We have a chat to Cleo Anderson, the head and founder of The Anderson Media Group about her achievements and vision.
Our perception of what PR agencies do might have been slightly warped thanks to the eternal hit that was Absolutely Fabulous. Because of the incredible writing of Jennifer Saunders the image that pops up when you hear ‘PR’ is champagne-swigging, self-indulgent individuals that actually work harder on branding themselves than the brands they represent.
Dealing with them on a daily basis, the sad reality is that this is more real and commonplace than you might think. There are however a few that do what it says on the tin. Then, there are the exceptions. PR companies like The Anderson Media Group that goes above and beyond. Where the brands they represent is the alpha and omega.
Robin S. Sharma, the Canadian writer and motivational speaker, once commented: “Leadership is not about a title or a designation. It’s about impact, influence and inspiration.” This perhaps perfectly describes the driving force behind The Anderson Media group Cleo Anderson.
With yet another title under her belt as this year’s best PR agency in London, this titan of industry has no signs of slowing down. Her strategy of immersing herself in the client’s experience, especially on luxury travel, gives her the edge and maximises her client’s marketing budget with impressive results.
We sat down with Cleo Anderson to find out where she started, her rise to the top and how she sees the future.
How does a law student end up in Public Relations?
Well, Law was actually my parents’ idea – they were keen on me being a lawyer, mainly because I was very academic throughout school but also, I suspect because most parents want their child to be a doctor or a lawyer. One year into my four-year Bachelor’s degree I realised that I wasn’t passionate enough about Law to make it my profession, but having the degree has actually come in handy running my own business, so I’m really glad I did it.
What made you decide to take the plunge and open up your own agency?
I was assisting a woman who ran her own PR agency and I realised very quickly that I really enjoyed it day to day; I liked that no two days were ever the same, no two clients were ever the same, and there’s an element of creativity and “thinking outside of the box” that’s required. I love it – it’s incredibly interesting, and seeing a client written up in Vogue or another title they had hoped for is incredibly fulfilling. Once I realised that I was being left to essentially run the agency, it seemed logical to simply do it for myself. It was a bit of a no-brainer.
What, do you feel, was your greatest barrier-to-entry when trying to get your business off the ground?
I tend not to think in those terms – I didn’t really see or feel any barriers and I don’t typically think about the “competition”; to me, it’s not relevant because a client either wants you, or they don’t. I attracted clients very easily in the beginning, but it did require a lot of face to face meetings initially – new clients really wanted to feel that I “got them” as a brand, and would be communicating the right message to media on their behalf. In many respects, things just flowed naturally.
Did you choose the sectors you represent, or did they choose you?
I definitely fell into luxury lifestyle PR, as my mentor generally worked with the same kind of brands. My first clients were mainly luxury brands, cosmetic surgeons, etc. so it’s been easy to continue in that vein, with luxury travel swiftly becoming a speciality also.
Many say that the PR industry is a female-leader-friendly environment, while others say the contrary. What has been your experience with this?
I think that it is female-leader-friendly – there seem to be way more women leaders in this field than most. That being said, when I turn up to meetings with (usually older) male clients, a small percentage tend to underestimate you right off the bat and possibly not take you seriously to begin with (it doesn’t help that I look younger than I am) – that, or they think I’m a junior publicist and not the owner of the agency. But usually ten minutes into a meeting when they hear you speak, realise you do know what you’re talking about and have a wealth of knowledge, a level of respect surfaces.
The Anderson Media Group represents countless clients from all around the globe. How do you keep your focus and ensure that all of their needs and requirements are met?
I work with a small international team that I trust implicitly and who enjoy the job just as much as I do, which is important; without great support, it would be difficult to meet the needs of our clients. Being cognisant of international time zones is also important – we can be talking to Hollywood goodie bag organisers or US journalists doing a press trip way into the night, and in that sense, traditional working hours often don’t apply. You have to be happy to respond to an important email at any time in order to keep to deadlines, and we prefer to pitch press releases to journalists on the East and West Coasts in the morning, local time (end of play London time). When it comes to international hotel clients, I often take trips personally to meet with the client, strategise on a PR plan, and see what they have to offer first hand. In all honesty, though, that never feels like work as many of the locations are stunning and once-in-a-lifetime destinations. We also have a strict email policy: acknowledge a client’s email quickly out of respect, even if you don’t yet have an answer to their question. That, to me, is incredibly important.
Your company is very strong in travel PR. How is this approached as opposed to representing a skin-care product for example?
Travel PR, especially luxury travel PR, encompasses so much. There are many ways to pitch and promote a skin-care product, but with a high-end hotel you can approach the PR from a location standpoint, a cultural standpoint, architectural design, food, interiors, time of year – the list goes on. You really get to unleash your creativity and push story ideas to journalists that aren’t perhaps initially obvious.
What do you feel has been your greatest achievement thus far?
Being recently ranked as the No.1 PR agency in London by 10 BestPR was great, not least because many of the agencies that ranked in the top ten are well established, much larger outfits. That was a thrill and a lovely surprise. I also like the fact that I started the agency on my own with no help, and didn’t ride on anyone’s coat-tails to make it happen or to find success. That’s incredibly satisfying and I will always respect anyone – but especially a woman – who creates something for herself from the ground up.
Would you have done anything differently?
The only thing I would have done differently is perhaps taken the leap to own my own business earlier, in my twenties. That being said, I learned a lot from working both as a model and in The City (with traders and stockbrokers) during that time, which I feel helped build both confidence and a thick skin. So I wouldn’t ultimately change that.
With the rise of the influencer, do you think that they are or have started to replace the PR industry?
I think that’s the perception, and a good influencer can be invaluable to certain types of brands (we collaborate with a handful) – but ultimately, they don’t quite do what we do. An influencer with a million followers has a great reach and, provided the followers are genuinely within the brand’s demographic and truly interact on social media, that can be fantastic. But if you’re a brand looking to get into the pages of top magazines, an influencer generally won’t know how to make that happen. In my mind, influencers can complement traditional PR, absolutely. It’s also worth bearing in mind that an influencer with 1 million bought followers, or 1 million followers who love looking at gorgeous photos but can’t actually afford the brands being promoted, isn’t going to be of benefit. An influencer with just a fraction of those followers but who are more qualified and engaged will be more beneficial and result in sales. Quality is better than quantity.
What do you think the future of PR looks like and does it have one?
Regardless of what people call it, “PR” will always have a place. Human beings have been doing it, whether consciously or not, since time immemorial. I personally think that a well-thought-out PR plan with a forward-thinking agency alongside considered influencers is the way to go; the two go hand in hand.
On a personal note, with another award as the best PR agency in London in the bag, what is next for Cleo Anderson?
I’d like the agency (or perhaps a new sister agency) to be considered the best luxury lifestyle agency Stateside. That is what is next for me. I also have my finger in a couple of creative pies (fashion and film) but business is ultimately what gives me a buzz and turns me on. I’m an entrepreneur at heart.