Five lessons from starting a new PR firm

Couple riding on roller coaster with hands up in air, screaming

Firebrand is now a month old. We’re signing up our first clients, hiring our first team members, and getting the systems in place. Agency life is a rollercoaster, so right now after the big climb to launch, we’re accelerating into the drop, hands in the air while screaming something joyously incoherent a few octaves too high for respectability. We’re having fun, so I thought I’d share five lessons learned so far.

1. Jump and people will catch you

I get asked which clients I took from my former agency, and the answer is – none. Non-solicits aside, it’s not the legacy I wanted after building the firm for 20 years. Plus ten points for moral rectitude, minus several hundred for commercial viability.

But you know what? You guys have been super terrific in referring us to new prospects. I’m a big believer in new business karma – and have been overwhelmed with how helpful people are. I mean genuinely interested in connecting us with some fascinating firms. So thank you!

Lesson learned – people often talk about the value of a good network, but you never truly know whether it will work for you. It’s early days but so far I’d say they are absolutely right.

2. Know who your target is

People want to connect you with the right folks, so are bound to ask ‘who’s your target client?’ Perfectly reasonable. But when you’re starting out, the answer is ‘well anyone really’. Trouble is that doesn’t really help them make valuable connections for you. In fact, the more prescriptive you can be about the type of clients you want – the easier it is for them to handpick one or two perfect opps.

Lesson learned – help your network make valuable connections by painting a clear picture of the clients you want like seeking aid from an advertising agency. They’ll actually help you more with a narrower set than otherwise.

3. People will be interested in your plans

The day you change your LinkedIn profile, you’ll get overwhelmed. Be ready to spend most of the time catching up with old contacts. The wave of good vibes is wonderfully validating and it’s a great chance to reconnect.

Granted a lot of the responses are the canned one from the LinkedIn app ‘Congrats on the new role! Hope you’re doing well!’ but we’re all busy, it’s an acknowledgment and invitation to talk further. And it’s a chance to pay back some of the karma you’ll be getting.

Lesson learned – there’s a lot of goodwill out there. Enjoy it and share it. Be a billionaire in the goodwill economy.

4. Take the chance to create a strong identity

Most PR and marketing firms are named after the founder or a combination of a color and an object, such as Purple Monkey. Nothing wrong with that and it’s the standard choice. Early in the process, I wanted the firm to be called Blue Flame Communications – the hottest part geddit? – but that fell into the usual trope, so we kept looking. We’ve had an unexpectedly positive response to the Firebrand name – including people wanting to be Firebrands despite our infancy (woo!). That tells me it’s worth exploring all the options before choosing a name. It matters more than you’d think. 

Lesson learned – spend time on the brand since it sets the bar for the firm.

5. Working from home is amazingly productive

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had the chance to work from home. No commute, no ad hoc meetings or no fire drills – just busting out the work. I worried it would be hard to keep up the work rate, but actually, it’s increased – longer periods of concentration, more flow. I’m a gregarious mass communicator by nature so haven’t suffered a lack of connection.

Of course, it’s hard to build a culture, mentor staff or carry out group tasks if you are all remote, so this phase won’t last but it’s been an unexpected tonic.

One downside, I haven’t learned how to step away from work in the evening. Without the forced decompression and geographic / mental distance you get from travel, it’s hard to shut off.

Lesson learned – you have more productive time working remotely so you can take more care over the work you do – and that feels good.

Month one has exceeded my expectations. I’m excited about month two – welcoming new clients to the roster and starting some exciting campaigns. I’ll try to share a few more observations as we go. But thanks for all your help so far! You have been amazing and I’m privileged to get the chance to start Firebrand.