Robert Minton-Taylor, senior PR lecturer at Leeds Becektt University, won’t give up in his fight for a fairer society whether it’s to put an end to unpaid internships or help wipe out racism. He spoke to Ismail Mulla.
Often Robert Minton-Taylor must feel like he’s swimming against the tide in his fight for a fairer society. However, this formidable public relations lecturer has made real headway on issues such as unpaid internships. Those two words ‘unpaid’ and ‘internships’ invoke a passionate response from the Leeds Beckett University lecturer.
The issue was brought to his attention around a decade ago when he was encouraging his class of students to get as much industry experience as possible.
He said: “A group of students came back to me and said well thank you very much Robert, that’s very nice, but we can’t afford to do this.
“Do you realise, that to help fund our studies, we’re working? We’ve got a bar job in the evening, we’re working sometimes during the day for a store. We’re the people serving you.
“I was naive because I assumed that if they were working in an agency or in-house for a day or a group of weeks, they’d get paid.”
This led to Mr Minton-Taylor taking on the cause on behalf of students everywhere. He started by challenging the PR industry to start paying interns. Alongside this he is also doing work for the Taylor Bennett Foundation, a charity that looks to help black, Asian and ethnic minority people into the communications industry.
But what is the reason for Mr Minton-Taylor’s passionate advocacy of the underdog? If you look at his upbringing it provides a clue.
Mr Minton-Taylor said: “Even though I don’t have a Yorkshire accent I was born in Doncaster. My father was in the army.
“He was a career officer before the outbreak of the Second World War so he was at Dunkirk, he was in the Desert Rats. He even ended up liberating Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. I only realised this after he died.”
At the end of the war, while he was still only one month old, he and his mother relocated to Berlin, where his father was posted.
“I grew up in Berlin,” Mr Minton-Taylor says. “According to my mum I couldn’t speak a word of English until I was six. I could only speak German.”
This was then followed by a stint living in Singapore, where his father was a “well respected” army officer. Mr Minton-Taylor says: “Where we lived we had servants, we had a cook, we had a driver and we had a house cleaner. It was an almost colonial existence.”
This was part of the reason for his progressive outlook on life. In fact Mr Minton-Taylor was a Young Conservative once.
He says he got kicked out for inviting a black South African and white South African to share a platform during the apartheid era. “I was told that was not the done thing,” he says.
Mr Minton-Taylor added: “I’ve always championed the underprivileged. I don’t like injustice. I don’t like people using their authority, whoever they are, to get one over someone else. It really bugs me. I don’t like that because the underprivileged don’t have the communication tools.”
Like many people in the PR industry his career actually began as a journalist. He started working for a caravan magazine.
“I still have my party trick,” he laughs. “I can still tell what make a caravan is just by looking at the tail lights.”
Mr Minton-Taylor then decided to give the travel industry a go and attempted to do a HND in hospitality and tourism at Bournemouth Tech College.
“I was not very successful at that,” he confesses, “I remember my personal tutor saying ‘you’ve got the gift of the gab. I suggest you either go back to journalism or why don’t you try public relations?’”
So he joined what would later go on to become P&O Ferries. Here he spent six “exciting” years but Mr Minton-Taylor hankered proper PR training.
He joined American PR agency Burson-Marsteller, which he says offered a “fantastic in-house training programme”.
Mr Minton-Taylor added: “I think I was the oldest assistant account executive they had ever hired. My bosses were at least six years my junior.”
There he worked his way up to become a board director. It was during this time in the 80s that he saw racism first hand.
Mr Minton-Taylor said: “We were required as board directors to do pro-bono work and I chose to do pro-bono work for the Prince’s Trust.
“I was helping people from the Afro-Caribbean community in Brixton set up businesses. I well remember often travelling in the passenger seat of an expensive BMW driving through Brixton and being stopped by police. I wasn’t stopped. It was the driver, who was black, who was stopped and searched because the police at that time couldn’t believe that the car hadn’t been stolen.”
In the early 90s, Mr Minton-Taylor decided it was time for his young family to relocate. After joining an agency in Leeds he started lecturing at Leeds Beckett. At first one day a week before becoming full-time.
He said: “I found that more stressful than combining a full-time job and lecturing. I had a mini nervous breakdown. But I remember my current boss said you’ve just got to take a couple of weeks off, sort yourself out and come back when you’re ready.
“That was just before the start of a new academic year and I’m forever grateful to him.”
Seeing students succeed is the most rewarding aspect of the job, he says. Mr Minton-Taylor is also revelling in his role of linking the university to business.
The tide on unpaid internships certainly seems to be changing. In no less part, as a result of the lecturer’s own efforts.
He helped Leeds Beckett Students’ Union start the Fair Deal for Interns scheme. It awards a rating of bronze, silver or gold to would-be employers depending on how they treat and pay their interns.
Recently, Mr Minton-Taylor was honoured by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) for his work with the Taylor Bennett Foundation and on unpaid internships.
Despite the accolades, his enthusiasm shows no signs of slowing.
“I’ve reached that age where I don’t want to do things for myself,” he says. “I want to be able to contribute and put back into society what I’ve got out of it.”
And whether it is fairer pay or anti-racism, Mr Minton-Taylor is certainly putting back into society.
Title: Senior lecturer in public relations and strategic communications at Leeds Business School, Leeds Beckett University
Date of birth: February 25, 1948
Lives: Cononley, nr Skipton
Education: 16 different schools and Bournemouth Technical College.
First job: Journalist
Favourite holiday destination: Provence
Favourite film: Saving Private Ryan
Favourite song: Waterloo Sunset by the Kinks and Safe from Harm by Massive Attack
Last book read: In Extremis: The Life of War Correspondent Marie Colvin by Lindsey Hilsum
Car driven: Saab 9.3 Aero convertible
Most proud of: My wife Caroline and sons Jasper and Fabian.