Prospect presents Rachel Bell, CEO and founder of award-winning communications and PR agency, Shine Communications

Q. As Shine moves into its 18th year, what have you got up your sleeve for 2015?

Off the back of a lot of agencies recognising the importance of bought, owned and earned media, Shine has taken that a step further in terms of focusing on how social and PR, working together is a real powerhouse for driving SEO and search. That’s become a real income driver for the business and actually, a real passion point for clients, where they realise that PR really is fast becoming the biggest driver for organic search and it’s a big part of their focus.

As a consequence of that, we’ve really boosted our digital offering with a team that has continued to expand and our integration across on and offline has really been the tipping point of some of our best creative work, especially for the likes of Lil-Lets and Karcher last year. 

I’m particularly proud of these, as they both won PR Week and PRCA Awards for Best Integrated Campaign and have shown that working across these three mediums of social, search and traditional PR is allowing us to pick up industry leading recognition for our sector.

The other thing that has made a real difference for us, which is something that we have pioneered for a long time and been real thought-leaders in is the whole area of evaluation and moving from outcome, rather than output measures. It is something that clients have continued to appreciate and, one that we are continuing to build upon. Last year’s launch of our Brand Econometrics model allowed us to do such innovative work for Plan UK and this has been passed on to other clients to allow us to link commercial success back to PR.

The last thing to mention is innovation, it has been a brilliant period for us to drive this forward. Lawrence Collis took over the Managing Director role and, as a consequence, has spearheaded the creation of The Hive with other leading innovators, Studio Output and The Tech Department. The Hive looks at innovation within technology and provides a networking forum for CTOs to access the latest in technological advances.

This isn’t just a passion point for Lawrence; it has brilliant opportunities for brands and us as an agency. 

Q. You’ve had experience of setting up a further seven businesses outside of Shine – what advice would you give to someone thinking of launching their own project?

I believe the secret to building a great business is building a great brand. Marketing companies is to heed the saying “the cobbler's children have no shoes”. For an industry all about telling a brand story, I think companies can sometimes forget to put a real strong sense of brand at the very heart of their own business. 

I feel, from Shine’s perspective, that we were one of the big innovators in this area in terms of putting really clear and strong brand values and ethos at the heart of the business. It was one of the most significant ways that people were able to know and trust us as marketers and, a company as a whole. It has been one of the driving forces behind our success as a business and is the common thread between each of the companies I’ve been a co-founder of.

Q. Your ethos really is focused on happy teams – how do you motivate and inspire the Shiners?

When I started Shine it was born out of a desire to build a business where people felt they could really and truly ‘shine’ and do their best work in an environment where they are listened to and their voice is heard. For Shine it is always people first.

I seek to create a collaborative, energised, passionate and restless environment where people feel empowered, mobilised and enthusiastic enough to find their own voice. I think that that is one of the things that, for me, Shine does incredibly well.

It is that atmosphere we foster that gives people the chance to do their best work, which obviously has a massive impact and benefit for our clients and, in turn, has a great impact on the bottom line. 

Q. You’ve had a really successful PR career – as you moved away from the day to day PR business and brought in MD’s, what did you miss the most (and what do you insist on always doing yourself)?

I don’t think they gave me a great deal of opportunity to miss too much, if I’m honest! 

I feel like I’m still very much involved in the cut and thrust of agency life and what’s going on on a day-to-day basis. Last year I took on a role of Client Services Director, which I really love, because there was probably a point where I wasn’t getting to spend as much time as I liked with clients. 

My personal passion point is nurturing talent.

Q. You’re renowned for doing a great interview and getting buy in straight away, why is that?

I see interviewing as such an important part of what I do. A huge part of my day-to-day job is meeting, sussing out and finding the very best talent in the industry and, we’ve had a phenomenal track record in finding and identifying and developing industry-leading talent. 

I think primarily, this is evident in the amount of businesses we have started out of Shine, by surfacing that talent, taking it to the top of the business and then co-creating start-ups such as Mischief, John Doe and Aduro. 

Shine was born out of an entrepreneurial spirit and, it is a great breeding ground for those that have the same attitude. 

We spend an awful lot of time thinking and worrying about investigating the very best talent in the market. There are two key qualities we are looking for; the first is simply best in class - in terms of aptitude and core skills. But, the second is the intangible stuff… because what we really want is to find people we love spending time with. 

It is about finding people that can sit amongst us and have a similar value set, so that we know our clients will love working with them and we’ll enjoy and value working with each other.

For that reason really, I find the interviewing process massively enjoyable, great fun and it’s genuinely a pleasure.

Q. Why do you think Shine is one of those agencies that have always managed to stay modern and current?

I think primarily it comes back to having a fantastic, engaged and motivated team who are encouraged to share their views and opinions. 

It is by taking that diverse set of insights from every level within the business and keeping everyone in the company involved in the process that keeps us on the front edge of everything. 

A company is only as good as the sum of its parts and our business is all about people. Therefore, I have to put the fact that we stay current down to the calibre of people we attract and the way that they share their ideas and deliver them.

Q. Tell us how you juggle family life and business life so you get the right balance?

Work-life balance is a bit like a bar of soap. You know as soon as you get hold of it, it slips and slides out of your hand.

I don’t personally think there is this utopian balance that people seek, however having big drives around both is really important if you are going to satisfy both things that are really important. I try and give 100% focus to whichever mode I’m in, be that mother or marketer at any given time of day. 

Q. What one bit of technology could you not live without?

I don’t know if this answers, “I couldn’t live without it” because obviously I could! However, I have to say I really enjoy my Sky+ button. 

Q. If you had to save one possession, what would it be?

Easy! I’d have to save my family album with all the pictures of my kids. I think I could carry more than one, so there would be a stack of albums! 

Q. What are your most used apps and why?

I recently downloaded a great app called EasilyDo, which I love because it allows me to sync and integrate all my contacts. I’ve recently been quite engrossed by a brain training app called Peak.

Q. Best place to take your team for a good social?

We do a lot of socialising at Shine and every month the team suggests a new or different pub or bar in the area to visit… and off we go.

Shine’s is an annual Away Days are quite legendary! 

Everyone goes offsite, turns their emails off and stays for the night. It culminates in us delivering next year’s business objectives back to the full team, who share in making it all possible. There might be some drinking involved too… Hmmm. Hmmm. <winks>

Q. What do you think of PR Week PowerBook? 

Obviously I think it is great that people of influence are being recognised in the industry but, I feel that the principle flaw in it, from an agency perspective, that it only focuses on the MD’s or bosses of PR agencies. 

In that regard, I truly feel it sells some of the industry’s brightest talents short. There are so many fantastic, talented people working in this industry, particularly the creatives. If they are not running an agency, the industry’s creatives can find it difficult to be acknowledged or recognised for their contribution.

Secondly, it associates you, if you are an agency boss, with one agency solely and you are the CEO or MD of that agency. For me, having started four shortlisted Best New Agencies (Shine, Mischief, John Doe and Aduro) and three shortlisted Best Agencies (Shine, Mischief and John Doe) in the industry; that somehow sells my abilities and record short in terms of my broader reach and influence.

Q. Tell us a secret…

I’m an ex county gymnast.


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