In conversation with… Siân Dodwell

We first met Siân Dodwell during a debate hosted by the IPA all about public attitudes to a Covid vaccine and were bowled over by her knowledge and passion for the subject. Easily one of my favourite conversations of the year so far!

In case you have not had a chance to meet her, Siân has been part of the Publicis Health team since 2013 and currently holds the position of Chief Strategy Officer at Langland. As a health communications agency that specialises in bringing different perspectives to healthcare, Siân and her team have been centre-stage in navigating and tackling a global health crisis. So we were super excited to have a chance to find out more.

What was your first-ever job?

I did a lot of pub, bar and temp work in my teens, but my first real job out of university was for a small charity called The Architecture Foundation. We had a big modern architecture agenda and put on exhibitions and events in London and around the country promoting design excellence in architecture. The original design for the Millennium Wheel made its first appearance at one of our exhibitions, Norman Foster said he thought it was a crap idea and then I fell into the model and smashed it. Loved that job.

Who would you most love to share a coffee with / go for a drink with?

My Great Grandfather John Vaughan-Owen was a doctor in Llanidloes in mid Wales. I would love to go for a walk with him up Plynlimon to the sources of the Severn and the Wye and talk to him about what it was like living in an era of such change. My Nain’s (grandmother’s) enduring memory of him as a child, was seeing him cry as they took his horses off to war. Despite never having lived there, Llanidloes still feels like my spiritual home.

Highlight of your career (so far?)

I’m incredibly proud of what we have built and what we are continuing to build in the new era of Langland. The pandemic has highlighted that health and medical literacy is fundamental to society. People think that health comms is some kind of communications backwater, and with the extraordinarily talented and motivated team we have in place now at Langland I believe we can and will change that.

Nature or nurture?

In the words of the great philosopher and icon Cheryl Cole, “I’ve learnt so much from my mistakes, I’m thinking of making some more”. So nature I guess.

Best advice you ever heard or received?

One of my very best friends from my days at GSK, said to me early on “at least 20% of your pay packet is for you to know where you’re going, turn up on time and know what fuck is going on”. I put my big girl pants on after that.

What talent do you yearn for?

In my other life I would like to have been a geologist. But more than anything, I would like to be able to learn languages instantly, for some people it comes naturally, but my brain is not wired that way sadly.

What is your favourite brand and why?

I was about to launch into a polemic about Jack White when I realised the question said brand not band. I have an enormous respect for what Sipsmith’s have done for the gin industry, they attacked it from the legislation out and have transformed a dying category as well as defined the brand tonality of a whole breed of new drinks. I also have a deep fascination with the Marvel Universe, I don’t always love the films but having teenagers I can’t really avoid them. I can see the brand evolving, exploring and pushing at the edges of the hero genre; the interaction between characters across a vast landscape of time frames and storylines is akin to epic Russian literature. And who didn’t love WandaVision for seeing us through some of the darkest nights of lockdown?

What book do you most recommend to others?

Really hard question. I’m currently reading Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate, the second in his Stalingrad epic. It’s quite hard to read through the tears but even harder to put down as you watch the trauma unfold. It’s really helping to put our current times in some perspective. My favourite author at the moment is Sarah Perry, she writes modern gothic horror that is magical, terrifying and romantic; I would recommend Melmoth. My go to though is Charlotte Bronte’s proto-feminist masterpiece Jane Eyre, I return to it regularly and there is always a layer of the onion I have yet to peel away. She taught me to be afraid of no one.

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