We chat with Sharon Zeev Poole from Agent99 PR, about how she got into public relations, her toughest trials, plus the ups and downs (and excitement!) of running your own business.
Can you please tell our audience a little about your background, and how you became the CEO of Agent99 PR?
I started my career in marketing in the ’90s after completing a Commerce Degree at Melbourne’s Deakin Uni. I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do, so became my dad’s Marketing Manager at his paint manufacturing and distribution company in Melbourne. I learned a lot, and whilst I didn’t study Public Relations at Uni, I was doing it instinctively by writing opinion pieces and submitting copy/contributions to trade magazines in our space. I also entered us into the Telstra Business Awards where we were named state finalists, so PR just seemed like such a natural fit!
Fast forward a couple of years and the travel bug hit. I decided London would be an amazing destination and after some solo travelling through Europe I landed a job in PR changing the perception of UK tap water of all things!
The rest, as they say, is history. I went on to work in agencies large and small, on brands such as Warner Bros. Pictures, Starbucks, IMAX, Jenny Craig and many more household names.
Working the agency side was a huge eye opener. I saw the good, the bad and the ugly and decided to start Agent99 PR in 2007, taking all the good with me and basing our service on cost effective solutions that always delivered results. We spend minimal hours at time-waster meetings and on meaningless report writing, and we focus strongly on delivering value to our clients.
And we haven’t looked back since. Agent99 has had the pleasure of working with some brands such as Glenfiddich, Hendrick’s Gin, the Hunter Valley region, Zespri Kiwifruit, Buderim Ginger and many more. Last year, we were finalists in a few awards across categories such as Medium PR Agency of the Year, and Consumer Marketing Campaign of the Year.
My focus now is to build further on integrating PR and digital offerings based on data, and campaign measurement, which is where it’s all going. It’s a very exciting time in our industry.
What is the one thing you wish clients would understand about Agent99 PR the first time they may connect with you?
The clearer a client can be about their objectives and vision for their brand, the better the outcome of working with us will be. There are so many ways to connect with audiences now, so if a client knows their brand, knows who they are talking to, and what their realistic spend is likely to be, our ideas and tailored solutions will be much more meaningful and easy to measure in terms of outcomes.
Our most successful clients however, are the ones that truly see us as their marketing partners and know that appointing an agency is only the beginning of the journey. The ones who work closely with us, assist us with great content from their end, and are engaged with the program, benefit incredibly.
What has been the toughest obstacle for your company to battle since you launched?
We had a client who grew their brands with us exponentially a few years ago, and effectively took over half of our resources at the time. We were of course, delighted that they trusted us with their portfolio, but in the back of my mind I was always concerned at their rapid growth and how much our agency depended on the revenue. And from one day to the next, my worst fears materialised and they pulled their PR in-house after an extensive pitch process. Literally half of our billings disappeared overnight. We went into marketing and PR overdrive as you can imagine, and I’m happy to report that we recovered within three months. But it was a scary time, and a huge learning curve to never allow a client to overshadow the others in your stable so significantly.
How do you manage your own schedule? Do you have any daily rituals you could share with us?
I have a young family, so I need to manage my time very carefully. My health is also very important to me. I ran my first marathon a few years ago, so I try to keep up my running and I do the City2Surf each year. To that end, I work out three mornings a week and I block out that time in my diary as I would any other meeting. It keeps me centred and able to cope with the large volume of communication that I receive from staff, clients, media, new business opportunities and the general day to day running of a busy agency.
I also have very strict rules around email management and response. My clients are often in awe at the speed of response and action. And the rest of my team abide by this too, it’s in our DNA.
I think it’s also vital in my industry to keep up with news, social media and happenings across varied sectors daily, so I spend a significant amount of time online.
I generally try not to work at night or on weekends. I think at the pace we keep, you definitely need some down time to keep your sanity in check!
What would be your main piece of advice for aspiring CEO’s/entrepreneurs?
Believe in yourself…and just do it. What’s the worst that can happen? You fail. Many have done so in the past and that’s how they have learned. However, in saying that, I think it’s smart to set a timeline of when it’s best to exit if your plan…well…doesn’t go to plan. I think that’s where many make the mistake. They are passionate about an idea and just give it more time, and more time, and more time…until the well runs very dry. That’s a big hole to have to crawl out of.
There are huge ups and downs in running your own business, so you need to have thick skin. Ultimately, that’s where the belief in yourself is absolutely vital. You will be challenged daily, and there will be many naysayers along the way, but you have to stick to your guns and follow your vision.
You must also surround yourself with a handful of trusted advisors. You will need them. Final decisions always lay with you, but it’s necessary to have people who are unbiased to run ideas past and challenge you, so that you have a good perspective on things.
But above all, have fun! It’s truly the ride of your life.