SPOTLIGHT ON: RICH LEIGH, FOUNDER, RICH LEIGH & COMPANY

Name: Rich Leigh
Company: Rich Leigh & Company
Job title: Founder

Twitter: @RichLeighPR
LinkedIn: Rich Leigh
Website: www.richleighandco.com

Did you go to university?
I didn’t. Instead, I decided against completing my A-Levels; dropping out of school entirely and, for a period, sulking about the fact I was never quite good enough to make it as a professional rugby player.

After an ill-judged and incredibly unhappy stint as a cashier at Barclays bank – I just left one lunchtime and never went back… HAVE THAT, THE MAN – I qualified as a personal trainer. ‘Ha!’, I thought. ‘I will get paid to exercise, become inordinately fit and monstrously oversized and then Gloucester Rugby club (a sadly underachieving top flight rugby club based in the city I grew up in) will HAVE to offer me a contract’.

You can already guess that didn’t happen.

At 18, my now-wife and I had our first child. When the ramifications of the recession began to kick in, my clients decided the alleged luxury that was my personal training sessions was the first thing to go. This created an ever-so-slight potential homelessness problem for me and my young family but also, less concerning, the realisation that I wanted a steady career rather than a job – and one I could be proud of.

So I picked PR. Obviously.

What was your first job in PR?
I spotted a job ad and interviewed at an upstart agency called 10 Yetis, ran by Andy Barr and Jill Tovey. Of the duo, Andy was the words man – who, after a PR career in financial services for some of the world’s biggest companies, was a great mentor. Jill did the pictures, or – as Andy liked to say – ‘did a bit of colouring in’. She worked on client design briefs; having taken the standard and well-worn career path into design of… working as an infrastructure analyst at mega-firm MessageLabs on a graduate scheme for actual geniuses (she’d previously been awarded a prize from GCHQ for research into intrusion detection and prevention…).

As the first employee, realising I was incredibly fortunate to get through the door given my lack of experience and qualifications, I worked hard to learn everything Andy could teach me and even harder to actually understand what the hell I was supposed to be doing for clients.

I think I and we were quite quick to realise the benefit of working well with bloggers

How did you get from there to your current role?
I stayed at 10 Yetis for five and a half years, proud to play a part during what was a formative time for an agency I’ll always love. Whilst there, from your typical press-office-y type activity through to PR for SEO, creative stunts and digital campaigns, I worked across all sectors for all sorts of mostly-B2C clients (with a smattering of B2B). I think I and we were quite quick to realise the benefit of working well with bloggers, which led to me devising and co-creating database service bloggabase.com with Andy as a means for in-house and agency marketers to connect with opted-in bloggers.

I also found a real passion for creative PR there, leading to the birth of PRexamples.com, a multi-contributor site dedicated to celebrating the best in up-to-date PR stunts and campaigns – because, apparently, I can’t be interested in something without feeling the need to create something around it.

I left 10 Yetis for Frank PR, slotting in as a senior account director. Sadly, I stayed there for just six months or so, deciding that spending the majority of my life in London away from my wife and little ones back home in Gloucester wasn’t quite right for us. A real shame , because creative work with an agency invited to pitch for global PR briefs was exactly what I wanted to do, but the guys at Frank and I talked openly about the fact it might be a step too far from the off, and they were nothing but flexible and understanding.

I then worked for a short period on the day-to-day of bloggabase (start-up life is hard, yo), before setting up shop as a PR freelancer when fortunately, I became busy quickly. This led to something I guess I’d always wanted to do, but, having just turned 27, wasn’t sure I was ready for. It was time to set up agency shop myself and see how I’d get on.

We’re getting a lot of link-building campaign briefs at the minute, so our time is often spent thinking of ways to do just that

What do you do on a day-to-day basis?
We’re just over a year in now and as I type this, we have client activity to research and prepare for, new business proposals to work up and invoices to send. The team is growing but whilst I’m still typically the one leading new business, it’s a fairly flat structure, so I still spend a good deal of time writing, creating, pitching and working on client campaigns – and wouldn’t want that to change.

We’re getting a lot of link-building campaign briefs at the minute, so our time is often spent thinking of ways to do just that, leading to some fun and memorable creative efforts recently (examples here).

What do you like most about working in PR?
Corny, but it’s happy clients. In a service industry like ours, that’s what it comes down to. Keep as many clients happy as you can – with the relationship, with the work and with the results – and you can’t go far wrong. Every other aspect I enjoy – when somebody in the team gets an awesome result, or we win a new client – feeds into that.

Aside from the actual day-to-day, I enjoy being part of the community that’s built around marketing – PR Land, if you will – and I look for ways to give as much as I take.

Most days as a PR person you’re butting up against rejection

What’s the hardest thing about working in PR?
It isn’t much-spoken about, but for me, it’s the constant rejection. If it’s not a journalist turning a client or story down, it’s a lost pitch, an idea you’ve spent ages working up not deemed quite right at the last minute, budgets falling through or a client calling it a day, for whatever reason. Most days as a PR person of any level of seniority – whether you’re an agency owner or an intern, you’re butting up against rejection.

The feeling you get when things go right has to outweigh the negatives though and over time, you stop noticing the smaller rejections. That said, a year into a self-funded agency, it’s easy to feel the pressure, especially now I’m responsible for other peoples’ livelihoods too.

Graham Goodkind is a financial genius

Who is your PR inspiration?
I’m not sure inspiration is the right word, but I do have people in PR I respect greatly.
Andy at 10 Yetis would cringe to hear he falls into this category, on account of his humour, ability to make the best of situations and his generally laid-back attitude to life – all of which sounds like he constantly messes around, which isn’t at all true. He belittles his own abilities, but you’re fooling no one, RWM. Frank’s Graham Goodkind is a financial genius – and none-too-shabby in the creativity department, either. He’s somebody who perhaps unknowingly taught me an awful lot in a short space of time, for which I’m very grateful. Freelancer Matt Muir is obscenely intelligent, a good friend and somebody I think could, his own ambition and caustic approach to the industry notwithstanding, walk into any industry role. Finally, if Betony Kelly (ex-HSBC and Department for Business) told me the sky was yellow, I’d sit down and listen to her reasoning. The best no-bullshit conference speaker I’ve ever heard bar-none, one of the safest pairs of hands in PR and a lovely person, too.

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever been given?
It’s an odd one told to me by an adventurer friend of mine, Jamie McDonald, and I’m no doubt butchering it, but bear with me.

We all expect there to be something at the end of everything we chase. In this metaphor, it’s a cake. There’s this assumption that once we reach that goal – often, financial – we’ll find this massive cake and CHRIST it’s going to be the best damn cake you’ve ever tasted and it’s absolutely worth the effort.

Only – the cake doesn’t exist. Not as a whole, anyway.

It exists only in the crumbs along the way – and some of those will taste much better than others. Some will taste bloody awful, but by picking them up along the way, you’re filling yourself and finding your way.

Essentially, it’s an ‘it’s the journey not the destination’ parable. And it’s made me hungry.

Which PR blogs, news sites and websites do you read?
As many as I can, in truth.

Event magazine, The Drum, PR Moment, PR Week every now and then, PSFK, TrendHunter, Wadds’ blog, Creative Guerilla Marketing, Imperica/Matt Muir’s Web Curios and, of course, PRexamples, on which I often find cool campaigns contributed by the community I hadn’t otherwise seen. To be honest, it’s less the outlet or site and more the subject of individual posts where shared by the people I follow on Twitter.

Come into PR with humour and I really do think you’ll be happier and more successful

What are your tips for aspiring PRs?
I’m conscious of giving different answers to what I’ve said in the past*, but a few things:

  • Read everything you can get your hands on – books, blogs, the news, information about the work the agencies you like have done – everything.
  • Come in with as many additional skills and areas of knowledge as you can. You’re looking to enter PR at a time where the more multi-skilled you are, the more chance you have to stand out. Whether that’s being a dab hand when it comes to PhotoShop, video editing, coding or speaking another language, PR could do with people with more than just an interest in the news.
  • Finally, try not to take yourself too seriously – my ethos to be professional-ish. Come into PR with humour and I really do think you’ll be happier and more successful; ours is enough of an introspective and self-conscious industry already. An example of this is an award scheme I devised, poking fun at the often-difficult and much-analysed relationship between PRs and journalists. It was called The CRAPPs and had, amongst others, an award called the ‘Least twattish Twitterer’ and the prizes were plinth-based turds spray-painted gold (honest).

 

*Here’s something I wrote about applying for roles, here’s something I wrote that I’ve noticed recent applicants doing that *really* grinds my gears and here’s the Storify of a Twitter Q&A I did, set up by UWE course leader Richard Bailey for students and recent grads.

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