Day in the life: Communications specialist on a mission to save the world

Freelance communications expert Stephen King quit the corporate world in 2014 and says he will never return as he finds it empowering being in control of whether or not he works.

Stephen King is a freelance communications specialist, and lecturer, on a mission to save the world. Satish Kumar / The National
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Stephen King is a freelance communications specialist on a mission to save the world. The 39-year-old Briton, who has a visa with Twofour54, is director of alliances and partnerships at the Middle East Public Relations Association (Mepra), an adjunct lecturer at Middlesex University and also a keen videographer. He also teaches an “advocacy to action” training programme that promotes the UN’s 17 global goals for sustainable development, in the UAE and internationally. Before quitting the corporate world in 2014, Mr King was senior manager of corporate sustainability and social responsibility for Etisalat for four years. He has lived in the UAE since 2002.


The time I wake varies. The first thing I do is work out what I have to do that day because I have a number of different projects on the go. If I’m not teaching somewhere, then I choose where to work – either at the Impact Hub in Downtown Dubai, the Costa coffee behind my home in Tecom or occasionally the freelancing officers at Twofour54 in Abu Dhabi. Every day is different. Sometimes I’ll have Sunday off and work all day Fridays from the Time Oak Hotel in Tecom when food, drink and a swim with Wi-Fi is Dh79. Today, I’m at the Impact Hub.


Breakfast is muesli or a Nutella toastie, depending on whether I’ve got any milk. I took on a flatmate recently to reduce living expenses. I want to innovate and when you’re working in technology, the only way to see who the innovators are is to live like a student. My philosophy since leaving Etisalat is to be as frugal as possible.


I take the metro to the Burj Khalifa and walk through the mall to the Hub, or take the bus. I haven’t had a car for six years; it’s a personal choice that was reinforced when I went independent. I never want to go back into corporate life again, because I don’t want anyone to have control over whether I work or not. I find that quite empowering.


I arrive at the Hub and find somewhere to sit. When I went independent it was such a miserable experience and I’ve got friends now going through the same problems. Nobody wants to talk to you because you’re a salesman now and it becomes very lonely. The Hub gives you a community of people who are adrift in a certain way and you all paddle around together. The Hub’s international network has also been absolutely core to what I do.


I’ve tried writing to-do lists and that doesn’t work because the list is never-ending. Instead, I write my “to-happy list” – the three things that’ll make me happy if I get them done that day. The first is always “what am I making money from?” That’s the priority. Then there’s “what’s my pressing deadline that I’m developing on?” which is mostly about nurturing relationships. The final thing is “my future dreams”, which are my sustainable initiatives.


I do some experimenting with creating content for 360 virtual reality (VR). Mepra has an awards ceremony coming up and we just announced the shortlists for the awards on 360. You could see everybody’s reactions as the shortlist was being made. I think it adds a lot of value, to put that oculus headset on and go “I’m there again!” Because Mepra is a trade association, we see the trends coming through and we’re able to innovate. There are great opportunities with these VR cameras, they’re so cheap and easy to use.


Lunch is usually Coffee Planet sandwiches, then I’m back at the Hub. I remember the moment I realised I wanted to make a difference in the world. I was speaking at a women’s conference in South Africa while working for Etisalat. Before that, I’d never had the opportunity to sit in a room and listen properly to what real problems were – men taking the family money and playing on the internet all day, or anxieties about being attacked. That was a real mindshift-moment for me. If you actually know how to contribute to the world, then it’s an exciting time to be alive right now. But if you’re just a bystander watching it all happen, then I think it’s probably quite an anxious time.


I do some lesson planning for the two courses I teach at Middlesex University on Thursdays, in Advanced Digital Journalism and Issues in Media and Society. Helping young people move forwards, and looking at things from a young person’s perspective, is key. Without that you have no respect for the difficulties they face. We used to still see green trees everywhere when I was growing up in the UK but they’re disappearing because people are building so much. Young people don’t have that history, so you have to start from where they stand and forget your own history. Otherwise you’re bringing in a lot of legacy.


I prepare for a two-hour workshop I’m teaching for Mepra later this week in Ras Al Khaimah, on the UN’s 17 global goals for sustainable development. In strategic communications we’re supposed to come up with creative ideas based on something measurable. These goals give you that – it’s the world’s leaders saying “this is what we’re going to do and how we’re going to measure it, to save the world”. These goals cover everything from poverty and climate change to economic development. It’s a proper people-planet-profit framework. I use these goals to inspire communication. People often find they’re the same activities they were doing in their jobs before but at least now they know they’re contributing to a global mission. I do it so I can feel part of something much bigger.


If I get home from the Hub early, I’ll have a two-hour nap, then work until the early hours.


I get a food box delivery service called Hello Chef, which forces me to cook. I get the ingredients at the beginning of the week, freeze them and then defrost them each morning, then I know I have to be home and cook that evening. It’s more expensive than going to the supermarket but it’s less expensive for me because otherwise I’d be getting takeaways – plus it’s healthier. It gives me this great period to rest between my work-work and my hobby work.


I’m preparing a newsletter or a blogspot, doing video editing or filming for social media, on the theme of sustainable development. I might be preparing for some international youth work I’m involved with through the UN Youth’s office. I’m an old guy with all these young people at these youth events, so I just sit in the back and listen to them. And I give them support because they need that.


I generally go to sleep while watching TV. I like watching zombies – The Walking Dead, Z Nation, Van Helsing … end-of-the-world stuff. You've got to have a laugh at it, right?

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