PR Pioneers: Helena Fisher, Talk PR

First published in March 2013

Helena Fisher

If you thought all fashion and beauty PRs are ‘fluffy’, you’d be wrong. Helena Fisher, MD of Talk PR, is keen to dismiss the idea that PR is “something you add on at the end”. Agencies can demonstrate this to clients, she says, by hiring great people. Fluffy PRs need not apply.

Fisher’s passion for her firm, part of the M&C Saatchi group of companies, is obvious. Having first joined Talk’s CEO Jane Boardman as her PA whilst she was a Director at Lynne Franks, Helena has worked her way up the ranks and is now one of Boardman’s most trusted advisers. “It is a nice place to work. Staff here constantly refer to our ‘family feel’ and I think that’s right”. When I mention the reputation fashion PR sometimes has for being catty she is adamant that it’s not like that at Talk PR. “We nip it in the bud. We don’t entertain it here”.

Staff and client relationships are a huge part of Fisher’s role, with new business and global relationships the responsibility of her counterpart, fellow MD Tanya Hughes. As a result, employee motivation and morale is important to Helena, who declares that “staff happiness is our goal”. So Talk PR take employee opinions seriously, with a bi-annual anonymous staff survey, the latest of which highlighted training as an area the 53 employees would like to see improved.

And Fisher is very animated when talking about the new Learning And Inspiration Programme they are about to launch internally. “We’ve taken on an external HR and training strategist to comb through every level of the business and work out where the skills gaps are – and the team are very much looking forward to it”.

It is an extension of the measures the agency already takes to keep staff happy, including small groups of employees meeting the CEO for lunch regularly, and opportunities to share their work with the rest of the business at events dubbed ‘Talking Shop’. “We value our staff. We are approachable and we like to show appreciation and recognition”, observes Fisher. “We’re very sociable. People like working here”.

In order to attract great talent, the agency has a raft of initiatives under the banner ‘Talk Talent’. “We hold an open day every six months. It’s a day of really intensive presentations. We get lots of applications for work experience and we can’t possibly handle them all, so this is our way of giving anyone who wants a crack at moving into fashion and beauty PR a go at it”.

It’s a great way for Talk to meet future talent instead of the approach traditionally adopted by some in the PR industry, ie unpaid internships, which exclude those who cannot work for free. Talk PR doesn’t take on any unpaid staff and prefers other approaches to reach as diverse range of future PR professionals as possible. “We are sponsors of the Taylor Bennett Foundation programme”, Helena adds “which has really opened our eyes to the full world of young talent out there”.

As well as growing talent within the business, Talk is also growing as a company, which impacts on Fisher’s other area of focus: the agency’s clients.

And when it comes to the agency’s growth, it needs to happen in a way that benefits both existing and new clients. While the agency has added consumer tech to its areas of specialism, alongside fashion and beauty, Fisher is wary of her agency achieving growth by becoming a Jack of all trades. Clients, she knows, appreciate the specialist expertise. “Our specialism is lifestyle and luxury – across beauty, fashion and consumer tech. We want to grow those areas holistically – that is where our knowledge is”.

Of course Talk is growing in what Fisher admits has been a tough economic climate. “We did a lot of preparation for it and battened down the hatches” she says. “Although we thought it would be worse than it was. Clients squeezed budgets but ultimately the situation has made us more mindful of where we spend. We have adapted and staff are definitely more commercially aware. That’s a good thing. I don’t think that will change”.

International growth is also something that Talk PR is very proud of, having started their own global network, SERMO (Latin for Talk). “We work with likeminded agencies in the US, Australia, India, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, South America, Italy, Russia, France and Spain”, Helena explains. “It’s a love match, not an arranged marriage. We share clients – it was driven out of our work for P&G – and we refer work. We also share local market knowledge. We’ve got our eye on Africa next”.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given how much is going on at Talk PR, Helena initially struggles when I conclude with a question about her interests out of work. “I socialise a lot” she says, “and I’m decorating my flat in Herne Hill so I’m spending lots of time on that. I enjoy finding great things for it and I find vintage shopping really relaxing. Film is a big passion of mine, as well as fashion and beauty, which I love both inside and outside of work”.