There has always been an entrepreneurial streak in my family.
For the early years of my life, my siblings and I shared our home with about 20 or 30 other kids—the result of my mum’s idea to “look after a few children” for money.
Not limited by the fact we lived in a flat or indeed any strict health and safety laws at the time, mum grew her childminding idea into a full-blown nursery business with early year teachers and a sandpit made out of a repurposed bottom drawer from an old sideboard.
My journey into business was a little similar—at the beginning, anyway.
What started initially as a way for me to work freelance and be my own boss rapidly turned into a company with a business partner, co-workers, HR, and IT support—the whole nine yards.
The only thing we did not go for was the office.
If you invested in the right IT, you could create a virtual office even 18 years ago, minus the Zoom calls.
In the intervening years, I have learned a few things about growing a PR agency and thought it might be useful to share my insights with others who are starting out.
Pay for Good Advice
Of course, you say. This is obvious. Get a guru to help.
Except often you don’t. Especially in the early days when money is tight.
I am definitely not advocating you stretch yourself beyond your means to pay for good business advice, but I will tell you this for free: I have never, ever regretted paying a single penny for a business consultant’s help.
They do not only pay for themselves, they essentially ensure everyone in your business gets a pay raise, too.
You need to choose wisely of course. Someone who comes with a background in helping other agencies has always been my preferred route as you don’t have to explain the intricacies of your sector.
They just get straight down to helping you.
Hire the Skills You Need
Our industry is always changing, which is one of the reasons I love it.
There is always something new to learn.
Whether it is understanding how best to use TikTok for clients, the skills needed to podcast, or pitching for business by Zoom, you almost never get to the top of that learning curve.
There is a tendency to rely on upskilling existing staff to manage all these new developments and although this is hugely valid, and should 100% happen if you want to change quickly, you need to hire people who already possess those key skills.
Even if it means hiring on a short-term or freelance contract to afford the person you need.
By bringing experts in, you can instantly offer new services to your clients without any concerns that inexperience will affect the campaign.
The experts also catapult learning in your own team, so they upskill much more quickly than they would by attending a couple of courses on the subject.
A PR Agency Needs Partners for Growth
There are skills you must have in-house to be a decent PR agency and there are skills you may only need from time to time.
For us, these not always needed services are things such as website design, brand development, consumer research, or email marketing.
For these areas, you need to find a partner.
You will become so much more valuable to your clients if you can provide them with the best solution for their business, rather than only sticking to what services you offer directly.
Don’t Ever Take It Personally
This is a hard one to learn. Or it was for me.
No matter how amazing you are, and how many hoops you jump through, you will lose clients.
You may not lose many, but you will lose some.
The first one hurts like hell.
The second one hurts a bit less.
And then, over time, you start to realize, it often has nothing to do with you.
An acquisition by a global firm that shifts all PR to the parent company.
A new CEO who wants to bring their old PR agency along with them for the ride.
The reasons are manifold and not all of them will be about you or the service you’ve provided.
Do not take it personally.
I don’t mean you should get complacent.
You need to deliver what your clients want and be great at what you do, but beyond that sometimes it is out of your control.
I wish I had known this during that first, very painful breakup.
Stick to Your Non-Negotiables
I remember my dad having a fall.
I had taken time off with my family to go and see him and as we arrived, an ambulance was parked outside and dad was wheeled out on a stretcher with blood on his face.
I can’t explain what happens inside when you see a loved one like this, but it is not something you bounce back from in 24 hours.
Anyway, thankfully Dad was fine after a few days in the hospital, but I did not know this at the time.
The next morning, I got a call from someone we had done business with in the past.
They too were a little frantic, but for a different reason.
A meeting had been called with some bigwigs and the contact needed a proposal in double time.
I explained calmly what had happened and that on this occasion, I would be unable to help.
To cut to the chase, the contact pushed and pushed and I eventually caved in.
So, I now had a proposal to write and still had to find time to visit my dad in the hospital.
The business from this contact never materialized, but that is not the point.
I did not write the proposal because we needed the business.
I wrote it because I felt the contact needed my help.
In truth, if they really needed my help, they would have called a few days beforehand when the meeting with the bigwigs had first been put in the diary, not the day before.
My proposal was probably just a nice-to-have to throw at the suits.
It taught me a valuable lesson.
Running a PR agency, you need to learn how to deal with unreasonable demands as you’ll almost certainly get them occasionally.
Do not get me wrong, we are not talking about the more everyday requests that mean burning the midnight oil to help hit a media deadline or taking a call at 6 a.m. because a client has a comms crisis that is about to hit. T
hose tasks are just part and parcel of the job.
It’s about not allowing clients to blur the lines between what is reasonable and what is going to have an impact on your personal life or that of your staff.
Funnily enough, since I made the decision all those years ago to stick to my non-negotiables, those ‘don’t take no for an answer’ types of clients have melted away, too.