Welcome to my new blog series "10 Questions With". It consists of weekly interviews with practitioners from the PR, Marketing and Advertising industry. My goal is to talk to experts, who have interesting opinions and can give valuable advice to young people, who are pursuing careers in those sectors.
My first interview is with Rich Leigh, founder of Radioactive PR and author of the best-seller 'Myths of PR'.
Q1: What was your first ever job?
My first ever job was helping out in the kitchen and getting food out at a local pub a few days a week. I was 14, and desperate to earn my own money. Then, when I was 16, I started working weekends at a clothes shop in the city centre, as well as three or four evening shifts a week at an Italian restaurant, both sides of the kitchen. On Saturdays and Sundays, I’d go straight from the one to the other and I genuinely loved it.
Q2: How did you fall into PR?
Interestingly worded, that! I was trained and working as a personal trainer, gym instructor and class instructor from the age of 18, and was having a great time. After a couple of years though, the recession hit, and I started haemorrhaging apologetic clients. At £30+ an hour, for most people, you’re a luxury. I could see some of the more experienced and established trainers riding out the tough years, but, my now-wife and I had a young daughter and we needed some stability.
At around that time, Andy at 10 Yetis emailed Emma (my wife), to ask if she was still interested in a job interview they’d previously arranged but had fallen through. She was already working elsewhere, but I called him, introduced myself and asked for an interview. I’d no experience or qualifications; having dropped out of my A-Levels in an ill-advised huff after getting injured right before the national cup semi-final (the team went on to win the whole bloody thing at Twickenham – all I’d ever wanted to do was play rugby professionally), but I knew I’d work hard, and I loved English and writing. Andy will tell you I bullied my way through the interview, but, just before Christmas in 2007, he offered me my first job in PR, as the first employee at the agency. 10 and a bit years later, and I’m still in PR.
Q3: Biggest career achievement in your opinion?
Building my agency to where it is right now. Every person that starts a business does so from a different starting point, and I feel like I’ve overcome a lot personally and professionally to have built such a brilliantly creative, enthusiastic, knowledgeable, conscientious and fun team, working with a roster of equally brilliant clients. I’m incredibly ambitious and competitive though, so can only see us moving in one direction.
Q4: What is the most exciting thing about your job?
Two things, I think – 1) the opportunity to work with and learn from great people, both in our team and client-side. We’ve worked and work with clients right at the top of their respective games, and it makes me and us better, and 2) the potential for scale in PR, and marketing as a whole. Every single person, company and organisation can benefit from good PR. The sheer scope of briefs that could feasibly land on my desk is incredibly exciting. Who will we work with in three months’ time? Three years’ time? Where will we and our current clients be then?
Q5: What have you learned from any mistakes you’ve made in your career?
When I started the agency, I used to think that it was a case of clients choosing you, and there’s undoubtedly method in that. You’re at a point where any and all income aids growth, and feels absolutely necessary, and want to give people and businesses the benefit of the doubt. Now, three and a half years later, I firmly believe in that gut response you have when an enquiry comes in and you’re not sure about it.
Q6: Job hunting on social media - yes or no?
Absolutely, yes. There’s a difference between hounding and a targeted, well-thought out approach, though – and if a jobseeker can’t appreciate that prior to necessarily even working in PR, I don’t think they’ll cope when they see that ‘throw enough and hope some sticks’ PR doesn’t work, either.
I’ve seen people tweet the exact same one-size-fits-all message to multiple agency owners before, as if Twitter isn’t public, and I’ve been contacted personally by people that work here now, with a more specific approach. You don’t have to come up with some crazy creative approach (though there have been some great ones, like Graeme Anthony’s video CV), but do be considered in your approach. Know why you’re contacting somebody, and how best to.
We’ve recently announced that we’re going to a 4 day week for the same pay, and it’s brought with it a lot of job requests on LinkedIn and Twitter (my DMs are open if anybody wants to get in touch, or has any questions I can help with). I love that, but it’s been up to me to highlight to a good few that we’re based in Gloucester and not London, for instance.
Q7: What campaign or work have you most enjoyed being a part of?
I’ve always loved creative PR, having started PRexamples.com back in 2012 to highlight the best stunts and campaigns, so I tend to gravitate towards those. From bringing art to life for the National Gallery through to launching and then organising a flagship record to celebrate Guinness World Records Day for ‘real-life Iron Man’ Richard Browning, I and we have worked on hundreds of campaigns that have made the headlines.
I think, though, that I’ve most enjoyed helping my best mate and fellow Gloucester-boy Jamie McDonald with his PR. It’s all pro-bono, but as his alter-ego Adventureman, Jamie does crazy adventures to raise money for sick children both here in the UK and around the world. We’ve raised £1m or so now in donations, and his efforts span out into a charity he co-founded called Superhero Foundation. I’m a trustee, and we help families raise money for operations not available on the NHS. With that, we’ve helped people like Alex raise money for a bionic arm, and helped one family raise money to help their young daughter with cerebral palsy walk.
Jamie’s currently running 6,000 miles/230 marathons, (running a marathon a day every day) across the US if you’d like to follow and support him, with a fundraising target of $1m. He’s on all the socials (as a starting point, he’s here on Facebook).
Q8: As an agency founder, what advice would you give to people who want to start their own business?
Firstly, there’s never a good time to start a business. In PR, we’re fortunate in that all you need is a phone, a laptop, contacts and the right attitude. Of course, experience helps massively too.
I tell anybody who’ll listen that I’ve found that the business side is all about a) the margin and b) the buffer you build, if the intention is to build a team and you want to avoid running a cashflow-orientated business (Christ, you want to avoid running a cashflow-orientated business).
The first couple of years were particularly lonely and stressful for me, as I worked to focus on those two things in a bid to give myself a pot of money to pay staff should everything collapse around us! I’d never let it happen, but I feel better knowing it’s there. It would also perhaps have been made easier with a co-founder or an early injection of cash, either through savings or external funding. I can only speak for myself, but I did look on enviously at people with somebody else to bounce off and share problems with!
Q9: In your opinion, is having a PR degree still beneficial for getting into the industry?
It’s a route in for sure, but not a necessary one, for me as an employer. It’s all about the individual, and I worry that higher and further education is out of reach for many people that would otherwise make amazing PR people. It’s something not everybody can necessarily understand or appreciate, but when you’re from a less privileged background, expectations can be as low as the hope that you simply get – and keep – any job, or stay out of prison.
I wouldn’t have been in PR were it not for the relatively odd circumstances I mentioned before, but feel like there are almost certainly people out there like me that have something to give, and certainly something to prove. At Radioactive, we have graduates with a range of degrees, and we have execs who started here as paid apprentices straight out of 6th form/college, through a digital marketing apprenticeship provider. Both are valid routes in. I feel though, like I’m missing a third more formal route, and I don’t know what that is yet. I am considering initiatives to reach people that would otherwise be unlikely to even know what PR was, let alone know that they’d be good at it.
Q10: After the success of your book "Myths of PR", are you planning a second book?
I’d absolutely write another book, but I don’t think it’ll be about PR or marketing just yet. I think of Myths of PR as a distillation of my time in PR to that point, and not even my ego will allow me to think enough has happened since for me to write another just yet. That could change, if I spot a gap, but the whole process scratched the itch I had to be published, and I feel so very pleased and proud of the way it was received.
I’d love to write fiction eventually, though – safe in the knowledge that I can make the time to put enough words down onto a page. Whether it’ll be any good is another matter!
Hi there! Welcome to my blog about PR and things that I find fascinating.