According to James Herring, founder of agency Taylor Herring PR, we are all lucky that he didn’t stick to his early ambition when he was a student of focusing on his band, instead of getting a “proper” job. Herring says: “Like most teen bands we spent more time arguing about the name, the poster design and the photo-shoot than learning to play our instruments properly. I listened back to some of the music the other day. It was absolutely dreadful.”
Despite abandoning his dreams of becoming a rock star, Herring reckons his teenage self would have been pleased by how his career has evolved, as another early passion of his was for communications: “Many of my classmates went on to do proper jobs – doctors, architects and financial positions. I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do. It was outside of the curriculum that I found my passion. The school science department had a video camera (that never got used) so I spent weekends messing around with that, also I was editor of the college magazine.”
Herring’s campaigning began when he helped to run a student union campaign to stop South West Water dumping untreated waste into the River Exe. “We got 50 volunteers together and we cleaned up a huge area of the beach of junk – horrible stuff like nappies, plastic bags, all kinds of filth that was right in the habitat of local wildlife. We tipped off the local media and then we turned up at South West Water’s HQ just before a board meeting and dumped the whole stinking lot onto its white marble steps. We made the front page of the local paper and landed a slot on the Six O’Clock news. A few months later South West Water changed its policy and we got the result we wanted. I think that got me hooked.”
The next step in establishing his career also happened whilst he was at university. Herring describes how in between studies, he started promoting a stand-up comedy night. Through this he got to know the managers of the acts from the London circuit: “The comedy promoter Avalon invited me up to Edinburgh Festival to lend a hand looking after a bunch of their shows. I did a bit of everything from stage management, to handing out flyers and collaring theatre critics and begging them to review our shows. After Edinburgh, Avalon asked me to stay on and develop a university circuit. A few months on my boss had sacked a fair few PR agencies and said we should run marketing for our talent in-house and offered me the job. I said I had no experience. He said I looked like a fast learner. As well as promoting artists like Harry Hill, The Mighty Boosh and Al Murray, I later took on some outside clients and handled the launch of the Big Brother, the Film Four channel and ITV2.”
Herring went on to set up his own PR agency, Taylor Herring, with his wife Cath Taylor in 2001. “Cath and already set up on her own and I wanted to run my own thing. We felt like there was a gap in the market to do things differently. We started out promoting digital TV channels, EDM brands, DVD releases and video games.”
Things went very smoothly for the agency until the digital revolution: “Taylor Herring started out as a conventional PR company handling TV production companies and broadcasters. Most of the projects we did came with big celebrity names attached, which meant that getting coverage was relatively easy. But then came the explosion of digital entertainment and the projects we were being given didn't have any talent under contract.”
This meant that the agency had to learn some new skills and come up with stand-out creative ideas. Another challenge was that traditional news media was going online and pictures and video content became fundamental. But revolution leads to evolution and as Herring says: “Now we find ourselves making viral videos, staging unusual experiential events and coming up with ideas for eye-catching picture stories.”
As well as running his own agency, Herring is also owner of humour site The Poke. Herring describes how this came into being: “Jasper Gibson and I started it a fanzine that was on sale in record shops. Then it went online and now has 5 Million readers a month and 1.3 Million fans on social media. It’s proved a great way to find talented video producers, writers and designers. We’re now developing an animated series for TV.”
At the end of the interview, we ask Herring for the one piece of advice he would give people working in PR today. His answer is simply: “How long have you got?”!
James Herring is @itsjamesherring on Twitter
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