Creative Creative Works Agency Culture

The PR marketing manager who got 5-star reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe


By Sam Anderson, Network Editor

September 8, 2022 | 8 min read

The Drum sits down with Alister Heywood, a manager at PR agency Propeller group – or should that be Ali Woods, the TikTok comedian whose debut solo show at the Edinburgh Fringe garnered five-star reviews?

Comedian Ali Woods

PR man by day; comedian by night – we sit down with Alister Heywood / Ali Woods / Image courtesy of Ali Woods

PR’s all about making a connection and crafting a certain kind of audience response, so it’s no surprise that it’s a world that spawns the odd comedian. British stand-up Rufus Hound started out at a PR agency; more recently, FleishmanHillard’s head of influence has racked up 3.6m likes on TikTok, and in the wider industry you’ll find MullenLowe’s creative director Bronwyn Sweeney in London’s best comedy clubs.

Add to the list Ali Woods – the stage name of Alister Heywood, who spends his day-to-day as a new business and marketing manager at PR shop Propeller Group. You won’t have found him there in August, though: this year, he decamped to Edinburgh for the month with his first stand-up show, Best Friend Ever. We sat down with him in the dying hours of the world’s biggest arts festival, in between two shows and with an almost entirely lost voice on Woods’s part.

How many shows so far, then?

I think I’m on 23 – two today, because the first sold out.

How have they gone?

It’s been really good. I didn’t know whether the TikTok stuff was going to translate to Edinburgh – it’s a lot more arty up here; more theatre-based. But ticket sales have been good, I’ve enjoyed my time, I really love the show that I brought up, and it’s got some good reviews.

I sold out my first day, which was good – I didn’t know if anyone was going to turn up. That’s a personal highlight for me.

I understand you’ve done split bills at the Fringe before – but you’ve brought your first show here without an agent or a manager?

I’m working with a producer, via a production company helping with the venue, flyering, poster design – that kind of thing.

Does having no manager help make it worth your while financially?

I’m actually on course to make money, which is nice – before you factor in all the living costs at least.

It’s hard to quantify the show’s success. Some people bring really great shows and get nothing out of it, because they’re not fitting the zeitgeist or whatever – and then there are people who might not have had the most successful sales or reviews, but they just might have caught the right person at the right time, and they might get a TV show. So we’ll see.

What if you did catch a break? It’s pretty cool of your employer to give you this time to pursue something else.

It’s really cool. I can’t say enough how great Propeller is for stuff like this. I started off as an intern there almost seven years ago, as one of my first jobs out of uni. I’d done some comedy, and I used to take two weeks off to go to the Fringe.

When I realized I wanted to be a comedian, I started to take all my holiday in one chunk for Edinburgh in August; as I started to get more money from comedy I went down to four-day weeks, and more recently three-day. I’ve always wanted to do a good job at Propeller, but sometimes time is more useful than money.

I’ve been pretty open that my ideal is to be a comedian, but I want to do a good job while I’m at Propeller. They’ve made this much smoother than they needed to.

Have your colleagues ever had anything to say about your material?

No – there’s never been a meeting. They’ve always been very supportive; three years in a row I’ve actually done a work-in-progress show at Propeller. It’s quite well attended. I do give a disclaimer about crude humor and swearing – maybe that’s why some people don’t come, but it’s never been an issue.

We’re seeing a few marketing people pop up as comedians, online and in clubs. Why do you reckon that is?

A lot of people fall into this industry – humanities graduates who may have done some performing; creative people; even frustrated creators. Maybe they perceive marketing as a creative industry but end up working in strategy – which is obviously important, but might not allow them to be working on the ideas side of things. It’s an industry where a lot of creative and creative-minded people end up, but not necessarily doing very creative jobs. That’s reflected in the way the industry holds up creative people as ‘rockstars’: but it’s a 43-year-old man from Kent.

And the internet’s been great to let you bypass the gatekeepers, dip your toe in and do what you want.

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Will you be going back next year?

Potentially. My producers and the venue are keen to go back and increase the venue. But I’ve never believed that you should just do stuff for the sake of it, because it’s a pattern. It has always been my dream to come up and do my own show. It’s so lovely to have seen it go so well. What’s the next thing? Maybe it’s coming up with a new show next year, or waiting a year, or never coming up again. I don’t know. I need to think about that when I get back to reality and away from this Edinburgh bubble.

What’s the next goal?

I definitely want to be big. There’s no specific goal. I want to be as good a comedian as I can be; I want to be some people’s favorite comedian; I want people to buy tickets; I want to feel that I’m always getting better at comedy.

Creative Creative Works Agency Culture

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