Developing leadership thinking


How one of the UK’s leading communications consultancies is building for further success

Communications and public relations is an increasingly competitive sector in which technical knowledge and competence are no longer differentiating factors.

To find new ways to add value to its clients and deliver even greater impact, PLMR, a multi-award-winning communications consultancy, turned to Oxford Saïd for its leadership development.


Founded in 2006, with offices across the UK employing 85 people, PLMR provides a range of services including strategic advice, public affairs, public relations, crisis communications, digital services and planning communications.

It works across a broad range of business sectors but has a particular focus and expertise in education, health and social care, the built environment, technology, energy, and sustainability.

Its clients include Battersea Power Station, Gumtree, HC-One, Jet 2, and Bristol University. Since its foundation, PLMR has donated 5 per cent of its net profits to charity every year.

By 2020 with the firm 14 years old, PLMR’s founder and CEO Kevin Craig wanted to find executive education that was market-leading, high-quality and that would provide the participants with appropriate, bespoke learning that could be immediately applied.   Since the inception of the business in 2006 PLMR has always placed an emphasis on personal and organisational development, investing above the industry average in its people.

However, as the company and its operations grew, and the competition to retain and inspire top talent grew ever fierce, Kevin recognised the need to take PLMR’s offering to its staff to an even higher level. The result was its partnership with Oxford Said.

Focus on training and development


Ollie Lane, PLMR’s managing director, elaborates: 'Developing our team has always been so important to us to ensure we in turn, provide our clients with an industry-leading level of service and skills. Every colleague has an individual training budget and can access bespoke, in-house programmes, as well as industry courses from the likes of the Public Relations Consultancy Association.'

As part of this approach, PLMR wanted to develop senior employees who sit outside the Board.

'We were motivated by three main factors, in no particular order. The first was succession planning and ensuring the long-term success of the business. Second was a desire to develop more strategic thinking and leadership across the business so we continue to perform at the highest levels. Third developing, rewarding, and investing in our people,' relays Ollie Lane.

Finding the right provider

To fit in with its day-to-day working, PLMR wanted a provider that could offer effective online executive education. To date, PLMR has sent participants on the Leading Professional Service Firms Programme, Women’s Leadership Development Programme, Digital Marketing: Disruptive Strategy Programme and the Executive Leadership Programme.

'As an organisation we are a great believer in giving people autonomy, but that works best if you give people the tools they need to perform at their best. A big part of the various Oxford programmes was helping our colleagues to spend more time working on the business as well as in the business,' comments Ollie Lane.

Our research showed that Oxford Saïd was one of the leading providers in the world and the breadth of its online programmes offered a good range to choose from.

Ollie Lane

Managing Director, PLMR

Impact for individuals and the organisation

The Oxford programmes have made an impact both with individual participants and with PLMR as an organisation. Emma Divers, account director, PLMR said: 'The Leading Professional Services Firm Programme has helped me put strategies in place to support my team to grow and innovate for our clients. It showed me new ways of maximising the services we offer already and tapping into a broader array of expertise within the business.'

Patrick Cousens, associate director and head of Energy and Sustainability at PLMR, agrees: 'The programme was very stimulating, well put together and had a good balance of practical and theoretical approaches. It has helped me to consider new angles and enhance delivery both in respect of internal leadership and client service. It was comfortably the best piece of professionally focused development I have experienced in my career so far and I am grateful to PLMR for the investment.'

Within PLMR, there is a Management Group made up of senior colleagues outside the main board. Many of the members of the Management Group have attended the Oxford programmes, and Ollie Lane is quick to identify the impact: 'We have divested more responsibility for how the organisation runs to the Management Group. We have really seen participants develop their strategic thinking around how our client portfolio can be managed and the type of work we should be doing.'

It was comfortably the best piece of professionally focused development I have experienced in my career so far and I am grateful to PLMR for the investment.

Patrick Cousens

Associate Director and Head of Energy and Sustainability, PLMR

Application of learning

A key benefit of the Oxford programmes has been the ability to apply the learning in day-to-day working immediately.  Isabella Perales, senior account manager, PLMR, who attended the Women’s Leadership Development Programme explains: 'The skills I learnt around problem solving were invaluable. In particular, the programme taught me how to deal with wicked problems, which don’t have one clear or simple solution, but rather require layers of problem solving and critical thinking.'

Patrick Cousens concurs: 'I have reviewed the course notes on a number of occasions when relevant business moments have occurred. In fact, I have saved the ‘strategic swirl’ around which the programme content was structured as my desktop background. It’s a good reminder and a prompt when dealing with different situations each day.'

A positive investment

The Oxford programmes have been very well received within PLMR.

'The programmes have been hard work for the participants, but everybody has enjoyed them, learnt a lot, applied that knowledge and found them extremely useful. There is a real sense of achievement from colleagues I speak to who have learned with Oxford,' observes Ollie Lane.

Ultimately, the various Oxford programmes are helping PLMR to build on the long-term success of the business, through helping to develop more strategic thinking and leadership.

'The Oxford programmes have helped develop a greater breadth and depth of leadership, so it is not all concentrated at board level. It has further professionalised our thinking at a strategic level.  We are having even better conversations across the business and making even better decisions. Decision- making has been shared across colleagues and we have an enhanced understanding of what we are trying to achieve. Working with Oxford has made an impact and it has been a very positive investment,' concludes Ollie Lane. 

The Oxford programmes have helped develop a greater breadth and depth of leadership, so it is not all concentrated at board level.

Ollie Lane

Managing Director, PLMR