SPOTLIGHT ON: HOLLY WARD, CO-FOUNDER, THE FORGE COMMUNICATIONS

Name: Holly Ward
Company: The Forge Communications Ltd
Job title: Co-Founder

Twitter: @forgecomms @hollyward37
Website: www.theforgecommunications.com

Did you go to university? 
No.  After school I went travelling for a bit in South East Asia and ended up on a boat sailing from Thailand to Malaysia, quite an eye opener at 18 years old.  Then I did a foundation course at Art College, where I specialised in photography. After that I decided that I was too impatient to wait another 3 years to get started on my career, so I moved to London and got a job selling advertising space that was pretty soul destroying but a very good way to learn about the realities of working life!

What was your first job in PR?
I worked at a boutique fashion & luxury goods agency called Quarterback in Mayfair. 

How did you get from there to your current role?
In a rather round about, incredibly un-strategic way to be honest. Although I have, of course, crafted a careful narrative to explain my somewhat chequered CV.

I knew I didn’t want to be in fashion PR so I applied for a role at Welbeck Golin Harris (now Weber Shandwick) which was one of the leading consumer & corporate agencies of the time, headed up by Alison Clarke. I loved being in a vibrant, busy environment and although the hours were long, I learnt so much.  I then went to Freuds, which was an experience like no other.  At that time in the mid- late 90’s, it was probably the best agency to work for in London; amazing clients like Nike, Unilever brands, Virgin radio plus a real work hard, play hard culture.  I really got to understand how the media worked and learnt how to manage clients from some great and inspiring people. I built a fabulous network of good friends too, which was pretty important to me as a 20-something Londoner.

Once I’d reached Account Director level I decided to round out my experience a bit more by going to Citigate Dewe Rogerson, a corporate and financial agency. My brief was to set up a consumer division.  I liked the challenge of building something new, but in fairness it wasn’t a culture that really suited me, I don’t think I do power suits too well and I’m not good at following too many rules.

I found myself with the MD job.  I was a proper grown up at last!

So as luck would have it, I got a call from a great friend from Freuds, Jonathan Sanchez, who’d gone to Euro RSCG Biss Lancaster (now Havas PR) as the MD.  I became the Client Services Director, which is where I met my awesome business partner Emma-Jo Jones, and then within a couple of years, Jonathan moved to New York to do something terribly grown up and important and I found myself with the MD job.  I was a proper grown up at last!  I then got married and quickly afterwards had my two girls within 18 months of each other.  People say PR is hard work and long hours and can be thankless, but try having two kids that close together to put work in perspective…

The agency was then swallowed up by the advertising agency that owned it and life became a set of rules and processes again and since I don’t do those things too well, I left and wrote a book. As you do. I also started Mabel & Milo, an online store for gorgeous kids stuff, and spent lots of time watching my kids learn to walk, talk and play with glitter. 

But I guess I’m just a die hard PR as within a year, I found myself back in the game as MD Consumer at Fleishman Hillard.  When Emma-Jo joined too, it felt like old times.  I built a great team there with some fantastic clients, such as Expedia and TK Maxx, but ultimately I knew I had to be my own boss and I had to get on with it.  Fortunately, Emma-Jo felt the same and that’s the very long version of how The Forge was born. 

What do you do on a day-to-day basis?
I do a bit of everything.  Running your own business is an education in honing multi-tasking.  From new business to client management to media sell ins to content creation to buying the tea bags. No day is ever the same. Which is exactly how I like it.

I think I’ve been lucky to find a career that fits who I am.

What do you like most about working in PR?
I think I’ve been lucky to find a career that fits who I am.  It just feels right. I think I’m a bit of a sales person at heart and so much of what we do is about that – selling a story, selling an idea, selling your company to a great new employee…

What’s the hardest thing about working in PR?
Losing pitches is rubbish. Truly awful, particularly when it’s your own business.  Losing good people is hard too.  You can’t help but take it personally, even though you know you shouldn’t.

Who is your PR inspiration?
Jonathan Sanchez, without doubt the most inspiring, creative PR I’ve ever known. He is doing really progressive things in Asia with his company Stand, he never settles for ‘ok’, he’s a ‘got to be the best’ kind of person. Also happens to be my best friend.

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever been given? 
Alison Clarke said to me that it’s a lot easier to keep a client than win a new one.  This is true and it’s taught me to never take my eye off the ball with our clients.

Which PR blogs, news sites and websites do you read?
The usual PR stuff – PR Week, Gorkana, PR Moments, PR Examples.  I rely on BBC.com, the Guardian website and I’m a Radio 4 junkie.  I love the Daily Mash for a piss take.

Don’t be afraid to come up with an idea even if it seems ridiculous.

What are your tips for aspiring PRs?
When I started, PR was pretty two-dimensional, we had print and broadcast and not much in between.  But now is such an exciting time to be in PR.  So keep your eyes and minds open to this.

But for me, what worked was commitment and dedication.  Never let anything leave your desk that you’re not proud of.  Don’t be afraid to come up with an idea even if it seems ridiculous.  Most of all, talk to people.  A conversation will tell you so much more than an email ever can.  If someone doesn’t want to talk to you they’ll tell you.  But you won’t know if you don’t try.

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