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Managing a modern PR agency means changing tyres whilst the car is moving! Says Octopus’s Jon Lonsdale

Jon Lonsdale, CEO of marketing agency Octopus Group, says running a fast-growth agency can be like changing a tyre when the car is still moving! We catch up with him in this speedy interview.

 What did you want to be when you were a teenager?
I loved the idea of being on telly and being involved in the news, so I went to Leeds University to study broadcasting, which was a joint course run with the BBC. I loved it, but realised that I needed to be a runner and make tea for a few years to work my way up after graduation. That didn’t really appeal to me and so I “discovered” journalism, and eventually PR.

Would your teenage self be pleased with the way things have turned out?
Yes, he would have been quite chuffed I reckon.

How did you get your first break?
I got a job as a grad in a PR agency in Nottingham straight out of uni. I wrote press releases on everything from dog toys to fitted furniture; it was a great start and I learnt a lot before the bright lights of the London tech sector drew me in.

What is the best career decision you have made?
It has to be starting Octopus Group with some friends back in 2001. Since that time, we’ve employed over 200 people, started hundreds of careers and friendships, and built a cool business along the way to be proud of.

Any career regrets?
No regrets as such, but I didn’t travel much before getting stuck in to a career. Gap years weren’t quite as cool in the early 90s and when you start a business early in your career you don’t get much down time. That’s why we offer our staff sabbaticals now – I’m living my lost gap year through the Octopedes when they go off exploring!

Why Octopus?
According to psychology, people remember animals better than other things! But the whole idea (when we were in the pub brainstorming) was a PR brain running loads of different marketing tentacles. It worked then and it’s still the same today, 15 years on. Although we dropped the suckers and the legs a while ago…

What are the greatest challenges of your present role?
Balancing running a fast-growth agency with client work that’s constantly evolving can be hard – kind of like changing the tyres when the car is moving! We’re genuinely breaking new ground with our clients and doing lots of new things for the first time, whilst growing at record pace. We’ve moved from a traditional PR agency into a new type of “brand-to-sales” agency – bringing all the best bits of a PR agency, a creative agency, a marketing agency, and a strategy consultancy all together in one place. It really resonates with our clients.

What advice can you give to others in the communications industry?
I would say learn new marketing and digital planning skills quickly and demand this from your employer. PR isn’t solely about being a good writer, good on the phone or having great press contacts anymore and if you think it is, you won’t have much of a career ahead of you.

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