Women in PR on success and tips for women entrepreneurs

We all know the future is female. But currently, women are still underrepresented in the upper levels of almost every industry. In many workplaces, women are still paid less than men —a divide that some companies have worked hard to bridge.

The climate for women have improved overall—as Alwynne Beaudoin noted, “it’s been a few years since I’ve heard anyone say ‘Oh, she only got that job because she was a woman.’”

But there is still a lot of work left to do. That's why we must continuously celebrate women’s achievements in every industry. The more we celebrate them, the more commonplace they’ll become. The assumption being that, over time, we’ll focus less on the fact that they are women and be mainly captivated by their work.

In this interview I wanted to focus on women in the PR industry. We all know that women generally dominate this industry but sadly they are not represented adequately at the top. I guess that is the reason many of them like Desiree Gullan of Gullan & Gullan; and Marina Nestel of the Little Black Book decided to start their own PR companies. These two women have positively transformed the industry and paved their way to success. This interviews showcase the power of desire and great business smarts. Enjoy!

When did you decide to set up your own agency and why?
We set up our agency in 2005. Michael had recently sold a skin care business and I was a creative consultant. We were in love and wanted to spend every waking hour together. He was looking for the next thing for his career. Michael has a background in marketing, online marketing and lots of experience on the client side. I had worked for all the big advertising agency brands and I loved it. We had the client service and the creative skills and so G&G was established.

What's it like starting a company with your husband?
It’s both amazing and difficult. Amazing because we go through all the ups and downs of business together, so we know what each other is going through and can be supportive in times of need. And difficult because we are always together and work can seep into all aspects of life. Once we realised we had to leave work at the door and be husband and wife and mother and father at home it became even more wonderful. We’ve been doing this for more than a decade, so I can’t imagine not being in business with anyone but my life partner. 

Tell us about Gullan and Gullan. What has been your secret to building your company?
G&G Digital or Gullan&Gullan is a specialist digital brand communications agency. We (myself, business partner and our amazing team) have a passion for brands, our clients and are committed to doing work that adds value to our clients’ business. There is nothing more satisfying than presenting a report to a client and we can prove that thousands of people are talking about their brand, or we have helped increase sales by a large percentage, or that thousands have placed items in their shopping cart. We make a real difference. The G&G mantra is: To surprise, delight and exceed expectations. The full G&G team live and breath this mantra every day. 

What were some of your initial challenges and how did you overcome them?
Challenges then and now are part of life and business. There’s no escaping difficult challenges, whether you work for someone or have your own business. At G&G our philosophy has always been to act fast and course correct quickly. Also, we make it ok to make mistakes. Mistakes help you grow and learn. We just do our best not to make the same mistakes too many times over. We have survived two gruelling recessions and have done so by putting our heads down and working harder and smarter and looking for opportunities in difficulty. There are always several solutions to any one challenge. Making it through difficult challenges is rewarding. It makes you believe in yourself. 

How do you get clients in this industry?
We have two basic processes. 1. Outbound business development where our Business Development team identifies clients and approaches them. 2. We also have a lot of inbound enquires coming directly to us via our ongoing and sustained PR, interviews, e-mail marketing and a hard-working website. We rarely participate in RFQs as we are not the cheapest agency in town.

What does it cost to hire a company like yours?
Depends completely on the project and scope of work. 

What is the most important thing you have learned from starting your own company?
Don’t give up. There is always a way out of a difficult challenge. In fact, there are always multiple solutions. Stay true to who you are and your business values. Lastly, I believe as long as we are doing our very best every day for our clients and our team then that is good enough. 

What is your best advice for women wanting to start their own pr companies?
This is our time. There is a global renaissance towards the power, capabilities and awesomeness of women. Gentleman’s clubs are so last season. There should be no more male glass ceilings and if you come across any smash them down. If a door doesn’t open for you, it’s because you haven’t kicked it down hard enough.

Connect with Desiree Gullan and the team via websiteTwitter and Facebook.


When did you decide to set up your own agency and why?
It was never my intention to start my own business. All I really wanted was a job that I enjoyed that had flexible hours. I have never been a 9 to 5 kind of girl. It all started with a favour to a friend to launch a champagne bar and invite all the who’s who (socialites, celebrities & business men and women) along with sports stars. And the rest is history. It spread like wild fire by word of mouth and the next thing I was launching all the top, new restaurants and hotels including the One & Only and the Alphen Hotel as well as horse racing events like the L’Ormarins Queens Plate followed by creating events for investment banks and corporate companies.
   
Tell us about The Little Black Book. What has been your secret to building your company? 
I have built my business through relationships. I have been lucky when it has come to meeting and socialising with the right people. It’s partly luck and running in those inner circles. I treat everyone the same and never take anything for granted as I am only as good as my last event so I can never become complacent.

What were some of your initial challenges and how did you overcome them?
I never put a business plan together. It was all trial and error. I leant from my mistakes along the way and made sure never to repeat them. I also had no idea what to charge but as I worked and began to know my worth this became easier over time. I did a lot of pro bono work in the beginning just to get the experience and it always helped build my database. It just turned out that all the work I have ever done was of a luxury nature so this appealed to my friends and guests.  I have never paid for a database or taken an advert out. My business was built purely on reputation. I started the business from scratch in 2007 from the laundry room at the back of my house with an old desktop computer and no financial assistance or help.
How do you get clients in this industry? 
Word of mouth, referrals and social media have played a big role. I am also fortunate that we are a PR company so we are able to get a lot of coverage for our clients and every now and then editors happen to mention who the event / PR company was. It also helps doing lots of high-end launches as all the guests speak about having attended a Little Black Book event so we get publicity without really trying.

What does it cost to hire a company like yours? 
10% of an overall budget for weddings and events or a PR or social media retainer which is always custom made to fit our clients’ budget or their brief expectations.

What is the most important thing you have learned from starting your own company? 
Determination, tenacity and hard work are key to running a successful business and life is too short to not enjoy yourself while working long hours. My philosophy is that you spend 90% of your time at work so you might as well have fun doing it. My worst experience was working for a company where I had to be at the office from 8am to 6pm and watch the clock tick all day. When you love what you do you don’t focus on time or lunch breaks.

What is your best advice for women wanting to start their own pr companies?
Follow your instincts and your dreams become a reality through blood, sweat and tears. All the hard work eventually pays off. Anyone who thinks they are going to be a millionaire immediately is under an illusion. It takes a good 2 - 4 years before you reap real financial rewards. You also need to be prepared to take a major salary knock initially and be without the job security you get from a 9 – 5 but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Connect with Marina Nestel of the Little Black Book via website, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

So from these two women this is what I've learned: take leaps of faith, occasional risks to build your career, and learn to be an advocate for yourself. Letting go of fear is crucial, as well as being open to change without compromising values. Having a yes-I-can attitude has been key to my career advancement. 

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