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Judith O’Leary set up O’Leary PR in 2002 and rebranded to Represent in 2017. The firm now employs a team of ten and has a turnover of £450,000.
What does your company do?
Represent is an integrated PR and digital agency in Edinburgh, providing tailored communications strategy to clients in Scotland in beyond.
What do you do there / what is your role?
I am the Founder and Managing Director of Represent. My role is to inspire the team to deliver the best work as well as advising clients on how strategic communications can help their business to succeed.
What is your background?
I grew up on a farm in Ireland. Farming life wasn’t for me, although we now work with a lot of agricultural clients. I moved to Cambridge and worked with Cambridge University and then Comcast before moving to Scotland to join a PR agency as an account manager. I worked my way up to Country Manager running the Scottish division of the global comms agency before setting up my own agency in 2002, then known as O’Leary PR.
What was the aha moment that led to the company founding?
As what I did in my new company was similar to what I was doing before I didn’t have a eureka moment but I did spot ways in which I could innovate in terms of new services and products.
Why did you launch the company?
It was a mix of two things really – I was on maternity leave with my third child and I wasn’t ready to jump back into 12 hour days and lots of travel.
However, the real driver was a call I received from the brand manager of Huggies nappies at Kimberly Clark. They were looking for a new mum who could write engaging content and I had been recommended by a journalist. This was too good an opportunity to pass up – I set up the company, employed a great account executive and Represent (then O’Leary PR) was formed.
Within 12 months we were handling the PR for all Huggies nappy brands and wipes as well as projects for Kleenex. We were dynamic and worked with our clients on prioritising earned media over traditional advertising. Together we created great campaigns that achieved standout and drove sales.
As an agency, our combination of great people and simple processes meant we had a lot of fun – some things never change!
Where did you get assistance when you started?
I received very little assistance – 50% towards a computer from Business Gateway!
Give us a brief history of the growth of the company
We launched in 2002 working on a solo project – Kimberly Clark’s Huggies nappies. We impressed the client and soon we were working on other brands including Kleenex … and all from a small office in Fife.
I took on two members of staff and the business grew from there. In 2017, I took a decision to rebrand to Represent, move to Edinburgh and take on an Associate Director with FinTech experience who could help me grow the business.
Have you taken any external funding? If so from who and when?
No all is self-funded including buying our office in Calton Road.
So what does it look like now with regard to staff and turnover?
We are investing in technology and people and are very selective about who we bring on board – both in terms of clients and team members – it takes time to build trust after all.
We will continue to grow organically by focusing on growing our clients’ businesses – a true indicator of success for us.
What’s the difference between when you started and now in your marketplace?
Where do I start? Firstly sharing news is instantaneous – when I started, journalists who worked for publications were the only way of generating earned media – now influencers such as bloggers are hugely influential in spreading the word.
Social media has changed how we communicate and Google is hugely powerful – SEO and improving clients’ website domain authority is a key focus for us.
However while the channels have changed, the fundamentals of PR remain the same – awareness, understanding and credibility amongst your audiences. Whether your goal is to attract investment, sell more products or attract new clients you must first and foremost let them know you exist and then build a dialogue that creates trust.
What has changed is how audiences find their news – the principals of great content built around audience personas is still fundamental to successful engagement.
What are your goals for your business?
We want to build a reputation as the best PR and digital comms agency in Scotland – that way we will attract the best clients and the best people wanting to come and work for us. We do this by being curious, collaborative and resilient. Simple!
What are your biggest current challenges?
Taking the time to work on the business rather than in it – my comfort zone is doing the doing rather than sitting back and considering ‘what else’? That’s the only way I can drive business growth so I need to manage my time efficiently.
What has been the biggest challenge so far?
Finding the right team – when you’re busy there is a risk that you don’t take the time to find the perfect hire. I have a solid team with the grit, motivation and talent to make clients succeed and that’s what gets us up in the morning.
What do you know now that you wished you had known earlier?
That setting up a business takes so much energy and running it takes so much courage.
What’s the secret to good leadership?
Consistency and good communication with a huge dose of humour – it really does help!
Where do you see the company in five years?
It will be the best PR & digital comms agency in Edinburgh and if my dream is fulfilled we will have a Dublin office.
How can the Scottish startup/entrepreneur landscape be improved to help more businesses start up and grow?
The UK has a good record for startups but falls away in the scale-up league tables – that’s because we don’t have the support structure in place to give our entrepreneurs the resilience they need to last the course. Running a business is a marathon not a sprint and we see too many good businesses simply run out of steam.
Mentoring is hugely valuable as having the right person beside you guiding you through the pitfalls and helping you pick yourself up when things goes badly is worth its weight in gold.
Can you give us some numbers? Turnover, growth rate, etc.
Our team of ten includes account managers, designers, copy writers and an office manager who keeps us all in check! Turnover is £450k.
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