Ten years ago this week, Purplefish officially started from a dining room table in the middle of a recession and with the world facing change. In some respect very little has changed. Back at my dining room table, verging on recession and facing an uncertain future.
However, in those ten years, I’ve lived a lot, learnt a lot and loved my work. I feel extremely lucky to be doing a job which I genuinely have passion for. Of course, some days are exceptionally tough. Things go wrong, deadlines cause stress and, in the game of PR when we can’t control the final message or outcome, a certain amount of finger biting and sleepless nights ensue.
That said, what this job offers is the privilege to delve into so many different companies, see them from the inside yet maintain a sense of perspective which is so valuable to organisations engaging in external communication.
Standing up and standing out
The reason this business exists at all is largely due to the cliched pressures on working parents. As a senior woman in a corporate world it became physically impossible to continue a 60-hour week requiring travel. And so Purplefish was born not long after my son Reuben was.
The debate rages on that ‘having it all’ means ‘doing it all’. My hope is that the next generation of female talent behind me has awareness of this scenario and will demand change in the home alongside change at work so we will eventually experience true parity with our male counterparts.
On the subject of equality, I have long been active in the discussion around true diversity and inclusion. With mixed heritage children I am still fearful the world they experience will not treat them in the same way as their white peers. But conversations are being had, uncomfortable truths and attitudes are being exposed and explored and our industry is finally taking the issue seriously.
In my early career PR was still considered a nice to have; it’s refreshing now to see how comms has really come into its own with the digital evolution.
I put this down to the media moving online and social media channels reaching maturity. When we started, Facebook was seven and Instagram started the very same week as us – ok so it has grown a bit more than we have – but size is not everything!
TikTok and Snapchat definitely didn’t exist. Video calls were considered a bit odd and slightly uncomfortable.
The media was still very paper based. The Financial Times started its paywall in March 2011 and debate raged about whether journalism was should be free-to-view or pay-to-view online. To a great extent that question has now been answered and we have moved into a world where we value access to quality content and understand that there is often monetary figure attached. Advertising has experienced its own revolution with the decline of live viewing programmes and on-demand and personalisation now the future of our viewing habits.
We’ve had four offices in 10 years (counting the dining table as number one and a boat as number three); 38 permanent staff employed over that time – many have started their careers with us and gone on to great things. Being a good, values-based employer and offering genuine support and opportunities for advancement has and always will be central to the vision of Purplefish. Work culture is vital, and I predict will require more focus for many firms as we continue a hybrid home/office working scenario for the foreseeable future.
We’ve also created opportunities at entry level. The industry has been guilty of not creating a level playing field when it comes to giving people their first experience of this great career. Our annual intern scheme far outweighs our size and work experience is offered to younger students looking to get a taste of working life. This is a commitment to our community.
There are many people who have supported me, challenged me and given me a proverbial kick up the backside or just a sympathetic ear over the years. However, I feel duty bound and moved to say a heart-felt thank you to these special souls (they won’t thank me!):
Val King – a former colleague and the encouraging force in believing that I could start and run my own agency business, despite a huge portion of imposter syndrome. Her support is always unwavering. She is also the person who I brainstormed company names with, together we decided on Purplefish (the story behind the name is for another article).
Liz Gadd – a stalwart of the region’s recruitment sector. Liz asked me in the first year of the business: what do you want this business to be? My answer: a thriving culture where people can grow, find fulfilment, support and be the best they can be while doing great work for clients with shared values and a truly collaborative approach in the way they do business.
Daniel Twigg – my co-director in Purplefish for many years and I still miss him. Through thick and thin his optimism is always palpable. During a particularly tough time in the early days, Daniel always reminded me “there are enough good people in the world to work with; we should never compromise on our values.” I hold this true today.
Alice Bradshaw-Smith. Part of the current Purplefish cohort. Quite simply the most talented and inspiring person, and now close friend, I have ever had the privilege to work with. Her intellect and capacity for empathy is what this industry needs more of. I salute her everyday (in my mind, not in person – that would be odd).
Miranda Prynne – quite simply a brilliant writer. I still strive to get anywhere near her capacity to churn out the most inciteful, entertaining and informative copy. She’s an exceptional woman who I greatly admire.
Of course, there have been many more people who I have had the pleasure to work with over the years. Creative agency businesses are still the sum of their people and I will never stop investing in and encouraging individuals to be the best they can and to teach me what they know.
The next ten years
With an exceptionally talented management team in place it feels like a great achievement to be in a business which is forward thinking, challenging and creative. Our values underpin everything we do.