Ben Smith, Founder, PRmoment.com
BCW Global’s Tom Malcolm talks to PRmoment’s Ben Smith about leaving PR to run a farm shop and restaurant in Cornwall and then returning to PR land.
Ben Smith: Why did you decide to leave BCW in April 2018?
Tom Malcolm: The move wasn’t about leaving BCW (or Cohn & Wolfe as it was known then). I had a great team, was working with some fantastic brands building award-winning work. The draw was the opportunity to move to Cornwall, one of the most beautiful parts of the country in order to have a once in a lifetime opportunity to set up a farm shop and restaurant was something I knew I would regret if I passed up.
BS: How was it moving from PR to running a farm shop and restaurant?
TM: Thrilling and terrifying in equal measure. Going from 15 years of experience in communications to zero years experience in retail and hospitality to set up a business on that scale was a tall order. So tall, in fact, that I would describe the first six months as a learning cliff as opposed to any kind of curve. At the same time, a career in the frenetic world of communications had prepared me well with the right levels of enthusiasm to be determined to make a success of it.
BS: What did you learn in those two years?
TM: Firstly, that I had not watched enough episodes of Grand Designs. The build took far longer than we imagined and involved a level of complexity that I had not foreseen. It’s an obvious point, but I realised the importance of good food and supporting local suppliers.
In the UK we have some of the most fantastic food producers right on our doorstep, producing world-class food. I was obviously conscious of this before I set up Tre, Pol & Pen; it was one of our motivations to go. However, having met and worked alongside some of the most incredible producers it has become more evident to me than ever how important it is we support them – they are a treasure we cannot afford to lose.
Finally, I’d also say it opened my ideas to what difficult client conversations really looked like. You think your clients can be difficult – try working with the general public.
BS: Why did you decide to leave the dream life in Cornwall?
TM: We moved to Cornwall in order to set up Tre, Pol & Pen but also to spend more time with our two boys who at the time were aged one and three. After two years of working seven days a week, it became clear to us that the two dreams could not live mutually side by side.
BS: So you came back to PR because you reckoned it was a more child-friendly career?
TM: In a word – yes! However, it’s not as ironic as one might think. In many respects the experience highlighted to me that Joni Mitchell was right – you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. Can PR be stressful? Yes. Can PR be emotional and intense? Sometimes. However, the same can be said of many other careers.
Ultimately, what we don’t tell ourselves enough is that we are blessed to work day in day out with people who are highly intelligent, emotionally aware and are all focused on the common goal of finding creative solutions to the complex problems our clients face. With the right support network, there is no reason why it cannot sit alongside a happy family life. It’s one of the reasons I was so pleased to return to BCW which has a fantastic track record in supporting a healthy work-life balance.
BS: Clearly, since your return we've all been dealing with the impact of Covid-19, you chose an interesting time to return…
TM: Yes, as I write this response from my makeshift ironing board desk in my bedroom as the kids destroy the house around me downstairs, you could say that. What it’s proven to me is how responsive both clients and colleagues have been to the crisis. The technology and access to it has moved on leaps and bounds in just the two short years I’ve been away. We’re better equipped now to support each other than we’ve ever been before.
BS: And is the farm shop and restaurant business OK?
TM: Absolutely – as I said before, we were blessed to work with producers who continue to farm as they always have done throughout the crisis. At a time when supermarket shelves have been empty, it’s been great now I’m back in Sussex to see people shopping local and rediscovering the fantastic array of produce they always have had growing just down the road.
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