Heather Turnbull There's no place like Home

 

You could consider Home Studios a startup and you’d be right, the East London PR agency was founded by owner Heather Turnbull three years ago but with international brands Sandqvist, Edwin and the London menswear trade show Jacket Required, they understand the new wave of brand communications more than anyone.

In this interview, we ask Heather what is means to be running a successful London PR agency, transitioning from freelance to full time girl boss, lessons learnt to becoming a PR that gets their brands featured and the necessity of knowing kindness in a cut throat industry.

 


What made you want to start your own startup? How did you start?

Like everyone in their late 20's, I was having a hard time figuring out what I wanted to do, trying to balance work life and all the things I wanted to do in my personal life. I've never been very good at normal 9 - 5 jobs and I wanted to find a bit of freedom from a normal day to day PR job. I started freelancing and built it all from there. I didn't have a single penny to start this business and was completely alone in doing so,  everything that Home Studios is built from was money I was making from freelancing and consulting, in hindsight I really put my neck on the line, but at the time it seemed like the only viable step to take in my career.


What does a typical day look like running a PR studio?

It can be pretty varied, from shooting social media content in our studio to pitching stories out to press and chasing coverage. We have an all girl power team right now so we're a multi-tasking dream. There's no typical day in PR, you can be on a look book shoot one day or travelling overseas for line reviews the next.


What did the early years of Home Studios look like? Was it all parties and press trips?

My God no, I wish! The early years was all tears and chronic anxiety! All jokes aside, it was really hard. I was permanently broke and under real pressure to make things work, not just for myself, but the clients that took a chance with me. I don't think enough young businesses in this industry admit to how hard it can be starting your own thing. It seems easier to project this image, especially over social media, that you're constantly killing it. These days Home Studios is more about press trips and parties but it was a hard slog to get here.


What traits do you look for in the brands Home Studio takes on?

I love brands that have intent and consider the kind of impact they want to have in the world. For example brands we work with such as Sandqvist, who are committed to finding ethical and responsible ways of running their business in it's entirety, and Truss, who do wonderful work in Mexico preserving and encouraging the growth of artisanal trades in Oaxaca, and supporting the Fondo Guadalupe Muslem's work to educate underprivileged Oaxacan women. For me these 'traits' make what can sometimes be an extremely vacuous job more substantial, it's great to have a story and heritage but my attraction is to the brands that are looking for longevity not instant and fleeting success.


Have you thought about starting your own brand?

It's funny because before I started working in PR I was making props and accessories for catwalk shows whilst working as a brand manager for a commercial accessories label, so I did think that maybe it would be in my future. However, after working with so many small brands and seeing the struggles first hand, I think I'm happier on the other side of it all!



What is success for brands in 2016? Is it in mainstream or cultural notoriety?

Success in 2016 is doing what feels right for your brand and making sure you can stay afloat to produce another collection! Cultural notoriety seems to mean so much less in these times where social media numbers are the tools that are used to measure your credibility. We only have to look at the absolute desperation for brands to feature on certain 'hype' sites that they think will give them some sort of seal of approval. Sadly, the truth is you have your 15 minutes of fame and then you disappear into the internet abyss, probably only to be insulted by 15 year-olds in the comments section.

Mainstream success isn't selling out when you cultivate it in the right way, which is why it's important to have some substance behind your brand so you have something real to talk about and share with your audience.


How has PR evolved over the past 5 years?

Compared to other agency owners, I can obviously only speak with limited oversight, but social media has played sure a huge part in changing the roles of PR's over the last few years. The immediacy in which people are able to access information about brands now eliminates a huge part of what our job used to be about. Brands are able to be so direct with their consumers and even the press that as PR's we need to be more creative in the way we create campaigns and brand experiences.


How does Home Studios stay relevant in changing trends?

We're a very young business so I can't say that we have the years to speak honestly about how we stay relevant, however as an agency we've tried to evolve with the times such as looking at ways to utilise social media, digital platforms and influencer outreach. Offering services that offer a certain type of brand communication attracts certain types of brands. I'm sure if we have this conversation again in 6 years time we'll have a different mix of brands offering the same communications service, just utilising different tools.


How has the past twelve months changed at Home Studios?

The PR industry has the most volatile climate. Brands are affected by so many different elements that in turn affect you as an agency, a brand's successes are yours, as are their failings. There has been so many ups and downs but I think the most positive change has been my wonderful team, it's really rewarding to develop a business with people who are so committed.



What would be your advice for a young person starting out who wants to create their own unique business?

I think I'd encourage anyone thinking about starting their own business to really consider what their long term plan is. There are so many ups and downs with starting your own thing that you have to be prepared to stick with it even in the worst of times. Also be respectful to all the people you come into contact with -  you need to develop relationships from a good place so that you're treated like a professional! As a young female starting your own business it's particularly hard because people will always patronise you and question your abilities in ways they would never do to your male counterpart, I've had so many experiences where had I not been female I would have been treated completely differently! Its something you can't change but you have to learn to handle it with grace and always stand your ground.


What 4 things should you always remember when working in PR?
1. Be knowledgeable about all aspects of your industry. A good PR should be able to name every single person on the fashion team at every magazine or newspaper, be able to reference successful PR campaigns and have great relationships with industry / social influencers. Its not just about throwing parties and taking people for breakfast. Do your research and really know what your job is about!

2. Be nice to all the fashion assistants, interns, aspiring fashion writers you meet along way. One day they might be the editor of Vogue and then you'll be sorry you refused to loan them a jacket or answer their emails in 2012.

3. Have a sense of humour. Fashion is like navigating your way through an episode of Nathan Barley (no-one born in the 90's will know what I'm talking about here). Fashion is ridiculous and the people in it can be crazy and vicious. Don't let it keep you up at night... Something I'm still working on.

4. The industry is small, people talk, behave yourself.





Do you find it difficult to differentiate Home Studios the brand from other PR Agencies?

I try and not worry myself or my business with what other agencies are doing. Of course it's important to stay informed of the movements other similar businesses are making, but I just stay focused on what we want to achieve. Competitiveness is healthy but it can also be consuming, so I try not to take the inevitable successes and failings of competing with other agencies in such a small industry too personally.

What has been the biggest obstacle in entering an entrepreneurial phase of your career and how did you overcome it?

The hard part is developing who you are in business as opposed to who you are in your personal life. In the beginning, I found the mentality I saw in other people in this industry hard to deal with - that dog-eat-dog attitude, the attitude that if someone doesn't have anything to offer you then you don't need to bother with them. You have to get tough when your business is your livelihood and make hard decisions, there's no time for emotions! I think after a while I found a way to conduct my business-self in a way that didn't go against my beliefs. It's easy to lose yourself in fashion and get swept up by all the bravado and egos, so you really need to keep things in perspective.

What are the best and worst parts of being your own boss?

The worst, maybe not the worst, but the hardest part is the responsibility. Responsibility for your staff and to your clients. In this job you are faced with so many make or break situations it can really put the weight of the world on your shoulders. The best part is when you have a happy client when something big comes off for them, especially with small brands, you can see how much it means to them to have people recognise their hard work.

What's your personal mantra?

Be kind, you never know when you might need that kindness returned.


Faye wears: Edwin and Tuza Jewellery / Taylah wears: P.A.M @ pam pam and Edwin

Home1

 Naomi wears: Bethnals and own vintage jacket / Grayson - all clothes models own :)



GET IN TOUCH WITH HEATHER: Home Studios

Photography: James Clothier
 Words: Mary-Jane Gotidoc