Digging deep into the past of Ilona Hitel, founder of agency the CommsCo, reveals that her earliest ambition was to be an archaeologist, she adds, “This is a long way from PR, but maybe there’s a tenuous, albeit somewhat cheesy, link to searching for the bones of a story.”
Hitel is pleased that she ditched her earliest career plans for a life in PR, because apart from earning more money, she says it has offered her the chance to visit many new regions and gain insight to the tech sector. Ilona explains: “Perhaps more than anything, I’ve enjoyed working with entrepreneurs in start-up tech companies. I love that aspect; there’s a vigour and enthusiasm about them that is infectious and brilliant to work with.”
Discussing how she got started on the PR path, Hitel says she didn’t so much choose PR, as it chose her: “I wasn’t sure what to do with myself when it came to the time to grow up and get a job after uni (I’d been living in Germany trying to put it off) so I worked for free for six months at a consumer agency to see what it was all about. It suited me and I suited it, so I decided that I should give it my best shot.”
Hitel’s first “real break” was being at Lewis PR back when it was just a freelancer called Chris Lewis working out of his basement. She says working with Lewis was “a very fortuitous meeting and the bedrock of everything I know today.”
Hitel then went on to support the development of Lewis PR, including spearheading its European development, and seeing its global growth to 200 employees. Hitel most recently (2013) spun out The CommsCo from CleverTouch, Europe’s Marketing Automation agency. She explains how this was a natural progression, although the fact that she has an entrepreneurial streak definitely helped: “There is a very natural fit between the two – with CleverTouch focused on outbound marketing (email and web intelligence) and The CommsCo focusing on optimising those campaigns and inbound marketing – PR and social media, for lead generation. However, I do always try to operate with the mind of an entrepreneur – that quick-thinking, opportunity-grabbing, plate-juggling mentality. It can be exhausting, but the buzz overrides that.”
Apart from her day job, Hitel is a founding member of the group “Women in the Boardroom”, she describes why: “I supported the launch of it doing the PR with one of the best women in technology I know, Jacqueline de Rojas. There is a huge shortfall of strong women in tech, and this is a good sounding board for women operating at the higher end of businesses – it’s just a shame that there aren’t more women at this level in general. Women bring a very different dynamic to a boardroom. Even the numbers out a bit more at the top and I think business would transform in a positive way.”
Getting to the top hasn’t been plain sailing for Hitel, and she says she made some “embarrassingly basic errors” as a graduate entering tech PR, but these were also useful learning experiences. Talking about her career trajectory, Hitel says : “I think perhaps the only thing I would change in my career is the timing of the turns. One thing I would never change is the teams I have worked with; I have met some spectacular people along the way, and now know what makes a good employee or person to work with.”
We always ask those we profile to offer advice for others coming into the industry, and Hitel’s main piece of wisdom is that it is important to have a passion for your work: “Work hard and love what you do, stay connected to your clients and media contacts, and keep your enthusiasm – if you keep that, the creativity, ideas and fun will always be in abundance.”
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