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PR star Elizabeth Heron

She may once have dreamt of starring on the silver screen, but Elizabeth Heron, managing director of integrated marketing agency OrangeDoor, is now content to be a leading light in communications. In our ten-minute interview, she also explains how a happy misunderstanding when ordering a new office door helped to inspire the agency’s name

What did you want to be when you were a teenager?

I grew up dreaming of becoming an actress. Inspired by actresses like Meryl Streep in roles like Silkwood, I spent most of my teenage years in dance and drama schools. The confidence in myself and experience speaking publically prepared me in many ways for the world of corporate pitching.

How did you get your first break?

My first break into PR came very suddenly and almost out of nowhere. At 19 I was told PR would be a good place for me and I was offered a role in New York with Alan Cornish at Good Relations with Sir Tim Bell. Thinking back, it was brave of me to get on the plane and make that move, but I knew it was an opportunity to do something amazing and work with some fantastic people in one of the most incredible cities in the world. I took everything I could from that role, learning as much as possible and seizing every opportunity that came my way. It was really a baptism of fire, I had to step up very quickly to keep pace with the team there, fortunately I had some very good mentors and I was willing to work incredibly hard to make that first chapter of my career a success.

That first break, and the subsequent years in the industry, gave me the tools and confidence to start my own business. Even during the first few jobs where I was on my own, there was this ethos of being a bigger company that we actually were.

What is the best career decision you have made?

The best decision I made was bringing in a business coach about seven years ago. We were doing well, but at that point I didn’t have a leadership team supporting me, so having an experienced coach looking at everything objectively and providing strategic business advice was invaluable. They were a critical friend with insight that transformed both myself and the business. She helped us break through some plateaus and was the catalyst that took the business to the path of growth that has carried us to where we are today. I think a lot of businesses can stagnate at a certain point where they’ve got around eight to ten employees and it’s important to break through that. A business coach isn’t the right answer for everyone, but regaining that momentum of growth is essential.

The coach also helped me develop the tools and language I need to run the business as it grows. It’s important to continue personal professional development at a senior level to ensure that as you grow and become the leader of a larger team, you are equipped with the skills you need to be effective in that role.

Any career regrets?

The biggest regret I have is not plugging into support networks when I started the business. Today, I am a member of WEConnect and DWEN (Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network) and find those both incredibly valuable. There are so many places young entrepreneurs can go to now for help and advice, but I had none of it. When I think about how much faster the business could have grown in those first few years if I’d had the support that exists today I do envy people starting up now. The mentoring environment is much greater now and it continues to get better. It is a very exciting time for young businesses and I feel very blessed to be on the other side of that support now, helping younger businesses through WEConnect and as many other opportunities as possible.

 Why OrangeDoor? And why the name?

Orange has always been our brand colour. The connotations of creativity, individuality and passion have always represented us as a business. Even under previous guises, our office door was orange – the result of a happy misunderstanding when ordering a new office door – and we embraced this, as did our clients, with many commenting that ‘It’s amazing what goes on behind the orange door’. Our rebrand was more of a distillation than developing anything new, stripping back the bulk that had built up around the brand over 15 years of trading and uncovering what was really key to our identity as a company. When we chose a new name it was a term we’d already been using for years and it was literally staring us in the face every time we walked into the office.

What are the greatest challenges of your present role?

The industry will continue to be challenged by recruitment and talent acquisition. Finding talent that has an integrated mind and people that think strategically is an industry-wide issue, luckily we have a fantastic culture in our business that attracts some fantastic candidates and has contributed to the amazing team that we have today.

I find the challenges with my role are mostly around time. We have so many exciting projects coming through the door and you want to be a part of every single one of them. I trust my team completely to deliver incredible, creative campaigns, but it can be difficult particularly with our portfolio of clients, not to be excited by every new job. I get involved as much as possible, but I have to balance being a leader with getting to work on these projects and sometimes that means stepping back from something operational, even if it’s something really exciting, to focus on driving the business as a whole.

What advice can you give to others in the communications industry?

It’s important to look inwards and re-evaluate processes, particularly as you grow. Ways of working that were perfect for smaller teams don’t always scale up, and you have to step back and take the time to ensure you’re working in a way that fits your business as it is today, not how it was a year ago.

We took a strategic look at a number of aspects of the business and as a result we made more money without increasing the client base. It’s an exercise that can benefit all business, regardless of size or industry. Processes can always be improved. Working practices can be refined and there’s always room to improve. There can be no room for complacency if you want to stay amazing. It’s something that’s essential to keep your business operating at that exceptionally high level that everybody should be striving for.

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