Reflections of a CIPR Gold Award winner: Managing a successful agency requires a wider team effort

Sarah Hall Consulting (SHC) is a progressive public relations agency based in the North of England, built to serve clients and their publics. It’s an award winner.

SHC has been named CIPR North East small agency of the year for 2016. I owe a lot of people thanks for their help along the way.

I established the business in 2009 and have grown it around my lifestyle as a mother of young children, however this has in no way been a limiting factor on turnover, growth or profitability. In fact it’s been exactly the opposite.

We’ve challenged conventional working patterns and the traditional agency business model from the outset.

SHC delivers public relations as a strategic management discipline, aligning campaigns to business objectives and reporting at board level.

The agency uses modern planning techniques and workflow to deliver campaigns across earned, paid, owned and social media.

In the last three years the business has evolved in response to the need for agile working to serve client needs.

With a core team of ten, each team member typically dedicates 25 to 40% of their time to the business, alongside other activities or parenting.

Some prefer to work outside of normal office hours, enabling us to provide a seamless round the clock service.

We manage SHC using modern technology and workflow, including messaging, shared documents and cloud storage.

Client works

SHC’s appointment onto the North East Combined Authority framework has seen it win work with the North East LEP and Invest North East England.

The team works with Health Education nationally and with two health trusts in the North. In 2016 SHC has competitively pitched for and secured retained contracts with two growing North East professional services firms, two hospitality businesses, an online fashion retailer and a newly launched charity.

The team has completed an audit for Active Northumberland and project work for Theatre Royal, among others.

Commitment to professionalism

SHC team members are CIPR and NUJ members and participate in continuous professional development (CPD).

I was the first practitioner in the North East to achieve Chartered status, and am a past chair of the CIPR’s Professional Practices Committee, which sets and upholds industry standards. In 2017 I’ll become the CIPR’s President-Elect, taking up its highest office the year after.

My non-exec experience has been supplemented through my role as a Trustee for the Sunshine Fund here in the North East.

The agency uses the Global Alliance competency framework as the basis of the development of individual skills and the expertise of the team. This includes a focus on business, management and financial knowledge, as expected from senior public relations practitioners.

Every member of the SHC team is coached through quarterly meetings and is expected to be well versed in the latest industry thinking, tools and developments such as #PRStack and #FuturePRoof.

Leading the profession

In the past three years, SHC has helped to change perception of public relations.

I led a group of 35 people in Summer 2015 to create a community called #FuturePRoof. Experts such as Professor Anne Gregory, Stephen Waddington, and Dr Jon White contributed to the project. It exists as a book, website and social media communities on Facebook and Twitter.

The project kickstarted the biggest ever conversation in the UK about the future of public relations. More than 2,000 copies of the book have been downloaded for free, and sold in print.

A second edition was published in 2016, with another in the works for 2017.

Thank you

I’m often asked to go for coffee by people who want to know how I do it all. The fact is I don’t. I have a fantastic team around me; not just my colleagues, but people who keep me sane personally.

My mum flies in from France at school holidays (and in summer I remote work from hers), and my sister Emma regularly steps in when help’s required. I have a great group of friends who rally frequently. 

I have amazing childcare in the shape of a lady called Ruth Thompson whose flexibility and reliability knows no bounds. Sue Neal from Coastal Canines takes my cocker spaniel Madge for days and even nights where required and deserves a medal for allowing me to change my bookings on an almost daily basis.

Last but not least is Stephen Waddington who has informally acted as a mentor for me for a couple of years now. This year our relationship evolved and we’re now together personally. I couldn’t do any of this without his vision, drive and support.

Thanks to everyone who has supported me throughout this year. It’s been much appreciated and I wish you all the best for 2017.