Kirsten Donkin

Head of PR, Marketing and Communications, Hartburn

Sector: PR and Marketing

Kirsten Donkin struggled to find a career after school. After dropping out from her beauty therapy college course, today she is head of PR, marketing and communications for PD Ports and wants to show that you don’t need to leave the area to get on in life and prove how great Teesside is to live and work.

Where do you call home?

I was born in Middlesbrough but raised in Thornaby, where I lived most of my life. For the last ten years I have lived in Hartburn on the outskirts of Stockton with my husband and two children.

Tell us about your role? 

I am head of PR, marketing and communications for PD Ports, a role which I feel honoured to have held for over 16 years and as a proud Teesssider, take a great sense of personal satisfaction to be able to make a valid contribution to my local area.

PD Ports is one of the UK’s major port groups and the largest private employer in the Tees Valley. I oversee a team of two who work tirelessly across our entire business portfolio which covers Teesside, the Humber, Felixstowe and the Isle of Wight.

Working in such a diverse and busy business, we have extensive relationships with external agencies and partners. The effective management of these relationships is a key part of my role to ensure successful delivery of PD Ports’ strategic business objectives.

In addition to the core role of communications, I also lead on the company’s CSR activities to drive positive social and economic value for our local communities including skills development of young people. I am a Trustee for the High Tide Foundation, Board member of the Tees Valley Logistics Academy and lead on the Teesport Explorers programme, aimed at primary school children.

It is a challenging and fast moving environment which demands a lot of the team but it also creates the fire in our bellies when we see the positive difference we continually strive to make to improve the economic and social outlook for the people and communities we are connected to.

How did you get to where you are today?

After finishing my A Levels at St Mary’s college in Saltersgill, Middlesbrough, I started my marketing degree at Teesside University, graduating in 1999 and going on to complete my masters straight after in Multimedia and Design. 

I struggled to find a ‘career’, something I could make my own, help to shape business direction, have a voice and make a difference. After a short stint working in the Bioscience Centre at the Centre for Life in Newcastle and then a couple of years at a local IT firm in Stockton, I saw the opportunity at PD Ports.

The post wasn’t permanent and in all truth, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I thought of ports and industry related businesses as declining, dirty environments with little investment and few opportunities for women.

I could not have been more wrong! This fuels my passion to share my story with the next generation and show them how great Teesside is to live and work, as well as the variety of career prospects and that you don’t need to leave the area to get on in life. 

As my six months were coming to a close, I went to our HR manager and set out my aspirations to work full time for PD Ports and the value I would bring to the business. The rest, they say, is history. 16 years on I’m head of communications overseeing an incredibly talented team, leading on projects of national importance and working alongside the most inspiring colleagues and leadership team. I also have the privilege of being a trustee of the high tide foundation and an active member of the Tees Valley logistics academy board.

What struggles or obstacles did you face along the way?

Self-doubt and overthinking have been the biggest obstacles I have ever encountered. It is something I work hard at but I never let it hold me back and if anything it has given me an enormous sense of empathy and respect for others who achieve in life despite the chimp on their shoulder telling them they can’t.

When I left school, I had no clue really what I wanted to do – careers advice was limited to visible roles like teachers, doctors or retail workers. I ended up at Middlesbrough College doing beauty therapy and quickly realised it wasn’t for me and despite dreading telling my parents who had just invested in my kit, long-term I knew I needed to do something more suited to me and went on to do my A-Levels. Being honest when you know you have made a bad decision is a good lesson to learn early on. 

I encountered a bad experience in my early days of working and before joining PD Ports, which taught me how not to manage people but to get the most of people you need to give them space to develop, empower them and show them respect. On the plus side this experience stayed with me and helped to shape my own management style. 

Describe the moment you first got a feel for success?

For me, success can be different things and that can change dependant on the point you’re at in your life. One of the most valuable things I have learnt in recent years is being valued in the workplace, being shown respect, knowing your opinions count and you have a voice, delivers more personal and job satisfaction than any material gains. They are great don’t get me wrong, but alone they aren’t long-term motivators. 

Do you have any advice to aspiring young females?

Don’t overthink, believe in your own value and capability. Keep an open mind about every opportunity and always say yes before you talk yourself out of something which takes you out of your comfort zone…it helps build character and the sense of achievement afterwards is invaluable.

What advice would you give to your younger self? 

Don’t doubt yourself, don’t get hung up on others’ opinions of you, do what makes you happy and never compromise on who you are.

What three words inspire you and encourage a positive path?

Just be you.

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