Rich Leigh & Company: How to start your own PR business

Hi Rich, so what’s your story? 

Well, my upbringing was colourful, to say the least. Role models were few and far between – something I mention only because I’m now absolutely fascinated by the idea of role models, fame and the impact the people we have around us and look up to can have on us.

Shortly after leaving school (I dropped out of sixth form in a probably misjudged huff!), my now-wife and I had our daughter. We were both 18 at the time and although I’ve always been pretty determined, having a kid young meant I had to learn how to balance my time.

What were you doing before you became a PR? 

After a torrid few months working as a cashier at a high street bank – I think you have to be a certain type of person and it just wasn’t me – I trained as a personal trainer and worked in fitness for a couple of years. When one-to-one clients started slipping away around the time of the credit crunch, I realised it was high-time to find another career. That’s when I found PR, and was given a huge chance as the first employee at 10 Yetis in Gloucester.

Before you started your own PR business you freelanced - what did you enjoy most about being a freelancer?

Everybody says it, but the freedom that comes with being a freelancer is just brilliant. I left my last agency in London because I just wasn’t spending enough time with my kids and as a freelancer, having the freedom to move client work to enable me to go to assemblies, sports days and the like is amazing. They’re only little once. Now I have an agency, as time moves on and I get busier, I never want to lose sight of that. 

How have you been able to create such an impressive client list?

Firstly, that’s an incredibly kind thing to say. Secondly... I have been very fortunate. I’ve been in the right place at the right time and made the most out of opportunities when they’ve presented themselves. I’m never afraid to put myself out there. 

For example, I was on a mate’s stag do recently, at a fantastic new activity-based business. I won’t say which one because it’s still early days, but I asked if they had ever been in the media, as their offering certainly should be – and the owner said no, but that they’d love to be and handed me her details. The worst she could have done was tell me to bugger off, after all.

What makes a good PR? 

In no particular order:  

1. Being able to tell a good story well is incredibly important. And I don’t mean fibbing, I mean, knowing how to pick and choose the best parts of your clients’ stories and knowing how best to tell that story and through which channels. It’s also knowing when there isn’t a story to tell, and what to do in that situation. 

2. PR isn’t all parties and schmoozing, but you really can’t go very far without the ability to be personable.

3. Dedication. Dedication to achieving your clients’ goals, which means a sense of ownership and pride goes a hell of a long way, and also the dedication to keep improving yourself. Social media gives us the chance to learn in real-time, and given I had absolutely no qualifications or experience but was and am willing to soak knowledge up like a sponge; PR is an industry that doesn’t exclude. You just have to be prepared to make mistakes along the way.

What’s the process of approaching a client about representing them? 

In my experience at other agencies, it’s often the other way around. An individual after PR or somebody working at a brand will get in touch on the basis they like the look of the agency, and it’ll go from there. That said, as mentioned above, it can be as little as spotting a great business or person and floating the idea of helping them reach a relevant audience, which isn’t always through the media. 

What advice would you give to someone looking to start their own PR business? 

I’d give them the same advice I received: find something you enjoy and build a business around that, because you don’t want to end up with a business where you you’re only working so you have enough money to pay the staff. 

I enjoy helping interesting, inspirational and talented people and brands that stand out, and as such, am focusing on those areas. That said, I think it’s too early for me to be giving advice just yet – give me a year or two and if I’m not eating out of bins, I might have a few more nuggets to share.  

How do stay one step ahead in such a competitive market?

The most obvious way is to do good work when it comes your way. That’s easier said than done, but I was once told that you are losing a client the second they sign that contract. Give them every reason to not look elsewhere for as long as you possibly can... and then some. 

How important is it to be niche in the industry and why?

Of course, as mentioned above, specialising is a great way to become an expert in your field. I know agencies that specialise by sector, by areas of interest and also by the type of work they deliver. For instance, some agencies specialise in (but might not be limited to) toys, some in PR that impacts upon SEO and some in digital campaigns. It depends upon the people behind the agencies and, ultimately, the direction they want to go in. Being niche means you have a smaller pool of potential clients, which can be both a good or a bad thing.

This isn’t to say you can’t be the next Edelman, either; you’ve just got to be prepared for everything that comes with a broad approach.

What makes a good PR campaign?

I was invited to discuss exactly this last year, where I took a good look at the most popular campaigns (by unique visits) on my site (here’s a post looking at the 20 best examples throughout 2013). Here’s what I found each had in common: 

  • A good PR campaign should always be easily explainable in a sentence. Often, that’s all you have to grab a journalist, producer or Twitter user’s attention.
  • It should relate to the product/service it’s aiming to promote – something very few campaigns actually succeed in doing. 
  • It should have clear objectives – who do you want to care? Why will they care? What reaction do you want – sales, enquiries, awareness?
  • It should be visual. Every campaign needs supplementary images or video. I would say ‘especially in these social media-focused times’, but thinking about it, this has always been the case.

What’s the best PR campaign you’ve been involved in?

The best is a tough one, but I can certainly tell you my favourite campaign and it’s one of the first campaigns I was allowed to get involved with at 10 Yetis, under Head Yeti Andy’s watchful eye. 

Tribewanted began in 2006 as an idea. An idea from two twenty-somethings to create a sustainable island paradise - think Di Caprio’s ‘The Beach’, crossed with Queensland Tourism’s ‘The Best Job in the World’. A Tribe was Wanted – hence the title – to visit a beautiful, barely inhabited Fijian island called Vorovoro, where everybody around the world was invited to help develop a sustainable infrastructure in partnership with the one existing small tribe.  

Although the campaign was already a huge success by the time I got involved, achieving coverage in dozens of countries and even a commissioned five part BBC2 documentary following the tribe’s exploits, there was enough for me to that it undoubtedly cemented in my mind the fun you could have and the good PR could do.

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