How to be a successful PR entrepreneur

By an account manager at Atmosphere Communications

Public relations is a fast-growing industry in South Africa, and more and more PR professionals are going it alone and becoming entrepreneurs in our exciting and diverse field. What is the secret to success for a PR entrepreneur? To find out, I spoke to Nicola Nel, founder and MD of Atmosphere Communications – the multi-award winning, integrated brand and corporate communications consultancy I work for.

By an account manager at Atmosphere Communications
By an account manager at Atmosphere Communications

What ignited the spark to start your own PR consultancy?

At the time – in 2001 – I was employed at another PR consultancy, and wasn’t happy with the standard of work that was being delivered for clients. I am a very competitive and high-energy person, and knew I had more to offer clients. The only way I could do this was to start my own company and offer the best service possible.

What are the top three qualities needed to be a successful entrepreneur in PR?

As in any industry, an entrepreneur needs to have leadership skills, be tenacious and most importantly, be passionate about the business. It is not always fun-and-games being your own boss. You have to work far harder than when you were employed, and lead by example. Sometimes passion is all you have to help you navigate late-night client deadlines, creative challenges and the balancing act of being a mom while running a business.

How do you market your business and build a successful customer base?

We have worked very hard over the years to build and maintain a thriving business through delivering great work for clients. When we pitch to potential clients, we use this as an opportunity to showcase the work we have done for other clients. Today, our work speaks for itself and clients approach us.

‘Word of mouth’ plays an important role. And creating a nurturing environment to help our staff flourish and grow is also part of our essence as a business. ‘Atmospherians’, even ones who have left us for the lure of the corporate world, are ambassadors for the company. Our approach of caring for our people, who look after our clients, who in turn deliver the profits, is a recipe which has stood the test of time.

How do you recruit people who share your vision?

We have a rigorous recruitment process designed to help us discover people best suited to the Atmosphere way of doing business. One of our senior team members jokes that she had least six interviews before she was made an offer, and those who’ve not jumped through as many hoops, took a short cut in joining the company! Each team member has something unique to offer and we tap into that quite well.

How do you define success?

The measure of success is different for each business and for every person. I feel I’ve succeeded when I’ve equipped the people around me to being the best they can be – such as an account director who started as an intern and now leads large-scale campaigns, an account manager who came up with a creative idea that added to our client’s business success, or an intern whose first piece of writing resulted in break-through coverage. That’s what I call success.

Atmosphere Communications was named Best Mid-Sized Agency in South Africa at both the 2014 and 2015 PRISM Awards.

Nicola Nel, founder and MD of Atmosphere Communications
Nicola Nel, founder and MD of Atmosphere Communications