09 June 2017
13 – lucky for some!
Last week my LinkedIn profile flagged up the anniversary of me forming think in 2004. 13 years! It took me by surprise as I still remember those early days of launching the company, building my client base and working from my laptop in my tiny office on Carden Place.
I was 23 years old and didn’t really have any grand plans – I simply saw an opportunity to provide PR support to smaller businesses and start-ups that didn’t have the huge budgets other agencies demanded. I had two clients on my books – a fast growth IT company and an inspection/corrosion specialist (the same CEO of that business is still our client in his role as COO now!)
I had worked for two other Scottish PR agencies – graduating with Corporate Communications from RGU and working throughout my 3rd and 4th year, to ensure I had that ‘step up’ when I graduated. I respected my employer and learnt a lot but with a bit of a push from some other SME business owners, I figured I had nothing to lose in setting up my own company.
In 2004, the PR landscape was massively different – during my placement I was faxing press releases to individual editors and reporters, always being on the phone (rather than emailing!), talking to people and it was all about the print and broadcast profiling. Back in the day, we knew what message we had and how we needed to communicate it. PR is still about needing to communicate to your key audience but it’s now also about knowing exactly who that is and how they access the news - including people talking to other people (through social media, digital forums and so on) and engaging your audience at every level.
Not only has the industry I started my business in changed, but the industries we work in have also changed. Living and working in Aberdeen automatically lent itself to a client base of oil and gas firms or those working within it (professional services, industry bodies, not-for-profit organisations). The recession in 2008 was obviously on everyone’s minds but the protective “bubble” around Aberdeen meant it was pretty much business as usual. However, a downturn in the oil price meant there was a change in message through PR and we had to be creative in our services.
My team grew as the years went by and I wanted to expand our offering to include other skills beyond my PR background – so I welcomed ex-journalists, in-house marketing experts, internal communicators and skilled graphic designers into the team. This gave us a fantastic opportunity to expand into different markets, such as food and drink, consumer and technology, as well as growing alongside our energy clients by expanding into global regions, where we also work and visit conferences and events.
It isn’t easy – I have had to make hard decisions over the years (and I’ve definitely made wrong decisions!) but I love what I do and I genuinely believe we can make a real difference to a business. I’ve had no backing as a sole owner and thankfully have had a great support network in the office since my children arrived (yes Rachel and Jenny, you are great!).
It isn’t just our journey – we’ve been on client journeys of exits, acquisitions, MBOs and investments and, with the highly innovative and fast-growing clients we work with at present, I am sure that there will be more to come.
The media landscape brings its own challenges– for associated crisis communications the rules have had to change; now, there’s such a short space of time to manage a negative story before it appears online. I would never have imagined the type of situations social media has flagged up that we’ve worked on, and I look to my team for skills and knowledge in areas that I still need to keep updated with.
The past 13 years have been amazing – visiting the places and meeting the people I have has made me the person I am. The last couple of years have been challenging for the energy industry, but it’s given up some great opportunities, too. The diverse range of businesses and projects we put our name to is fantastic – from industry bodies Decom North Sea and SPE, to the marketing of a new gin. We have just been appointed against nine other agencies by a London-based firm, we have a strong portfolio of website projects within our creative division and my team is as strong as ever. There’s lots to be positive (and thankful for).
What would I tell 23-year-old Annabel now? I’d say: grow that thick skin against the people that doubt your ability (I hate to say it, but this was normally because I was a young female in business); choose the people you listen to and those that you respect, and keep them close by your side; have a mentor; always be open to learning (in my case, from my fabulous team that consistently bring ideas to the table), and don’t forget to relish the good times.
With all that’s been achieved, I think my younger self would be quite happy.