Championing future talent – PR director Kari Owers
How did you get into Public Relations (PR)?
I come from generations of journalists on my dad’s side so telling people’s stories is in the blood for sure. My grandfather and grandmother on my mum’s side were in tailoring and millinery so all the way through school I wanted to go into the fashion industry, probably magazine journalism.
I studied art and design at Newcastle College School of Art and Design before enrolling on a BA Hons degree in fashion design at Nottingham Trent University. My tutor said that my thesis – on how fashion has been influenced by gender over history – was one of the contributing factors to me getting a first class honours, so I knew writing would figure in my future plans.
I had the opportunity to go into fashion buying but I didn’t want to go further south at the time, I grew up in Northern Ireland and the North-East felt very similar. I felt I wanted to do something creative that would allow me to write and do something varied every single day. So I applied to lots of PR firms in Newcastle and got a day’s trial at one in Jesmond and that one day led to a week and then a month and I was there for almost five years.
I worked my way up very quickly. I was always interested in my clients and I really loved being able to tell their story. It was such a privilege be working with these brands and finding out what made people tick.
I rose through the ranks and was put in front of clients very early, I enjoyed meeting journalists and my client base grew. As an account manager and was able to work on a few fashion accounts as well as travelling to other offices in Leeds, Manchester and London and I thrived on doing pitches.
From there I moved on and then left a large agency working on big corporate brands to join a former colleague to help them launch the first ‘pay as you go’ agency. That was an exciting and enjoyable time working with many entrepreneurs but, after my second child, I decided to set up on my own in 2005.
I probably wouldn’t ask this of a businessman – which is wrong of me – but how do you balance work and a family?
My career is part of me, I love my job and I have had fantastic family support, and my husband, Rob, is my business partner here too. I feel very much that as mothers we want the very best for our kids. I don’t mind being asked that question because it’s part of life, it’s built into us to be care givers. I had some time off when I had Joseph (now 13) and with my daughter Ailis (now 10) I had a new business so it was all go, but I’ve always built them into my working life – they come first, they’re why I do it and spur me on.
Having recently celebrated its 10th birthday, O Communications has won more than 30 awards including the Chartered Institute of Public Relations ‘Outstanding Agency’ Gold Award three times and a Culture for Success award based on its commitment to customer service and staff development – what has made you successful?
I have always believed in myself, that I can do anything I put my mind to. I have always worked really hard for our clients and that’s instilled in the team. I’ve also made sure I have a happy workforce, I invest a lot of resources into ensuring staff are motivated, inspired, rewarded, have their own voice and are given the opportunity to grow.
Did you ever have sleepless nights when you launched your own business?
You wonder if you are doing the right thing for your family and clients but I’m quite a good sleeper really – I’ve already had several years of no sleep with young children so I try not to lose any more! I’ve always just been dead independent, even as a young girl, and the opportunities have presented themselves at the right times.
What advice would you give someone wanting to get a job in PR?
It’s so much easier for people to start their own personal brand today. When I was 21 there was no such thing as blogging and Tweeting – if I could have written about my passions for fashion and travel I would have used that as a showcase. You have to get out there and meet people.
It still surprises me how few people contact me asking to come in for a trial. Get out there and put yourself in front of people – you have to do it. I knocked on doors – physically. I recruit people I find interesting, who have other interests in their lives, we have people into netball, surfing and the outdoors.
How is the industry going to change over the next five years?
I don’t think anyone can predict that but we are going through a phenomenal phase as a discipline and PR and social media are really starting to sit at the top table as a lead service in the marketing mix. With the rise of so many channels marketing needs to be very targeted nowadays – but in terms of audience analysis PRs have always had to really know their customers and the publications they read, now its so much more varied – also we have always protected reputations which is ever more important. The increasing influence of Google will continue to influence what PR can offer a client in terms of search visibility and video will continue to be a rising part of our content strategy for clients.
If you could go back in time is there anything you would do differently?
I would have got a mentor, or a sponsor, a lot earlier in my life. I did not get to grips with the concept of mentoring until I was in my 30s. A sponsor is someone who talks you up in meetings, is your champion. I have done it for other people including my own staff. I champion people I’ve made a connection with who just needs somebody who’s been down the track a little bit longer than them. I have mentors who are male and female and we talk about sharp end business issues but we might also talk about where we have been on holiday as it’s all about conversation. I’m as interested in a profit and loss account as a pair of nice shoes and why shouldn’t I be?
O PR, Woods Pottery, Stepney Bank, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 2NP 0191-2325690
Twitter @kariowers @oprtweets