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Communication: a family legacy

Updated: Oct 14, 2019

James Thorp has been working with WRENmedia since February as APRA ICE officer, among other responsibilities. As he prepares for a new career with the army, we asked what skills he will take with him and what it’s been like keeping business in the family.

James with his mother and WRENmedia director, Susanna, and his grandfather Michael, WRENmedia’s founder.

Since joining WRENmedia in February, what have you been doing and what have you enjoyed the most?

Primarily, I’ve been doing editing work and writing up/designing social media posts and analytics for various clients, but I have also done some writing. The editing work is interesting but it’s the writing that I’ve enjoyed the most – it’s where my passion lies, which is probably the same for all of us in a way. The articles I have written include book reviews and news articles for Spore magazine and a blog for the WRENmedia website. I particularly enjoyed writing the blog as it was about climate change and public perception, which was great for me as it is my ‘pet topic’.

Has anything surprised you during your time with us in getting a greater insight into what WRENmedia do?

With the company being set up by my grandfather and now being run by my mother, I have always been aware of what the company did, but there have still been some surprises. Generally, I always associated WRENmedia with Spore, which has constituted the majority of the company’s work, particularly in last 6-7 years, but I didn’t realise how much work was done for other organisations like IDRC and ICARDA, and that some of it is really nitty gritty scientific stuff. I didn’t know that WREN also provides regular communication support for APRA. For instance, we help with editing blogs, briefs and news items for the website and providing social media posts, as well as assisting with the design of the outputs, and providing other communications advice/input. So learning what APRA is and what we do for them has been enlightening.

It’s not always easy working with family but overall how have you found working with such a small tight-knit team?

My mum and I get on really well, and always have done. So even though it was a bit strange having my mum as my boss, it’s been great, and I have enjoyed working as part of a tight-knit team, it’s more personal. It’s also quieter, and it’s nice to have a calm office rather than a busy, bustling one. It’s also easier to get to know people properly, which in a big team I think you can lose sometimes.

You have split your time between working in London and Suffolk, what do you think are the pros and cons of working at the rural office?

A definite pro is just being in the countryside – not just driving in, but going out for walks at lunchtime and being in the fresh air. As much as I love London, it can be claustrophobic at times, especially if you’ve grown up in the countryside. It’s also much easier to communicate with everyone at the Suffolk office because we can speak in person instead of over Slack (internal messaging app). However, the benefit of being able to work in London remotely is that I can keep the semblance of the life and work I was doing there, and also do WRENmedia work. But it’s good to be able to come back periodically to Suffolk and spend time with the team, as well as have some time with my family.

Are there particular communication skills that you feel you have learnt or been able to improve on during your time here? What do you think will be most useful to you in the future?

The communication skills I have learnt and developed in particular relate to using social media as a business. Although I was fairly comfortable with social media before joining the company, being the generation and age that I am, I have still learnt a lot, including how to compile social media analytics into detailed reports, and writing posts for Spore. Seeing how WRENmedia has so successfully run social media campaigns for the magazine and for other clients has definitely been a good learning curve.

I think that being able to concisely write a tweet, or multiple tweets, about what can sometimes be a fairly complex article is definitely a skill. At first, it would take me a long time to write social media posts for the articles and it was frustrating as you feel like it should be easy but, in reality, that's not the case! But along the way, something clicks, and suddenly you can do it quicker. There is certainly a knack to it and some experience helps.

Otherwise, working with WREN has been good to improve my editing skills, which helps with writing and vice versa. So, I think it’s both of those things, the social media and the editing skills that I will take forward. I’ve also learnt a good amount about the development policy world, specifically agricultural. I think these invaluable insights are definitely very helpful, and can only broaden my expertise.

Toby Penrhys-Evans

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