Let’s face it, the past week has been pretty intense when it comes to the news agenda and I will admit that I don’t envy those on the front line of PR and in press offices.
While PR isn’t ER, a line I used in a lecture at Leeds Uni this week, it plays a vital role for many organisations and it’s a career that comes with a roller-coaster of challenges and emotions.
It takes a special kind of consultant to roll with the punches and remain resilient and forward thinking, and reading the answers from Gary Jenkins, Managing Director and co-owner of No Brainer, for my Day in the Life series, I got the impression that he is exactly that kind of person. I was really impressed with what he had to say about the way he works with his people (be that clients and his team), his invitation for those as the start of their careers to ask questions, as well as his ability to get up at 5.30am to workout.
I am also pretty impressed with their offices and bet they can’t wait to get back into them when this lockdown is over.
I really hope you enjoy this interview and I for one will be keeping an eye on where he and the No Brainer team go in 2021.
Tell me about you and your business.
I’m Gary Jenkins, Managing Director and co-owner of No Brainer, an award-winning digital PR, SEO and content marketing agency based in Warrington, Cheshire in the north-west of England.
We’re just coming up to six years old and are now one of the region’s biggest PR agencies, and we’re proud to work with a range of brands, from FTSE 100 companies to dynamic SMEs, supporting them with integrated marketing strategies in both the B2B and B2C sectors.
What is your morning routine before you get to your desk?
I have two modes. My wife either wakes me up as she’s leaving for work at 7.30am (as she’s a primary school teacher and key worker), or I’m up at 5.30am to go to the gym three or four times a week (or my front room during lockdown). I annoy everyone at No Brainer as I do CrossFit, and I think everyone in the team is bored with me talking about it! They’ve given me a name I can’t say in an interview like this!
Whatever time I wake up, I scan socials and the news immediately, so I have a grasp on what’s happening in the world, for us and our clients too. Quick breakfast with my wife and kids and then I’m usually at my desk by 8.30am.
What’s the first thing you do when you get to your desk?
I make sure I have my daily coffee, then scan my diary to check I’m ahead of everything and scan/read any overnight emails. This is unless I have something big to get through. If that’s the case I always make that big thing my first job – we call it ‘eating the frog’, as this is the time when I’m at my most productive.
Tongue in cheek question, what does a typical day look like for you?
We don’t have swathes of in-house experts in personnel, HR, finance, legal, marketing/new business, technology etc (we have some brilliant supporting agencies to help with most of that), but I guarantee at least three or four of these areas will be a focus during any given day.
My diary is usually pretty full, but I like the fact that I still work across multiple client accounts, with pretty much every member of our team (as we have split client teams working across every account) as I still like to be hands-on with things. I’m also usually working on, doing or finalising a new client brief, proposal or contract too, so new business is always one of my key priorities.
How have you kept your business on track over the past year and dealt with the impact of COVID?
It’s been a challenging time for many creative agencies, including us. My business partner Lee and I speak to many other agency owners as well as a strategic adviser who supports us.
To keep on track, we have an enterprise operating system, and it keeps us absolutely focused on our priorities. It uses the basis of the book ‘Traction’ by Gino Wickman. Through this, we’re crystal clear on our core focuses, targets, strategy, Big Rocks and key issues, and using 90 day plans we prioritise exactly what’s needed. Despite the chaos we’ve experienced, this focus has kept us on track and reduced the sense of panic I think many agencies faced in mid-2020 in particular. It’s also enabled us to bounce back in a way that gives us a genuine and renewed sense of confidence and we’re already seeing the benefits of being focused on what’s in our control during COVID.
What do you see as the biggest challenges for PR at the moment?
One of the biggest challenges that continues to dominate our industry, and became even more prevalent during 2020, is PR measurement and value. Years of poorly planned and badly measured campaigns by agencies have created an environment where ROI is difficult to prove, or not proven at all. PR has got a bad rep for measurement.
Measuring and demonstrating the impact of PR isn’t always straight-forward, some companies have a short-term view and don’t understand the value of reputation building for their business – how it can positively impact sales, share price and staff retention.
This is something we’re really passionate about at No Brainer, great measurement aligns with our values and helps us deliver the best quality outcomes we can for our clients. We even aligned our company purpose to it: “to create meaningful change” for our clients.
Because of this we’ve committed ourselves to internationally certified standards of measurement through AMEC. By delivering campaigns that work in an integrated way, and that are truly measurable, we can constantly adapt and refine our strategies, resource and expertise to where we add the most value.
We hope more PR professionals take this approach, and together we can quieten the nay-sayers and prove the value of good PR.
What are the non-negotiables for you in your business?
Our core values – WIRED. They are:
- We, not I
- Excellence as standard
- Do the right thing
These are what we measure our business by, each other by (including our hiring and performance strategies), and our clients by.
We know working in PR can be stressful, how do you look after yourself, as well as your clients?
Through genuine relationships and open dialogue. With our team that’s important, as we want to know what’s going right or wrong, but also to let each other know when we think things could be done smarter or better. Who hasn’t needed someone to speak to or lean on through this? I think openness is so important for people.
The same goes for our clients. We work with our clients as partners and collaborators, not paymasters. We care deeply about hitting the results they need us to hit, and by doing so we become much more valued and extended members of their team and we think that gives us more productive, long-lasting and successful relationships.
What plans do you have for 2021?
We have some really exciting plans in place for 2021 and we’re already bearing the fruits of the focus we’ve had on the business in 2020 and into the start of this year. We’ve spent time better defining who we are, what we specialise in and how we differentiate ourselves.
Our new business pipeline is strong, which enables us to focus on investment and growth, so we have a plan to continue to grow with the right type of clients.
And we’ve invested in bringing in new top tier talent, particularly in the SEO and insights space which compliments modern PR, and digital and content marketing, and that’s something we’re intending to continue to do in 2021.
What advice would you have for someone looking to start a PR career?
Listen. I mean, really listen.
Listen to people who have been there, learned through experience and can give you guidance and support for your career. Listen to people who are innovating or creating, and people who are doing things you aspire to achieve in the areas you’re interested in.
Don’t be afraid to ask. Ask for experience. Ask for mentors. Ask questions. Speak to people. Pick up the phone. Be interested and involved.
And always build a network, grow your knowledge and – once you’re in a role – never, ever become complacent. Always focus on what can drive you on to become a stronger, better professional.
What motto do you live and work by?
Live in the present. So many people are always looking back (“I wish I had…”) or looking forward (“If only I could get to…”).
By all means, set long term goals, it gives you something to strive for, but live in the present and always be focused on the small, incremental steps it needs to reach them.
Watch this space for the next interview, and if you would like to get involved, let me know and I will send over the questions.