Few industries have evolved as rapidly as the PR landscape has over the past few years. Just ask Fleur Madden, a PR professional who started her business, The Red Republic, some 16 years ago, specialising in consumer PR. Now part of McCann Worldgroup, a global, publically listed company, the agency continues to evolve and flourish with Fleur as CEO. Here, the entrepreneur reflects on what has been a bold career journey, and shares some key insights on what is needed in order for business owners to create great PR today.
Becoming a business owner
Fleur was working as a print and television journalist 17 years ago when she spotted a business opportunity on the other side of the fence. “The PR industry was in its infant stages in Australia – people understood advertising, but not PR and certainly consumer PR was not a thing,” she recalls. “There was a gap and I was young and fearless, so I took the leap to open my own agency.”
Armed with an entrepreneurial spirit and a “fearless attitude” Fleur created the Red PR Group, which was later renamed The Red Republic. What followed was a relentless and rewarding exercise in continuous learning to stay ahead of the curve. “Did I know then, what I know now?” Fleur reflects. “Of course not, but the business has grown with me and that has allowed us to be dynamic, take risks, and push the boundaries.”
Business growth and expansion
The result of many years of hard work, one of Fleur’s biggest career highlights eventuated when leading global marketing services company McCann Worldgroup acquired The Red Republic in 2016. “I had known that my business had more potential moving forward the next 15 years, but needed greater infrastructure and scale to get there,” Fleur says. “The opportunity to join a global group and tap into McCann’s network and resources was exceptional and one I couldn’t pass up,” she says. “The decision also ensured the longevity of The Red Republic, which every founder needs to protect the future of their business.”
Fleur’s transition from owner to CEO of the business has been remarkably smooth, something she feels comes down to having a trusted partner in The Red Republic’s new parent company. “McCann understood and shared my vision for our growth, it’s been a very respectful relationship and we both value what the other brings to the table.”
As well as being trusted partners, the CEO believes that being clear on her new role from the beginning has been key. “Doing your due diligence in a sale if you are staying on is important to ensure everyone has the right expectations and your roles are clear,” she says. “If I didn’t have the normal freedoms to make decisions that every CEO needs, it wouldn’t have worked out well for either party.”
Then and now: The PR industry
Fleur has seen the PR industry change dramatically over the years since she first started her business – and she has embraced this change wholeheartedly. “The days of a PR agency being a publicity house are long gone,” Fleur says. “Our industry has transformed and [we] have become more holistic in how we work, pushing the boundaries of our skills,” she says. “Our job is to communicate with our clients’ audience and give them a brand experience, be it through publicity, social media, digital marketing, brand activations, influencer management, events or great design.”
Today, there is an expectation that PR professionals have diverse skills across multiple disciplines including social media, digital marketing publicity and brand activations. “The skills PR professionals need to have to be successful are only achievable with ongoing development,” Fleur stresses. “It is an industry that demands creativity, professionalism, hard work and constant upskilling.” Keeping abreast of current trends is also key. For PR professionals, the immediate future is about digital and video – “So make sure you can bring creative ideas in that space to the table,” Fleur says.
Fleur’s top tips for small business owners
“In a competitive landscape where consumers demand so from brands, the ability to stand out as a brand is a challenge,” Fleur says. “You need to be creative and consistent,” she says. The expert recommends small business owners concentrate on three key areas to help them achieve cut-through:
1. Get your website up to scratch
“Your website is the first impression of your brand for many consumers, so ensure it is a true indication of your business, easy to navigate, takes your customer on the right journey and entices them to act,” Fleur suggests. “Many brands neglect their online presence and don’t update it regularly enough, or confuse the consumer on the path to purchase – make it easy!”
2. Define a social media strategy
“Have a social media strategy that builds your online community, engages with customers and drives traffic,” Fleur says. “Your social media platforms should be seen as an asset for your business and a way to communicate on the regular.”
3. Create brand experiences
“Customers want a brand experience,” Fleur stresses. “Ask yourself, what event or activations can I create this year that will engage my customers and help them understand my business better, to build brand loyalty?”
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