In the latest series of profile interviews, I interviewed the person who gave me my first job in PR; Claire Walker, CEO of Firefly Communications Group.
You have been in PR more than 30 years, what inspired you to set up your own agency?
What excited me about the world of PR is what I would call a turkey moment. That stemmed from when I was doing ‘temp’ work at Harrods. I was working with the Managing Directors office for the day, from there I was sent to the Radio and TV department to get a recording device and report back to the MD’s office. My job that day was to tune into all the radio and TV channels to record what he’d said to journalists. Why? because someone had injected all the turkeys on display before Christmas with something horrible. This was my first experience of PR.
What made me start up the agency was my father. He was self-employed and I thought it was something everyone did. The people I worked with at the time, Adrian Wheeler at Stirling, put great faith in me, and he discussed with me the possibility of setting up a sister agency. He actually put the thought into my head, I thought if he believes I can do this, I may give it a shot. That was the moment.
Why a technology PR agency?
Well my escape from Harrods was to a company called E-map who had an IT and business department. That is where I moved to. I was looking after all the computer titles and at the time I knew nothing about it, but I learn fast. I had no fear and an open mind to understand what these big machines do and how.
What lessons would you give to your younger self?
I would advise have no fear and no barriers. I always thought I was young and people would think I would be guessing what I was doing, but I probably always did know what I was doing but just lacked confidence. No-one really cares how old you are if you are old or young, if you have something to contribute – speak up. You prove yourself through what you can do and the results you get.
The first big client?
I was lucky when I set up the agency, some of the clients I had been working with decided to move with me. Those companies were really tiny start-up companies that no one had heard of. One of them was called Dell and the other Oracle! So, I managed to find myself in a situation with a start-up communications company working for two companies that would be the backbone for the IT and tech industries for decades to come.
How challenging was it working with two household names?
It wasn’t challenging, it was incredibly fun. We worked with Dell for nearly 6 years and I worked with Oracle for over 10 years.
What for you has been the biggest professional challenge?
Well some of those (brands) as I spent the whole time keeping them out of the media. Handling a crisis and I have handled very many and continue to do so to this day, those are the biggest challenges.
When did you feel you made it?
After I had survived my probation period working with Adrian at Sterling, I expected to get the tap on the shoulder and leave by the backdoor. I thought I was going to get fired as I over sold myself at the interview, but the tap never came.
What makes a good PR?
Tenacity in terms of personal attributes and curiosity to constantly learn about your clients and what they are doing and where the market is going. Be prepared to work hard as success doesn’t come easily and you have to improve all the time.
What is the ethos of your company?
Our ethos has changed because I would like to consider I am true to myself and my plan was to hire talented people, nurture them and bring them on. That hasn’t changed, more than a couple of decades ago we decided to be the strongest in Europe that is why we have offices in the three largest European economies. We are still there and still in the tech space because we love it.
What is the plan in the next few years for the agency?
With all the Brexit nonsense going on a lot of people have asked what we are going to do. I got a lot more serious about Europe and I promised to look after our subsidiaries in Paris and in Munich. Never has Firefly been so together than we are now. We want to grow, the tech industry is storming we want to be bigger and want to be stronger.