The creative director of Green Spark Marketing takes on The Raikes Journal’s 20 Questions

Written by: Andrew Merrell | Posted 28 August 2020 16:59

The lockdown rush to digital working and staying indoors proved a challenge for the woman who enjoys spending as much time as possible outside and simply loves nature. 

But, being indoors more than usual has had its up-sides (well, sort of) – not least sitting through the Marvel film back catalogue with her teenage daughter! 

Her fantasy dinner party guests would make for fascinating conversation, as the current New Zealand Prime Minister, the Suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst and a certain former-USSR President get to know one another. 

A degree in Zoology almost saw her pursue her love of science, but when she came to Gloucestershire as PR officer for  The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, she fell in love with the county and never left.

It is her fascination with and love of wildlife, nature and the environment which is her true passion and has driven her career choice, establishing her in the world of marketing as someone who can help businesses champion their environmentalal and green credentials.

This week Caroline Aistrop, creative director of Green Spark Marketing, takes on The Raikes Journal’s 20 Question challenge. 

Question: What is your favourite film or series?  

Answer: The Star Trek series as I’ve been a great fan since a teenager. I was unsure how the new films would compare to the originals but the first two were excellent, keeping the old spirit and humour with all sorts of new twists that kept you guessing. However, my teenage daughter recently introduced me to the Marvel films which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed as well – all 24 of them!  

Q: You’re hosting a dinner party and can invite any three guests from any time in history. Who would they be and why?  

A: Firstly, Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s Prime Minister. She seems such an incredible person – during her first term of office, she’s handled a volcanic eruption, the Covid-19 outbreak, a terrorist attack and had a baby. What a woman!

I’d sit her next to Emmeline Pankhurst, the Suffragette, as I’m sure the two of them together would produce inspiring conversation plus show Emmeline that her efforts were worth it.

I’d also love an in-depth conversation with ex-USSR President Gorbachov about how, in such a short space of time, he managed to turn the USSR constitution through 180o after centuries of dictatorship.

Behaviour change and persuading society to work differently fascinate me and I’m sure he’d have some helpful tips about how to persuade the powers-that-be to embrace sustainability.  

Q: What is the best bit of your job?  

A: Getting publicity for my clients and persuading others to become greener. Not only are my clients passionate about sustainability, it also means that, hopefully, they’re inspiring others who’ll see the benefits they could reap from being greener.  

Q: What is the worst part of your job?  

A: Spending most of the day sitting in front of a computer. I love meeting and talking to people, especially ‘ordinary’ people – I find they have such interesting stories to tell about what they do and what they’ve achieved although they usually don’t think so.

I love bringing those stories alive. But, frustratingly, now with the general work pressure most of us are working under, the opportunities for getting out of the office and having an in-depth conversation with people is getting more and more limited.  

Q: Who was your childhood hero or the person you looked up to?  

A: David Attenborough, without a doubt. I’ve been fascinated by wildlife and the natural world since a child but no-one else in my family was, so he was my teacher. I sat, completely absorbed, watching his programmes as he revealed the never-ending fascination of the world around us.

I love the way he inspires without lecturing, and sees himself as simply the mechanism for getting knowledge to people and not the main object of the programme, unlike so many ‘celebrities’ and presenters. When he finally shuffles off this mortal coil, we should have a national day of mourning.  

Q: Where is your favourite place in Gloucestershire?  

A: Yat Rock and Symonds’ Yat are on my list of favourite places in the whole world. A perfect day out for me is a day’s birdwatching at the rock, with hopefully a sighting of the peregrine falcons that live there, with lunch at the wonderful log cabin there which serves delicious cakes and pasties and a walk along the river.

The view from the rock is breath-taking and the fact it used to be an Iron Age hill fort reminds me how we’re all just small cogs in the whole history of the Earth.  

Q: What advice would you give to anyone starting out now?  

A: Don’t focus upon social media, and use your spare time to join clubs or activities where you can meet people of all ages in person. PR and communications is about people and to successfully communicate, you must put yourself in the shoes of those you’re trying to reach.

If you’re trying to talk to people who are from different social backgrounds or social groups to you, how on Earth can you do this if you don’t know them or have spent time understanding their hopes, fears or problems? PR is about real people not simply metrics or social media posts.  

Q: Was there a mistake or piece of bad luck which changed things for the better?  

A: I’m fortunate because I can’t think of one that stands out in my mind. After graduating from university with my zoology degree, I applied to study in Kent for a Master of Science degree in conservation.

I couldn’t raise the money needed to fund myself and so wasn’t able to take up the offer. If I had done, my path wouldn’t have brought me to Gloucestershire and given me all the great opportunities and experiences I’ve had. So that’s one ‘sliding door’ moment which now I see the benefit of, though I was really gutted at the time.  

Q: What is your favourite piece of music?  

A: I like any music which is upbeat and makes me want to dance. Jazz and swing music from the 1930s and 40s is my favourite genre and I danced Jazzjive for many years with Gloucestershire’s excellent Rock Dance company.

But I like lots of modern and pop as well. Last summer, I took my daughter and friends to the Olly Muirs concert at Kingsholm Rugby Club in Gloucester and thoroughly enjoyed it. If I want something to calm me down, however, Claire de Lune by Claude Debussy does the job perfectly.  

Q: What qualities do you look for in a new member of staff?  

A: As well as all the usual attributes you’d want, I think lateral thinking is a huge advantage. The real PR gold comes from looking behind the story and what’s obvious, and digging deeper.

Then we can paint a much richer, more interesting picture which really resonates with the target audience and adds the human element. It also leads to seeing better ways of delivering what society needs.  

Q: What is your favourite pudding?  

A: Ground rice pudding – my Gran looked after me during school holidays and ever day she would make me one of these for lunch. It was tasty, comforting and full of love.  

Q: Has the coronavirus pandemic changed how you see the world?  

A: Yes, in sooo many ways that it’s difficult to be concise. After many years of being a working mum, it’s made me re-learn the art of stopping. I’d spent so much time rushing here, there and everywhere from job to home to taking my daughter to various lessons to doing things for my elderly mum etc, that I’d forgotten how to relax.  

The past few weeks have also reminded me how integral the natural world is to my well-being and happiness, having spent little time in it during the past few years. I’ve spent a lot of time walking in the fantastic countryside around Stroud where I live, and seeing nature unfurl before me as the seasons pass. I remind myself of the opening line of the poem by W.H Davies, the Nailsworth poet: ‘What is this life, if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?’.

Q: If it was in the name of pleasure – would it be car, bicycle, walk, run, swim?  

A: Walking, without a doubt. Otherwise, I won’t have the opportunity to look for flowers, watch the birds or a butterfly flying past. I’ve run the Great North Run twice and, whilst the events themselves were a great experience, I was bored by jogging. I’ve also cycled through parts of Vietnam to raise money for charity. So cycling can be fun and would be my second option.  

Q: What is the best thing about living/working in Gloucestershire?  

A: The countryside and wildlife. It’s so easy to get into the countryside and see the vast range of wildlife living here. In other places I’ve lived, I had to make a journey to get into the countryside and usually be very fit to walk up hills or long distances.

I moved to Gloucestershire to take up the job of press and PR officer at The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust’s centre at Slimbridge: that’s the ultimate in wildlife watching in comfort!

Q: If you could wave a magic wand to achieve what you wanted to at work, what would it be?  

A: To be able to give PR skills to every company that’s doing what it can to protect the environment – whether that’s selling green goods or services, or greening the way they operate – so they could tell their story effectively and persuade others to be green. Then we’d speedily achieve a sustainable society.

I realise this would put me out of a job but creating a green world which benefits people as well as wildlife has always been one of my main reasons for getting up in the morning.  

Q: What’s your biggest frustration?  

A: Not being able to see laptop and mobile phone screens outdoors. This is because my actual biggest frustration is being stuck indoors so much. If someone could invent a screen that worked in the daylight, I’d be able to work far more in the garden.

During lockdown, I discovered that putting my laptop inside a box sitting on its side shaded the screen enough so I could work in the garden. But come on, you inventors and engineers of Gloucestershire, surely you can develop a more practical solution?!  

Q: If you could start again and had to do something else, what would it be?  

A: Hmm, tricky. Having decided at 13 to work in wildlife conservation, I’ve never considered any other career. I’ve always loved dancing which has been my hobby since young. Currently, I dance with Hazel Kayes and a great bunch of women in the Haziz middle eastern dance troupe, and occasionally we perform shows around the county. So,perhaps I’d pursue dancing instead. Or be a street performer – I love the way this gives the actors a licence to be outrageous!  

Q: Cheltenham Festival, any of the town’s others festivals, Giffords Circus, Stroud Fringe, Gloucester Rugby v Bath, Three Choirs Festival, Cirencester food Festival, evensong at Tewkesbury Abbey, or Newent Onion Fayre? And why?  

A: Cheltenham Science Festival has been a ‘must visit’ every year for years. Science fascinates me (I am a scientist by training) as it explains so much about our world and is so integral to everyday life – look around you and tell me what hasn’t been derived from science in some way. The organisers of the Science Festival do a fantastic job of making the whole subject understandable and fun for anyone, and attract the best speakers and science experts. I admire the lateral approach they take to making the subject approachable – a great example in this year’s online festival were the lectures about the science of cocktails and how to make a luminous G&T! I’d love to be involved in promoting the festival for this reason (hint, hint!).  

Q: If you had to recommend a pub or restaurant in Gloucestershire, what would it be and why?  

A: The Prince Albert in Rodborough, Stroud, is my local. The landlords, Lottie and Miles, are experts in creating a welcoming pub, serve great real ale and, pre-Covid-19, offered a variety of music and events to appeal to a wide range of people. It also has its own unique character, it’s a real pub not one which could be anywhere in the country.  

Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?  

A: I can only just see what I’ll be doing in a week’s time, never mind 10 years! My business coach is trying to get me to do this exercise and I have to admit to finding it difficult.

Honestly? Probably the same as I’m doing now, but maybe with an extra business leading guided walks through Gloucestershire’s fantastic countryside. I love showing people wildlife and inspiring them with its wonderful stories and write a blog called ‘My year of discovering Stroud’s wildlife’. 

Q: What would you like to be remembered for?  

A: Blimey, you ask difficult questions! Just being remembered at all would be good enough for me! I would hope that my contribution would be noted for taking society from not knowing anything at all about the ‘environmental thing’ - as was the case when I started working in sustainability over 30 years ago - to the positive movement it is now.

And definitely being remembered as someone who had time for family, friends, who liked helping people and was generally fun to be with. 

Caroline Aistrop is creative director of Green Spark Marketing.