Early PR ambition pays off

Did you know what you wanted to do when you were just eight years old? Susanna Simpson, managing director and founder of Limelight, did. Simpson says that a visit to her father’s office at the age of eight inspired her to “carve out a career in the business world.” Although she had to wait a few more years before she knew exactly what she wanted to do.

Simpson realised as a teenager that she wanted her own business, and by the time she was 16 she was sure that business was PR: “It was during day one of a week’s work experience at Countrywide Communications (now Porter Novelli) that I knew my business would be PR. I'm now in the position of having just completed 13 years successful trading of Limelight in London and five years in the Middle East so I am pretty thrilled that everything has gone to plan!”

Life doesn’t run completely smoothly for anyone, and this is no different for Simpson, but she says that she is sure that her early commitment to PR has helped things along: “Because I realised what I wanted to do as a teenager, it all came to fruition a lot quicker. There was never any doubt as to where my focus and drive lay.”

Asked why she chose to work in the communications industry in particular, Simpson replies: “My favourite part about working in communications has to be the exposure you get to key business issues. You get the opportunity to meet talented and ambitious people in a variety of sectors – which means there’s never a chance to get bored. I also enjoy the fact that communications work always involves dealing with the board, or leaders of the business, which is a huge privilege.”

It wasn’t just a lucky work experience week at age 16 that meant Simpson’s career started so early, it was because she followed this up by pestering the Countrywide Communications agency to take her back: “It then took about three letters and 10 phone calls to persuade the agency to let me come back again and I ended up working there over a number of school holidays. After proving I could add value and not just take up time, I negotiated a salary equivalent to £10k a year. I spent the entire first weeks’ wages on a pair of shoes! I had made it!”

One of the main hiccups Simpson experienced at the start of her career was prejudice because of her not having a degree: “My lack of degree meant companies were reluctant to hire me, despite the experience I’d gained from Countrywide I was unsuccessful in securing a permanent position at the agency, something I desperately wanted. It was good enough to put me through its graduate recruitment day, but sadly it seemed in its view there were better candidates than me. I was told that I gave one of the best ever presentations it had had in this selection process, but the head of HR advised that I'd be better pursuing a career in sales promotion. I was heartbroken.”

“I struggled enormously to secure a PR job after this – I must have written over 100 letters, but never gave up and with the 101st I finally got my break with an agency outside of London. This agency really taught me what it was to be a great boss, and what is was to be a dreadful boss (I’ll say no more)!”

From then on, it wasn’t long before Simpson realised her dreams: “I did the minimum time I needed at the London agency to get the experience required and then left. I then secured a role at a wonderful agency where I stayed for three years and was lucky enough to work for Adrian Brady – to whom I will always be grateful.”

But Simpson knew life as an employee was temporary. She was always determined to run her own business, the matter was deciding exactly when. In the end, her move to independence was prompted by a friend of a friend: “I knew I was ready to run my own business when I undertook some freelance PR work for a friend of a friend who was in a sector I had less than zero knowledge of. When I still managed to get them coverage in the first month, I knew I could do well with what I knew, and it gave me the confidence to strike out on my own. I then launched Limelight, at the age of 24, without any breaches of contract, taking any people or clients from my previous agency (sadly a rare thing in our world) and I’ve never looked back.”

Susanna Simpson, managing director and founder, Limelight

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