There are certain men out there that – as soon as you meet them – they make you immediately want to bump into them when you are desperate for driving directions: Andrew Bloch is one of them. Calm, confident, clever and funny, he reminds me of the four-quarters cake, as the four main ingredients of his personality are used in equal amounts.
You don’t – as a matter of fact – usually meet many people who happen to be, for example, both clever and calm: clever people are often arrogant as shit, just like me. On the other hand, confident people are never calm and, more often than not, calm people are just scared as hell of their own shadows. To end with, some so-called funny people may easily do things like following Kim Kardashian on Instagram or putting pineapple on
their my pizza. Trust me, you won’t find many people around who hold all these four amazing qualities in equal amounts, like my guest today.
Andrew is the founder of a multi-award-winning consumer PR agency called Frank. He has also been named by Tweetlevel as the most influential PR person on Twitter and acts as a spokesman for Amstrad founder, serial entrepreneur and BBC Apprentice star Lord Alan Sugar, who had been one of my heroes for such a long while.
Andrew and I had been exchanging emails arranging interviews with The Apprentice winners for ages, but we’d never had the chance to speak before, so I got quite nervous prior to the chat.
Now, there is only one single thing that makes me nervous prior to a chat: it’s when I have a lot of respect and appreciation for my interviewee’s work. You know, when I see something they have
done written, and I regret not being me the author: every time I think that I didn’t get the chance to meet The Catcher in the Rye ‘s author J.D. Salinger before he died in 2010 aged 91, I realise that had I met him, I would have probably collapsed on the floor like a phony. Sometimes I barely believe that there was a time, before the 16th of July 1951, when The Catcher in the Rye didn’t exist: for me, it’s like if that book was created with and by the goddam Universe.
That kills me.
It really does.
When it comes to Andrew Bloch, in addition to a genuine appreciation for his creativity and professionality, literally each and every time I log on Twitter, I cannot resist by getting charmed and amused by what he writes and shares.
Andrew’s got the ability to spot the ridiculousness and amazement of life and presents it all to you in plain British humour through brilliant tweets and ideas. Originally, he aimed for a career in the advertising industry, but fell in love with consumer public relations as soon as he got his first PR work placement at Lynne Franks PR in 1995; three years later, the company was acquired by Ketchum, and Andrew eventually left the agency in 2000 as an associate director of the Sports and Entertainment divisions. He went on co-founding Frank PR (this is how the agency was called before they dropped the PR from the title) alongside his colleague Graham Goodkind. Over his career, he has worked for clients such as Coca-Cola, The BAFTAs and the Spice Girls.
As I get him on the phone, I cannot see his eyes shining as he talks about his job and industry, but I do perfectly feel how much true love he puts in what he does.
And you know what?
True love is what moves the world.
Hi Andrew, it’s amazing to be talking with you, finally!
I know, it’s been a long time, I feel like if I know you already!
I’m so happy about this interview… and because I’ve got so many things to ask, I separated the questions into three different topics, being Twitter, the PR industry and, of course, yourself…
Sure! Ask whatever you want.
I’ve already read pretty much everything that’s available about you and all the interviews you gave to other magazines and blogs about your career and the moment you started Frank PR… so the first question I’ve got is: when did you exactly realise that you wanted to do this, on your own, with your co-founder?
That’s a good question. I think people who have an entrepreneurial spirit always know that one day they want to do something, but what often holds you back is that feeling of not being ready to do it and wanting to get more experience. And that was certainly the case with me: I was in a job, I was doing well, I was happy and I was progressing, and then Graham – who is the guy who I eventually set up Frank PR with had left, so I was working with him previously, but wasn’t working with him at that moment in time. He approached me with the idea of setting up Frank, and I remember saying Graham “I love it, sounds brilliant, but I don’t think I’m ready”, and he said to me “You are ready… you’re never going to feel ready, so let’s just do it”. And, you know, I went through that process of thinking “what’s the worst that could happen?” Which may sound like a bit of a negative starting place for doing something and starting something off… but I’ve always been relatively cautious as a person.
Great way of thinking.
So, you know what, the worst that can happen is that it doesn’t work out how I had hoped and hopefully I’m still employable so I can go back to my previous job… but it was Graham that was the person that gave me the confidence to do what I did, and I think this is what I would say to anyone thinking about starting up and maybe thinking about whether they’re ready to do it now or if this is the right time and maybe worrying about the practical economic matters… if you’ve got a good idea, you’ve got hunger, you’ve got passion and the drive, I would say to them that the best time to launch something is now – and that you should never feel like you’re not ready to do it: this is definitely the learning that I had.
What was your dream job as a child?
My A-Level Art teacher, Stuart Todhunter, told me that I would be good at advertising. I clung on to this thought for many years. No one had ever told me that I would be good at anything before, so this was an important piece of advice for me. The last piece of advice I had, was when I took a multiple choice careers quiz at school some years earlier which informed me I would make a great fireman. I didn’t really fancy that! A certain move beyond wanting to be a fireman or a footballer was that. Since that point, I always wanted to go into the advertising industry, and that was my dream. That had always been my dream job, and actually, when I left University where I studied Management I set out to try to get that job in advertising, which was a pretty long application process…
A shortlisting process…
I went through various stages and form-filling, interviews, assessment days… and while I was doing that, someone else said to me “Why don’t you try PR? That’s similar”. I just wanted to start working. So I applied for some PR agencies as well, not really knowing too much about what PR was, if I’m being honest, and one of the companies that I applied to, Lynne Franks PR, invited me to do a work placement, which was unpaid.
Yeah, I read about this!
Yeah, so I just thought, you know what? Just give it a go, I will just keep my days busy and it will give me something to do… and then I fell in love with it!
So, that was the moment you realised that PR was your thing, but I mean: why PR? You write so well, you’ve got such a creative mind that might have been a writer, or a journalist, or a novelist… I don’t know…
Funnily enough, writing is not my strength!
Oh, come on!
Well, I think I’ve got a good eye for a story and what makes the story, but the reason I like Twitter is because you only have 280 characters to play around with, so it doesn’t require too much writing, but if you sit me down and ask me to write a short piece or something like that, I find it much more challenging. But I fell into Lynne Franks PR and I was very lucky, because, with the years of experience I’ve got now, I can look back and say that was the right agency for me, it was very very creative, doing amazing work, culture-wise was a perfect fit for me… and that was luck. And the thing I fell in love with in PR, and it’s still the bit of PR that I love, it’s the pace: it’s so quick, and you can have an idea in the shower at 6 AM in the morning, and by 7 AM the idea has gone to a client, and then by 8 AM it has gone live.
A very quick process…
Yes, and technology has made the pace of it even quicker than it was when I started out, and I love that. In what I do, in the area I work in, which is consumer and brand PR, one day you do an energy drink, the next day you’re doing a sports sponsorship, the next day… well, not even the next day, hour by hour you work for different brands, in different industries, and you can never get bored by this, and that’s brilliant. I never look at my work in a way that… just – well, it sounds really really cheesy – but if you can find a job that you love, it doesn’t feel like you’re working.
I completely agree.
That’s the blessing. You spend so much time of your life in the work environment, so, to have been able to find something that I genuinely really do enjoy is a great thing. I was lucky to find something that I enjoyed and that secondly I was good at.
Haha, so, well, the thing about working in this industry is that when you’re starting out and you try to get noticed, you don’t really have a great deal to offer apart from your enthusiasm and your energy, and there are lots of people out there that are doing work placements, so I wanted them to give me the responsibility to get media coverage for their client BT Pagers. The client was desperate to get media coverage, and they couldn’t. So I came up with this idea which was that using a pager would have been a good way to carry out a discreet illicit affair, so quite fun. It was the time when Prince Charles allegedly had an affair with Camilla…. so, I’m going back to 1995. I came up with this idea of fun messages Charles might have sent to his mistress through a pager, received via BT’s call centres.
I was just totally naïve to the approval process, and getting client approval – I ran it past my manager but unbeknown to me, she never discussed it with the client. The press release went out, and the next day we scored a full page in The Sun, and no one could believe it, everyone was delighted and said it was amazing, even the client was over the moon. But the bit that no one had really thought of – certainly not me – was the fact that BT was also a sponsor of marriage counselling charity Relate, so it wasn’t really the right thing for them to be talking about, it was inappropriate, it was an alleged affair, it wasn’t a story. So someone somewhere complained, and the next day we got a letter that came through a fax machine, and it was from Buckingham Palace to BT. The chairman of BT had written across the top of the letter “You’re Fired”.
Oh my God.
That was terrific. I got pulled in front of the Managing Director and I stated what happened, and they were like, well, look, you didn’t know, you talked to a manager, and they were the ones that should have understood the inappropriateness, so actually it’s good for you, you’ve got the best media coverage we’ve ever been able to achieve for this client, and the sales went through the roof, so they were happy but it was a little embarrassing for BT. But in the end, we kept the client and I got offered the job. So, had I not created this embarrassment, I could have potentially never got noticed… yes, there’s always luck in these things, and I learned my lesson from that moment on, and I’ve never ever done anything like that again without approval, but you learn… I was young, and I was hungry to show my value.
But you studied Management at University, so what was your plan B if you didn’t get it into the creative industries?
I studied Management because I wanted to do something practical… I thought that I might have had an interest in other subjects like Geography, History… but I never felt them practically to be of much use. I didn’t know what I wanted to do it, so my Degree taught me everything from accountancy to the legal side of things to human psychology, and then touched subjects like marketing and PR, so I was keeping my options open but I never really had a doubt: I knew I would succeed, somehow, whether it was in advertising or in something related to it. So I think I’ve always known that I wanted to go into some area of the media, but I didn’t want to narrow my choices down, which is why I didn’t do a PR Degree or an Advertising Degree.
It makes sense.
I was always aware of the fact there are things that are always going to be very important, so whatever business you go into, you need the ability to understand the basic legal and HR side of things, so I knew it would be useful wherever I ended up, to have made the choice of that Degree. I think that the main thing that University gave me was really the confidence to present, to be able to make an argument… but you can’t replace real workplace experience, and I would say that if someone doesn’t want to go to University, there is absolutely no requirement, in this industry, to do that – as long as you are someone with the right attitude, the hunger and the will to achieve things: when someone goes to University and gets a 1st, that’s very nice and to be encouraged – but this doesn’t tell me whether they’ve got the right attitude or not. Definitely, for me, the number one thing I look for in people wanting a job in the company is just that hunger and that desire to succeed: that is the most important thing.
You said that – when you first started working in this industry – you wouldn’t take no for an answer, so do you think there are episodes when this doesn’t apply, and when people should just accept that they cannot succeed?
All throughout my life – I mean, not just my working life – I’ve had this attitude. You know, I’m a positive person, and I do feel sometimes that people just look at the negative sides of things and think of the issues before they do things, rather than looking for a solution in a positive way. Yes, of course, sometimes no one wants to give up and take no for an answer – and of course, you also do. But actually, to me, I will always try to persuade or do something, if I believe in something… but we pitch for a lot of businesses – it’s still a large part of what we do – and of course, you get nos. But if I feel like it’s not the right decision, that it is unfair, that we really deserve a client to take that idea… if I believe in something, I would always argue back and I say why I think I am right and this is the wrong decision for them. And sometimes, you do find yourself in situations where you don’t fully believe in what you’re presenting, and when you’re discussing with someone and you get a no, so then sure, you can take it on the chin; but if I think they’ve made the wrong decision, I would always argue back. I’m a believer of “what’s the worst thing that can happen?”.
The worst thing that can happen is that they say no again, so it does no harm, but if you believe in something you should try to argue back. It’s not like saying that I don’t like taking nos because I’m stubborn or because I cannot take criticism, but you’ve got to believe in yourself, your ability and what you are presenting. I think clients respect that, and there have been lots of occasions where people do actually change their minds. Sometimes it is simply a case that they weren’t quite understanding what you were saying, so if I’m going back and re-explaining, they grasp it and realise that actually, they were wrong. I think it’s an important quality and yes, there is a balance and sometimes you just have to take no for an answer and I think, in my career, I pitched a lot. I mean, we do hundreds of pitches, but probably once a year you have one pitch which I call a bad beat when you really put everything into it and are desperate for it, and you don’t get it. And you have to accept that, but there have been examples of this kind of bad beat – I can still pretty much remember each one of them from all over the years because you put so much into it – where I am still in touch with them and going back to them, three years later, five years later, as it is still at the back of my mind that we’ve lost that pitch and we are desperate to work on that business.
It should be flattering for them.
I’m speaking to a client on Monday which is a client that I loved and with whom we worked maybe 14 or 15 years ago, and I’ve always regretted the fact that we stopped working after a couple of years so I don’t know anyone there anymore, there are different people now but I’ve had an idea so I’m going back to them to say “Look. I worked with you well over 10 years ago, but am still thinking of you and I’ve got this idea”. So we’re going in to discuss that Monday and who knows what will happen. But then I think when you want to be good in this industry you have to really care about what you do, and the work you’re presenting, and for that conviction to be effective it has to be completely genuine. And clients pick up on that, they know when someone is being frank and open and honest, and they can see it. And this is the foundation of our business to be able to present with belief, and so that’s why I don’t like to take a no for an answer, it’s often because I believe in something so much that – until I can say that there is nothing more we can do and that I’m giving my best – I’ll never give up on something.
I’ve heard that you are the co-owner of a chicken restaurant: why? What do you find interesting in chicken?
I’m an investor, this was a business opportunity that got presented to me a few years ago which is a fried chicken restaurant called Bird, and I love my food… I particularly love food that is also not very good for you. So I got presented this idea of a fried chicken restaurant and I found it fantastic: great produce, great brand, I could see there was an opportunity there, that it had the potential to be popular, to do well, and the people behind it, I like them and respect them. So I invested in it and now, fours years on, they’re up to five restaurants, as well as a lots of pop-ups and events, and it’s doing very very well.
Yes, it’s good, probably a bit too good, haha. You know, the restaurant industry and all of the high-streets have had a very tough time over the last couple of years, but they’ve been resilient to that, they’ve built a good brand, yes, it’s been an interesting thing. I like to keep my mind busy and to do a lot of things, but this is something I’m not actively involved in day-to-day and I don’t have a say in anything, really. This is just something where I follow their progress, watching them as they grow, and it’s been enjoyable, a little bit different from the day job.
This statement of chicken made me wonder: where do you take your British humour from?
I don’t know… I think the British do have quite a unique sense of humour…
Well, they all try, but not all of them can be as brilliant as you. Especially on Twitter.
Haha, thank you. I’m a big believer in just trying to soak up as much popular culture as I can. I read a lot, not necessarily novels, that is mainly for holidays and relaxing, but I read a lot on Twitter, I follow a lot of people that I find interesting, I read a lot of articles about trends and what’s going on and I think this is really important. We wouldn’t be able to advise a client properly, you need to understand what people are talking about, where the conversations are. If you look at what Talkability® means – which is the foundation of the agency and the ability to get people talking about our brand, our clients, our services…
Yes, Talkability® with the little ®
Yes, exactly. You have to look at what the triggers for Talkability® are – and there are a handful of different triggers. One of those things that make the media, make it popular and that helps ideas spread is the use of humour. And so I know what creates Talkability®, and humour is one of them. But no one else has ever called me funny, thank you very much.
What is your favourite book?
Haaa…. my favourite book…
I have to say I’m not a great fiction reader, the last fiction book I read was Harry Potter which I read to my son and I really really enjoyed reading these books with him… well, I love management books, and so, one of the books – that is a bit old now but I think is a brilliant book that has really impacted a lot of us at Frank – is a book called Eating the big fish, which is all about challenger brand marketing.
Do you read anything else?
I would also say that I enjoy reading autobiographies, but actually, I find that I read more now short-form articles from magazines and blogs and websites, that I listen to more and more podcasts and just digest media in lots of different ways. Since having kids I find that I’m having less and less time to sit down and relax over a book, but I’m more likely to read 10-minute features as I have breakfast, or on my way home from work. You can listen to podcasts when you drive or something like that… I like to keep my mind active and to look for inspiration from different places. You never quite know where inspiration will come from, so yeah, that’s what I’m reading.
You look and sound quite introverted: I struggled to find any video of you on YouTube, and you never share personal stuff on Twitter. So, how can you work in the PR industry while being so introverted? And do you think many people could succeed in this particular industry without being aggressive or overtalking?
I think that PR is a massively competitive industry and it’s probably fair to say that there is an oversupply of agencies out there for the amount of work available. As for me, I actually would much prefer if my client is talking and the company is talking, rather than me personally, I don’t necessarily enjoy being in front of the camera. But I also think that when we started Frank PR – nearly 18 years ago – this was about making sure that we had a brand and people knew what we stood for, and that brand was about being open, honest, no bullshit…
About being frank…
Yes, and that principle is what Frank is all about: being frank. And it gave us the licence to talk to clients in an open way to challenge them, to be able to give us a licence to say what we want. That is what Frank is about, and what makes us different from any other agency, and that was about the principle of Talkability®. We define Talkability® as the buzz that takes over and does your best marketing for you, and yeah, when we started, 18 years ago, we were talking about the conversations around black taxi drivers that would say: did you see this? And now that’s evolved, and conversations are happening to brands, and they can even join them and be a part of it, and not just sit on the sideline. It has evolved a lot, but I look at a lot of marketing brands that have Twitter feeds or Facebook pages, but it’s very hard to get across a brand via your company page, and personally I find it pretty boring to see posts saying Yay, it’s Friday or I’m having a cupcake or Pizza for lunch, you know, no one really gives a shit about that.
Actually we resisted having a Frank Twitter page for a long long time, and then actually relatively recently I felt like we probably did need something as a reference point. When I started having my own Twitter page, yes it has got a lot of Frank stuff on there, and the reason why I do Twitter is purely because it is building the profile of our business, but actually there was personal stuff I would put on there but not necessarily pictures of me having breakfast or out with my kids, but jokes, football stuff. And this wasn’t really the Frank brand, it was me, but Twitter is so powerful as a mean of communicating what you want to say, but also interacting with people, building contacts, so I’ve placed a really really high value on it, and I’ve always just tried to be myself, really. And I know it has an impact on our business and I think to a degree that if you are running a business, you do have to be a voice for your company and for the industry, and actually, for me, Twitter is a way I feel quite comfortable doing that. As I said, I’m not a great fan of long-form writing personally, so there are other people within our business who are very good at it, much better than I am and enjoy it a lot more, so I let them do that bit, and I do the bit that comes naturally to me and that I enjoy… did I answer your question?!
Oh yeah, absolutely. And because you’re so much into Twitter, what do you think it does take to become a Twitter influencer?
I think influencer is a word that is banded around a lot… you have to have some level of knowledge and credibility within the subject area you’re talking about. So, am I a Twitter influencer? No, not really. But am I a Twitter influencer in the sphere of PR and marketing? Yeah, maybe I am. The way I look at it is that you have to add value t0 why somebody would want to follow you, they would want to follow you because they find what you’re talking about interesting – whether it is informative or amusing, or enlighting or thought-provoking. Sometimes you forget you have an influence, because when it comes to my opinion on a campaign, people respect what I think… then whether they agree with me or not is another matter, but you build it up over time, I don’t like people who play on being influencers, putting on their biographies that they are influencers – you don’t call yourself an influencer.
Just like you don’t call yourself an artist…
Yeah, other people decide whether you are influential, and I didn’t set out on social media to try and become an influencer, so it just naturally happened, PR is the one thing that I know, if I started talking about cars, or food, for example, no one could really care less about what I say, but when it comes to PR, marketing and the media, then I have a few years of experience under my belt that people think “OK, he knows what he is talking about” in that regard, but I also try not to be too controversial or too negative. I think that sometimes people think “just because I have a platform to communicate, then I need to use it”, and they share their every waking thought. There are plenty of things going through my mind maybe to be discussed at the dinner table or down the pub, but I don’t need to tell everyone what I think of everything. And sometimes, if I really hate something, I just keep my thoughts to myself. I never name and shame, you never know who is reading, you never want to upset anyone. I try not to be too boring and neutral, but I will avoid really infiammatory comments, especially when it comes to politics and stuff like that. You can have someone like Donald Trump, it’s just easy-pickings for taking the piss a little bit, but from my perspective certainly, it’s not meant to be a political statement of any sort.
Yeah, I noticed that you make jokes about Donnie frequently, but they are not too politically-related…
Yes, my use of Twitter is not this, I don’t see Twitter necessarily as the place for this, the thing with Twitter is that it does take only one second to type something out and press send and the damage is done, and it stays there forever. You do have to stop and think: could that be misconceived or misinterpreted, is it worth sending? Maybe over the years I might have sent stuff and then I thought I really shouldn’t have, so now if I’m not sure about something, if there is any doubt in my mind whether it could upset or offend or cause issues, I’m just not going to send it, it’s not worth it.
I read somewhere that you suggest people not to say things on social media that they wouldn’t say in person…
Yes, absolutely: people can forget and say wrong things, there are things that you wouldn’t say in a meeting, it’s a bit of a sense-check, you ask yourself whether you would say that thing in person, then if probably not, then don’t do it, especially young people. When I gave that advice it was actually during an interview on BBC Radio 1 that was aimed at teenagers, and the thing with young people growing up is that they are digital natives, this is their life, and they share every waking moment, whether on Twitter or Snapchat or whatever it might be.
They don’t realise how dangerous it can be.
Yes, they don’t necessarily think about the consequences, they don’t think that they are creating a digital footprint that is going to stay with them forever, so I’m not saying “never put anything online”, but no one needs to know your every waking thought, there is a life to live outside social media, and sometimes less is more and people don’t need to know every single element of your waking day, and the way that a lot of young people use social media is just to express every thought that goes into their heads, minute by minute, hour by hour, and it can be very dangerous. We all have good days and bad days, good moods, bad moods, and when you’re reading back on something a year later you don’t remember the context of why you were thinking and why you said what you said. Sometimes it’s better just to keep your thoughts to yourself. But I am from a different generation: Facebook, Twitter, none of these existed when I was growing up, so I didn’t have any of these issues.
Neither did I. We just had the Game Boy.
But now, when it comes to young people, their lives are measured by how much value or popularity they have: social media is a very very powerful thing and can potentially be a very dangerous thing if not used with an element of consciousness. I also feel that kids don’t get enough education in social media at school and there are also issues emerging in terms of bullying: just they don’t know any difference, and actually, I always think that I’m quite fortunate because of the industry I work in. I understand a lot more about social media probably than the average person of my age, because I have to understand the latest trends, the latest platforms and what’s going on, so I do understand how to talk to my kids about Twitter, or Snapchat, or whatever it might be, as I get it. Some of my friends don’t even have social media profiles, so it’s much harder for them to understand, but I think schools, in particular, have a much bigger responsibility, should have a much bigger responsibility than they do, in terms of educating kids: it shouldn’t necessarily just fall on the parents who are not well enough equipped to understand some of the issues and dangers the kids may face through social media… sorry, we’ve gone a bit off the topic…
Oh no no no no no! I love talking about all this – great insights, actually. Is there a social network you consider pointless or you don’t like?
Mmmm… well, all of the social media platforms that have emerged and have been resilient have a place and a relevance, and I think it’s about what you do with each network. I don’t agree – from my point of view and a work point of view – to just being on a platform because that platform exists, it very much depends on what you’re trying to achieve, so for some clients Instagram would be the key platform, for others it would be Facebook, for others Twitter or Snapchat, we don’t try to do something on everything when they don’t adapt their strategies for each platform, so no, I don’t think any of them are pointless, I just think that some of them don’t necessarily have a relevance for particular clients, and there is no need to be on a platform if it is not the right platform for you. What you see now is a lot of noise from brands because some of them feel like they need to talk every day just because they are on Twitter and so they need to do a tweet, or they are on Instagram, so they need to post two times a day, three times a day, three times a week, and for me it’s just a lot of noise. The same principle that applies to my own personal stuff also applies to brands: you have to add value, and you shouldn’t be doing stuff just for the sake of doing it. The best brands on social media are the ones that are adding value and giving people a reason to follow them, so they all have their purpose.
And what do you think the future of Facebook will be like?
I think that Facebook is here to stay, it’s very hard to predict the future, I think it’s ridiculous to try and predict ten years ahead when it comes to social media. If you look at ten years ago, you would have never been able to predict what would have happened to social media. But I think Facebook obviously in recent months have had a tough time, they have issues in terms of who they need to address, in terms of controlling fake news and trust, but I don’t have any doubt they will sort all that out and will act responsibly. And when it comes to social media, whether Facebook or anyone else, it’s very hard to stay on top of everything that is going on on any platform that has such power, such reach, it’s always going to open itself up to people that will look at ways to manipulate it for not necessarily the right purpose. There is a big big challenge for the social networks to be able to address those challenges and make sure they are not misinforming people, that they act in an ethical way that is transparent, so Facebook had a rough period, but I don’t see it going anywhere, and I think if they act responsibly and I’m sure they will – and they act quickly, they will be absolutely fine. They will.
I remember that – not so long ago – you shared an article by MHP’s Creative Director Mark Perkins about what the PR industry looked like in the 90s, so I wonder whether there is anything you miss from those times. Maybe you miss the fax machine?
Mark is a great writer, he used to work at Frank actually, and I think the piece that he wrote just sums up perfectly that era. This was a different era, and when I tell people here what it was like and the fact we didn’t have emails, and we didn’t have this and we didn’t have that, I just feel like an old man… or I don’t feel like an old man, they look at me like I’m an old man! I think that the other reason why I do love this industry is that it has evolved almost in an unrecognizable way… but actually the principle you’re doing is the same, it’s just the technology around it that that has totally revolutionised the way we do our job, in my opinion, for the better. That was a different era, and it was also a different era in my life personally, I was much younger and I had fewer responsibilities, it was a great time for parties and all the fun elements of PR, but that is still there, just in a different way, in different forms, but I don’t really miss anything: I look back and I don’t miss anything, and I built some amazing friendships in the early years of PR with people that I’m still friends with today, and they have gone on achieving great things within PR. We all do very different types of PR roles, so I look back on my early days really really fondly, but yeah, I miss being 20-odd-years younger, but apart from that, everything has moved in a good direction, an exciting direction.
And does it ever happen that you’ve got an amazing idea for a client but they disagree with you?
I think that great work takes a great agency, but it also takes a great client. You need a great client to be able to believe in you, to have the confidence to say that it’s going to work and not all clients do. And sometimes you have a great idea that is just potentially not right for that client, but it is still a great idea. So, normally what I do, I mean, the truly great ideas you don’t forget – some of our campaigns took a few years to find the right person to do them. Other times, we present an idea that we really believe in and the client either doesn’t like it or it’s not right for them, and I quite often just email someone saying “Look, I’ve got a really good idea and I would love to run it past you”, anyone creative believes in their ideas, and there’s no point in an idea just sitting in an email, on a page or in a book, unless you get it out into the real world it is irrelevant. So, I’ve always – if something is really really good – tried and found them a home with another client, at the right moment in time. Sometimes it happens that an idea gets rejected and a few weeks after you look at it and you ask yourself “is it really that good?” And you look at it and you think: maybe we got a bit overexcited in the moment, and it’s not as good as we thought, and the client’s feedback was right; but other times you think you know what, it’s a very good idea and I’m going to get this out in the real world, somehow. And I’ve still got, half a dozen or more ideas that one day I will find a way to make them happen, hopefully.
How do you select your clients? How can you tell whether someone is going to be the right client for you?
Funnily enough, clients normally select us. We don’t do very much if anything proactively, so we’re very fortunate, we’ve got a good brand, a good reputation, so clients come to us.
Do you mean that the right client comes to you because they know how you work?
Sometimes. That’s the benefit of the client that self-selects you as an agency if they think there is a good fit for them, so half of your battle is won already. It’s much easier if they come to you than for me to knock at someone’s door when they don’t know us. And often, the type of client that comes to us is already the right client for us as they already know that we would be a good agency. But usually the way a pitch process would work also requires chemistry, you just kind of know when it’s not right and they wouldn’t take on us forward to pitch, it’s not necessarily their fault or our fault, it just doesn’t feel right, and funnily enough we’ve always had a thing with our boardrooms that it’s like a bit of – I don’t know – a feature of the company. We’ve always wanted to have a memorable boardroom, and I always felt like clients coming to offices also see lots of different agencies, so if you can have a boardroom that is memorable they’ll be able to remember you and what you have talked about in it. So our first ever boardroom was an ambulance.
Yes, an ambulance that we stripped out and put a table in the back of it – which was great. Our next boardroom was a beach to make you relax. We built this beach, and you had to take your shoes and socks off for you to come into the boardroom. And then after that we had a bedroom with no windows, all white, with massive white mattresses. Now we have fairground waltzers. I’ve often found it over the years that where a client walks in for the first time, how they react to that room is a massive indication of whether we are going to be a great fit or not: when a client walks in and they’re like “I love this, this is the best boardroom I’ve ever seen, brilliant”, you know that’s a good start. But when they come in and they don’t really get it, or don’t really find the humour in it, or find it a little impractical – which often our boardrooms have been – you know that it’s not going to work. So what you generally find is that a good client knows what they’re looking for, and they buy into an agency for a lot of reasons, not just the work – a lot of it is about the chemistry and the people, and the thing going back to that, being frank and open and honest has always been my style. So, as an agency, we will always be ourselves and never pretend to be anything we’re not.
How do you put honesty in practice?
So if I’m seeing – I don’t know – a luxury brand, I would always say to them, we are not a luxury PR agency, we have an understanding of it, we have done work in this sector but, if you’re looking for an agency that just specialises in the luxury brands, and that this is their world, that’s not us. And when you take that approach, sometimes people say “oh, that’s great”, and sometimes people say “no, thanks”, but you just have got to be yourself, and if they like you it’s a great start, and if they don’t, it was never meant to be in the first place. But I think Frank has a strong personality, and that personality is about people being themselves, and people buy in into that – not always – and if we lose a pitch is because it wasn’t right, we often get feedback like “we are not ready for you yet” or “this was a bit too creative”. And that’s fine, you can’t win everything.
You know, now that you’re talking about it, I think I can remember your offices in Mandela Street, North London, back in 2014 when I modelled for Tom Pellereau: a big area full of weird stuff, that was brilliant!
Hahaha, yes, I think you probably came in our bedroom era! Yes, I think it was the bedroom, but we like to change it from time to time as we get a bit bored!
And when it comes to people working with you, is there a trait of personality that makes it virtually impossible for someone to work in this industry? You are always asked when it does take to succeed in the PR industry, but I want to know what it does not take.
I think there are a lot of attributes that make a good PR person, and for me, yes, there is a base of skills you need to be a good communicator because of the writing, the elements of creativity, but actually a lot of it is attitude and the ability to want to do great work, have a love of the media and current affairs, to be able to really soak up what people are talking about, what people are interested in. You have to have the ability to be able to juggle and multitask, so, look – of course, there are skills that are necessarily suited for this industry the same way there are skills needed by people in legal work or consultancy or any other profession – but what we do is not rocket science, especially in the consumer world. We are all consumers of goods, and as long as you have the ability to put yourself into the mindset of a particular consumer you are targeting, it really isn’t that complicated, the bit that makes the difference is developing an understanding of how to develop stories that are going to capture their attention, make them sit up and take notice.
It mustn’t be easy.
When I started in PR, everyone was very much generalist, so they could do a bit of everything, but now there are a lot more specialist roles, planning roles, specialist creative roles, specialists in digital and social media roles, client and liaison roles. So actually we’ve got some people here that are fantastic strategists and planners, but would they be good on the creative side? No, not particularly. The creative people are brilliant, amazing, just outstanding, but put them in front of a client and they have the potential to be a disaster. So, the industry evolved a bit, and it’s probably easier for people to find their niche and the bit where they excel, and it has always been one of my beliefs that you should pull people up as opposed to pushing them down and looking for the negative.
This is exactly what makes people happy in the workplace, but not many employers do actually realise.
No one owns the full package, but as long as the areas of weakness are not so bad that they become detrimental for the job, you don’t have to keep banging on about the bits that people are not good at. As I said, writing is not my particular strength, but I can do it to an adequate level but there are lots of other areas that I’m good at, so I prefer to focus on my own strengths, and I leave the writing side to the people that excel in it, enjoy it, find it easier etc. Let’s find people’s strengths and build their strengths in those areas.
When it comes to your website, which I find amazingly creative – was it your idea to come up with the coffee cup offer for visitors? That cracked me up.
Haha, I don’t know, I mean, it’s fun. I mean, with websites the thing is that there are lots of amazing websites, but a lot of websites look the same, so we just wanted something memorable and something that was a bit different from other people’s, so what you normally see is this kind of beautiful parallax-scrolling websites with full-page photography, they’re great and they look professional and lovely, but actually you take the brand name off and you cannot really remember who’s it was.
While your website is unique…
Actually, when we did the first website we decided that we wouldn’t brief a website agency, because we saw a few website design agencies that all came back with the same stuff as everyone else. So we found a guy who is a graphic designer who had never actually had to build a website, we said “we want to have a website, there’s no real brief, get to understand Frank, the only thing we’d ask is that it’s not the same as every other website”, and he came up with the concept you can see, the zoom-in-and-out website, and that’s the way how the website has been evolved and updated. I guess we just try to get our personality across, so things like being able to order the cups of tea and biscuits, winning a free prize, it’s just a bit of fun. People go to a website for one or two reasons, in our industry: they’re either a client, thinking “is this an agency I would like to hire?”, or they are potential employees thinking “would I like to work here?”. So, for both of these people you just have to leave them with that impression, and if a client looks at a website and thinks you know what, it’s not very professional-looking, it’s a bit too jokey and not quite for us, that’s fine, but hopefully they’ll look at it and will think you know what – these guys seem fun, they’ve got something different from the other websites, or let’s say it’s an employee looking at the website and thinking OK, this is a place where I would like to work, looks good. So that’s the idea behind it, it is very difficult to ever know whether you are doing the right thing or the wrong thing, lots of people say positive things but I always think no one is going to tell you that they hate it – unless it’s your mum or dad.
You know, people just tell you what you want to hear… but I like it, and it’s been an incredibly painful thing to build a website, so you never realise before you start…
I know, building my website has been a lot of pain as well, and it still is. And I like all the funny stuff you write, like Fancy a bit more rain? Come and work for us in Manchester, or Feel free to pick up our Amazon orders when you come and visit us...
Thank you. So someone appreciates, which is good.
And again about your website, I can remember that at some point your domain looked Italian, as it sounded like Frankpr.it: why?!
Yes, so, when we started the company, frankpr.com wasn’t available, because it is owned by a very lovely lady called Peggy C. Frank who runs a PR agency in Florida and she gets a lot of emails meant for us. She is very successful but it’s a very dry and serious kind of company, and she gets these crazy emails that are meant for us, and she loves that, so she always forwards them and we have built a bit of a friendship over the years. So, .com wasn’t available, and at the time there was a lot of emerging domain names, new domain names that were becoming available, so we got frankpr.it, and again, it was memorable, and people would often say why do you have such a domain? So we had that but we are not Italian in any way, shape or form, and actually, recently in the last year or so, we rebranded and refreshed the company, we dropped the PR from Frank PR and just refer to ourselves as Frank now, really because the work we do, PR tends to be perceived largely as a media relations, and it’s still a part of what we do, but actually so much of what we do goes beyond traditional PR. So, whether that is digital, or social, or media, or planning, or buying, sponsorships, so we dropped the PR part as a part of our evolution and growing up, so now we changed the domain to welcometofrank.com, which just seems a bit more straightforward, and which we like as well.
Do you like to add anything else at all about Talkability® with the little ®?
Well, Takability® is the ethos of the agency, and it’s a really important part of what we do. I don’t believe there is a point in doing PR for the sake of PR if it doesn’t create a reaction. So, Talkability® is the foundation of our creative process, and what’s important about it is the way in which the marketing world is evolving, as, without a great idea, you don’t have a campaign, but the way that Talkability® can come to life, doesn’t only need to be via traditional earned media. It can be influencers, it can be social, it can be paid, it can be website building following through social media and newsletters, but the heart of that is Talkability®, and Talkability® is about creativity and great ideas that will allow a brand to be part of a conversation, and that’s the point of difference, because it doesn’t matter who you are as a client, every client wants to be talked about in the right way. So, it’s been a very important part of our foundation since day one of the company, and as we talk about technology – and the way we deliver stuff has evolved at a rapid pace, but the principle of having great ideas has always been there, so yeah, it’s a big part of what we do, and it has always been and it will always be.
OK, I’m done with my questions; is there anything at all you would like to add up to the interview?
Mmm, I think we’ve talked about quite a lot of things… but maybe you want to talk about The Apprentice stuff?
Oh, that would be great… if you’d like to, of course!
I could tell just because you’ve written a lot about all the different Apprentices, so I could explain to you our role and what we do if you like.
Of course, I would like to!!! You know, I didn’t approach The Apprentice thing before because I suppose you’re getting bothered all the time about The Apprentice and Lord Sugar… so I just wanted to do something different, like an interview just about Frank and yourself…. but if you want to, yeah, absolutely!
Haha, well, I will give you the background. So, linking back to the story of never taking no for an answer, when we’d been going as a company for roughly three months, we had the opportunity to pitch for Amstrad, which is the company that is held by Lord Sugar, it was the time that he was just called Alan Sugar. We didn’t present to him, but we presented to his Marketing Director, and we were so desperate to win this business, we really put everything into it, and we probably presented something that was way too complicated and elaborate for what they actually needed. So, the feedback that we got was: “we really like you, guys, you’re clearly very passionate, but actually we don’t need something like you, all we really need is a very basic job, and we’re seeing someone who just, does what we need – we don’t need any other great ideas you presented”. And then I was like “Oh no, we can’t let this opportunity go, this is our big break, this is our start”. So my business partner and I got back on the phone, and basically… begged them, like please, maybe one of us, maybe both us, I cannot really remember, but we got back on the phone saying please, we’re desperate, we really want a chance to do this.
And so they gave you the job!
Yes, so we started working and we did a decent job, and then over time I got to meet Alan Sugar and we got on well, and I think he built his trust in us, and then over the years that relationship has built and built to where he took the role on The BBC Apprentice, which was in 2005, so twelve-thirteen years ago. And our role, as well as looking after his personal PR, has always been – when someone wins the show – to take them on and represent them. So, for the first 10 or so years of The Apprentice, they got a job working for him in one of his companies, and then, more recently, the winning has been an investment from him, so he puts £250,000 into an investment into the business of the winner and they become business partners – but you know that, as you’ve been interviewing all of them.
We take them on when they win, we help them shape their business plan, from a PR point of view, it is important to turn them from being reality contestants to be respected business people in their own fields. And I think it’s really interesting, as you see people going through the process every year: they don’t quite know what to expect, they don’t know Lord Sugar particularly well, because they’ve just been on a TV programme, and being able to work with them right from the beginning, establishing their businesses and use the sort of fame and publicity they’ve had and channel it into the direction where they’re not seen as a Big Brother contenders but as credible business people – it’s just such an interesting part of the job. And you’ve spoken to them all over the years, you can see how they have matured into great business people…
But do you keep them all over the years? Are they still working with you?
Some of them are, some of them are not; it very much depends on what their business is and how much publicity is needed. So we would always work with them for a minimum of a year, so at the moment James White and Sarah Lynn are still within their first year, with other people like Alana Spencer, we’re still working on her exciting projects. As for Ricky Martin, we still work with him – raising his profile in the recruitment area and talking about his influence in that area, and then others… well, we’re still in touch with all of them… but I built a relationship with them, this is a very important part of their journey, so I’m still talking with all of them. Mark Wright isn’t doing any PR but we actually do quite a lot of work together because we are in complementary industries. Now, I think very highly of all of them, so if they need any help or advice then I’m always at the end of the phone… so yes, it’s an interesting part of the job.
Mmm… I haven’t really prepared any questions about them because I’ve spoken with all of them…
Haha yes, you know more than me about The Apprentice!
Naah, the thing, again, is just that I didn’t want to bother you with too much TV stuff.
No no, it’s fine, I mean, Lord Sugar is a character that when people know you work with him, they always say “what is he really like?”, they’re just interested in him…
I love him.
Hehe, I’m a big fan of the programme as well, I’ve never missed an episode since the day it started, so I also love it, and I also love working with him… and I’ve always said that with him what you see is very much what you get: he is incredibly bright, a brilliant businessman…
And I think there is a perfect match between the two of you: I mean, you’re all about being open, being honest, being frank. This so very much Lord Sugar.
Yes, well, I mean, I’m not probably as scary as he is.
Hahaha, I don’t find him scary at all! He’s just got a no-bullshit attitude.
Hehe, but the bit you don’t see necessarily behind the camera or outside of the programme is that he is an incredibly fair, generous, loyal, nice man.
He is a massive role model for me; actually what really gave me the confidence to start this magazine up was seeing what he has created, from scratch, and that you can really be successful without stopping being yourself.
Yes, he is a role model to a lot of people I think, after what he has achieved in life. He taught me a lot, he taught me a lot in terms of work ethic and I often look at him and I think, he’s someone in his 70s, he really doesn’t need the money but he totally loves what he does, and he’s so passionate and efficient and effective in what he does. He just gets stuff done, but at the same time he has a really good work-life balance, he certainly enjoys life as well as working, I can send him an email or call him, and I know that whatever day of the week, time of the day, that he will come back to me within a couple of hours – maximum! – if not in two minutes. And he’s so honest to me, he has taught me a lot…: we’re in a client-service business, and I can’t bear people who don’t reply or that you have to chase, and he’s not like that – I’ve never had to chase him for anything… he’s so efficient, and I’ve learned a lot from him.
You are the same with me, I’ve never had to chase you in years.
Yeah but I don’t believe you should, there’s no reason for someone having to chase you. And if you can’t meet a deadline or you can’t do something, as long as you keep people in the loop and you tell them it’s fine. But it’s my pet hate when I have to chase people, they say they’re going to do something and they don’t do it by that time… and I think a lot of that I’ve learned from him and his way of working, and my dad was like that, he’s very much like that as well, very honest and efficient, and it’s certainly part of my character. But actually I like working like that, I couldn’t work any other way. And I often think, in this industry there are a lot of flaky people that will promise you things and won’t deliver them, and say they’re going to do something and they don’t do it, so actually just being effective and doing your job shouldn’t be really anything to be applauded or getting excited about, but it gives you a step ahead of the competition.
The world is full of incompetents, I perfectly know.
So many people don’t and I don’t know why. I mean I find it in all walks of like and anything I deal with, someone says yeah I’ll email you tomorrow or I’ll phone and they don’t, that’s so annoying, and there’s no reason for that: if you say that you’re going to do something, just do it, and if there’s a reason you can’t, just tell them you can’t. And when I work with Lord Sugar he is very much like that, and I think that’s the reason why we get on because he never has to chase me for anything. He knows I’m on the case, and I think it would drive him absolutely mad if someone wasn’t.
You know, a thing I can remember from his autobiography is that when he got a private plane and was kind of forced to put a particular type of microwave oven on board, he calculated that the cost of that oven equalled to his very first annual salary at the Ministry of Education and Science, aged 16.
That’s very interesting, and I talked to my kids about it, actually. Because he’s got a very privileged life, there’s really nothing that he couldn’t afford and yes, you could be sitting with him on his yacht or on his plane and it’s costing thousands of pounds a minute and yet, he’s so honest in terms of numbers and his business. He hasn’t lost touch with that reality, at all, I mean, sure, he doesn’t go on a commercial plane or you won’t ever catch him on the tube, but it doesn’t mean he doesn’t understand: he still understands and he’s in touch with it and has a value for money and for all of this – because you can’t, you can’t run a business if you don’t. He’s a brilliant dad as well in terms of how he teaches his kids to work hard and have the same values he has.
I’ve heard that he sent his son Simon to work at Mc Donald’s when he was young.
Yeah, yeah. But it’s important. And this is often my fear as a dad, I don’t want my kids to be spoilt, not to understand the value of money, not to realise the importance of hard work. Obviously, I’m not in the same place in terms of his success and wealth, but the principle is, my kids still have a privileged upbringing and very nice life – but I never want them to take that for granted or to not to understand the value of money and hard work. It is really amazing to see Lord Sugar’s attitude in that respect, and I promise you he would negotiate harder than anyone else because he knows the value of money.
That is great. And I’m done with my questions. You mentioned before that you’re going to spend your holidays in the US… whereabouts?
Wow! So, if you ever spot Leonardo Di Caprio…
Yes, I will give him your number.