Where did the weekend go? The sun was shining, we went to the beach and found time to relax after a really busy few days last week.
I try not to work weekends these days, I did have some admin to do on Saturday, but at the start of 2020 I was working all the time and it didn’t do me any favours. I was tired, stressed and in a way, lockdown was a blessing in disguise for me as I had to slow down.
I know that clients and press need me to be switched on, but sometimes we need to turn off and catch up and when we do, we can be so much more effective and efficient.
Getting that balance right really was what sparked my passion for coaching PR professionals as well as getting me to think about having conversations with them about how they do it all.
Today I’m delighted to have Verity Blake, founder of HeadOn PR, talking to me about her life as a PR. Why not grab a cuppa, have a read and I’m sure you’ll love what she has to say – I know I did!
Please tell me a little bit about you.
I’m a wife and mum of two, owner of HeadOn PR, running enthusiast and lover of any books on the latest PR and marketing methods. I’ve just finished Grant Leboff’s latest myths of marketing book. I like to keep learning, discovering new ideas and ways to expand the business and our services especially as PR is constantly changing in the digital age.
I would love to know more about your career path and where you are today?
I’ve been lucky enough to work for some of the biggest and most exciting global brands right from the early part of my career, and in a real variety of PR roles which has given me a very diverse skill set.
Fresh out of Bournemouth University having graduated in PR, I worked with a specialist tech PR agency before then moving to 3Mobile to be part of the rollout of the first every 3G network. We’re now on 5G so I’m showing my age! My role there was as Corporate Affairs manager, advising the public and media as 3G was integrated across regions. Following this I joined Ericsson and then Symantec’s consumer PR and press team, before moving back into the exciting world of agency representing big B2B and B2C brands such as Ovo Energy, 3M and Axa PPP Healthcare, before then taking the leap of setting up my own PR company, HeadOn PR in 2012.
How did you deal with the pandemic when it came not only to work, but also self care and dealing with the unknown.
We like to consider ourselves a visionary, forward thinking PR company and flexible, remote working has always been at the core of the business. Our office in Cheltenham has never been a place where people have to work from daily – it’s always been more of a ‘hub’ for people to use as and when they need so the Government’s work from home directive didn’t really change the way we worked. However, some of the team did rotate their working hours for a period to juggle work with their partners and looking after young children during lockdown. This worked very well so we know that should a second wave occur then we have a system that works effectively.
How did clients react to what was happening?
Initially most of our clients were understandably nervous when lockdown was announced as it was a totally unprecedented situation, but the Government’s furlough scheme and business support packages appeared to have helped and thankfully, for the majority of our clients, business continued as normal as possible. We also work with a lot organisations in technology, professional services, HR and law – whose services have been in demand during the pandemic.
Our clients have continued to be busy during the pandemic – with many growing and some even opening new offices and taking on new staff. We were delighted to be able play a part in this growth, keeping them connected with their customers and prospects during these unusual times whether through delivering press, broadcast, social media or digital services.
How are things looking on the work front now?
Pleased to say that we’re very busy. Our long standing clients, most of whom have been with us pretty much since we launched in 2012, are either steady or thriving, and we’ve also acquired several new clients and projects in a range of sectors including technology, marketing, leadership development & training, a networking organisation and a care home.
Some existing retained clients are either increasing their PR budgets or we’re being approached by prospects, all seeking PR as a means to build real customer engagement, reputation and brand recognition after other routes to market have been closed off during the Pandemic.
But we’re certainly not complacent. We’re consistently aware of the risk of a second wave so we’re continuously reviewing and keeping an eye on costs and our business services to ensure they’re meeting our client’s changing needs and budgets.
How do you take time out to look after yourself and what do you consider to be the non-negotiables?
I’m not great at taking time out for myself to be honest. I do work long hours and when I’m not working, I’m spending time with my husband and children, and visiting family. That doesn’t leave much time just for me. I go for a run at least twice a week with my music on and time to just think and that is my non-negotiable. As an ex- county swimmer and club netball player, sport has always been a big part of my life. Exercise is really important to me to kept energised and I often have my best creative ideas when out running.
Do you think people in the PR world are generally good at looking after themselves and how do you think we can be better?
PR is such a fast paced, highly creative industry to work in, from working with press, broadcast, to managing social media or creating digital assets, that it can often mean long days, high pressure and tight deadlines. It can also be a very sociable industry with stakeholder events, lunches, drinks and entertainment etc. Apart from the restrictions imposed by the pandemic, I’ve never really known the pace to be different in the 20+ years I’ve worked in the sector but most PR people I speak to thrive on working in such a highly charged environment, and often live and breathe their work mostly because of a love for it and the ideas industry they’re in. This doesn’t leave a lot of time for themselves. But, as the pandemic has shown, employers are realising we no longer need to see work as a set amount of time we do during the day but something that’s fluid and flexible to be carried out throughout the week and as long as work is delivered to expectations and deadlines then it means more PR people can fit work around time for themselves whether that’s to exercise or get your haircut.
What words of wisdom would you offer others working in the PR and media world when it comes to knowing yourself worth?
Keep on top of your competitor pricing research to find out how much others are charging from freelancers to large agencies to ensure you’re pricing yourself correctly and competitively. This is ever more important today with companies looking at different outsourcing models and pricing options to fit tighter PR budgets. I also once heard someone speaking at an event, say “if people aren’t willing to pay for your advice then they don’t value it.” This resonated with me. In a content driven world though you demonstrate your brand value through your expertise so it’s getting that balance of insight right to show your worth and value above others to attract prospects, while still enough to want and need to pay for your services. There will always be those that think they can do the job themselves, as good PR people can make it look easy, but the majority will call upon your expertise to guide them through.
How do you think the industry will change as a result of COVID-19, or do you think we will go back to how we worked before?
I think the blended or hybrid workplace is here to stay where people work more flexibly than ever before, between home and office. It makes better sense for companies financially, motivationally and for productivity.
What’s your proudest career moment?
June this year the HeadOn PR team devised and managed a major integrated press and broadcast campaign, aligned with social media, that uncovered furlough fraud among a third of UK employers. Using our research partner, we ran market research on behalf of our client, Crossland Employment Solicitors, and released the findings to all national, regional, business and trade media and broadcast – you can read more here. The story was featured by over 450 different media – the majority all on the same day – and it still continues to get coverage as furlough fraud remains a key focus for HMRC. It was the 2nd most read story on the BBC website, headlined in the Evening Standard, Daily Mail, Daily Express, the Mirror, secured over 10 radio interviews including BBCR2 Jeremy Vine show, LBC and TalkRadio and was featured on the likes of Sky News and Heart, plus key business, HR and accounting trade media too. It was a fantastic (and very busy) few weeks for the team.
If you didn’t work in PR, what would you do?
I think I would still want to work in the media – I like the idea of TV news reporting. I did try to pursue a career as a TV weather girl many years ago but reading off an autocue isn’t as easy as it looks.
What would be your ideal day off?
A family day out with a picnic in the park or a beautiful National Trust location.
What motto do you live by?
“Don’t count the days, make the days count.” I think this is such a great motto that we all forget at times when things get busy or we lose focus of what’s important. It’s the motto of a very close friend of ours who sadly died of cancer a few years ago, and who was always a very positive, inspirational person.
I hope you enjoyed this interview with Verity, I feel like I need to go out for a run!
I wish you a great week and however busy you are, please take time out for you.