long-standing clients, plus some new really exciting accounts which have come on board in the last year. I’ve got a great team– Libby, who’s our Account Manager, and Gwion, who joined us as an Account Exec in January. Libby hails from Mid Wales and is a superstar when it comes to all things FMCG or agriculture-related. Gwion’s a fluent Welsh speaker who’s willing to turn his hand to anything and is already impressing clients with his insight. We also have other Welsh team members across the Grayling network who work on our Welsh accounts, giving us expertise at both ends of the M4 – and beyond.

We have a lovely office on the ninth floor of a skyscraper in Cardiff city centre, and we’re always happy to see visitors from across the Grayling network – there’s a great coffee shop downstairs plus plenty of good cafes and restaurants in the vicinity! The view’s not bad, either.

  1. Reflecting on your career thus far, which accomplishment stands out to you the most?

The day we learned our client, Stena Line, had been successful in its bid to create one of the first Welsh freeports was a definite high point, and marked the culmination of months of single-minded campaigning by a truly integrated, multi-disciplinary Grayling team. On a more personal note, it was incredible to be named Public Affairs Agency Professional of the Year at the PRWeek Corporate Affairs Awards recently.

Looking a little further back, walking into my first meeting at 10 Downing Street as a Special Adviser was a very proud – and slightly surreal – moment.

  1. What aspects of your role do you find particularly fulfilling?

Building strong and lasting relationships with clients and working as an extension of their team to find new, creative ways of shifting the dial in terms of their political and media engagement. I also really enjoy recruiting for and nurturing new talent; Grayling has a brilliant, supportive culture, and it’s great to see new recruits taking advantage of that and flourishing. I love the fact we have such a strong regional presence, and I make a point of visiting Grayling HQ in London regularly.

  1. Outside of work, how do you unwind and relax?

I’m a single parent to a lively ten year old boy, so that keeps me pretty busy. Most of my free time is spent being a taxi service to various extra-curricular activities! Otherwise, singing is my main passion. I’m a classically-trained mezzo-soprano and a professional lay clerk in Bath Abbey choir. I was fortunate enough to be appointed as one of its first female altos about five years ago. I’ve taken part in numerous concerts, services, tours, broadcasts and recordings over the years, and singing has taken me all over the world – from Westminster Abbey to the townships of South Africa.

Although it may seem totally different to the day job, there are definitely elements of my work as a singer that help with the more stressful aspects of being a public affairs practitioner. Performing a difficult solo in front of a large audience with minimal (or no) rehearsal is very good mental preparation for challenging pitches or TV appearances!  I’m very lucky that Grayling offers me the flexibility to have a musical life alongside my day job.


Find out more about the brilliant work our Cardiff team offers here: