Moving into Publishing: Communications with Lisa

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Lisa Attenborough has worked with many high profile global and local brands to deliver innovative campaigns and narratives that focus on building reputation particularly. This includes a focus on company purpose, and sustainability and D&I commitments. Her previous experiences include Arla, Premier Foods, Mondi, Marks and Spencer, Siemens, and the Financial Times. Lisa joined Oxford University Press (OUP) in 2020.

To celebrate Work in Publishing week we spoke to Lisa Attenborough, Group Communications Director at Oxford University Press, about her decision to move into the publishing industry.

Hello! First up can you tell us a little about your current role at OUP? What does it involve?

I am the Group Communications Director and this involves promoting and protecting our reputation through media relations, digital communications, public affairs, brand, and internal communications. I have the privilege of leading a fantastic, and highly talented group of communication specialists who are deeply passionate about what they do.

Our main objective is to expand OUP’s reach and impact worldwide. The varied nature of our work enables us to work within many different functions, territories, and cultures. It’s just so exciting to wake up every day and talk to people with different experiences and perspectives – you just learn so much that you take to the next day.   

Where were you working before you moved into publishing? Which transferrable skills from your previous role overlap with your current role?

I started my career in marketing and PR before moving to the Financial Times at a time when it was undergoing significant transformation from print to digital. Since then, I’ve helped to grow the reputations of many organisations. Before moving into publishing, I was the Communications Director at Arla, the leading FMCG operator in the UK.

I have been able to bring my experience of building brands at both a corporate and consumer level to OUP. It’s all about connecting and engaging with the right people, at the right time, in the right way, and I’ve found this to be fundamental in any business, in any sector. Also, having previously supported businesses through periods of change, I have been able to lend my expertise as OUP continues its ongoing transformation to become a digital-first organisation, making knowledge and learning more accessible through new technology.

Why did you want to move into publishing?

I was at a time in my career when I really needed to try something different. OUP’s history and purpose really drew me in. Having worked extensively in charity, education, and sustainability work as part of my NED responsibilities, I knew that OUP would be the perfect fit for me. Every day is different and brings new opportunities to see our mission come to life in creating world-class academic and educational resources, and making them available as widely as possible.

For all those out there searching for what’s next, remember to stay true to what’s important to you, value the skills you’ve already gained, stay connected to the changes happening within the industry, and it will happen!

How easy was it to adapt to working in publishing? Were there any surprises and did you find that you brought a different perspective, having worked in another industry?

Working in publishing has really broadened my perspectives and enabled me to enjoy new learning. Many people have an idea about the types of jobs associated with the publishing industry—from editors, to lexicographers, to sales teams—but there are many less obvious career paths available too. I believe that communications is as critical to the publishing process as it is in any other industry. While there are different stories to tell, the fundamentals of effective communications remain the same. Coming from outside publishing, I was able to offer new insight and a fresh pair of eyes when assessing what was working well, as well as areas where we could improve.

Have you been mentored and, if so, how has it supported your career progression?

I have been fortunate to work with a wide number of eminent people throughout my career who have helped me to grow professionally and personally. With their guidance, I have acquired valuable skills that have shaped me into the leader I am today. It’s so important that women feel supported in the workplace and empowered to unlock opportunities that come their way. Often, we’re juggling so many things that it can be difficult to find the right balance, but mentorship can provide a safe place for people to learn and be a way to alleviate some of those pressures. It’s a two-way street though – I’ve definitely benefited from those I’ve mentored over the years and, hopefully, been able to inspire personal and professional growth in return.

What would you say to anyone reading this who is considering a career change and is interested in working in publishing?

Many people feel apprehensive to make a change as we are very much still amid somewhat uncertain times. The world is already looking different as we emerge from the pandemic and there are new opportunities emerging every day, so now may be exactly the right time to think about your future and start planning for it. There are so many routes into publishing so it’s important to consider your transferable skills. At OUP, we actively welcome people with different professional experiences and diverse backgrounds to bring new perspectives and fresh ideas to the organisation.

For all those out there searching for what’s next, remember to stay true to what’s important to you, value the skills you’ve already gained, stay connected to the changes happening within the industry, and it will happen!

This interview with Lisa Attenborough was written for Work in Publishing week for