A week in My Life: Matt Phillips, Managing Director of PPR
Founded in late 2017 as a consultancy vehicle, PPR became a B2B virtual agency in mid-2018 that specialised in B2B PR for pre-series A startups and marketing services firms.
It currently has clients in many different fields including media agencies, digital agencies, creative, management consultancy, performance coaching, transformation experts, tech start-ups and more.
Managing Director Matt Phillips shares what a week in his working life is really like…
I arrive at the office around 8:15am, just over an hour’s commute from home: Blewbury in Oxfordshire. We’re a virtual PR agency, which means we have a lean central team of employees in Paddington and a larger remote network of freelancers - who run accounts day-to-day and collaborate on projects.
On Monday we update clients on the week ahead. Ben (our Head of Media) will look at breaking news and the industry calendar, and creates ideas based on what we think our clients might have to say.
We operate a ‘twin speed’ model where freelancers are proactive - tuned into the client’s world - while Ben’s reactive, tuned into the news agenda. As most are smaller brands who don’t create news, lots of PR coverage tends to come from opinion.
We land an “industry-reacts” news feature on WeWork’s Softbank bailout, a longer-form “what it means” opinion piece and - by chance - a radio interview for our new client Loyalzoo, who make loyalty marketing easy for independent retailers - so it’s a good day.
Tonight, I’m at a friend’s house to help plan a community event. This event will see The Definitive Rat Pack (my friend George was in the original West End cast) perform a Christmas double bill in November, fundraising for a new village hall.
I’m working through a bit of a knotty problem today. Our client work falls into three categories; creative consultancy (where we advise clients on their message), content (where we ghostwrite material for publication) and coverage (the ‘sales’ process of getting journalists to use the content).
We create two kinds of stories for clients; the leadership story (the context for any news) and the customer story (the issues that matter to their customers). This creates context for comment, or ‘thought-leadership’.
This particular client is going through a pivot - which makes the leadership story challenging; failures and set-backs are important chapters in the leadership story but they’re better-told when you’ve emerged triumphant on the other side.
It also means they’re no longer clear on what’s going on in the minds of their customers - so what should the ‘thought-leadership’ message be? So we’re doing a workshop to re-segment their prospectus, figure out what their pain points and issues are, in order to reframe the message for PR, marketing and sales.
While I’m running an agency, I’m also developing a startup. So I’m in Basingstoke today, with ROOT21, an organisation spun out of an incubator programme I completed in the summer. They provide growth advice and corporate governance as a service, where I’m challenged and mentored by a team of entrepreneurs.
My idea is to define a standard PR process, and automate aspects of the workflow, so any freelancer trained in our methods can work with us time-efficiently and effectively to a set standard and method.
Freelancers are time-poor people who have better things to do than diary juggling, email tennis and timesheets. And even the best tend not to operate at 100% capacity due to the day-rate norms in the business. Our platform creates a pipeline of work to utilise the space they have around other commitments. This will help us scale faster than we otherwise would as a regular services company, so I’ll be seeking investment next year as I’d like to grow a little faster than bootstrapping permits.
New business meeting today. We’ve got two main types of client; professional services firms selling to the c-suite and early-stage startups selling an idea to either prospective partners or investors . This one is with the former, a branding agency.
September is slow as it’s the manic post-summer, pre-Christmas window so it’s not a great time to start PR or change agency. But come October, with clients thinking about Brexit, and next year’s budget those £5k+ PR retainers don’t look like good value for money… which is good news for us.
Most of our business comes through relationship building and word-of-mouth. There’s seldom a written brief so we won’t go in selling a single ‘big idea’. Rather people buy people by reputation and chemistry.
This one goes well, and later in the week we get a verbal yes for a December start! It’s a big deal for us, we’ve been missing a creative/ brand agency in our client base and they’re a great fit.
I usually work from home on a Friday, and tend to avoid meetings. It’s a chance to plan ahead and do booked-in client work.
Our flexible working policy also extends to our employees, so our head of media Ben doesn’t usually work Fridays - giving him time to work with his business partner on his own startup. There’s nothing urgent to pick up today, so I take a take an early lunch with my wife Yvette, a textile artist, to develop her business plan.
Yvette spends any ‘free’ time on product i.e. her art, which doesn’t leave much time to focus on the business parts of her business. So we treat ourselves to a riverside working lunch at the recently-opened Coppa Club in nearby Streatley.
A key learning is the hard-headed business logic of creating a calm culture (in contrast to the work-all-hours startup norm). In an era of mindfulness, business leaders like the idea of de-stressing staff but it’s hard to do if a calm culture isn’t there at the start. Basecamp’s a great case study. So taking a leaf out of their book, after a productive week, I decide to take the rest of the afternoon off and spend some time with the kids.