Why success has been sweet for W Communications’ founder Warren Johnson
16th January 2014
I had the Coldplay lyrics “they were all yellow” going through my head after I left Warren Johnson in his Soho office, because everything there seemed to be that colour, from the huge settee in the reception to the lemon sherbet sweets that Johnson plied me with. Yellow is an inspiring colour to be surrounded by and Johnson was an uplifting presence. Perhaps all those lemon sherbets have some sort of energising power.
Johnson set up W Communications in 2009. His history before this is a mixture of PR and wheeling and dealing: “I was at Freud’s for eight years and then I got out of PR to be a property developer. I ended up doing more land trading than anything else, as the gestation period of property deals is such a long one. I also did entertainment brokerage, including a multi-million pound deal with British film production company Working Title.”
It appears Johnson was an entrepreneur from a young age, as he explains: “My mum says that I used to sell off parts of my school packed lunch when I was about seven. When I was at university I enjoyed clubbing, but decided that it would be more fun running clubs than just going to them. I learnt more doing that than from my degree in economics.”
After graduating, Johnson thought at first he wanted to work in advertising, but soon realised that PR better suited his skills: “PR is much quicker than advertising. People in advertising tend to dress up what they do as art, but to really work, their ads need to be supported by PR. I started at the Red Consultancy, Mike Morgan its current CEO, gave me my first job. I was at Red for three years, then I went to Sydney in Australia to work for a creative agency.” Although living in Australia was an interesting experience for Johnson, he felt too cut off to stay there, and believes the only other place in the world he could settle, apart from London, is in California, as it is such a key area for new and buzzing businesses (some of which are W Communication clients).
Being someone who is so immersed in building up businesses, it is no surprise that Johnson says he takes work home with him: “As an entrepreneur your boundaries between your business life and personal life break down a lot. Because you work long hours you involve people you know in your work.”
As Johnson loves what he does, the hours spent on projects don’t feel like work: “PR suits my personality as it allows me to get involved in many disparate things. From influencing the media landscape to working on fashion collaborations to opening a restaurant … PR allows you to get immersed in so many diverse areas. What gets me excited in this business is that I don’t have to limit what I do. For instance, we have a division call W Ventures which invests in clients’ businesses and we’re doing a lot of work with private equity groups.
Now is a great time to work in PR in London, as Warren believes the recession is finally coming to an end and the city is awash with ideas. Discussing the future, he says: “My vision for PR is to move it away from its image of being full of young, posh people who don’t know anything, to being seen as a force that affects business changes. And the engine of our business is the consumer. Back in the old days you only had to send out a press release, but with today’s media it is harder to connect with consumers. Having a sophisticated distribution strategy is just as important as the idea.”
Johnson’s enthusiasm is infectious, and even on a cold, miserable London day, he can make you feel optimistic about the prospects of our economy and of the PR industry. You could say the future is bright … maybe even yellow?
Warren Johnson, founder of W Communications