As part of Grayling’s The Corporate Affairs Q&A series, we recently sat down with Sophie Timms, Corporate Affairs Director at Kier Group. We talked about Sophie’s role leading a high-performing Corporate Affairs team, the challenges facing the industry and the advice she’d give those starting out in their careers. We hope you enjoy reading the interview.

Tell us a about your role leading Corporate Affairs at Kier Group and what that involves?

Corporate Affairs is different at every organisation and at Kier it’s very much an all-encompassing role, with my team covering everything from public affairs to media relations to customer service. That provides me with a huge amount of variety in what I do each day – in the morning I might be working with our team on developing our external communication strategy, and in the afternoon I might be reviewing a government tender. I love this aspect and find it hugely rewarding.

What attracted you to the role leading the Corporate Affairs function at Kier?

Having worked in the financial services sector for 20-plus years I was keen for a change. I always had an interest in the construction sector given my father had worked in the industry and was particularly attracted to Kier because of the nature of the public sector work. To be able to work for a company that interacts with so many different government departments was something I knew would present a fascinating Corporate Affairs challenge.

What have been the biggest changes in the world of Corporate Affairs during your career?

Ten years ago, the worlds of Public Relations, Public Affairs and Investor Relations were their own separate niches. Nowadays it’s completely different. Corporate Affairs has become a space and a crossroads for storytellers to gather, leading to a convergence of all these different areas. We all seek to bring to life stories, narratives and points of view in order to make them engaging for our respective audiences.

I think an interesting point is that despite Corporate Affairs emerging as its own distinct field, it still doesn’t have a clear career route. There is no university you can go to in order to study Corporate Affairs and more junior roles typically focus on just one of the disciplines.

What are the big issues the Corporate Affairs team at Kier is wrestling with at the moment?

I would describe 2024 as the year where the business world has emerged from what feels like a permacrisis that has been ongoing since the Covid-19 pandemic began in March 2020. Corporate Affairs as an industry has done a great job in grappling with those complex challenges and it feels we are well positioned to help the businesses we work with seize the opportunities that a more stable external environment may create.

In terms of immediate challenges, I’d point to the continued impact of digital technologies and the emergence of Artificial Intelligence. The impact of digital on the Corporate Affairs landscape has been felt for a long time now and long gone are the days of purely analogue media, but I think what’s most important is this landscape is constantly changing and forcing organisations to adapt. Social media never stands still, new platforms and channels are always emerging and presenting new challenges and opportunities.

As for AI, the technology is still at an early stage but it’s about identifying where it can help you and embracing that. I have found there are many tasks in Corporate Affairs where AI is very far away from being a silver bullet but there may be some areas where it can help spark ideas or create a draft to work from, which will save time in the business.

What do you love about the world of Corporate Affairs?

I love the variety of work I get to carry out in my role every day. Although it can be tiring at times, the sheer excitement of the world of Corporate Affairs makes up for it all. The ability to work in such a fast-paced environment is something that I truly enjoy.

I also love that Corporate Affairs brings together people from so many backgrounds and disciplines and that diversity of thought is something I really appreciate. There is rarely a day when I am not learning something new from a colleague with a different expertise or specialism.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in a career in Corporate Affairs today?

I would recommend moving around the different Corporate Affairs disciplines as early possible and to make sure not to pigeonhole yourself. A piece of advice I would give to would be to develop an understanding early of Public Affairs, the way policy is made and legislation is made can be quite complex and getting to grips with this early can be really beneficial.

I would also say curiosity is key. If the past five years are anything to go by who knows where the world of Corporate Affairs will be in five years’ time. To succeed in Corporate Affairs you need to have the curiosity and broader mindset to dive into new areas and understand emerging themes.

Finally, I’d say that learning to listen is just as important (and arguably more important) as learning to talk. Developing listening skills is something that has hugely benefitted me in my career and for a Corporate Affairs professional the ability to read a room is essential.


If you are interested in learning more about Grayling’s work in Corporate Affairs then please contact Charlotte Harvey