Homage to Heritage

Over the past couple of years, we have shared stories in collaboration with The Windrush Generation Legacy Association (WGLA), a charitable organisation headed up by our very own Deborah Klass. The WGLA puts on exhibitions, seminars, and events at its home at the Whitgift Centre in Croydon, London, to celebrate the contributions of over three Caribbean generations to British society. To mark Windrush Day 2021, we shared a Q&A between  Deborah and her mother, Joan Andall – a retired NHS nurse – detailing her experience of emigrating to the UK from Grenada in this piece. This year we also shared the story of married couple Daphney and John Bertrand and their arrival in the UK from Grenada, told by their son Julian here.

Earlier this month, we did some pro-bono copywriting for WGLA for an exhibition by the artist Zoe Sinclair, Homage to Heritage, to accompany her striking portraits of Black icons. As we come to the end of Black History Month, we’d like to share three of the portraits of icons from recent British history – including Baroness Amos, Claudia Jones and Sir Trevor McDonald – along with the biographies we produced for the exhibition. With thanks to the WGLA for giving us the permission to do so.

Zoe Sinclair was born and bred in South London, in her own words ‘a melting pot of diversity and culture’. Of mixed heritage – her father Jamaican and her mother Polish – Zoe was brought up with both cultures; enjoying the differences each parent’s cultures had to offer and the influences on her lived experiences. She cites the lack of relatable portrait artwork as part of her enthusiasm and motivation for creating these portraits. About Homage to Heritage, she says:

“I think it’s very important to have positive role models around to inspire, motivate and exemplify values and behaviour worthy of imitation. I created these limited edition prints featuring iconic heroes and heroines to celebrate them, the marks they’ve made on the world, and to inspire others to be bold in the pursuit of their dreams.

“The stunning African fabrics provide beautiful colour and pattern and pay homage to the heritage of these inspirational people. Each iconic muse has a circle crowning their head representing wholeness, totality, original perfection, the self, the infinite, eternity, God.”

Homage to Heritage is open until 16th December. You can also discover more about Zoe Sinclair’s work here.

 

Baroness Amos

Baroness Amos of Brondesbury (born 13 March 1954) was appointed a Labour life peer in 1997, making her the first black woman to serve as a Minister in the British cabinet and in the House of Lords. She has consistently sustained interest in, and a commitment to, development issues, equality and human rights.

The Baroness was an adviser to the Mandela Government on leadership and change management issues. Furthermore, she was Chief Executive of the Equal Opportunities Commission between 1989 and 1994. She has also held high office as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office between 2001 and 2003 and held the office of Secretary of State for International Development in 2003. After a further period in the Lords as a spokesperson for the Northern Ireland Office, she became Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council between 2003 and 2007.

Baroness Amos served as UK High Commissioner to Australia before joining the UN in 2010 as Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator.

Her work in the voluntary and charity sector and in other non-governmental organisations has gone hand in hand with her policy and political work. She has served as a Trustee for Voluntary Service Overseas, the Windsor Leadership Trust, Project Hope, and the Institute for Public Policy Research. She has also served as Deputy Chair of the Runnymede Trust.

Baroness Amos was awarded an Honorary Professorship at Thames Valley University in 1995 in recognition of her work on equality and social justice. On 1 July 2010, she received an honorary doctorate (Hon DUniv) from the University of Stirling in recognition of her “outstanding service to our society and her role as a model of leadership and success for women today.” She has also been awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws (Hon LLD) from the University of Warwick in 2000 and the University of Leicester in 2006.

 

Claudia Jones

Claudia Jones, born Claudia Vera Cumberbatch (21 February 1915 – 24 December 1964), was a feminist, political activist, visionary, and journalist. She founded Britain’s first major black newspaper, the West Indian Gazette, in 1958. Jones also played a central role in founding the Notting Hill Carnival.

As a young girl, she migrated from Trinidad and Tobago with her family to the US where she took the name Claudia Jones as a form of “self-protective disinformation”. Growing up she became a Communist political activist which later on led to her being deported from the US in 1955 following the political persecution of Communists in the US. From there she came to live in the UK where she was an active member of the Communist Party of Great Britain for the rest of her life, specifically fighting racism within the organisation.

Jones was also involved in the British African-Caribbean community where she helped organise both access to basic facilities, as well as the early movement for equal rights. She campaigned against racism in housing, education and employment. In the early 1960s, Jones helped organise movements against the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill which would make it harder for people of colour to migrate to Britain. She also campaigned for the release of Nelson Mandela.

Claudia Jones died at only 49 years of age due to a heart attack and tuberculosis. However, her political legacy still echoes today. The National Union of Journalists’ Black Members Council holds a prestigious Claudia Jones Memorial Lecture every October, during Black History Month, to honour Jones and celebrate her contribution to Black-British journalism. Yvette Thomas among others founded The Claudia Jones Organisation in London in 1982 to support and empower women and families of African-Caribbean heritage. These initiatives are a few among many as Claudia Jones is considered an icon in anti-racism movements in the UK and across the globe.

 

Sir Trevor McDonald

Sir Trevor McDonald (born 16 August 1939) is a retired radio reporter, news presenter, and sports journalist. He was born and educated in Trinidad where his career in media began, working as a radio reporter, news presenter and sports journalist. He was sent to London in 1962 to report on talks at Marlborough House which culminated in setting a date for Trinidad’s Independence.

In 1969 he came to London to work as a Producer in the BBC Overseas Regional Service. He went on to produce Current Affairs programmes for the BBC World Service and worked on a number of shows like The World Today which are still part of the BBC World Service schedule. He continued working as a reporter for ITN as a General Reporter in 1973. McDonald later became the anchor of News at Ten, The Evening News, and Tonight with Trevor McDonald.

He has won more awards than any other news broadcaster in the UK, including Newscaster of the Year in 1993, 1997, and 1999. In 1999, he was knighted for his services to journalism. McDonald is also the biographer of two books on cricketing heroes, Clive Lloyd (1985) and Vivian Richards (1987), and has published his autobiography Fortunate Circumstances (1993).

Since retiring as a newsreader in 2008, McDonald has made and presented a number of critically acclaimed documentaries, including Death Row 2018 (2018), a sequel to his award-winning documentary Inside Death Row (2013), and Martin Luther King by Trevor McDonald (2018). McDonald was the first journalist to interview Nelson Mandela after his release from prison in 1990. It was a moment of profound impact on the journalist’s career and in 2018, to mark the centenary of Mandela’s birth, McDonald made the documentary Trevor McDonald: Return to South Africa, in which he considered the continued struggle for social equality in post-apartheid South Africa.

 

Pictures in order of appearance: Baroness Amos, Claudia Jones, Sir Trevor McDonald – by Zoe Sinclair ©              

Riot delivers communications campaign for Flying Scotsman centenary

Flying Scotsman Michael Morpurgo

Riot Communications has won a competitive tender from the National Railway Museum, part of the Science Museum Group to deliver a communications campaign for the centenary of one of its star objects, the Flying Scotsman. The objective: to celebrate the importance of the world-famous locomotive in British history whilst also introducing it to new family audiences.

February 2023 will mark 100 years since the celebrity locomotive embarked on its first voyage from the sheds at Doncaster Works. It is named after the daily 10:00am London to Edinburgh rail service and has since become synonymous with the golden-age of rail travel alongside the Trans-Siberian Railway and the Venice-Simplon-Orient-Express.

Riot announces its partnership with the National Railway Museum following two months of intensive preparation for the launch of the centenary campaign at a media event at London King’s Cross station on 14th October. It was Flying Scotsman’s first public appearance following a major mechanical overhaul, which has been completed in recent days.

To drive national interest in the centenary, with a particular focus on engaging family audiences, Riot worked closely with the National Railway Museum (across its events, publishing, brand licensing and retail teams) and a range of stakeholders – including the Science Museum Group, Network Rail, Thames & Hudson, and funders including model railways manufacturer Hornby – to create a launch event that delivered engagement on multiple levels. This included a BBC One – Breakfast broadcast package filmed live from Platform 8 of the station, where Flying Scotsman sat in light steam over the course of the weekend (14-16th October), and a photocall for international picture desks featuring bestselling author Michael Morpurgo – who has written a new children’s book for the centenary – doing a special reading to six-year-old pupils from a local Camden primary school next to the iconic locomotive (pictured). Getty Images’ photograph was featured in the Guardian’s ‘Best photographs of the day‘.

Alongside Michael Morpurgo, whose book tells the story of a little girl who dreams of being a train driver, spokespeople for the occasion included: the National Railway Museum’s Dr Sophie Vohra, a rail anniversary expert; Grand Central Trainee Train Driver Stacey Fox, who operates out of King’s Cross Station, and Molly and Polly Jackson, granddaughters of Wilston Samuel Jackson, Flying Scotsman’s first black train driver.

Ahead of the centenary itself in February 2023, families nationwide are invited to discover the magic of Flying Scotsman through Michael Morpurgo’s Flying Scotsman and the Best Birthday Ever and by exploring the calendar of centenary events which went live on Friday 14th October and include the chance to travel behind Flying Scotsman at several locations across the country between October 2022 and November 2023. Further details about the centenary tour can be found in this brilliant Guardian travel feature

Alistair Otto, Commercial Operations Director, Science Museum Group, said:

“Flying Scotsman is one of the jewels in the crown of our world-class collection, so we are delighted to have this unique opportunity to celebrate this significant milestone with the nation. The centenary calendar gives us some unique opportunities to engage with a wide range of audiences and reach those who may not ordinarily engage with this iconic locomotive. Working with Riot has been a fantastic experience for all our teams and we know with their expertise and support it will be another memorable year for Flying Scotsman.”

Katy MacMillan-Scott, Director, Riot Communications, said:

“We jumped at the opportunity to put ourselves forward for this tender, knowing Flying Scotsman’s place in British cultural history and immediately seeing how Riot could bring this icon of engineering and design to a brand-new generation of parents and children. After all, who doesn’t love a steam train? After a two-month deep dive into the world of rail, we were more excited than ever to launch Scotsman’s centenary campaign last week at King’s Cross. Watch this space ahead of the 100th anniversary in February 2023, when Flying Scotsman will travel to Edinburgh Waverley.”

Picture: Author Michael Morpurgo and visiting schoolchildren from Argyle Primary School in Camden cover their ears as Flying Scotsman’s whistle blows © Jody Kingzett / Science Museum Group

The Estate of Francis Bacon x Riot

The Estate of Francis Bacon has hired Riot Communications to deliver PR and event support around the publication of a seminal book on British artist Richard Smith (1931-2016). Richard Smith: Artworks 1954-2013 is the third in the Studies in Art series, published by the Estate to shed light on those of Bacon’s contemporaries whose names have been lost despite their important contributions to contemporary art.

A hugely influential British painter, active between the 1950s and 2000s, Richard Smith earned acclaim relatively early in his life. His first retrospective went on show at London’s Whitechapel Art Gallery in 1966, when he was just 34. Some of his many achievements include being the first British artist to have a solo show at the Venice Biennale in 1970, and putting on arguably the very first solo Pop Art exhibition at the Green Gallery in New York in 1961 with his first solo exhibition.

Smith’s brilliance stemmed from his ability to take imagery from pop culture and merge it with abstract techniques. He tested the boundaries of painting, using everything from advertising and popular music to the natural world as inspiration for his art. Published on 27th October 2022, Richard Smith: Artworks 1954-2013 is the most comprehensive publication on the artist and his works to date. It includes essays from influential names from the art world, all of whom knew Smith personally or have an intimate knowledge of his work, including the curator David Alan Mellor, Chris Stephens (previous Head of Displays at Tate Britain, now Director of the Holburne Museum) and the artist Alex Massouras. Its publication coincides with exhibitions of Smith’s work taking place at The Edge in Bath (28 Sep-7 Dec) and at Flowers Gallery in London (15 Nov – 7 Jan).

Caitlin Allen, Managing Director, Riot Communications, said: “The work of the Francis Bacon Estate is fascinating and far-ranging, and we are delighted to have them as a client. As soon as we’d read the first couple of pages of Richard Smith: Artworks 1954-2013, we realised what an important figure Smith was in the art world. We are very excited to be playing a part in bringing his ground-breaking work to the attention of new audiences.”

Ben Harrison, Deputy Administrator, The Estate of Francis Bacon, said: “I had seen Riot do a great job of promoting a book related to Francis Bacon, and first met them at its launch. We knew that we needed to invest in PR support for the latest in our Studies in Art series to revive interest in Richard Smith. Riot saw early layouts of the book and immediately understood why we were so excited to be publishing new material on Smith, along with the fullest illustration of his oeuvre to date. In addition to the PR campaign, Riot’s help with the exhibitions being organised in connection with the book is proving invaluable. Riot’s professionalism instils confidence, and they are simply nice people to work with.

Q&A with Riot’s new Campaign Executive, Hedvig Lindström

Last month, we welcomed Hedvig Lindström to Team Riot as Campaigns Executive. Hedvig previously worked in a digital marketing role, writing copy and expanding social media reach for a variety of clients, following her work in the Swedish Embassy’s Cultural Affairs team. She has a BA in Communication and Media Studies and an MA in Linguistics from Södertörn University in Stockholm. Hedvig brings a broad range of experience to Riot, with her marketing knowledge and her deep passion for culture, which we know will be an asset to the team. Want to get to know her a bit better? We’ve asked Hedvig to share some of her passions and what she is most looking forward to working at Riot.

What are you most excited about when it comes to joining Riot?

I’m excited to work on a variety of interesting projects that I feel genuinely invested in. I’m also looking forward to having the opportunity to use and explore my creativity more in my day-to-day work.

With no limitations in place, who would be your dream client?

That’s such a hard question – either an interesting contemporary London theatre like the Almeida or my favourite Swedish author Jonas Hassen Khemiri. I loved working with the Swedish Embassy trying to help Swedish authors reach new audiences internationally as there are so many that don’t get read outside of Sweden. Jonas Hassen Khemiri has a very unique voice that explores identity and alienation with perfectly considered language that he uses to play with the framework of a novel in new and interesting ways. I’ve stopped counting the number of times I’ve recommended his novel Everything I Don’t Remember, the translation into English is also excellent.

What was the first book that you fell in love with?

I would have to say the Nancy Drew books because I can remember just being completely caught up in them and reading for hours and hours as a child. As I got older, I remember reading everything on my parents’ bookshelves, and I think The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans was probably the first adult book I read as a young teenager, which was a very special feeling at that age. Unfortunately, I probably wouldn’t enjoy these titles as much as I to pick them up today.

 

What are some of your other passions?

Besides all things culture, I absolutely love knitting and food. One of my favourite things about London is that you can literally get any type of food you want on any day. There are also some really good knitting shops where I spend too much money and too little time. I’ve also always been interested in people and psychology. I wanted to be a therapist when I was younger but now I just indulge in easily digestible reads related to the subject.

Q&A with Riot’s new Campaign Executive, Niamh Houston

Last month, we welcomed Niamh Houston to Team Riot as our new Campaign Executive. Niamh has recently completed an MA in Journalism at Goldsmiths, University of London while working as a freelance journalist for Reach PLC. Her time as a journalist means she brings to Riot a sharp eye for a news story, excellent writing and communications skills, attention to detail, and experience at delivering to deadlines. We’re excited to see Niamh’s PR career take off!

Want to get to know her a bit better? We’ve asked her to share a bit about some of her passions and the things she is most looking forward to about working at Riot.

What are you most excited about when it comes to joining Riot?

More than anything, it’s the chance to work with creative people, on creative projects with so much variety. Riot feels like such a perfect place for me to merge my passions and my skills while learning along the way – and working for a company that shares my values is such an added extra.

With no limitations in place, who would be your dream client?
Having recently undertaken my 15th rewatch of Fleabag, I’d have to say my dream client would be Phoebe Waller-Bridge. But as we’re talking about famous Phoebes, I’d love to work with Phoebe Bridgers – she needs to write a book soon!

What was the first book that you fell in love with?
When I was a kid, there was a book about a toy cat called Nothing by Mick Inkpen – the author of Kipper – which I absolutely fell in love with. This small raggedy toy was brought back to life once it was loved again! As a teen, I loved Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote, but that could be because I was mildly obsessed with Audrey Hepburn….

What are some of your other passions?   
There are so many, but the biggest one is undoubtedly film. It’s to the point that I have a YouTube playlist for musical scores of films that make me cry which I listen to more often than I’d care to admit. I’ll watch anything as my taste is very eclectic, but I do have a soft spot for 80s and 90s rom-coms and indie films.

Q&A with Riot’s new Associate Director, Jessica Jackson

Earlier this month we welcomed the fantastic Jessica Jackson to Team Riot as our new Associate Director. She will become the strategic lead on several of our high-profile clients across the publishing sector and beyond. Having previously held senior management posts at several leading UK publishing houses – most recently as Interim PR Director at HarperNonfiction – she has worked with a whole host of incredible writers from Bruce Springsteen and Russell Brand to Poorna Bell and Jack Monroe.

Want to get to know Jessica a bit better? We’ve asked her to share a bit about some of her passions and the things she is most looking forward to about working at Riot.

What are you most excited about when it comes to joining Riot?

More than anything, I’m excited to be joining an amazing team of people who share my passion to create positive change through the power of culture, and believe in its ability to connect, inspire and transform the world around us.

With no limitations in place, who would be your dream client?

I’d really like to work with Jay Shetty. I believe we are at our happiest when we are connected with a purpose in life. I’m also fascinated by the teachings that come from ancient wisdom. I love how Jay is working every day to inspire people through these ideas on a global scale.

What was the first book that you fell in love with?

There are so many! But if I had to choose one, it would be Mary Oliver’s selected poems Wild Geese. This collection, alongside the Four Quartets by T.S Eliot, inspired my great love of poetry and they have been constant companions through life.

What are some of your other passions?   

One of my undercover passions is backgammon. I love games, and particularly those that rely on an equal balance of skill and chance or risk. My lifetime ambition is to enter the Backgammon World Championship in Monte Carlo. Watch this space…

National literacy initiatives: Do they really work?

National literacy initiatives: Do they really work?

Every year when World Book Day takes place, the excitement of the children at the schools I pass on my commute is palpable and it reminds me of the anticipation I felt when the Scholastic Book Fairs came to my school as a child. However, in the last few years I have read criticism of such initiatives, accusing them of being ‘exclusionary, no longer about reading, causing parents stress’ and that despite them literacy rates are still falling worldwide. But when there is so much evidence to demonstrate the impact reading for pleasure has on a person’s educational attainment, social mobility and well-being, should we let the cynics stop us from trying everything possible to help bring the joy and the benefits of reading into people’s lives? The conclusion we came to when we launched Read Hour in the UK in 2021, was a simple NO.

Read Hour is a literacy initiative that began in Finland in 2018 with the wonderfully simple objective of motivating people, especially young people, to read a book, a magazine, a comic, on UN International Literacy Day (8th September) for just one hour. It was a huge success, making such a big splash in Finland even their president took part.

When our client, the ever-inspiring, Moomin Characters Ltd, saw the success of Read Hour in their native Finland they wanted to help it expand internationally and tasked Riot Communications with the job. Roleff Kråkström, Managing Director of Moomin Characters, said, ‘Being able to express yourself is one of the most important things in the world: it allows you to communicate your hopes and dreams, relate to others, engage with the big issues of our times, and create change. To express yourself, you first need to learn to read and write. Developing a love of words at a young age is proven to bring other benefits, too, like increased empathy and a greater understanding of different cultures and ways of life. Essentially, reading and writing broaden a young person’s horizon. That’s why we at Moomin Characters Ltd are on a mission to spark a love of reading and writing and the reason we support Read Hour.’ However, I did initially wonder how a new literacy initiative could fit into an already crowded space and whether it would be seen as a welcome addition or a competitor by the other organisations, institutions and charities who run the different initiatives.

Happily, I found a passionate and welcoming community of people only preoccupied with one shared goal – to get more people reading. As I reached out, I received nothing but support from booksellers, librarians, educationalists, authors and publishers. Not only was Read Hour welcomed as a new and different addition, it was championed, with 26 literacy organisations and publishers welcoming Read Hour with open arms in its first year.

It was only with this support that we were able to get off the ground and make a real world impact, with hundreds of schools, libraries and venues taking part. We also reached 1.7 million people in the UK via social media with a potential worldwide reach of 16 million thanks to the help of supporters such as Jennifer Saunders, Baroness Floella Benjamin, Cressida Cowell, Philip Ardagh, Andrew Donkin, Eoin Colfer to name just a few.

My experience has shown me that initiatives or awareness days bring stakeholders together and galvanise them. While reading should of course be an everyday activity, moments such as Read Hour put a spotlight on the issue, create a point of focus and give institutions, companies, organisations, individuals a reason to celebrate, participate and contribute. Any opportunity to draw people’s attention to the fact that reading leads to increased empathy, a greater understanding of different cultures and ways of life and a broadening of horizons can only be a good thing.

 

This piece first appeared in The Bookseller 

What it means for Riot Communications to be Blueprinted

Earlier this year, Riot secured The Blueprint diversity mark, which aims to promote racial diversity in PR and communications. In this piece, Deborah Klass, the Finance, Operations & Talent Director at Riot Communications, discusses what it means for our agency to be Blueprinted. Deborah is also the CEO of Croydon-based The Windrush Generation Legacy Association: a registered charity which aims to share the diverse legacy of the Windrush Generation and to support community cohesion. 

What do you love most about working in PR?

My favourite aspect of working in PR is working with such creative people and knowing that, with our Blueprinted status, we have the opportunity to work with colleagues and our clients to make a real difference to the sector.

What has it meant for Riot Communications to be Blueprinted?

One of my first steps, on joining Riot in January 2021, was to challenge the leadership team to really scrutinise our approach to D&I, and to develop a more formal approach to doing it right. As a BME-owned, progressive agency, Riot was already ahead of the curve and had various initiatives in place, but the approach was still fairly ad-hoc. I was hired to assist with the company’s growth and to provide formal oversight of our activities as part of my role as Operations and Talent Director, and D&I champion. 16 months on, and Riot is now a Blueprinted agency – only the sixth agency in the UK to achieve this recognition for diversity and inclusion in all aspects of our business, and certainly one of the smallest! 

We’re incredibly proud to be Blueprinted and to continue being pioneers within the communications industry. Achieving the Blueprint status shows us that what we’ve been working towards, and what we continue to strive towards – true diversity, inclusivity and accessibility – is recognised by an authority that’s leading change. It reassures us that the message we’re giving to our clients and our networks is the right one, one that will support change in our industry and in the work that we do.

What is your favourite diversity project/initiative of the past 12 months?

I know I’m biased here, but my favourite diversity project of the past 12 months has to be Grow With Peter Rabbit, Riot’s campaign for the 120th anniversary of the much-loved children’s brand Peter Rabbit! We’ve been working alongside publisher Penguin Random House Children’s and non-profit garden designers Grow2Know CIC, founded in response to the Grenfell Tower Fire to help unify the community through guerrilla gardening, on a partnership that will see three Peter Rabbit-inspired community garden makeovers take place between now and 2024.  

This partnership is all about creating a positive, social impact and together we’ve delivered a truly inclusive campaign that will bring the benefits of gardening and spending time in nature to families across the UK, as well as delivering a longer-term legacy for the local communities where the three Peter Rabbit Gardens are built.

As CEO of The Windrush Generation Legacy Association, another project I am very proud of is our recent exhibition at our unit in Croydon: an exhibition of Pål Hansen’s collection of photographs, entitled Leave to Remain, which opened on Windrush Day 2022. Pål delivered a moving address at the opening ahead of a series of spoken word poetry, storytelling and comedy performances. Given that our aim is to celebrate and share knowledge of the contributions of the Windrush Generation with young people, the wider community and corporates, this was a fantastic culmination of everything we’ve achieved in the past 12 months. I invite other agencies or individuals reading this to contact me if they’d like to come to visit the exhibition space, or to know more about our work, or even to offer their help.

What event are you most looking forward to in the next 12 months?

Next, I’m looking forward to Black History Month celebrations and the outreach we’ll be able to do, using the month as an opportunity to elevate change and show schools, corporates and consumers how they can incorporate Black history throughout the rest of the year, too. The paperback edition of The Good Ally, by our client Nova Reid, is released in October and we’re planning to use the opportunity to celebrate unsung historical heroes such as Cubah Cornwallis (if you’ve read Nova’s book, you’ll get the reference!). Watch this space!

Registered charity number for The Windrush Generation Legacy Association: 1198341

Riot Communications begins exciting chapter under new leadership

Riot Communications begins a fresh chapter this summer as it comes under new leadership and joins a network of like-minded agencies. Caitlin Allen, a director in Riot’s Senior Leadership team, will take over as Managing Director from Preena Gadher, who co-founded the business with Anwen Hooson in 2009 and leaves the agency to become Managing Director of Penguin General, a division of Penguin Random House from September 2022. 

Allen, who has been at Riot since 2015 and instrumental in the agency’s success, will ensure Riot’s continued growth, much of which has been achieved through the successful acquisition and retention of clients across the culture sector including Aardman, Moomin Characters, The Nine Dots Prize and Penguin Random House. Allen will shape the strategic and commercial pillars of the business while continuing to work with a number of her clients. She will be supported by fellow Riot director, Katy MacMillan-Scott, who has been at Riot since 2016 and who – alongside Allen – has been an integral part of the Senior Leadership Team, helping to shape the direction of the company and coaching and supporting the growing campaigns team. As Creative & Campaigns Director, MacMillan-Scott will ensure that Riot continues to deliver exceptional, creative campaigns for its clients, while maintaining Riot’s unique culture and ethos – particularly around D&I – both internally and externally.  

The Riot leadership team will be supported by a new hire, Jessica Jackson, as Associate Director. Jackson joins on 1st August with 15 years of culture PR experience, having worked with clients both in the UK and in the United States with the likes of Malorie Blackman, Russell Brand, Poorna Bell, Anna Kendrick, Sue Perkins and Bruce Springsteen, to name just a few. She has a particular interest in working on campaigns with purpose, her most recent project being the Imagine Anthology, a creative publishing collaboration for World Refugee Day. 

As part of the agency’s growth strategy, Riot today joins The Splendid Collective, the agency network formed by east London-based consumer comms agency Splendid Communications. Already in The Collective is youth culture and music specialist PR agency Kingdom Collective, who joined in November 2021. The Splendid Collective brings together ambitious, values-led agencies and allows them to share their expertise across sectors and services including PR, social media, influencer, digital marketing and events, in pursuit of more holistic client delivery. As part of this growing network, Riot will retain its identity as a culture and entertainment specialist, whilst benefiting from the support of a Group leadership team led by Splendid Communications CEO Alec Samways.

Also announced today is Director Adele Minchin’s decision to leave Riot to pursue her own creative endeavours. Minchin, who has worked at Riot for the past seven years as part of the leadership team that has grown Riot’s client-base, culture and team into the leading agency it is today, will focus on writing as well as continuing her voluntary role as mentor for The Girls Network, working to inspire and empower girls from the least privileged communities.

Preena Gadher comments: “After 14 years, I have decided to step down as MD of Riot. It has been one of the hardest professional decisions I’ve ever made, but when an exceedingly rare opportunity presents itself, at a time when you know your team is perfectly positioned to take over the successful running of things, it’s the right time for change.

“I am so incredibly proud of how far Riot has come since it began, working with some of the best names in culture and entertainment in the world. I will certainly miss our wonderful clients who have been my passion all these years, and my amazingly talented team. But I know that they are all left in the safe hands of Caitlin and Katy – who are two of the most formidable women I have ever met – and Alec and the team at The Splendid Collective, under whose guidance I know Riot will do even bigger and better things.”

She continued: “My thanks to Anwen Hooson who co-founded the agency with me when we were in our twenties, green but ambitious, and Adele Minchin for her unwavering support all these years.”

Caitlin Allen comments: “I couldn’t be more excited to take on the reins of a business that I know and love so much, having been part of its success for the past six years. I’m delighted to continue Preena’s amazing work and lead Riot in the next phase of its growth, working as part of The Splendid Collective. Riot will continue to do what it is famous for – intelligent, values driven work in the culture and entertainment sector that creates real-world impact for our clients – now with the added excitement of working alongside a group of agencies with different but complementary strengths to help us enhance our proposition.”

Alec Samways, CEO, Splendid Communications, says: “We are delighted to welcome Riot to the network bringing expertise in new sectors to our group, including strong relationships in publishing, television and the arts, as well as a great track record in areas such as purpose and D&I. This partnership reflects our ongoing ambition to nurture and grow a band of like-minded agencies all doing incredible work in their own right, while bringing greater breadth and depth of expertise to the group.”       

Adele Minchin says: “It’s been a great privilege to have worked alongside Preena, an exceedingly talented leadership team and a roster of world-class clients, all of whom I will miss, but I am looking forward to taking the time to follow my own creative pursuits. I wish Preena and the team at Riot every success for the future.”

Splendid Communications has acquired 100% stake in Riot. Gadher will continue to work at Riot in an advisory capacity until 29th July 2022.

Photograph Ⓒ Marc Sethi.

Learning about queer lives for Pride month and beyond

Learning about queer lives for Pride month and beyond

Earlier this month, my colleague Tessa and I were lucky enough to see The Ministry of Lesbian Affairs at Soho Theatre for Pride just before the end of its run. Written by Iman Qureshi and featuring a fantastically diverse cast, it was both hilarious and heart-breaking in its look at continued biases and the lack of shared spaces for Lesbians: from painfully relatable Lesbian stereotypes (hello feminist poetry collections, rescue cats and Doc Martens…) to the shocking reality that even to this day – despite all the progress – finding a space where you feel truly comfortable to be your most authentic self is difficult.

Queer culture has moved into the mainstream, but it can often feel like rainbow washing and performative activism – usually marked by a Pride flag put up for the 30 days of June. Entering popular culture isn’t necessarily a bad thing – most homophobia exists because of fear and lack of exposure – but, at Riot, we believe that consuming more queer culture all year round will help combat this in the long-term. Just look at the impact of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Queer Eye and Heartstopper. Engaging with cultural experiences and content that is representative of our shared experiences and identity is so important.

Here are my top three recommendations exploring and celebrating queerness, to be enjoyed both in Pride month and beyond:

  1. Read queer writing

I recently discovered a little gem, Queering the Green, in Gay’s The Word, the oldest LGBTQ+ bookshop in the UK. Curated by an independent Irish publisher Lifeboat Press, it documents the poetic queer voices of the 20th century. This collection not only amplifies the voices of established poets, but also the newer, up-and-coming ones too – we absolutely love this kind of thing here at Riot!

Learning about queer lives for Pride month and beyond
Queering the Green: Post-2000 Queer Irish Poetry Edited by Paul Maddern

On the subject of poetry, we also recently had the pleasure of working on Penguin Random House’s annual company showcase – Penguin Presents – whose amazing line-up included poets Mary Jean Chan and Andrew McMillan, curators of the new anthology 100 Queer Poems. Published this month, it’s a collection of exploring the blossoming of queer poetry over the past few decades, and the poets who came before and challenged the norm. In the introduction, McMillan says: “An anthology like this asks a necessary but difficult question: What is a queer poem? I wish I knew.” With chapters on ‘queer childhoods’ and ‘queer futures’ and everything in between, there is a poem for everyone.

  1. Visit queer spaces

There is a great range of queer spaces in the UK – coffee shops, bars, nightclubs, bookstores, festivals, theatres… you name it, it exists. One of our favourites is London-based Mighty Hoopla, the UK’s most fabulous extravaganza that showcase emerging and established LGBTQ+ artists and performers to have a space. This year’s line-up included Crayola the Queen, who ran a session for the team last year on the importance of pronouns.

Learning about queer lives for Pride month and beyond
Right to left: Emily and Crayola The Queen at Mighty Hoopla, Mighty Hoopla 2022 line up poster, Tessa at Mighty Hoopla

We’d also recommend a visit to Bishopsgate Institute near Liverpool Street, home to the biggest LGBTQ+ archive in the country – it’s free to visit! Last year, our team supported the sold-out event, Dragging the Archives, which highlighted and celebrated the contribution of drag kings to LGBTQ+ culture. If you want to really understand the day-to-day lives of LGBTQ+ people, these archives are a great first step.

Finally, Bristol Pride is taking place on July 9th if you fancy something outside the capital. This year’s line-up is amazing – ranging from the Queer Vision Film festival to Cabaret to a dance performances stage and a Circus tent – and, with Carly Rae Jepson headlining, it’s one you won’t want to miss!

  1. Consume queer content online

With many of us time-poor and stuck in our own echo chambers (not helped by algorithms online), it can feel daunting to try to find the time to read about others’ experiences. However, there are lots of TikTok and Instagram content creators who make this easier by creating short, sharp and deeply personal content that is sure to open your eyes to all sorts of new perspectives. A few of Riot’s favourite queer content creators include:

  • ellaellaw – Ella is a TikTok content creator who shares the reality of being a queer, non-binary autistic person. Their sketches and ‘audition tapes’ are a lot of fun, balanced with a lot of informative content on the intersection between unmasking and coming to terms with their identity.
  • You Look Okay To Me – Jamesha is a journalist who has created a digital space for chronically ill people. They have such informative content on what it is really like to live with a chronic illness and reminds us to all be a little gentler with ourselves. They also create a monthly Spotify playlist which is a favourite.
  • Lamarodofficial – Rod is a best-selling author, a Buddhist minister, activist, and more. His content focuses on grief processing through meditation and practicing freedom. He talks in this post about how he practices freedom by not buying into how others think of him – something we could all do a little more of to help us live more authentically.
  • Katie_budenberg – Katie is an Instagram and TikTok content creator who promotes self-love and compassion. Katie (and her gorgeous cat, Sammy) is normalising everything from soft tummies and body hair to sex toys and awkward period encounters. She talks in this post about the heteronormativity of our society and shares that no matter where you are in your journey, your sexuality is valid.

It’s not about being an expert in all things queer and learning everything all at once – everyone makes mistakes, everyone is learning. It’s about the openness to discuss, be corrected and learn. If we worry less about getting things wrong and more about being compassionate and empathetic, we can go a long way.

Encouraging and understanding differences is a key consideration for us as a Blueprinted agency. After all, if everyone we worked was a cookie-cutter replica, we wouldn’t have those moments of creative excellence, the out-there and wild ideas that win awards, or the people to challenge, disrupt and innovate. Anyone can start this journey by diversifying the content we consume, exploring new spaces, and listening to the voices of the people with the experience – not just for Pride month.