Apprentice winner Dr Leah Totton talks entrepreneurship

leahDr Leah Totton, founder of Dr Leah Clinics, hasn't rested on her laurels since winning the Apprentice.

Determined to launch a range of cosmetic surgery clinics that would set the standard for providing safe and affordable treatment on the high street, she's now well underway with making this a reality.

When asked, Leah says she knew she was an entrepreneur when she realised she had a vision, she believed she could create it and then actually made it happen.

But even with Sir Alan Sugar as a business partner and mentor, as well as the investment and publicity from winning the programme, Leah has faced the same issues as other business start ups.

Brokering supplier deals, sourcing premises, choosing the right branding and managing staff have all created the same headaches for her as they do for other owner-managers.

Despite having had to navigate all this, Leah says it's a great time to be a woman in business.

"As of 3 March 2014, in the FTSE100 women now account for 20.7% of overall board directorships, up from 17.3% in April 2013. While 9/10 start ups fail, male entrepreneurs face the same issues as female ones so there is little disparity there.

"My view is if you have a dream and can make it happen, go for it."

Blend innovation with appraisal and act decisively - Richard Eyre's top tips for success

Richard Eyres Richard Eyre has had a remarkable career in advertising, moving latterly into non-executive director roles with media and tech companies.

Having been at the cutting edge of the media industry for nearly forty years, I was interested to hear what his top ten tips to success would be - and like me, you might find some of them pleasantly surprising.

Here's my take on what he had to say:

1) Learn to hear in a different way. For example listen out for what people are not saying and try to figure out other people's agendas. Sometimes personal ambitions can get in the way of the business task and you need to know when that's potentially the case with those you're dealing with.

2) Appraise what you hear and make your own mind up about it. Don't just adopt others' viewpoints.

Don't rush into a decision

3) Allow time for new ideas to infuse. Not every decision has to be taken on the spur of the moment and often the results are better if they aren't. Expose yourself to new thinking and understand what is going on in the world around you. For example, for those in digital, tech and the media, blogs like Mashable and TechCrunch are invaluable to gaining new insights.

4) Don't be afraid to copy. At school it may be called cheating but in industry it's called benchmarking. If you see a style you like, try it on for size and then evolve it so it's your own.

5) Take risks and step out of your comfort zone from time to time. The product of some risks is that you may occasionally fail but that's ok. Don't let your fears be stronger than your dreams because that will only lead to regret.

Work out what is holding you back

6) Identify what it is that is restraining you. Reframe failure to see it as the Americans do - something you learn your greatest lessons from. Don't be put off by others and confuse self-confidence with talent. There is no direct correlation between assertiveness, self assurance and conviction, and the best understanding of the situation.

7) Know what your own success looks like. Stop and think so you're not just following a trajectory - it's not all about the money but what makes you happy. However, whatever your version of success looks like, it will cost you. You'll have to fight for it and make difficult choices; this is why you will be more fulfilled in the end. If your family unit is important to you, stay strong and put it first. Too many people in the business community do not respect it as they should so it will be hard.

8)  Work out what your own brand characteristics are. Choose four words that you'd like people to use about you and then ask yourself what you have to do to get people to describe you in that way. Carry out an annual review - new ambitions and new words may be needed as time goes on.

Don't let money, fame and power cloud your judgement

9) Money, fame and power are consequences of success but they are not a destination. They are not satisfaction creators so don't let them define you.

10) The media business is in chaos and with chaos comes opportunity. Those who win when the rule book has been torn up are the inspired, the fast movers and the free thinkers. Blend innovation with appraisal and act decisively.

11) Always give people more than they were expecting but don't broadcast it - your work will hold much more worth. This is a powerful technique and will differentiate you from the rest, even if at times sometimes your efforts go unnoticed. This approach will stand you in very good stead.

Richard's tips are refreshingly honest and are gained from his extensive experience over the years. We found them beneficial - hope you did too. Why not share your top tips if you have any, we'd love to hear them.

Catching up with Yousaf Khalid

Yousaf Khalid speaking at an IPA/SEO London event It's been a while since we've caught up with a leading light in marketing and PR so we approached Yousaf Khalid, group managing director of e>erythingd.fferent to find out more about what makes him tick. This is what we discovered...

Q What attracted you to marketing as a career? A I think it was the idea of being able to persuade people to buy or think differently about a product or service. That insight, creativity and media could achieve that was fascinating.

Q How has the industry changed since you’ve been in it? A It seems everything took longer to do before; the strategy development, the creative and the production process but in reality the only elements that have got quicker are the media and production. Twenty odd years ago everything was being physically taken from the agency to the publishers - now, because everything's electronic, time has disappeared. The other aspect is the choice of media for channels; previously it was regional press, national press, outdoor, radio, cinema and DM/door to door. Today is just a little bit different to that with social media - the most important aspect being that brands are no longer in charge of what’s said about them. They still have large enough budgets to outgun social networks but only if they are being authentic. When things are going wrong then no budget can compete with social media. I guess the final point on this would also have to be email, I began at a time when there was a phone on your desk and that was it but now there’s this screen you’re sat in front of pinging emails all over the place (like I'm doing right now!)

Q Tell us 3 things that people wouldn’t expect to discover about you. A That’s a difficult one as I’m not sure I know myself! And that’s not a cop out!

Q You talk about Different actually being different. Tell us how this is true. A It’s something in our genes, our upbringing and our life experience that we challenge the status quo by seeing things differently. It's true because you just need to see our work for Barker & Stonehouse, Benfield Motor Group, Charge Your Car, One North East and the various health campaigns for smoking cessation, Hepatitus C, fire prevention and alcohol abuse. And we aim to go through this process with all our client partners to establish an ownable space for the brand to sit in order to make it memorable in people’s minds.

Q Your graduate recruitment scheme is arguably a national exemplar. What was the motivation for this? A As I mentioned before technology is really changing the way we consume product and service information and the industry itself has an average age of 30. We felt the best people to understand this change were people that had grown up with it so the scheme was all part of our recruitment strategy which has really been successful for us.

Q Time to spill. What’s the worst thing that has ever happened on a client project? A I can’t think of something that’s entertaining at least that I’ve been involved with but one of my colleagues in the days when we carried around large presentation cases rocked up to a pitch and had a moment. The team arrives at the meeting place on time (which is an achievement in the creative world), gets out of the car, opens the back, pulls out the cases and pops them on the road before picking them up and heading off to the building where the presentations are being held. Unbeknownst to him when he puts his case on the floor it acts like a pooper scooper for a doggy deposit. So anyway he and the team confidently stride into the meeting looking to impress. Hand shakes and introductions over, the case comes out and hits - or should I say scrapes - along the shiny new boardroom table and deposits the contents collected earlier right in the middle. Quite an impression!

A What makes you irate? A I guess because we living in such changeable times it has to be a closed mind, when people either don’t or can’t see that the world has changed and our industry needs to keep up with those changes to stay relevant.

Q You have clear views on PR - what do you think the PR industry does well and what does it need to do better? A PR is in a great position to own content in the social media space but too often it uses stunt driven tactical solutions rather than ideas based in their clients' brands.

Q What one thing do you always have in your cupboards? A Recently it has to be protein shakes but before it was always Jaffa Cakes.

Q Tell us your best joke. A It will have to a silly one that I can remember because anyone who knows me knows that I can’t tell a joke because I’m laughing too much! So here goes. Man walks into the doctors and the doctors says what can I do for you today. Man says well doctor I’ve got this steering wheel stuck down my trousers and driving me nuts! Boom-boom! I'm not sure if I want you to keep that in!

Whether you're hiring or job-seeking, PR is critical to success

Image from

One area of public relations (PR) that is often forgotten is internal communications.

It’s regularly the case that when asking a company to outline their target audiences, employees just don’t feature despite the fact their performance is critical to the marketing function.

What I mean by this is that if you’re telling everyone about a superior product or service and the staff aren’t aware of it or if the customer journey doesn’t live up to expectation, then you very quickly score an own goal.

Good PR can also be very powerful in recruiting and retaining the right staff but depending on the industry, finding skilled hires can be challenging. In difficult economic times it can also be hard to get the green light for sourcing the staff you need to achieve your business objectives and expansion plans.

In light of this I spoke to recruitment specialist Bryony Gibson from Bryony Gibson Consulting for her views on achieving the right culture fit.

Bryony said: “With the economic recession times have been tough, resulting in companies scrutinizing their HR spend to a much greater degree than they would have done previously. Understandably every new employee has to be 100% right, without compromise.

“For anyone seeking employment, qualifications are crucial along with the relevant practical experience, which is why those with apprenticeships or sandwich experience from University may be more desirable to employers than those with academics alone. But even the combination of qualifications and experience is not enough in the current climate to secure a job.

“Interestingly enough, this is where PR becomes important as much for the individual as for the business. The ability for potential employees to display their personality from the outset and demonstrate how they can fit into the culture of a business is essential. A lot of this stems from attitude; would you rather sit next to a negative individual or one who is positive and oozes energy? Attitude and personality; neither come at a cost, but they can be harder to find than qualifications and experience.

“As such, while an organization needs to present itself in the best light in order to appeal to the high quality workforce it wishes to attract, so must a person show exactly what attributes they can bring and demonstrate what kind of brand ambassador they could be for the firm.

“My advice to clients is that the recruitment process should not only specify the necessary skills and qualifications required for the job, but also provide an opportunity for candidates to showcase their character. In order to expect applicants to be open and honest businesses will need to do the same - showing just enough of their personality so that jobseekers feel they can connect.

“Understanding a person’s personality is really the key to whether they will fit within the business and stay long-term. Organisations need to ensure that potential employees align with their company’s vision and values, management style, team ethics and workplace environment. Cultural fit is critical to the long-term success of employee engagement, productivity, motivation and retention.

“All that said companies mustn’t lose sight of the technical task in hand. The person they like the most still needs to be able to do the job, which brings me back to the start; recruiting has to be 100% right, and finding those that meet this target and will ultimately be able to help a business grow is often easier said than done.”

Bryony’s words are grounded in experience and hopefully helpful to organisations wondering whether their recruitment process needs updating or enhancing. Individuals in the job market should also pay heed too and look at the options they have for showcasing their personal brand. Social media offers great promotional opportunities when used in the right way – but then that’s a column for another day!

Catching up with Laurel Hetherington

Laurel Hetherington Featuring in our 'Catching up' series this time is Laurel Hetherington, the North East's only CIPR qualified trainer. It's fair to say that a significant number of the region's PR practitioners have been trained by her and what she doesn't know about PR theory isn't worth discovering.

Q. You’re the North East’s only qualified CIPR trainer. Why is the professionalisation of the PR industry important?

A. So both clients and employers know what they are getting when they hire a CIPR member  – someone who has undergone extensive training, has lots of practical experience and can add something to the bottom line.

Q. What made you choose training as a career?

A. At evening classes for the CAM Diploma in PR, I was the worst student ever – complained about everything and they said can you do better? I said yes and the rest as they say……

Q. You’ve worked with a lot of PR practitioners. Do they have common traits – good and bad?

A. Good ones are passionate about their clients or organisations. I don’t get to meet many bad ones – they aren’t usually interested in keeping up to date with new techniques or coming along to training or workshops.

Q. What drives you forward?

A. I love it when it dawns on people that PR is not just about media relations and there are lots of other techniques that can make a real difference.  And I’m nosy – I like learning about different organisations and what they are doing – whether in the UK or overseas.  That’s one of the reasons I enjoy being a PR judge and examiner.  And best of all – seeing younger people I’ve worked with getting up on stage at the Hilton to receive a PRide award for their work.

Q. If you were a stick of rock, what word would run through you?

A. Wanderlust.

Q. Your team almost always wins at the CIPR NE vs NEPA quiz (hard luck this time around). How do you swat up?

A. I have a secret weapon – my current husband - and we are all news junkies in our family, though on different subjects.

Q. What one thing would people be most surprised to find out about you?

A. I'm a Gleek - just love Glee (don't tell anyone!)

Q. Finally, one what text book should all PR people have by their beds?

A. Depends, because all PR people are different, and need different things at different stages in their careers too. If you’re just starting out, either on the CIPR Foundation or Introduction courses or on CAM, then PR Today by Morris & Goldsworthy is a good read (if a bit controversial).  If you’ve got problems, then Risk Issues and Crisis Management by Regester and Larkin whereas if you’re wanting to understand digital then Brand Anarchy by Waddington & Earle.  Finally, if you’re one of my Masters students at Newcastle, or doing the CIPR Diploma at Sunderland and need some theory then Exploring PR by Tench and Yeomans.

Catching up with Chris Taylor

In the next of our 'Catching up' series, we meet Chris Taylor, the managing director of full service agency DTW and also chair of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) North East committee. Dad of two, Chris lives in Durham, is a keen Sunderland fan and a self confessed political geek. Here we get a little insight into the man with a big vision for the North East PR community.

Q. Give us five words that describe Chris Taylor.

A. Happy, modest, friendly, professional, control freak (six, sorry!)

Q. What does your job at DTW entail?

A. Everything and anything. Running a great team of 15 people means I am responsible for working with major clients like SITA UK, NCG and the Mersey Gateway Project at a senior level and also setting the agenda for other colleagues in the PR team. As well as that there is the small matter of running the company.

Q. What would your colleagues say are your best and worst qualities?

A. I asked them. Best qualities: good team leader, strategic, discrete, fair minded, good figurehead for the company, people person. Worst qualities: eating too many packets of crisps, choice of football team, don't make enough cups of tea, time keeping and sitting on the fence when I don't want to upset someone.

Q. Favourite TV programme?

A. Right now, Homeland.

Q. Why did you get involved with the CIPR NE committee?

A. Professional standards are important and I think the CIPR does some great work in this area and wanted to get more involved. I also thought the committee needed more of a presence in the Tees Valley.

Q. Have you ever had a helping hand in business?

A. Lots – especially from DTW Chairman Pete Whelan who is a great strategic PR guy who also has 30 years experience of running a company – invaluable advice and guidance on a daily basis. Also from former DTW Directors Robin Treacher and Doug Allan – great PR professionals. I've also had plenty of first hand experiences as to how NOT to work with people (no names mind).

Q. What one piece of insight would you give to PRs starting out now?

A. If you are still looking for a job get as much experience as you can. All of it will be valuable at some stage.

Q. Most admired brand?

A. The BBC

Q. Preferred paper – read online or offline?

A. Guardian – offline when I have time. Online it is the BBC first and foremost – why would you go anywhere else?

Q. What is your vision for the NE PR community?

A. I want the NE PR community to be a beacon of best practice, winning awards for the work we do at a national level and setting great standards for the industry. We have some great private companies and some innovative public sector communicators, and I want them to collaborate and make a real difference to the success of their organisations. When it comes to agencies, the North East is a small region, and the PR community has to look outside of the North East for new business opportunities if we really want to grow and succeed. There is no reason why North East companies and freelancers can't broaden their horizons and win business from elsewhere.

Q. What would you tell your 18 year old self now?

A. Enjoy your youth – it only comes round once.

Q. A career in PR requires a varied and extensive skill set. Speaking generally, what are PRs good at and what do they fail at?

A. We're good at writing, creativity, problem spotting and solving and pub quizes (you get to know a little bit about an awful lot in this game). We're bad at evaluation, numbers and time management.

Q. What would you call your first novel?

A. The First and Last

Q. What do you buy most often?

A. Baby food

Q. Best way to contact you?

A. Twitter - @dtwchris or email –


Catching up with Stephen Waddington

In the first of our 'Catching up' series we chat to Northumberland resident and father-of-three Stephen Waddington - a well-known and well-liked player in the PR industry. He has a large and loyal following on Twitter as @wadds.

We caught up with him in Newcastle not long after the launch of his book, Brand Anarchy (co-authored with Steve Earl) and his departure from Speed.

Q. How would your friends describe you?

A. A happy optimist and lucky.

Q. You’ve recently left Speed, the agency that you founded three years ago. What next?

A. I'm taking a couple of months out on gardening leave and then joining Ketchum in December as European digital and social media director.

Q. How do you measure personal success?

A. It's changed over time. It used to be money. Since I hit 40 it’s doing great work, curiosity, health and family.

Q. You give a lot of time to help others in the industry. Why?

A. The industry needs to shed its past as a craft and adopt the rigour of a profession with formal training and continuous professional development. Helping the industry grow up in any way I can is what gets me up in the morning.

Share This, the book I edited for the CIPR on digital and social media, was produced with this goal in mind. We’re almost certainly going to do a second version in some form for 2013.

Q. What’s your big prediction for the PR industry?

A. There is a danger that the PR industry could become irrelevant if doesn't take the opportunity created by media fragmentation and the shift to audience engagement enabled by the internet. Alternatively with leadership and a shift towards professional standards it could become better understood and respected as a management discipline and thrive.

Q. What’s the next big media change we’ll see?

A. A continuing fall in the audience for traditional media as audiences shift to digital media and social networks. It's a narrative that will continue to play out over the next decade. Amazon, Apple and Google will be the big media players of the future.

If you want a tip for this week, it would be make sure that you’ve got a profile on Google+. Here is mine. It’s a reputation engine that sits at core of Google’s search strategies.

Q. What do you do to relax?

A. I'm very fortunate. I split my time between work in London and beyond, and home in Northumberland. I thrive on the contrast.

Q. What gets you on your soapbox?

A. That anyone can set themselves up as a public relations practitioner without any training or qualifications. It's plainly nonsense and needs to be fixed.

Q. Name one good and one bad thing about PR in the North East.

A. I'm in my third year as chairman of Admiral PR. I've learnt about the local market on the job.

Good? There is some great world class work being undertaken by people that are passionate about their profession.

Bad? The economy is shrinking and the gut reaction of agency and in-house teams alike has been to do more for less rather than looking for new opportunities. All that does is accelerate the decline.

Q. What advice would you give to someone wanting to grow their business?

A. Passion and energy go an awful long way and from a practical perspective smile and turn up on time.

Q. What one thing can you always find in your cupboards?

A. Great question. Flour. I love pasta and bread baking.