Heather Baker wanted to better her understanding of the media industry in the UK, as well as improve her skills in writing and pitching, so she took a couple of short courses at London College of Communication (LCC). The courses helped her to flourish in the PR industry, and now she is Founder and CEO of TopLine Comms, an award winning PR agency…
What were you doing before you chose to study the short courses at LCC?
I was working in a very small PR agency in south London as an account executive. I was completely new to PR and I was learning on the job. I really needed to improve on my pitching and writing, and, as I was completely new to the UK (I had just arrived from South Africa), I wanted a better understanding of how the British media works.
And what made you chose the courses at London College of Communication?
LCC has a great reputation and a few people had recommended the feature writing and media release writing courses. Both of these covered pitching to the media as well, so they seemed quite comprehensive for what I needed.
How did the courses help you?
Both courses had a huge impact on my performance at work. When I had only learnt PR and communications on the job, I picked things up from co-workers and my own research, but I never felt fully confident in what I was doing. It was helpful that the courses were run by an ex-journalist as I learned what works and what doesn’t work with the media, how to cut through all the waffle and focus on a story that is really going to be of interest, and I also picked up some good habits that I still adhere to in my writing today. The result was that I was much more confident and effective at work – placing stories in the Guardian, Times, Financial Times and Telegraph within weeks of finishing the courses. My success at work meant that I was soon promoted and when it came to finding a new job a few years later, I had a good portfolio of writing and coverage that made me a more desirable candidate.
Tell us about what you did next, and about growing your business…
Two years later I decided to start my own PR agency, TopLine Comms. We launched in 2008, and started to win clients off the back of our great PR results. In 2011, we started to evolve to become a more integrated communications consultancy, launching video production, SEO and inbound marketing departments. All of these services require some form of copywriting, and my LCC training has stood me in good stead to build these departments. We have a host of exciting clients from start-ups to major brands, such as Financial Times and Admiral Insurance, and the company now employs 21 people across two offices – in London and Cape Town. We continue to grow at more than 20% per year and will turn over £1.5 million this year.
What have been the highlights and lowlights of running your own PR agency?
Trying to build the business during a recession was really tough. Those first few years were very hard.
But there have also been many highlights and really positive moments. We’ve won a few awards, and those have always felt like real validation for the hard work we’ve put in. Watching the business grow has been a real pleasure, and I still get a thrill when we close a big deal or a member of the team bangs the success gong because they have secured a great media result for a client. Then there was the day it dawned on me that I own the company, which means I can get a dog and bring it to work – which I did (and still do).
What are your plans for the future?
Over the next few years our goal is to maintain our rate of growth – we think we can be a £3 million business in a couple of years – and who knows what’s beyond that? I love running the company – it’s challenging and rewarding at the same time and I feel like we are just at the start of our journey.