Gay Bell, founder and CEO of Platform Communications, talks about why she founded the agency, changes in the tech sector and how she commits to ensure staff are happy and motivated.
Why did you decide to found Platform Communications?
By the time I started Platform Communications, I already had over a decade of experience leading communications strategies for some of the world’s major technology innovators.
I was running FleishmanHillard’s European technology PR practice, and realised I wanted to get closer to clients, especially the innovative tech start-ups that were illuminating the early 90s, and be part of their journey. Building my own agency and doing things differently felt like the right route to go.
The technology, media and telecoms industries are highly competitive and disruptive markets – and that’s why they are so exciting to work in. By founding Platform, I felt there was an opportunity to create a PR business that offered clients senior communications counsel, with deep market expertise, to help these businesses really stand out in what is a competitive and disruptive market.
How has the business changed since you founded it?
Firstly, the media technology industry has changed and so has our client base. Technology is a great enabler – today people are engaging with media through smartphones, from on demand TV services through to social media platforms. Our client base has expanded to include new market entrants and companies that drive these shifts.
The PR and comms industry has also changed. We started out as Platform PR, but in early 2017 we decided to rebrand to Platform Communications. What we offer clients goes much further than media relations. Rebranding the agency was a chance to refresh the brand, but most importantly, better represent the breadth of our service offering.
You’ve been able to retain high retention rates at Platform, what do you do to keep your team happy and motivated?
We try hard to be a great place to work. Our culture is inclusive and we’ve created a good work-life balance with policies like flexi-working, tolerance to personal needs and being fair.
We favour ‘home grown talent’ and promoting from within. Our employees are motivated by learning and progressing. Our senior team is very hands-on and able to work closely with junior team members to help them develop. We also offer ongoing internal training run by senior staff members on top of external training.
It’s important to reward team members for outstanding work – be that winning a prize in the monthly staff meetings or working towards a promotion. And of course, to top it all off we always celebrate everyone’s hard work by putting on a great Summer and Christmas party!
Speaking of staffing, one of your big bugbears is unpaid work placements in PR. Why do you believe paid placements are better and how do companies which would argue they can’t afford to pay interns go about creating paid opportunities?
If you a run a business that is dependent on the talent and hard work of the people you employ, then you should treat them well – and that means paying all of them. If you can’t afford to pay for an intern, then you need to question the validity of your business model.
Paid internships benefit organisations by opening up the talent pool and attracting applicants from lower socio-economic groups who have different life experiences. Also, when you pay an employee for their time, they naturally respect it more. In a ‘people industry’, we must value people more and put them at the top of our business agendas.
What other benefits could paying interns have for the industry?
Paying interns sends out a positive message to current staff and potential candidates. It shows that you value every person in your company and believe that a job well done should be rewarded. It can also fuel a pipeline of junior talent, who you know are engaged and want the job.
How do you measure your PR output?
The way we measure our integrated communications programmes depends on what the client is trying to achieve. Do they want to attract new business? Are they trying to drive attendance to an event?
We use a lot of competitor benchmarking to track where our clients are positioned in the industry and how communications are making an impact.
Finally, what is your outlook for the comms industry?
I believe the comms industry will change massively over the next decade. The emergence of technologies such as AI and machine learning will really shape how we can target and track the stakeholder journey and that insight will educate how, when and where we make connections and in what ways. We are already using tactics like this in some of our content driven comms programmes and the results are very compelling.
That said, I don’t think we are all going to be replaced by robots any time soon. PR is a creative people business. Getting the right people and maintaining a healthy talent pipeline is crucial for the future of the industry, another reason why I believe we will see more support for paid internships to help attract new talent, driven by organisations like the PRCA.