What happens when a 9 year old, gifted in writing, watches a calm, collected young woman report on the BBC TV news about the SAS storming of the Iranian Embassy? It sparks a desire to report, tell stories and capture history. The woman was Kate Adie, one of the BBC’s most famous war reporters. The 9 year old was me, and I suddenly had a place to focus all my hyper-vigilant, observation talents.
By 12 years old I had turned up at my local newspaper for work experience, by 14 I had phoned the school principal, telling him the CCF Wednesday afternoon activity where we dressed up as soldiers and got yelled at by ‘pretend’ officers was all outdated nonsense, I’d hustled myself a role on the Birmingham Post and Mail, and I’d be going there instead each week.
Throughout my undergraduate degree (Literature) at the University of Reading, I worked in BBC radio and at 21 I was awarded a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship to travel to Australia and undertake my Masters in Communications at Australia’s leading journalism institution, Charles Sturt University. Whilst there I received the ABC Radio National prize for a three-part radio documentary on the impact of divorce across three generations, taught media writing to undergraduates and ran the national radio news room that fed half hourly daily news to over 5 million people tuning into 450+ not-for-profit, community-owned and operated radio services operating across the country. Phew, all this before 24 years old!
After a stint in print journalism focusing on design and IT, I was tempted to the journalism dark side and opened my first PR agency in 1999, aged 27. Business ownership and entrepreneurship was not new: at 13 I’d run a series of school discos over a couple of years (to help fund my teenage vinyl-buying habit), and set up a small business magazine at 18 while at university, selling ad space and writing content.
The PR agency was blessed with an opportune start-up thanks to a beer with a marketing manager who advertised in the print magazine I edited at the time.
“I’m really frustrated with all the big PR agency nonsense where we pay large budgets and get passed onto a junior,” he moaned. As a journalist who’d been on the receiving end of some fairly poor story pitches from juniors in PR agencies, I understood his frustration. Did they not understand the news agenda?
“I could do your PR,” I decided on the spot, fueled by Victoria Bitter and the bravado of youth. “You could!” he said – naming a monthly retainer that was more than my half-yearly salary as a journalist. In what I now call the ‘serene swan, paddling like mad underneath, business owner hustle’ I smiled, played my coolest poker face, and signed up my first agency client on the back of a beer coaster in a North Sydney pub.
That client was Fuji Xerox. Within six months we’d moved from handling the PR for one Australian division to the whole of the Asia Pacific, managed their Sydney 2000 Olympic sponsorship PR, additional multinationals such as Adobe, EFI and WhamNet had on-boarded, we were turning over high six figures, I’d employed 8 people and made remote working a thing before cloud SaaS was even known. Don’t ask me how much I paid to custom-build our own net-based CRM/ project management system!
It wasn’t all shiny glitter, flying magic unicorns and success. No business is. After eight years, when the GFC hit, I watched some of our multinational clients close their local office doors. $300K in income disappeared in a month and while I had the runs on the board that told me I could hustle and build it up again, I didn’t have the motivation. By this time I had two young children. Did I really want to be running a PR agency? I did, but I needed to recharge. I sold off the client list to a trusted employee, closed the doors, and spent some time hanging with my family.
Then I was asked by Naomi Simson, founder of Australia’s most successful online gift retailer, redballoon.com.au, to help build her personal brand through PR and Publicity. For two years I helped her be her own media channel as social media swept in and disrupted the traditional PR and publicity model. My learning: nothing ever really changes or becomes new, you just find ways to adjust, adapt and course correct.
Today’s content marketing buzzword is really exactly what we did 17 years ago in the widest expression of Public Relations: what do you have to be, do, say, portray, appear and act on – authentically – to have people think and feel about you the way you want? Where do you have to be to influence them? Why do you do what you do and, by sharing that, how does it drive your relationships and business? That is the essence of today’s digital PR, storytelling and content marketing.
This is why I opened the agency Incredible Communications. Bombarded by content, by social media channels galore, clients and consumers have more information and sharing ability than ever before. Your strategy needs to be honed, it needs to be refined, it needs to engage your client at every step of their engagement journey – from top of the leads funnel through to sales, onboarding and ongoing satisfaction. That’s what we do.
We architect your content marketing so you get a return on investment and your ideal customers choose to buy from you and then become your raving fans.
How? Watch my quick explainer video on how we blueprint and architect your content marketing ROI, with a fun, fast traffic light quiz at the end so you can take your content pulse.