Eileen Peters is not a typical PR practitioner. She grew up on a council estate, is a black belt in karate, and studies criminology in her spare time.
Her desire to understand what makes people tick is being put to the test with her new venture, The Ideas Generation. Eileen thinks the PR industry can get bogged down in detail and as a result there is a lack of big thinkers out there. To help alleviate the problem, she launched TIG. Agencies and comms directors can employ TIG to ‘rent a brain’ and come up with new ideas.
“We have a range of collaborators including journalists and digital media experts who are perfectly positioned to come up with new ideas for existing campaigns and new business pitches”, she explains.
Eileen’s passion for the industry is infectious. She has strong opinions on the young people entering PR, and admits that she rarely reads CVs; she is more interested in covering letters declaring that “they can tell you a lot about what the applicant is like”. Having started her career without a degree she thinks the industry puts too much emphasis on graduates. “The best way to learn is to get stuck in. You don’t need a degree for that. If you have a particular interest you can take some additional training to help develop skills, but you don’t have to be a graduate to be good at PR”.
Peters had her first experience of working in PR at the age of sixteen – an apprenticeship with George Michael’s spokesperson Connie Filippello. “Music was my passion. I was the receptionist for Connie’s business partner and she poached me after three months. I spent my early PR years with her earning my stripes – doing ring rounds and media calls for clients who included Brad Pitt and Duran Duran”.
Three years later she moved to Carol Hayes Associates where she was given consumer electronics accounts to handle. Eileen knew little about gadgets, but quickly realised that her skills from celebrity PR were entirely transferable. “I treated the products like pop stars and PRed them as personalities” she says. “I loved it. I spent eight years there, but I am always hungry to learn something new, so the time came to move on. People were already telling me to start up on my own, but I stayed in the agency world a little longer – working for Larkspur [now part of Brando] for 18 months – before going freelance”.
Freelancing, she adds, was a different experience to being a permanent member of a team. “I really enjoy working with lots of different people and I was able to give a different perspective and work alongside a variety of teams. Though I initially assumed the freelancing route would give me a better work-life balance, but I ended up working six days a week!”.
Through her husband, Eileen met the man who was to become her business partner. “Chris had trained as an actor but worked in PR. Our approach to our work was very similar, which resulted in us setting up our own small agency, Itchcom”. Working on a range of b2b and consumer clients, Itchcom was kept deliberately small, as Eileen explains, “I was never interested in talking over the world, I simply wanted to work with interesting products and interesting people. And I wanted to make sure we didn’t lose our creativity, so we limited ourselves to five clients so that we could keep our ideas fresh”.
Alongside Itchcom, later renamed Tank Top, Elieen and Chris also ran an online t-shirt business called MoreTVicar which was sold in 2010. Since then Eileen has been a solo consultant focusing on marcoms and ideas generation, where she worked across a range of clients including professional services.
With the launch of TIG, Eileen is putting her twenty five years of experience to good use. “It’s not a PR agency”, she insists “we’re coming up with new ideas for organisations including PR clients. We also offer media skills development and mentoring”. The mentoring is something which is particularly close to her heart. “I wish I had had someone who could have helped me have real vision. PR is a stressful, pressure filled environment and sometimes it takes a fresh pair of eyes to see what you can’t”. She’s very careful not to describe TIG’s services as ‘media training’ though. “It is not media training in the traditional sense. We teach how to communicate and engage with media more effectively”.
TIG’s workshops include sessions titled ‘Friends in High Places’, designed to help junior execs build long-term relationships with journos, and ‘No News Is Bad News’ taught by a journalist, so that PRs can get a better understanding of life on the news and features desks. Their sessions are bespoke and they’ll deliver them at the client’s office. Peters recoils at the thought of using PowerPoint to teach. “Oh God no”, she exclaims, “our workshops are completely interactive and practical”. She is keen that the training environment is relaxed and limits them to three hours. “Any more than that and eyes start glazing over. You just can’t keep absorbing information for hours and hours”.
Eileen describes herself as PR veteran and her old school approach to media relations is something she’s not ashamed of, “PRs have forgotten how to pick up the phone and it’s damaging the industry’s reputation. There is too much reliance on email these days. I am a big fan of technology but digital tools must be used alongside more traditional methods in order to sustain those relationships. Nothing beats a face-to-face meeting where you can get to know the journalist and see the whites of their eyes”.
Words: Sarah Stimson