Working in PR can be one hell of a rollercoaster ride. Trust me, I know personally and very well. But what does it really take? Where do successful agencies come from? We caught up with Charli Morgan, Director at The Cult PR and ex Journalist to ask her how she got here.
Sum up yourself and your job in 2 sentences?
I’m a story-teller – whether it’s at the pub, or my desk. That’s why I started out as a journalist and columnist and then set up The Cult PR, where we’ve created the world’s first Bunny Spa, shut down Regent Street for a fleet of supercars and sailed a pirate ship up the Thames to tell our clients’ stories in the most exciting and memorable ways.
What was the inspiration behind it?
Fellow director, Matt Glass and I met when we were journalists and experienced PR from the other side of the media fence.
We were stunned by how lazy many of the agencies were, sending boring press releases to anybody (and usually the wrong people) and not understanding what we needed from them and how time-poor we were.
The handful of agencies which got the best results, were the ones which captured our imagination with exciting and original stories, opportunities, stunts and experiences and helped the rapidly dwindling staff on our titles with carefully targeted content to tight deadlines.
The recession marked a dark period for journalism, leading to redundancies, strikes and overworked teams. This was combined with the impact of online media’s growth, which meant that more and more magazines and newspapers were shutting down.
A mixture of frustration at the PR industry’s increasing laziness and the dawning realisation that Journalism’s halcyon days were over, led Matt and I to an epiphany.
We had the contacts; intimate understanding of a newsroom and experience to set up the sort of PR agency that journalists like us desperately needed – this would guarantee success for our clients and in turn, our business.
We were apprehensive about starting a new business in 2009 during the recession, but it actually benefitted us, because companies were forced to save money by leaving the big, expensive agencies and coming to less costly, boutique agencies like ours, which had smaller overheads and more to prove.
And we’ve always had a no bullshit policy – we don’t need to hide behind buzz-words and pie charts. Instead, we demystify the process, so the client understands exactly what we’re doing and what we need from them to get real results.
What has been the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
My dad’s motto was JFDI (Just F***ing Do It) – he was a lawyer, so also recommended a spot of cautious research beforehand. Ha.
So we’ve been opportunists, seizing the moment by launching virtual reality company Cultural Reality as well as social and content creation agency The Creationists, to broaden our story-telling tools. Sadly, dad’s no longer here to see what I’m JFD, but I hope he’d be chuffed.
What piece of advice would you give to others wanting to follow in your footsteps?
Make sure you’re getting into PR for the right reasons, and not just because you want to look officious beside a celebrity, with a clipboard in one hand and a cocktail in the other.
You need to have a passion for telling stories, creativity and a strong work ethic. You can’t teach passion, but you can hone a nose for a good story, by working for your student newspaper or radio station, for example and gaining experience on the other side of the fence, before becoming a PR.
Make sure you consume a wide range of media, so you can react to topical stories, gain inspiration for your own campaigns and understand the journalists, readers and specific sections that you’re targeting and why. Also make sure you’re on top of campaigns and stunts that other PRs are doing.
Relationships are so important in this industry, both professionally and personally. It’s a small and incestuous industry and this group will form most of your friendship group, because you’ll have so much in common and will end up spending so much time together.
The people I started out with in my early journalism days are now magazine and newspaper editors, columnists or directors of their own PR agencies.
Take care of your relationships, make life-long friends, support each other and don’t be a plonker, or it’ll bite you on the bum later on.
You’re a new addition to a crayon box, what colour would you be and why?
Red – my wardrobe looks like the final scene from Carrie. It’s dark, saucy, over-the-top and slightly ridiculous, so sounds about right.
What was the last gift you gave someone?
A pair of awesome, framed prints by Tim Doyle, inspired by Wes Anderson’s movies The Life Aquatic and The Grand Budapest Hotel.
What inspires you?
Red wine often fuels my inspiration. But it can come from anywhere – an incredible book like Nights at the Circus, a great movie like Magnolia, a Daniel Kitson stand-up gig, a Punch Drunk immersive theatre show, a Chapman brothers exhibition, a deliciously original dining concept like Restaurant Story or seeing people I care about doing something amazing.
What is the difference between right and wrong?
Cripes. That’s incredibly subjective. Don’t stab people, pinch things, cheat or wear crushed velvet, and you’re probably on the right track.
Unless they’re psychopaths, most people know the difference, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll do the right thing.
But if you feel like a massive bastard after doing something, then you’ve probably been one. And hopefully you’ll learn from that and won’t do it again.
When have you been most satisfied with your life?
Right now. There are some big things missing – like my dad – but apart from that, I love my job and am super proud of our team; my husband’s pretty ace at being married to me; I’ve got an amazing coven of cackling friends; a ridiculous, big wrinkly lump of boxer dog who I love the bones off; I love our home and I’ve calmed down and am finally getting my noggin around the work-life balance, and saying “no”. I feel very lucky, so if you ever hear me moan, feel free to roundhouse kick me in the throat.
If there was one thing you could say to your 5 year old self, what would it be?
Your little brother will end up being one of your favourite people, so don’t tell him he’s adopted, squirt bubble bath in his eye or sell him Smarties with the colour sucked off, pretending they’re special, limited edition white Smarties.
Tell us in 3 words, how you got to where you are today?
Passion. Experience. Creativity.