Heather Baker is founder and CEO of TopLine Comms, an integrated digital communications consultancy that helps companies grow.
How did you get into the industry?
I wish I could say I had a passion for PR and marketing and I plotted my own course in the industry. But it wasn’t like that – I graduated with a degree in psychology and came to London. I needed a job – any job would do – so I started applying. I was fortunate to land a role in a small PR firm where I got to learn a lot about the industry.
Any emerging industry trends?
Our whole industry has changed dramatically in the last decade and our business has had to change with it. Where people used to learn about the world through magazines, newspapers, radio and TV, they now spend most of their time online. That means traditional PR strategies are no longer as effective as they used to be. Don’t get me wrong, PR still plays an important part in the marketing mix, but it needs to be digital and integrated if it’s going to have a real impact. And video is going to play an ever-increasing role in marketing over the next decade. Fortunately, we have our own in-house video production department so we have.
Any industry opportunities or challenges?
The changes in the marketing landscape have been particularly interesting for smaller PR agencies: larger, more established firms are clinging to traditional methods, and struggling to change fast enough to give their clients what they really need. Smaller, more nimble agencies are able to offer a digital-first approach, which is really what their clients want and need.
Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?
We originally started as a traditional PR agency, but quickly realized that clients buy PR because they want profile and leads, yet PR on its own is often not enough to deliver profile and leads. So we have been evolving and adapting ever since. That means we now offer content, search, social, inbound and video services and we are constantly adapting and improving to become more effective at this. We are highly strategic and our clients really value that.
What's next for the Business in the near future?
We are increasingly advising our clients on video strategy. We used to make videos for our clients and then leave it to them to promote them. However, we found many our clients struggled with this, so we have built a department that advises specifically on video strategy, including amplification and distribution of video assets. Our clients really appreciate it and we are selling far more video business that way.
Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?
We are constantly evolving and improving on our services, becoming much more of a strategic advisor to our clients. But in a service business, our people are incredibly important and our major initiative this year is around investing in our people strategy. We have hired a talent manager and we are optimizing every element in the employee lifecycle, from recruitment and employer branding to benefits, training, bonuses and appraisals. We want to become the leading media employer in the country!
Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)
The first five years were one long difficult moment! I launched the business in October 2008 when the business climate became suddenly very challenging. Generating leads and growing our revenue was really really tough. Add to that the fact that I was still pretty inexperienced and needed to buy out my investors and it was a very hard time.
Ideal experience for a customer/client?
Our clients like us because “driven by data” is one of our core values – we deliver measurable integrated marketing and communications strategies, which very few other agencies can make claim to.
How do you motivate others?
We start by hiring the right people – we put a lot of effort into recruitment. Then we have a very competitive benefits system and a clear system of KPIs – each employee has their KPIs and these are related to bonuses and promotions. We also like to be public and generous with our praise.
Career advice to those in your industry?
Keep learning – the industry is changing so quickly, you need to keep up.