What personal public relations means to me

About the author

Our guest authors are what make PR Place such a vibrant hub of information, exploration and learning.

Rich Leigh
Rich Leigh

This is an article by Rich Leigh.   

To introduce myself, my name’s Rich Leigh. I started PR stunt and campaign website PRexamples.com, and have co-founded blogger database bloggabase.

I’ve very recently started my own PR agency, (the ingeniously named, I might add) Rich Leigh & Company – which, when I see it in black and white, seems utterly ridiculous and grown up.

I mean, recently, a friend had, shall we say, a rather delicate operation and I have done nothing but send him images of fruit and veg with the end chopped off.

To run an agency and employ people? To have a couple of kids? I’ll be found out soon, I’m sure of it.

Anyway, I’ve worked in PR for seven or so years, learning the trade first at 10 Yetis PR Agency in my hometown of Gloucester and then at Frank PR in London, where I was a senior account director. I’ve been very fortunate to lead the accounts of and campaigns for some great brands and organisations, including Premier Inn, Just-Eat, Paddy Power, IKEA and Gocompare.com.

My experience is predominantly in consumer PR, with a healthy mix of B2B thrown in.

Alongside brand work, I’ve decided that I’d like personal PR to be a key focus of my new agency.

I’ve said it so many times I got to thinking – do people even know what I mean by that? So I asked Richard Bailey if he might like me to write something about personal PR, given it’s not an area many get experience in. As far as I know, it’s not something that’s particularly touched upon in PR courses and it took me a couple of years before I really encountered it.

So… yeah. This is that.

Personal PR – what is it?

As I use the term, personal PR could also be described as celebrity PR or publicity. Kind of.

In short, it relates to helping individuals become better known, helping them manage their profile and creating and deciding upon the right opportunities for them, based on the considered objectives.

The reason I’ve been careful to avoid the C word – ‘celebrity’, you filthy lot – is this: I have a huge issue with what constitutes a celebrity in our society.

Fame for fame’s sake is utterly, utterly pointless. It’s fleeting, soulless and ultimately in my mind, that person is taking the spot of somebody better deserving. It’s a fact that twice as many Twitter users talked about Kim Kardashian baring her ass last month versus the Rosetta comet landing.

I’m only interested in working with interesting, inspirational and talented people.

They may very well be ‘celebrities’ in that many people know of them, but they’re the sort of people that understand that fame is the by-product of talent and/or success, and that their craft or focus is what matters. Call it snobby, but I want my kids looking up to people that do more than eat kangaroo bollocks for five minutes on TV.

So, what do I do once I have such a person?

What does personal PR achieve?

I understand what it is they need and where we’d like them to be and, as with brand PR, I work backwards from there.

One of my clients – adventurer Jamie McDonald – is a fundraiser, so everything I do should be related to increasing the funds we raise. Every single media opportunity must relate to this. Even if it’s a profile piece about him, the aim is, people read, watch or listen and will, then or at some stage, donate or at least share the story.

Another client – Mark Pearson – is a very successful entrepreneur who recently sold his business for £55m. He is an active investor, with a portfolio worth £6m+, and one of my main aims is to help him stand out and be the person other entrepreneurs look up to and wish they had on their side. This means better quality pitches and therefore better investment opportunities for him.

The thing that excites me about personal PR is that it gives you an opportunity to tell a story.

Both of the above people have incredible back-stories. Reasons they are where they are. But my job is to delve into that, piece it together and communicate it in a way that the public will relate to and also, simplify it in a way the press will a) give me the time to explain and b) relay to its audience. Taking Jamie as an example, there are plenty of people doing crazy challenges around the world and PR (or the absence of it) is why they’re not better known. Jamie very kindly says so himself.

The difference here between personal PR and brand PR is that not every brand has a story worth telling.

Most businesses are started because the person either feels strongly enough about an issue to try to change it OR, as is much more common, hasspotted a way to make money. And believe me, the latter group are the hardest clients to get the press and public behind.

That’s not to say getting press for these clients is hard – it often isn’t – it’s just, like the people that will do literally anything to be famous, the publicity gained is masturbatory. It serves next to no purpose and achieves even less.

So, having identified what it is we want to get out of working together – it might be increasing the value of commissions, as in the case of my (ridiculously talented) art client Paul Oz, selling more books, securing acting roles or a myriad of other reasons – I get to work making it happen.

And my next thought after understanding the goal, again, very similarly to brand PR, is: who do I need to reach?

Building an army

I call this bit – and yes, I get that it’s corny – building an army. Who will rally around this person and why?

Will they support them, fight their battles, share their successes and do whatever it is we’re setting out to achieve?

For 34 year old entrepreneur Mark, who as I touched on, really does have a great story, I consider – who’ll be moved by who he is and what he’s achieved? He’s a successful young British tech entrepreneur – so that’s one group of people; current and aspiring entrepreneurs.

He’s come from a very similar background to me, in that life was less than rosy growing up – so there’s another group of people: the disadvantaged and at risk. He’s a gay father of surrogate twins, prominent for his business success – there’s another group of people.

So, once I understand who our army will consist of, every single thing we say or share on social media and every journalist or producer I talk to comes back to them.

If it doesn’t relate – we don’t say or do it. With fundraising adventurer Jamie, once he returned from running across Canada to give back to the charities that helped him as a kid, a few reality TV opportunities came in. Were they a quick way to reach millions of people? Yes. Could they have made him a quick buck? Yep. Were they the right thing to do? Not a chance.

I’d say ‘would Beckham do this? Would Sir Ranulph Fiennes say yes? If not, it should be a no’.

Personal PR is much more than getting somebody in the media – as I say, once you know how, this becomes scarily easy, you could be ‘famous’ within 48 hours if you had the inclination – it’s about creating and making the best of opportunities.

Before I launched the agency, I was conscious that I might expose too much by talking about personal PR. That we, of course, want everything to appear organic and un-manipulated but, after months considering it, I realised this: every single thing you see, read or listen to is edited to benefit somebody or more than one somebody.

What if that somebody is interesting, inspirational and talented enough to deserve the attention?

Well, at the very least, it’s no worse than what’s already happening and at best I’m diluting the pool, will have happy, successful clients and will, as I wish I would have had, highlight role models to people that might be desperate for somebody to look up to that wouldn’t sell their Nan for a spot on Big Brother.

That’s what personal PR means to me.