Aura turns nine – here are nine things I’ve learned in nine years

Of course, I’ve learned more than nine things in nine years but you know the drill when it comes to content!

When the economy went into turmoil in 2008, it seemed opportunistic to start a new business. My then business partner and I spent many a fun evening planning and discussing what our new PR agency would look like and how we’d grow the business.

Naturally, we discussed competitors, clients and our business model. We spent time thinking about the brand and its name. We did a lot of online research and we spoke to former clients to help inform how we might approach our business.

In year one we had our first big brand win, the international first drive for Lotus Cars’ new Evora. We took on our first member of staff. We had an office in the west end of Glasgow. We won more new business and we quickly established ourselves as the ‘go-to PR agency for a modern approach to PR and comms with a safe pair of hands’.

Four years later, in 2012, I bought my business partner out of the business and I reframed Aura with a focus on social media and content, and professionally, I decided to up my game and get better networked across the UK.

In 2014 I decided that I wanted to be an independent practitioner. My decision was based around the fact that clients wanted me at meetings, my advice and me to deliver the quality of work and achieve the results they knew me for. I wanted to concentrate on what I was good at, not all the HR and admin related chores related to employees. The level and type of work I now do, no junior could ever imagine doing.

Over the last nine years, I’ve learned a lot, professionally and personally. There are many people to thank, particularly those I am close to in my CIPR voluntary work and other independent practitioners. Also, my virtual team of accountants and other advisers, one being my very clever husband, Gregor. He’s my second set of eyes, he thinks from a different point of view and it’s always refreshing to get constructive feedback.

I’ve had a number of interns work with me and I’ve enjoyed being able to give them hands-on experience working in public relations. Many weren’t from a PR background. Two of my most successful and inspiring interns studied law and psychology. I’ve always had a focus on interns learning from me, setting objectives before they start and reviewing everything they have done and learned. In fact, one of my interns then went on to secure a PR account executive job after only four weeks working with me. I was pleased to be able to coach her for her interview and thrilled when she landed the job!

My top nine learnings in nine years – Aura turns nine

Although I’ve worked in public relations, both agency and in-house, for nearly 17 years, you never stop learning. I find it stimulating to review and revise what I do and learn better and more effective ways of working.

Aura’s identity has developed over the years…

#1 Strategy

From my own business strategy to learning new ways of integrating business goals within public relations, there’s a lot to say about strategy. Many practitioners get confused with strategy vs tactics. When I first started in PR back in the year 2000, (ha, I’ve not written that before!), I had no idea what PR was and not a lot was properly planned or strategic. It was also rather fluffy. Launch party for this, party for that, it was a fabulous time I have to admit, but the baptism of fire was a learning experience, both good and bad!

You’ll have noticed in September that I launched the new Aura branding and I redefined the services which I offer. This came around due to my own professional development and research and planning around my own strategy. It was one of the most difficult things to do. For clients, no problem, but you need to be objective and it’s really tricky when you’re doing it for yourself. Thankfully, I spoke to some trusted and lovely people within my network who offered solid words of wisdom and encouragement. My own strategy is now crystal clear and it’s not something I need to keep worrying about.

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the new brand!

#2 Client management

Contact reports and status reports are a given, as are regular meetings, generally always face-to-face.

Over the nine years, I’ve developed a new way of working with the ‘nitty gritty’. I’ve always insisted on contracts for clients and I use the CIPR template contract (part of our member benefits). I’ve more recently started using client briefing forms, which I’ve adapted over the last few months, based on a creative agency approach.

It asks for a lot of detail about the client’s business, goals, objectives, challenges etc and it’s actually designed to filter the not-so-serious clients from the real contenders. If a client can’t fill it in or hash bash only completes the essentials such as ‘about the business’, I know they aren’t right for me.

Things like invoicing and payments are really important to every business, but to an independent consultant can mean the difference of getting a salary one month or not. Clients don’t always know or respect that. So, I’ve developed over time, my own way of ensuring I am paid appropriately, but the client agrees it suits their schedules, too. It’s a two-way street!

#3 CPD

I’m going to sound like the CPD police here, but I honestly believe every practitioner needs to invest in their professional development, at all stages of their professional career. I wrote a guest blog post for Spin Sucks and it was published last week, Plan your professional development at any career stage. CPD can take many forms of learning, sharing and giving back, as long as it’s all related to developing your PR practice.

When I became Chartered two years ago, part of the process was to develop a two-year CPD plan. I’ll blog about that another time, comparing what I set out to achieve and what I actually achieved.

I’m always investing in myself, from participating in tweet chats, to informally mentoring and guest lecturing all the way through to attending events, networking and learning from online training.

#4 #GetChartered

Becoming Chartered was a way I could set myself apart from other practitioners (the competition), show I’m a serious business person, demonstrate I’m committed to being the best practitioner and of course as a result, I can offer the best advice.

Many practitioners aren’t even members of a professional institute or trade body, never mind being a long-time member of a Chartered Institute. It has a Royal Charter and everything! It begs the question though, why would you recruit or contract a PR practitioner who has no qualification or grading relevant to their practice? You wouldn’t take on an accountant and let them do your accounts if they weren’t Chartered would you??

Those who know me know that I take my job seriously and I get frustrated when bloggers, ex-journalists and grads decide one day that they are PR experts. Being Chartered shows I am. I have demonstrated leadership, strategy and ethics to the highest level. With me you can be safe in the knowledge that I don’t just write, I don’t just take nice pictures of my outfit – I actually have the WHOLE package (well, fashion is a question of taste ;)).

I’ll be doing a couple of blog posts in the near future about my frustrations (which seems like a negative word to use but it describes exactly how I feel), turning my frustration into words of advice and offering routes to becoming a ‘proper’ practitioner. That’s the difference with me. I make it my goal to find a solution for every problem I come up against!

You might like to sign up to my blog to be sure to get email notifications when they go live. You can do this on the right hand side of the blog page.

#5 Building a network

Without a community or network, you’re working in your own bubble. I’ve been building a network since I left school (aged 15). Your network is like your other family. It’s where you go to vent, ask for advice, ask for a favour or on the flip side, help others with their challenges. It’s also a place where you go to start floating ideas and forming collaborations.

Through my network I’ve developed friendships, I’ve learned about how different cities, companies and practitioners operate, plus I’ve develop my own ideas and initiatives like PRFest, using my network to crowdsource ideas and then there’s the latest venture I launched, Scottish PR Collective.

The biggest thing about building a community is participating and ensuring you’re also giving, not just taking.

The CIPR has offered me a fantastic opportunity to network and build a strong PR community of thinkers and doers. That’s come from serving two years as CIPR Scotland Chair, two years on the CIPR Board, in London, and a numbers of years (to present) sitting on CIPR Council, in London.

#6 When to say ‘no’

We’re all guilty of not saying ‘no’ often enough. No to extra work when you’re at capacity, no to doing pro-bono work when it doesn’t offer much in return by way of being aligned with the brand, no to clients who take the rip (thankfully I’ve only had experience of one many years ago) and no to work which ethically isn’t right.

I say ‘no’ more often than ‘yes’ now. I’m more selective about who works with me and I have the confidence in myself and my work to say no to those who don’t value it.

Don’t let that put you off speaking to me though! If you’ve got a strong, ethical business, I’d love to hear from you.

#7 Knowing my worth

Working by yourself can be hard. I’ve written about the challenges which independent practitioners can face before. Having confidence in yourself is one of the biggest ways a practitioner can survive and indeed thrive. Confidence in skills and knowledge, confidence that you don’t need a backing singer, confidence that you charge what you charge because you are offering tremendous value to businesses and organisations which directly impacts their bottom line (and you can demonstrate it!).

How much does PR costA lack of confidence maybe comes from not knowing how to represent that direct impact on the bottom line and that comes with knowledge and skills of every stage of your work, particularly measurement and evaluation.

Many a time has a freelancer asked the question ‘how much should I charge’ on a Facebook group I’m a member of. No-one wants to disclose their rates really. Again, I’ve written before about how much PR costs. There are many factors to consider.

I’m confident in the value I offer clients and the work I do, therefore I am confident in the fees which I charge. I’m also a Chartered PR practitioner, so you know you’re getting a top quality service from me.

When clients ask you to reduce your fee, that’s when #6 comes into play or you may need to use your judgement.

#8 Asking for help

Help doesn’t have to be something to be ashamed about. Help comes in many shapes and forms. Through my network I’ve now become comfortable asking for help.

I’ve also built a solid network of practitioners in Scotland through the Scottish PR Collective and I’ve referred business through the network and I’ve asked other practitioners to help me deliver projects.

Sometimes help is required because you need a skill you don’t have or you need advice. Asking for help is the quickest route to overcoming a challenge.

#9 Time out

As I write this post, I’m dreaming of my five days in Madeira in a few weeks time. This year I’ve had a couple of long weekends, five days in Guernsey and that’s it. Time out is so important. It’s important for breathing space, recharging, disconnecting and for me, it’s always a time for reflecting and inspiring myself to push harder when I come back.

I also like time out because I get to tell some great stories on Instagram! lol

In addition to these nine learnings, here are some other highlights over the nine years…

Aura turns nine

Thank you to everyone who has read and supported my PR blog. I hope this post has given a personal insight into Aura, its past, present and future. I do hope you share this post among your network so they might be able to get that insight too.

Here’s to the next nine years! If you’re sharing the content please use #auraturnsnine or #auraturns9