Colleen Harris on Winning the Personality Wars


Last month, the university organised a riveting  Big Picture Lecture, with the help of our lecturer Nicky Garsten, presenting Colleen Harris and how to win the personality wars. Colleen, the honourary patron of the PR Fraternity, has achieved amazing things within the PR industry with over 30 years experience in her profession. From advising the Prince of Wales and working for Prime Ministers, to working in arts boards such as the Dulwich Picture Gallery and becoming a Director of Strategy and Communications.

Colleen began by talking about how reputation management is everything when being in the spotlight. The first example given was how the royal family used to be relatively private and it was not that long ago that Harry was in hot water due to racial spats. However, recently within the media, the reputation of the royal family has became more relaxed and positive. This is proof that reputation management can ‘shift perceptions’ and how it is paramount in the PR world.

An interesting fact about Colleen is when she joined the industry 30 years ago, she joined as a young black woman in a time that was still quite racist and sexist. Colleen worked hard to grow her reputation so that she could get the acknowledgement that she so rightly deserved. This led on to her first tip to set strong personal goals, due to the constant rise in fierce competition. We were told about how it is not just about how strong you qualifications are, or the name, or even how hard we worked, it is also a great deal to do with our words and actions.

“Perception is Reality”

The next thing Colleen stressed was the power of social labelling and how it can make or break a person. People react to your label, therefore if it is not strong or positive, it can limit ones performance and perception. The business response has shifted recently and everything is becoming more personalised which should be noted as along with the response shifting, the reputation of business have become increasingly important in recent years. Businesses want their workers to contribute personally as well as professionally and it is now more important to talk to people about what they want to achieve. Businesses are now thinking that people are their biggest asset which shows in the statistics. From 35% down to 25% and falling, brand and reputation are rapidly becoming the larger value.

“Our greatest asset in an organisation are the employees”

Colleen additionally gave us an exercise to do which could aid in improving our own image an reputation, as well as working out who we are as a person. She stated how it was not about how we appear on our social media accounts but how we understand our own strengths and weaknesses, our own values and what we want to achieve in the long run. The exercise was to write down what it is like to have a relationship with yourself, then ask a friend or a colleague to write the same thing. Then look at the differences between the two answers. This should help understand the authentic you.

“Essentially, your reputation is your most valuable asset- so guard it well”

The age of difference is another focus of Colleens and how it has become externally and internally. Externally there is more customer demands, a difference in human identity and due to the advances in technology, there is more choice. Internally on the other hand, there is a large culture change and people have begun to search for meaning and the opportunity to make a difference. When Colleen first joined the industry, she was the only black person in the team across the country, but now the attitudes on race and disability have shifted slightly, although there still isn’t as much diversity as there should be.

The Last thing that was focused on, is how to be a great leader and what they have in common. Here are just a few main points:

  • Self awareness
  • Storytelling
  • Empathy
  • Finger on the pulse


The Big Picture Lecture was a great success and whether you worked in PR or any other business sector, there was something valuable for everyone to take away from it. A massive thank you to Colleen Harris for giving us her time and if you’ve missed this one do not hesitate to sign up for a big picture lecture in future!


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