It was a wet grey Monday morning as I made my way through the Pantiles at Tunbridge Wells heading towards the offices of GingerMay PR to interview founder and managing director Victoria Usher. GingerMay PR had won a number of awards including the B2B PR Agency of the Year at the PRmoments Awards this year. Victoria herself has also been shortlisted as Industry Leader of the year at this year’s PRCA Dare Awards which celebrate the very best communications and PR professionals across the UK. So it was with some trepidation that I rang the bell to interview this force majeure that has pushed GingerMay PR turnover up by 43 percent and headcount up by 20 percent over the past 12 months.
As I go in the offices I enter a big communal kitchen space with table, benches and large screen TV, I had the sense of a company embracing a modern business culture inspired by Google and other silicon valley organisations, clearly working for the tech and IT sector was rubbing off. Victoria entered the room, introduced herself and we started chatting and within a minute it felt as if we had known each other for some time. Was this ability to put others at ease one of the reasons for her success? I was keen to find out more.
Victoria describes her path to trailblazing business leader as wonky. Leaving university with a degree in politics it was no surprise that this was where she headed, working as a research assistant to Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith MP and Sir Michael Spicer MP at the Palace of Westminster. Talking to Victoria its clear she relished the opportunity of being at centre of business-decision making.
Not one to let the grass grow under her feet Victoria soon moved on to work for leading global research agency Dentsu Aegis as a data analyst working on large projects for brands such as Unilever, Microsoft, and Levi’s. Little did she know at this point how valuable becoming a qualified data analyst would be later on in her journey. As we chatted further I could understand how Victoria’s bosses had seen the potential of great things in her giving her the confidence to move on to become Marketing & Communications Director at Dentsu Aegis. This was 11 years well spent developing a skill set that affords Victoria the ability to develop strategies and plans for clients based on real data.
The final stop before starting GingerMay PR was as Joint MD at Westgate Marcomms Agency. This couple of years allowed her to take the skills she had already developed and apply them in a Marcomms agency environment.
In Jan 2010 Victoria’s wonky journey went off in a new direction as she founded GingerMay PR, starting a venture which would draw on all the skills and knowledge she had acquired over the previous 15 years. As we talk about the challenges she faced in the early years her passion for PR and leadership is clear and it came as no surprise as she recounted readily rolling her sleeves up to get work done be this writing a challenging white paper or to pitch a press release.
Victoria is the first to admit that starting your own business can be lonely you’re out there on your own and the buck stop with you. Many people will look for mentors to help them through, someone who has been around the block. Victoria found a mentor in Jo Butcher whom she met while working for Aegis, having weekly Skype calls which provided some comfort and advice from someone who had gone through the same and found success. This is important advice that Victoria will give any business person and now gives her own time sharing her experiences and insight with developing entrepreneurs as a mentor in the Mayor’s International Business Programme for London & Partners.
Any successful service driven organisation needs to be able to deliver good service while meeting their clients needs however for Victoria there is one important skill that she believes has made the difference for GingerMay PR, which is the ability to really listen. This is such a fundamental skill that all employees at GingerMay PR go through a process that teaches them how to listen and understand their clients’ requirements. It must be this that allows the firm to offer a personal and untraditional approach to PR that provides clients with a meticulously detailed level of service. There is however another important USP GingerMay PR have over their competitors and this is Victoria’s ability to understand their commercial approach and develop strategy, a skill learnt years earlier. Clients benefit from having the right strategy in place before the PR activity starts which ensures GingerMay PR services really do deliver on the bottom line.
A working mum, Victoria understands the demands required to be successful in business while juggling a family. Typically she rises at 04.30, spending an hour on yoga before commencing her working day. As the business has grown, her biggest challenge is ensuring best use of her time during the working day – so I was very grateful for an interview. The firm now has a majority female board, 65 percent of whom are working mothers and a small marketing team that Victoria empowers to win new clients.
I was keen to know what Victoria does to relax – we started talking about her cross-country horse riding which sounded exhilarating in itself and then wham! out of the blue she drops in that she is an ex-latin dance instructor which as I reflect now chimes with the passion and drive she has shown to get GingerMay PR to where it is today – and it continues unabated with the firm being listed 17th in PRWeek’s UK Top 150 Technology PR Rankings 2018. It is also recognised as one of the fastest growing PR agencies overall, with a 45% increase in sector revenue as well as being listed as the 3rd fastest growing PR agency in the UK and 9th fastest in Europe by the industry publication, The Holmes Report.
It was great to meet Victoria and find out what was behind her success, long may it continue. However being the introvert I am, I now need to lie down in a dark room for 30 mins.