Tell me a little bit about yourself. What’s your background/career path?
I have really been a PRO all of my working life with a few interruptions along the way, at 24 when I left to travel around SE Asia and lived in Australia for 18 months, and at 32 when I went to business school for a year.
PR suits me. I really had no idea what I wanted to be or do at the age of 18 when I left school so interviewed with a number of recruiters and they all invariably said ‘go into PR’. Finding work – I had no idea at the time it would turn into a professional for me – was much easier in those days, 30 years ago, than it is for the young of today, so finding my first step on the ladder was not hard.
I didn’t go to university so all of my post school education has come through working, the ‘university of life’ as they rather twee-ly call it. I have been lucky. Over the past 30 years, I have worked for some fantastic companies and some real duds, in both in-house and consultancy posts, and for companies across the world. I specialize in international business and financial media engagement but have done everything from project organizing and parties (including HM The Queen’s 40th wedding anniversary) to crisis management and damage control.
Tell me about your agency. What is it you do and what prompted you to start up your own?
I first set up my own agency in 2003, after about 18 years of working for other people. My impetus for doing so was simply because, perhaps rather arrogantly, I felt PR could be done better. It struck me that integrity had been stripped out of our profession, if indeed it ever existed in it! I wanted to service clients with a mix of thoughtfulness, attention, bespoke response and duty of care that I felt had been eroded from the practice of PR. That’s why I called my firm ParExcellence PR! Of course, much has changed in the PR profession since then and firms today are much sharper and more conscious of their accountability to clients.
I am now the Managing Director of CitySavvy, an award-winning financial and corporate communications consultancy.
What do you think are the most important issues for developing your company culture?
I bang on about integrity a lot and recognise that not everyone will interpret this characteristic the same way. To me it means giving of your best to clients at all times, not being swayed or compromised by anything less than 100% whether in the counsel you are giving to clients or the implementation of a media relations task or communications challenge.
Integrity also means treating your own people – your employees and the service providers and counter-parties that we deal with with the same care and concern that we show to clients.
I believe that beyond that core principle, it is important to have fun. Essentially, I believe that if you enjoy what you do you will do it better, and you should always try to make it enjoyable for others too.
I also believe – and perhaps this has only come over time – in doing work for others without counting first the cost of “what’s in it for me”. I know that will sound hopelessly uncommercial – my business partners will be very cross with me – but if your mindset is Give rather than Take, it will pay dividends in the end. Or I hope it will!
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a woman in business?
I think the biggest challenge that faces most women in business, and often in life more broadly, is that we seem to be pre-programmed to doubt ourselves – a natural state of affairs that is really quite unnatural if you think about it. Many of us operate in professions that are still dominated by men whose mindset is the opposite – a Can Do self-confidence rather than Can I Do? self-questioning.
To feel inherently less good than men is a nonsense. There is little if anything that women can’t do just as well as men but we need to believe in ourselves and approach our challenges, whatever they be, with gusto, clarity and conviction. I find it motivating to observe that for the next generation of female entrepreneurs, gender-bias seems to be almost a non-issue but it was there when I started.
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?
Re-run this survey in five years time and I believe the stats will be much closer together. Women are becoming more prominent and influential throughout all strata of the workplace and the last decade has seen businesses both large and small embrace diversity as an issue.
Do you have a mentor, or are you a member of an agency owner community?
I don’t! My inspiration is my peer group of women but no one person in particular. There are many people I know – not all friends, some working in firms, at various levels and not always at the top (yet); or others championing causes whom I admire and from whom I try to learn by observation or by listening to their stories. I did join BNI once, for about two years, but I didn’t find that helpful.
One guideline for better working that I first heard many years ago, from Heather McGregor (aka Mrs Moneypenny in the Financial Times) and that I have always remembered (but not always successfully practiced!) is to recognise that there are just 168 hours in the week and every one must be spent wisely, including allowing for enough time to sleep so ensure you concentrate your time on what is important. The second lesson, which I learnt from Julia Hobsbawm, the master of networking and founder and CEO of Editorial Intelligence, is not to neglect your networking but it is the depth of relationship you have with those in your network rather than the quantity of contacts that counts.
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?
I am historically bad about asking for support and I have always approached business relationships from the perspective of what can I do for the other party rather than what can they do for me: not very commercially minded of me!
I am bad about asking for help of any type whilst fully recognizing what a limitation this inability is! I think we should all ask for support, unashamedly, providing we are respectful and conscious of the time limitation of those whom we might ask for help. It is true, I am sure, even if I am poor at practicing this myself, that people like to be asked for help – it makes them feel appreciated, expert and wanted. I believe there is a special ‘bond’ between women in this respect. For the most part – and there are always exceptions – I have found that women want to help each-other and lack the jungle competitiveness common in men.
What other female founders inspire you?
What do you think makes a great agency?
The Team: in any people business it is invariably the People who make it a success. But the Team Dynamics are also important. Find the best people you can afford and then work to create a working environment and company culture that will inspire them to join you and to stay. Care about, cultivate and motivate the people who work for you. And remember not to lose your own sense of perspective or fun as you build your great agency.
I have always believed in the power of pursuing a path – you may only realise with the passage of time that this has turned into a career – that excites you; indeed, it is the first question that I ask of young people whom I interview. I ask them what they feel passionate about, to think about what will keep them getting out of bed in five and ten years’ time (and I don’t mean debts!). I believe that people work best if they enjoy what they do. Life is honestly too short to spent in any other way, especially given the inordinate amount of time we all seem to spent at our desks these days.
What would be your one piece of advice to future female leaders?
Think through the consequences of every action you take; try to look at what you do from the perspective of whomever is on the other side of the table, before you decide your path.