SPOTLIGHT ON: HEATHER BAKER, CEO, TOPLINE COMMS

Name: Heather Baker
Company: TopLine Comms
Job title: Founder and CEO

Twitter: @TopLineComms
LinkedIn: Heather Baker
Website: http://toplinecomms.com/

Did you go to university? 
After school I studied Psychology at the University of Cape Town. I went in thinking I wanted to be a psychologist, but by the time I graduated I realised that what I really wanted was to do something creative that involved interacting with more than just one person at a time. That said, my psychology training has been invaluable – especially since I seem to have developed a somewhat unhealthy obsession with neuromarketing over the last few years.

A couple of years after starting TopLine I also did an MBA at London Business School. I felt I needed the financial training, as I was pretty much making it up as I went along (not the best approach when running a business). I also wanted the networking and credibility and I wanted to build my confidence – so all in all it was a really good move.

I started at a small agency in south London, which was a really good move

What was your first job in PR?
I arrived in London thinking I’d see if I could find an easy job, so I started looking PR roles. Little did I know. The industry has been described as many things, but easy certainly isn’t one of them.

I started at a small agency in south London, which was a really good move. It never occurred to me to join a grad scheme at one of the big agencies, and in retrospect I’m really glad about that. Smaller firms invariably have fewer hands on deck, so I was immediately dropped right in the deep end and forced to learn quickly.

How did you get from there to your current role?
I took lots of training courses in writing and pitching the media and then moved to a slightly bigger agency, with bigger clients and a central London location. I learned loads there, but when I heard that our department was being shut down I decided to go out on my own.

I raised some money, found some clients and suddenly I was running an agency in a recession. This was 2008. It was hard, really hard, but we persevered and two years later I bought my investors out. TopLine Comms is now a £1.5m agency with offices in London and Cape Town and an enviable client list.

What do you do on a day-to-day basis?
My days used to be consumed with client work, but one of the many benefits of having a great team is that I’m now in a position where I can take a step back and instead focus on my first love: strategising. I also spend quite a bit of time on our internal marketing and biz dev, I do some finance, check in with team members, and essentially just make sure we stick to our strategy. It’s diverse and interesting, just the way I like it.

What do you like most about working in PR?
I like the fact that the industry has changed and PR now encompasses so much more than it used to – so if you can adapt quickly you will really benefit.

Lots of people in the industry talk a lot of crap

What’s the hardest thing about working in PR?
Lots of people in the industry talk a lot of crap, which gives the industry as a whole a bad reputation. This makes winning new business harder than it has to be.

Who is your PR inspiration?
Alastair Campbell. I know, I know. Lots of people view him as a political spin doctor, but I stand by my choice regardless. He’s responsive and insightful, always has an interesting take on things and can be relied upon to tell it like it is. But most importantly, he knows strategy.

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever been given? 
A client once told me not to give away more than 50% of the equity in the business. Unfortunately, this was the week after I’d just given away more than 50% of the equity in the business. The timing could have been better, but it did prompt me into action and I ended up buying that equity back two years later. It was an expensive lesson at the time, but totally worth it now.

Which PR blogs, news sites and websites do you read?
PR Week, B2B PR Blog*, The Drum and Moz**.

*Maybe I’m a little biased since I’m the editor, but the B2B PR Blog only takes contribution from industry professionals who are sensible and have something intelligent to say. I wouldn’t read it otherwise. 😉

**By far my favourite out of the four and not because I have a ‘celebrity crush’ on Rand Fishkin.

beware of agency spin

What are your tips for aspiring PRs?
Never stop learning: read all the (good) business, marketing, and PR books you can get your hands on. Attend as many courses and workshops as your budget will allow. Don’t always use recruiters to find the job you want; approach the companies you’d like to work for directly. Finally, beware of agency spin. Some agencies will say anything in an interview to get you to accept the job, but when you get to work on your first day you find it’s not as advertised.

 

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