Helen is Director and founder of Affinity PR, a communications and marketing consultancy which serves clients in travel and tourism, food and hospitality, Third Sector, arts and culture. Helen’s clients can be based anywhere in the world.
Raised in Suffolk, Helen left high school after A Levels, missing out on University. To her surprise, when she did day-release and evening classes, she found she loved studying and finally learned how to pass exams! Applying to the University of Northumbria as a mature student, Helen completed her HND in Business and Finance with Visual Communication (passing with Distinction) in 1990, then quickly ran out of funds, which meant it was impossible to do full time post graduate study. Other evening classes followed, adding a Certificate in Management from City University in London and various certificates in disability inclusion and community involvement, course assessment and groupwork facilitation (via Open College Network’s modular learning programme). It was this unconventional and vocational route into learning that explains Helen’s continued interest in access to education and widening participation. It was a thrill when in 2012 The University of Suffolk invited her to become a Visiting Fellow, where she works regularly alongside academic staff and students in the School of Business, mainly on commercial applications of academic learning and employability skills.
Helen launched Affinity PR in 2008, using ethical practice which was considered disruptive for a creative agency, such as refusing agency commission kickbacks from media advertising outlets (thus enabling clients to benefit directly from discounted fees), involving interns only when time allowed for structured training and always paying a Living Wage. Helen chose a lean structure with a “virtual team” of expert consultants and chose not to hide behind some common measurements of business success, such as turnover figures, number of employees and size and location of office premises. From the outset her goal was to achieve flexible home working with low overheads and high net profitability ratios.
Being a national PR and media strategist, Helen has contacts and expertise in demand among other creative agencies, for whom she sometimes consults on a “white labelled” basis. This collaborative business approach was influenced by her former career in senior leadership roles at national charities Citizens Advice, Macmillan Cancer Support and RNIB, where measurable outcomes could be achieved faster and more cost effectively with strategic partnerships. Helen’s charity roles gave her expertise in volunteering strategy, education and training, user involvement and patient advocacy, both clinical and community settings. She became the youngest ever Trustee of Camden Volunteer Centre and a member of the National Volunteer Managers’ Forum.
Helen’s PR career had begun in 1990 as a paid intern in the Press Office at Edinburgh International Festival, where she promoted hundreds of world class artists and performances. Previous Marketing internships (as part of her HND course) were enjoyed at Northern Stage Company and Tyne Theatre & Opera House, shaping Helen’s decision to add cultural tourism, charity and arts projects to the portfolio of services offered by Affinity PR.
Helen is Suffolk network co-leader of WiRE (Women in Rural Enterprise). In June 2019 she was a joint recipient of The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service for outstanding service to the community, for pro bono PR Ambassador work with The Rural Coffee Caravan since 2003. She is also a Judging Panel member of the International Hotel Awards and International Property Awards.
Outside of work, if an event or festival involves books, live music, dance, food or “artsy nonsense” (to quote University of Suffolk Alumnus, Amy Wragg), there’s a good chance of spotting Helen. She also enjoys volunteering as a Debt Advisor with Recovery Hub Ipswich, a social enterprise helping addicts in recovery, and being a member of Suffolk Soul Singers, a 30-strong community choir.