01 September is a date I love and while we are still in the marvelous mess that is COVID-19, I still felt an air of excitement and opportunity nipping at my feet this morning as I sipped my coffee in the garden and looked through my eyes.
There is something so welcoming about September.
It’s the start of a new chapter.
A clean page.
A new slate.
We can chase away the summer haze and breathe in the clean, crisp air of autumn.
It’s about back to school newness and the beginning of projects and the chasing of dreams.
With all of this said, today I’m delighted to be launching a new, unique series that’s all about the real lives of PR professionals.
Over the past six months I’ve been on an intensive coaching course that’s taken me on a truly exceptional journey of self development and business expansion and is leading me to ICF accreditation.
I also took a mental health first aider course that I loved, and if anyone is interested in knowing more, shout as I’m happy to chat about my experiences.
I did all of this alongside my client work, university mentoring and running two online communities in the PR world.
One thing that became very clear during all of this, is that as PR professionals, we look after others but how often do we look after ourselves?
It really got me thinking about my peers and how they have dealt with the pandemic.
How their clients behaviours and the impact on them as well as their staff.
While we often plaster on a smile, send out carefully curated content to the world and put a glossy spin on our lives, juggling it all can actually be tough.
Yes, it is a great career and one I love, but it’s not always the Ab Fab image that the BBC so kindly left us with.
Being switched on 24/7 (you know what I mean), the pressures of client expectations and the demands of the media means that if we don’t look after our health and wellbeing, things can crumble and fall.
I have been there and it wasn’t fun.
I now know that I need my weekends to be clear and that I want to do the school run – really.
I love to walk for an hour a day with my dogs – the silver lining of lockdown was embracing the Devon hills in my village and saving a small fortune on a gym and spa membership I never used.
To do lists set me up for the day ahead, as does decent coffee and bagels smothered in butter and marmalade.
This is how I deal with the pressure, but I wondered what others did as we don’t really talk about it.
I sent out a media request for people to talk to me about their experiences in the world of PR and had over 200 responses which was amazing.
Each one had a different story to tell and a situation that was unique to them.
Women and men.
Young and young at heart.
Staff, directors and freelancers.
Positive and a little more jaded.
The first person to get in touch with me was the fabulous Holly Pither, MD and founder of Tribe PR.
Today, she talks about her work, her journey and what her non-negotiables are that mean she can work on her terms, in her way – something I think is so important.
Please tell me a little bit about you.
I’m Holly Pither, MD and founder of Tribe PR – an independent communications agency based in Oxfordshire, specialising in earned media to help organisations (specifically those in the purpose led space) increase their brand advocacy. We work in partnership with both B2B and B2C brands, earning them reputation, helping them understand their audience, deepening their media relationships and building their tribe. You could say we’re a new player in the PR agency world, though I have over a decade of experience working in PR. We have been in business since April 2019.
I’m also a mum to my three-year-old toddler, Amelia and wife to a police inspector. We live in Oxfordshire in a little village. I adore village life and living out in the countryside; after so many years working and living in London it is a welcome relief. I am also a mum blogger at PitterPatterPither and write about the trials and tribulations of life as a working parent. I love seeing both sides of the coin, being both a blogger and a PR consultant, and it definitely helps me be a better PR too.
I would love to know more about your career path and where you are today?
I have previously worked both inhouse at HSBC and agency side, at various different agencies. I had thought about starting my own business for years, but never quite had the courage to go it alone or felt like I was ready. I guess I have always grown up knowing I wanted to be my own boss. I come from entrepreneurial parents who always ran their own business, so in many ways it felt like I was meant to do this. When I was a child, I spent many a dinner time listening to my mum and dad talk about company financials, sales, staffing and so forth. From then on it was always something I aspired to do.
In terms of where I am today with Tribe PR, well I’m over a year and half in now and I am loving every minute of it, even running a business during a pandemic!
It may help if I explain the rationale around Tribe PR. I believe that increasingly these days the gap between B2B and B2C communications is narrowing. This means that instead of focusing on one discipline or the other, we need to help clients reach a far more essential audience; that of people. And people don’t just buy brands, they join them to be part of their tribe. This means that good brand communication is about engaging directly with people, understanding what makes them tick, responding to their needs and turning them into fans. These people then become brand advocates and tell the brand’s story for them. Tribe PR is therefore all about helping purpose led brands start movements, create brand advocates in their customers and tell meaningful stories.
How did you deal with the pandemic when it came not only to work, but also self-care and dealing with the unknown?
I have to admit I have been lucky that the business has continued to be busy and profitable throughout the pandemic. I think this is predominantly as a result of the types of clients I work with (mainly purpose led brands), the fact that I am flexible enough to pivot in my approach to what I do for them and also the strong relationships I have with my clients.
Flexibility during this time has been key. I have taken on quite a bit of project work over the last few months, all with minimal notice periods (my decision not theirs). This has suited me as I feel reassured that neither party is tied into a long contract should anyone get ill. Having a child too certainly changes your perspective during these times. I am regularly reminded how precious family time is and want to make sure that the two can run simultaneously without one negatively impacting the other.
How are things looking on the work front now?
Touching every bit of wood I can see… it’s looking good. I have won some great new clients recently and am doing some really interesting work. Perhaps one of the most exciting projects I am working on right now is a genetic medicine company called Ligandal. They are in the race to find a vaccine and treatment to Covid-19. They are doing some incredible things and so far, the results are looking really positive, so I am excited to see how it all plays out. I think that’s the thing when you work with more purpose-led businesses, you know that the work you do plays out well beyond the headlines and column inches you create. You are doing something much bigger. I love that and it certainly drives me to work extra hard.
How do you take time out to look after yourself and what do you consider to be the non-negotiables?
I love any kind of fitness and tend to work out daily. This is my time away from the business and helps focus my mind when I do get back to the PC. I also have an amazing client who is an online PT and she has been delivering workouts to women all over the UK during lockdown. Working out (virtually) with her from my home has been my savior. Since Covid-19 I just have no interest in attending a gym so Anna Cousins, and her online workouts have been the perfect solution to keep me active and healthy.
Well, I always switch off when I do supper, bath time, milk and stories with Amelia (my little girl) in the evenings. I’ve always seen this as sacred family time and if that means someone gets an email response later on, then so be it. Honesty is key here. I always explain to my clients that if I send emails after hours or on a weekend, I don’t expect them to reply and that on account of having a little one and running my own business I tend to work some unusual hours. They all seem fine with this. For me it’s about getting the work done, not when you do it.
Do you think people in the PR world are generally good at looking after themselves and how do you think we can be better?
Having worked on the agency side, I would say no. But I think that is entirely down to a ridiculous sense of presenteeism in agency land which I was hoping the pandemic would do away with. In my opinion sitting at a desk and showing your face until the last person leaves the office makes no sense at all. I work from home and I flex my work and my agency around my life. Not only does this give me a better quality of life, but I can be more present for my family and I truly believe I work harder and indeed smarter too. Working from home and flexing your job around your personal life isn’t just for working parents either – hopefully more PR agencies will come to realise this as a result of the pandemic, and we will start to see some big changes. But if the pandemic can’t initiate change then, I really don’t know what will!
What words of wisdom would you offer others working in the PR and media world when it comes to knowing your self worth?
For business owners, freelancers and PR entrepreneurs I would advise them that, even when setting up, they should avoid working for free. I think it’s important to value your services properly, and as such, I have always avoided contra-deals and reducing my costs to try and get my foot in the door. Start as you mean to go on, value what you do highly, and people will take you more seriously.
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?
As I mentioned previously, I truly hope that the PR world doesn’t go back to the way it was before. I hope that as a result of Covid-19, agencies of all sizes will allow their employees more flexibility (whether they are working parents or not), that the issue of presenteeism disappears and we all start to realise that all that matters is actually getting the work done well. You don’t need to be chained to a desk to do this.
What’s your proudest career moment?
That’s got to be starting my own business and building out a strong client base of clients I admire and value. One of my clients has stayed with me since my first agency role over 10 years ago. That makes me very proud!
If you didn’t work in PR, what would you do?
Difficult one as it’s all I have ever known, but I would likely work in the profit with purpose space and ideally work for an innovative brand doing amazing things for the world. Maybe in the climate space or perhaps something to do with sustainable fashion.
What would be your ideal day off?
Whatever the case, it would start with a great coffee. I am a big coffee fan! It would then involve some form of activity with my family. Walking, running or Kayaking. We are so fortunate to live right by the Thames, and I love getting our little blow up Kayak out on the water and having a paddle.
What motto do you live by?
One of my favourites is from Sheryl Sandberg who says: “If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat! Just get on.”
I would love to hear from you if you would like to be part of this series, and if you feel like you need some help with your career, why not get in touch for a chat.
You can also join the growing PR Pro Hub with me and other likeminded PR people over on Facebook.
Take care and keep well.