Succeeding in Business: How Marie Louise Pumfrey Makes It Happen
Marie Louise Pumfrey turned her home-based PR startup into a thriving fashion PR business with clients including Fiorelli and Pretty Polly. Here’s how she did it.
Introducing Bright Light PR
PR supremo Marie Louise helped to launch Channel 5 on our TV screens in the 1990s. When she quit her corporate career to launch her own startup, MLPR, the only thing she missed was the office’s IT help desk. Not surprising, given that the PR agency Marie Louise launched in 2006 now helps fashion clients appear in Vogue and the Financial Times, and run international campaigns.
Today, the west London office of Bright Light PR hosts eight staff – a long way from where it all began, in the back room of Marie Louise’s house.
She answered a few questions to shed some light on her journey to the top.
Q: What made you decide to start your own business?
“While I was at Channel 5, my brother got chatting to the owner of a high-end eyewear boutique in west London. They needed a PR, and I took on the job from home. The campaign was a huge success, and a leather brand quickly signed me up. That’s when I knew it was time to set up on my own. It also fitted with my desire for a more flexible working life to be with my children.”
Q: Tell us about the early days…
“My husband was freelancing too; we shared one room with an internet cable between us. Getting started was easy, as I had two clients already when I left my full-time job. Working from home meant the overheads were very low – I just needed a company name, an accountant, a website and computer.”
Q: What about the admin side of running a business?
“I had to organise insurance policies: public and products liability and office contents insurance for clients’ fashion samples. I opted for a company that offered a complete package, so I didn’t have to waste time dealing with different policies. I chose a firm that offered useful guidance over the phone, with no jargon.”
Q: What about your first hiring?
“I took on my first member of staff – a full-time assistant – in 2006, after advertising on industry website Fashion Monitor. I wasn’t sure what to include in my first employee contract, so I joined the Federation of Small Businesses, who offer all sorts of legal support. I also had to take out employers' liability insurance.”
Q: How did you motivate staff in the early days?
“Everyone had a monthly target to achieve a certain number of pieces of coverage. I implemented an incentive scheme where anyone who achieved their target could take a half-day holiday.”
Q: How did it feel when your business started to grow?
“Exciting, stressful and full-on. Creating effective PR campaigns takes determination. Add to that the work of growing a business, and taking on staff, and it felt overwhelming at times. When there were five members of staff, we moved from my home office to my first office in Queens Park. I had to update my office contents insurance policy to cover all the sample collections we had in the office. What with all the couriers, clothes, newspapers and magazines it got too hectic, so I moved into a local office in 2010.”
Q: What have been your biggest successes?
“Our campaign for the high street brand Look Again reached over 86 million readers nationwide. I’m proud of our work for fashion brand Seasalt, where we secured Judi Dench and Savannah Miller to design a charity jute bag. By working with celebrity stylists, our clients’ brands have been worn by stars like Cara Delevingne, Fearne Cotton and Rita Ora. I also loved organising a London Fashion Week event for designer Eley Kishimoto.”
Q: Has all of the agency’s growth been organic?
“No – I always wanted to find a partner to grow the business, and luckily in 2014 I met Paige Mengers, who had her own agency. We merged in December that year. I moved my team and clients to her office in Hammersmith. Now at Bright Light PR there are two pilots: we divide responsibilities and share decisions. Our 20 clients include digital retailers and designer labels, including LYCRA® and Pretty Polly tights. We’re having lots of fun. In the fashion industry, glamorous events and launches are part of the job description!”
Marie Louise's 5 Top Business Tips
- Keep overheads as low as possible.
- Specialise in one area and become an expert.
- Do your best-possible job for every client, because word-of-mouth is the best way to win new business.
- Get as much support from friends and family as you can, as a startup can be all-consuming.
- Recognise when the time is right to make changes in order to grow your business.
Lucy Tobin is a business reporter for the Evening Standard, and author of books including Entrepreneur: how to start an online business (Capstone) and The Book of Jobs (Heron Books).
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