To kick off the new year, we caught up with Rosie Davies — a serial entrepreneur whose PR companies — LFA agency and PR Dispatch are leading the way with a new kind of PR company, one focused on transparency for its clients. Here’s Rosie’s story:
Newnham: What were you like growing up? How would your friends and family have described you?
Davies: My Dad ran his own business and so from about the age of 6, I thought I could do the same. I used to write business plans; one was a tunnel that linked the Wirral and Wales together to make going on holidays quicker, then Iwould pitch them to Mum and Dad. Dad always said to me, “Only ever work for yourself Rosie.”
I grew up on the Wirral near Liverpool and went to an all-girls Catholic School. The teachers tried their hardest with me but academics and school were 100% not for me. I left at the age of 16 and studied at an Art and Design school instead.
How would my family describe me growing up…? Oh dear. Probably limelight loving (I loved theatre/being on stage — I was over confident looking back), resourceful and inquisitive. My friends would have probably said funny… I was always the person cracking a joke at the back of class. I think I lacked skills in many areas but if I wanted something enough, I would work relentlessly until I achieved it.
Newnham: How did you get into PR? And what led to you founding your own business?
Davies: I fell into PR completely by accident! I was interning with an independent brand after completing a Fashion and Textile degree. They got me calling magazines and pitching products in on my second day of my internship. A few weeks later and I started to see the results of the hard work I had put in. And I was hooked. I had no idea that this is how magazines found the products that they featured.
I persuaded the brand to pay me one day a week. They became my first client and are still an LFA client today. I built a basic website with some good SEO and people started to get in touch about doing PR and marketing for them. Everything was building blocks, start with one good client then two, then threeand the same with the results we achieved. Eventually I turned just me into a limited company and called it The London Fashion Agency (now LFA). With that name, we seemed infinitely bigger than we were and that helped in the early days. I never took funding or loans, everything was organic growth. Cecilie, who was my first employee and is still with me today, started as a one day per week freelancer. We rented one desk in Brixton, then two, then got our own space and, eventually, when we could afford it upgraded to a nice space in London Bridge.
I leaned from reading books, taking people for coffees and making mistakes. Last year I launched a second business (PR Dispatch) to give small brands that chance to DIY their PR. It’s like starting all over again… back to the building blocks. But we are getting there.
Newnham: What is a typical day like for you (if there is such a thing)?
Davies: I wake up at about 7.30am most days, though in the summer, it is much earlier. If I am not in a rush, I’ll do about 10 minutes of headspace to start my day.
I leave the house at around 8.15am but only after at least two cups of tea. I live in St John’s (South East London) so the train into London Bridge is super quick and I get to walk Milo, the office dog, from the station. When I arrive, I always start the working day with another cup of tea; I can’t function without one! We usually have a couple of team meetings first thing, one for LFA and one for PR Dispatch, to go through what we need to get done each day and talk through what projects need attention. Then I tend to sit down with some of the team individually to go through specific tasks, so it might be a marketing meeting with Cecilie to lay out what we need to do internally for the month or I may have a client meeting.
Lunch is usually just something grabbed from outside and then eaten at my desk whilst tackling emails. I try to get more admin tasks done in the afternoons; so paying bills, liaising with new clients, contracts, direct debits, etc. I try to split my time as equally as possible between LFA and PR Dispatch which is obviously easier said than done but I can’t have specific days for each company as, in PR especially, you never know what is going to happen each day.
I leave the office at around 6pm, we work a 9–6 work day Monday to Thursday and have a lovely half day every Friday. In the evenings, I will either meet friends for dinner or I love to spend the night on the sofa with Milo (dog) and my cat, Bruce, as my husband cooks dinner. I tend to get into bed at around 10:30pm.
Newnham: As a founder, what have been some highs and lows for you?Davies: The highs and lows are daily! One minute you can have an email that is a real struggle to deal with and then the next minute you can get some coverage that could help change a brand forever. It is not for everyone but it is something that Ireally enjoy that about my job, its never boring.
The biggest highs from the journey so far have probably been the amazing recognition we have received about our approach to PR and any awards that we have won. For me, I’ve also loved expanding the team and getting to work alongside people who believe in the same things that I do. And then moving offices to our London Bridge office was a another huge high for me and was a big milestone in the LFA and PR Dispatch timeline.
The low is always losing clients. There is obviously a natural churn with clients but it is still hard when they move on. It’s harder still when most people leave us not because they are unhappy, but just because they have changed direction or are looking at new markets. It is always difficult to say goodbye to anyone in the LFA family. Lows for PR Dispatch is that it is so hard to convince people that they can do their own PR but I feel that we are finally getting there and brands are doing well with it. But it has definitely been a hard year and a half convincing people that they can do it.
Newnham: We are big fans of transparency so appreciate that you post costs on your site. What made you do that and how have you found the response? Do you think others should be more transparent?
Davies: Firstly, I think I was naive when I started. It felt obvious to me to list our prices and it was not a conscious decision that I made. I have always stood by the fact that we will be completely transparent with all of our costing, maybe to my detriment, as sometimes we have been approached by bigger brands that other companies would have charged higher fees but our costs were already out there. I remember at first people would say ‘You’re a PR agency and you have all of your prices online, you must be crazy.’ Another person said to be ‘You’ll go under if you do that.’ But we didn’t, we’re still here. Apart from that it has always been very well received, people like that they can see how much it costs and it is efficient for us too, as a brand knows straight away if they can afford our £1500 per month and if not they can look at PR Dispatch and other options.
Do I think others should be more transparent? Yes. I think companies like to know what they are getting and people maybe gravitate towards us more as they know straight away what they are getting and what it costs. So I think other companies should look into being more transparent with costing especially as we move into this digital age, it lends itself to being transparent.
Newnham: You founded two businesses in your twenties. What advice do you have for other young women looking to branch out on their own?Davies: Don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t be afraid to try. I think in running a business one of the most difficult things, emotionally and physically, is that you are never going to have all of the answers. You’re not going to know how to manage a team unless you have done it before. You don’t know how to pay your staff or develop people or gain new business, its not something they ever teach you at university.
Don’t let people tell you that you can’t. When I first started LFA, freelancing at age 22, people thought I was mad. People will try and talk you out of it, especially the people closest to you as they have your best interests at heart. You need to just think who are you going to confide in, and believe in yourself, as cheesy as that sounds.
My last piece of advice is that it is a business so you have to run it as a business. If it is not profitable there is no point creating a service or a product as a vanity project. It has to be profitable to survive. I am not an expert in numbers at all but my dad taught me one thing; “Turnover is vanity, profit is sanity and cash is king.”
Newnham: What advice do you have for those looking to maximise exposure and grow their community?
Davies: Assets, assets, assets. The imagery you have, your website, the way you brand yourself, social media; the way people perceive you online is huge so make sure everything is beautiful, coherent and that your tone of voice speaks to your customer. Imagery is one of the biggest keys. If you are a service based business, you need images of your team and your office space that represent your service. If you are product based, you need strong product images and beautiful lifestyle shots. You cannot do any PR without assets.
You also have to make sure that you understand where you fit in the market and what publications are right for your product or service. A cheeky plug but if you are a product based business, you should totally have a look at PR Dispatch!
Newnham: You appeared on the final of the UK Apprentice where two women were competing to be Sir Alan Sugar’s apprentice. What advice would you give first-time founders looking to scale up?
Davies: Numbers is always the biggest one if you really want to build your business and make a profit. You have to know your numbers to get anywhere; know your market, what impact wholesaling will have on your margins and be realistic about what your customer is actually willing to pay.
The team you choose is also another big factor for startups. Making sure that you are surrounded with the right people who understand your business and the goals you want to achieve together is the start and then being able to clearly convey your vision to your team, making sure everyone is on the same page before starting, means that you ensure that your ideas become a reality and that team morale stays high.
And finally I would say be confident in your own ability, play to your strengths and know when to defer on your weaknesses because in the long run putting your ego to one side when necessary will gain you more respect and success.
Newnham: What’s next for you and LFA and PR Dispatch in 2019?
Davies: In 2019 for LFA we are going to be expanding more into the lifestyle market; so food, drink, beauty. We are really excited to tackle new products, not just fashion. We have also decided to work with very few clients on a monthly basis as we have great brands who have amazing relationships with the press and we want to keep that quite special but we are starting to do more consulting too. So we are going into companies and working with them on a day or two day basis and teaching them how to really reach new audiences through PR, through awareness and with the assets that they already have.
PR Dispatch has some big plans in 2019. We will be doing a huge campaign in January to get brands excited about doing their own PR, we have workshops planned monthly and are going to be doing more events as requested by our members. Plus we will be launching new subscriptions through the platform towards the end of the year. We are hoping to spread the word next year and get even more great brands on board as we currently have a network of 70–80 brands who are doing their own PR and who are doing it really well with the tools we have given them.
Newnham: Finally, if you could go back in time — what advice, if any, would you give a younger Rosie just starting out?
Davies: None. I think everything happens for a reason and going back, I would not change a thing.