Ben Smith, Founder, PRmoment.com
I recently met up with Ruth Allchurch, managing director of PR firm Cirkle. In 2014, Allchurch took over the day-to-day responsibilities of running Cirkle from the founder Caroline Kinsey. Two years in it seems like a good time to catch up and find out about her journey from being an in-house communications director to running an independent PR firm.
1. Why did you leave the comfort of a nice pension and a company car at Diageo and move to a (relatively) small independent public relations firm?
I have always believed that great things happen at the edge of your comfort zone. The easiest thing for me to do would have been to stay put, but I knew there were skills that I would never learn if I stayed within a large corporation – such as managing a business! Plus, I believed it to be the most energising time to be at the coalface in the industry and in-house wasn’t going to get me there.
2. How difficult is it to come into a PR agency at a senior level as an outsider? Presumably you missed that internal web of support that you’d have had if you’d been an internal candidate?
I didn’t miss it. I felt like I could breathe fresh air again and surround myself with people who really got PR so I no longer had to spend my time justifying the discipline. I started agency-side at Weber Shandwick and Cohn and Wolfe, so it felt weirdly like coming home after a long time abroad.
3. How has it been taking over the day-to-day running of the business from the owner/founder? Has that been challenging when you are clearly coming from a very different background and corporate culture?
Undeniably, it came with certain challenges and the culture shift was significant in the early days, but the size and pace of the agency and the freedom and ability to make a decision and see it happen that moment were exhilarating. Caroline Kinsey, the owner and founder of Cirkle, trusted me to make the right decisions and allowed me to make certain mistakes in the early days, which, over time, have made me a stronger leader. We bring different things to the business and respect that in each other and our business results demonstrate that the partnership works.
4. Cirkle has grown from a fee income of circa £3m in 2014 (when you joined) to close to £4m today. Your client list includes the likes of Premier Foods, Pernod Ricard UK, Pepsico, GSK and The Happy Egg Company and you have recently won Morrisons in a competitive pitch. How have you done it?
We have stayed ruthlessly focused on what we are best at – driving fame and enhancing reputations for household brands. We have also ensured that every member of the agency is clear why Cirkle is different through our ‘Influence in the Round’ proposition and have been really successful in using this to unlock significant organic growth. Our exclusive communities (Retailer Inner Cirkle and Social Inner Cirkle) continue to give us a point of difference and this year we enhanced our media-training service by launching our in-house broadcast studio. We get most of our new business leads through advocacy and we only take on briefs that we really want to work on and we believe are the right strategic and cultural fit for the agency. We put clients at the heart of our business and go above and beyond to build the best relationships possible. We invest in our reputation and put a lot of emphasis on awards – we’re still celebrating our PR Consultancy of the Year win at The Drum Network Awards two weeks ago. It’s wins like this that enable us to reward our teams – just part of our commitment to employee engagement, which in turn has resulted in higher-than-average staff retention so that clients have stable teams.
Written by Ben Smith, founder, PRmoment
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