Tell me a little bit about yourself. What’s your background/career path?
I’m married with two teenagers and a puppy (recent impulsive decision!). I’ve lived in various places; America as a kid, the south of England and more recently France, and now find myself in the north west of England. I’ve been here for six years and love it, though still enjoy regular trips to London when I also get to see my good friends who don’t live nearby.
I’ve been in PR for 25 years and I’m still passionate about it. I’ve had the fortune to work with some great people and work for some amazing clients. I’m a big believer in making your own luck and making the most of every opportunity.
I started out at a small advertising agency in London in a tiny PR team and then got head hunted to join Text 100 when it was small and growing fast – it was a fantastic company where I learnt so much, and met really inspiring people, doing some incredible PR working with companies such as Microsoft and Dell. Some of my best friendships were made there. I was then part of the team who set up August.one – a more mainstream B2B and consumer agency – part of the same parent company working with companies such as eBay and Royal Mail. Then I got pregnant and quickly realised agency life in London – at least then – was not geared up for mums and I left after I had my son in 2002 – as did so many other brilliant women. But it was fortuitous – I went on to freelance and set up an informal network working with some of my ex-colleagues who wanted to balance family life with their work. I did that for several years, managing to juggle living in France as well as bringing up two young children.
Tell me about your agency. What is it you do, and what prompted you to start up your own?
I set up Firework PR in 2012 with my long-standing friend (and colleague from Text 100), Clare Wall. We’d been freelancing together and coincidentally found ourselves both living in Knutsford with the opportunity to pitch for a great piece of business (The Mere Golf Resort and Spa) against some established NW agencies – which we won. They wanted a brand behind them and so we set up Firework PR. It just went from there!
We’re advocates of mapping PR onto a business’ priorities; using PR in its broadest ‘public relations’ sense, from developing their company brand story and messaging through to content development and PR outreach on all influencer channels – from social, media, analysts and industry bodies – to support new business pipelines.
We have a team of talented, senior consultants who are passionate about, and proud of, their work as well as a network of loyal, long-standing clients. Most of our work has been through word of mouth and five years on it’s still thriving.
What do you think are the most important issues for developing your company culture?
It’s understanding what your business is about and getting buy ‘in from the team so that everyone sees themselves as playing a role in that culture. We’re all about creating an exciting, fun and balanced work environment that allows us to enjoy our family life yet still have a challenging and stimulating professional career that we can be proud of.
We recently had an offsite and decided that some of the words that best sum us up are, ethical – fun – creative – intelligent – senior – bold and, certainly not last, proud.
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a woman in business?
For me, it’s been juggling a family life whilst retaining my career and running a business. There are so many demands on your time and it’s about getting the priorities right without compromising too much. Undoubtedly if Clare and I had started the business before we had families, we’d have grown the business faster, but then that’s not what Firework is about.
The other challenge is more about getting people to recognise the value of PR and the positive impact it can have on an organisation, whatever their size. But that’s a whole other story!
The Wow Company’s recent survey of 471 agency owners across the UK has the figures as Female 27% – Male 73%. Can you share your thoughts on this?
I’m not really surprised – it’s indicative of where we are in the world at the moment. I think many women don’t have the confidence early on to start their own agencies and then they have the challenges of juggling family and other life commitments. But I believe this is changing and will continue as people recognise that businesses don’t have to be thwarted by inflexible structures and hours. Technology is an incredible tool to unlock more flexible, yet still effective, working practices.
Do you have a mentor, or are you a member of an agency owner community?
I don’t have an official mentor but my close network of personal contacts act as unofficial mentors, primarily from my time at Text 100 where friends and colleagues have gone on to other incredible roles. I’m not currently a member of an agency owner community but this would be of interest.
Do you feel as a female agency founder, they offer the level of support you need? Do you need additional support that isn’t currently available?
While I’m not really in a position to comment, I would value independent business advice, around areas such as possible structures for growth, we have considered a non-executive director to help support our plans for the next five years, for example.
What other female founders inspire you?
Cheryl Sandberg and her book ‘Lean In’ helped clarify many thoughts and ideas for me. It was an inspiring read and certainly gave me a boost of confidence and determination to keep going at times!
What do you think makes a great agency?
A combination of creative, energetic and intelligent people who equally take responsibility and who you can trust and respect, and a group of (ideally) like-minded clients. People enjoy being challenged – we all want to feel valued and respected – and it’s important to play to people’s strengths. Bring this together and it results in an inspiring and enjoyable workplace where people want to be.
What would be your one piece of advice to future female leaders?
Be confident and brave – you’ll surprise yourself.