In our last Interview on the Go of 2017 we speak to Jo Gill, director of GLR Public Relations and find out why her experience of PR agencies as a journalist and in-house made her create one of her own, what item she’d banish to Room 101 given half a chance and the difference, in PR, between a donkey and a racehorse…
Q. You’ve always dealt with PR agencies. As a journalist and also holding in-house communications roles. But what made you decide to launch GLR Public Relations in? Did you feel your agency could offer something different, better or more relevant based on your experiences?
It’s no secret I wasn’t the biggest fan of PR agencies, either as a journalist or working in-house. As a journalist the PR’s who stood out were in-house, Scott White and Vee Montebello are legends. And working in-house I led a procurement exercise that was prompted by a review meeting with a very large agency that had taken £250k in fees and delivered absolutely nothing for it – literally – I asked how much press coverage they’d got and they couldn’t tell me, in a yearly review meeting, absolutely unbelievable.
The resulting procurement exercise, which was worth £400k a year, was a series of agencies saying ‘this is how we do things and how you fit into how we do things’. The agency that won the pitch were the only ones who said this is how we’re going to meet your objectives – it turned out to be a very lucrative contract for them, which was extended within a couple of months of their appointment.
So when I started out I definitely felt there was an opportunity for an agency that combined expertise and passion with the ability to integrate into an in-house team and become a trusted partner – that’s just not how the larger agencies operate, scale creates process driven relationships delivered by ever more junior staff, so you lose the experience and emotional intelligence that is required to make the kind of difference I’m proud GLR is able to deliver.
Q. What’s the strangest request you’ve ever had from a client?
We have good relationships with our clients so their requests are usually reasonable and within the remit of what we’re happy to do. It’s the prospects that tend to present the most challenges. We pitched for a piece of work and didn’t get it, then they came back to us a month later and said the agency they’d chosen had sacked them so they wanted us to deliver the other agency’s campaign for the same budget – we said no. We were also asked to participate in a pitch by a company that had sacked us and refused to honour the contractual notice period when they made their marketing director redundant. We said no – not least because we’re now working with said marketing directors’ new company – that news prompted a call from one of their directors saying they didn’t care who else we were working with they wanted to work with us because they trusted us and knew we could do the job. We still said no.
Q. I know you can’t start a day without a coffee from Waitrose and one of their croissants, but what’s the perfect way to end the day?
A good book, losing myself in a story helps me switch off before I go to sleep, and it’s a habit I’ve had since I was very young that has served me well. I’m reading a great one at the moment that’s set between the first and second world war with characters in Kenya, England and Germany. I’ve also got the latest Robert Harris one to read during the Christmas break and I’m looking forward to an afternoon in front of the fire where I can get stuck into it. It’s a while since I’ve read a book in a day but that has potential and could well be my Christmas present to myself.
Q. If you could only give a client one piece of advice, what would it be?
If it looks like a donkey and smells like a donkey PR isn’t going to turn it into a racehorse.
Q. What one item would you banish to Room 101 and why?
Social media for under 18’s. I feel social channels are creating a false reality for impressionable youngsters that is going to store up a whole load of emotional and mental health problems for the future of our young people. We should let our young people learn how to deal with relationships in the real world, where they can’t hide behind anonymity to bully people about their looks, spread false news, request sexually explicit images or gauge their popularity by the number of followers or likes their posts receive. I feel it’s irresponsible for society to let people under 18 lose in the virtual Wild West without the life skills or emotional intelligence to comprehend and manage their online experience safely.