• The Business Owner

Meet the Boss - Louise Bruce

Company Name: Big Red Box PR

Position: Managing Director

Industry: Public Relations

What was your first job or role after education?

Having been politely asked to ‘leave’ boarding school at the age of 16, I moved to London and completed my studies at a crammer college. A few days after my final exam I realised I needed money to fund my chronic coloured tights and B&H habit, so I put on my best frock and went into every shop on Sloane Street, asking for a job in each until I got one. I started work at designer clothes retailer, Joseph Bis, a few days later. I learned so much from that job; a) Standing up all day is agony. b) Rich and famous people can be incredibly rude (Lauren Bacall was one of the worst). c) Never trust clothes in a sale; my uniform I’d been washing and wearing the entire season was marked down to half price and sold to the unsuspecting public.

Could you describe your career path for the reader?

I was married at 23 and spent 18yrs as the wife of a British Army Officer; a role I took very seriously and put my heart and soul into. Living all over the world and adapting to many challenging circumstances (bombs in Belfast, Battalion deployment to Bosnia and the Gulf War etc), gave me an incredible training for the job I do today.

Whilst stationed in Osnabruck, Germany, I secured a job writing for a British Army newspaper, Sixth Sense. The stories I wrote varied from reports on the latest Wives’ Club fundraiser to interviewing military personnel. I was paid by the word, so worked hard to find as many interesting stories on my patch as I could.

As the Commanding Officer’s wife at the time, I was often interviewed by BFBS radio (British Forces Broadcasting Service) about upcoming events etc. I really enjoyed these interviews and, on return to the UK, marched into the now defunct Garrison Radio in Tidworth and asked for a job, which I duly got, giving me my first paid job on the radio, as a broadcast journalist.

Another posting for my husband meant the search for another new job for me. A very talented presenter friend made me an outstanding demo tape to go with my application for a job at Star Radio, Cheltenham. Incredibly, and due I’m sure only to the quality of the demo tape, I got the job. When I asked which news-shift I’d be covering I was told ‘co-host on the breakfast show’. That was some learning curve. I’d never ‘driven’ a live desk in my life and cried on my first day. I was still pretty bad at it by the time I left to be honest, frequently leaving my mic ‘open’ so the whole of Cheltenham could hear me gossiping with a colleague during songs. I was particularly bad a ‘back timing’ up to the news. I particularly I loved going out and about interviewing people in shops and businesses across town, for a feature on my mid-morning show called the ‘Work place takeover’. Colleagues noticed I had a knack for choosing locations with free food and drink. After a few years of radio, I decided PR was a better use of my skills, joined a local firm and a few years after that, set up Big Red Box PR on my own.

What is your current role and what is your favourite part about it?

I am a one-woman band so do absolutely everything in the business. I work incredibly closely with my clients, truly becoming part of the team, planning and delivering their PR and social media strategy. It is crucial that I get to know every part of their business so I can take advantage of PR opportunities when I see them. I love talking to people, teasing stories out of them that they didn’t even realise existed. I recently discovered one of my clients has seven father and son teams working with him…an incredible story that I’ve got saved up for Father’s Day in June. My brain is constantly scanning for PR opportunities and for building best practice into each business so that, should they wish to enter awards in the future, they have a bank of great stories and results to draw on. My favourite part? All of it.

Are you optimistic, realistic or pessimistic about 2021?

Good question: I think realistic bordering on optimistic. I specialise in the franchise sector who of course trade across a myriad of sectors and, alongside big losses there have also been some big gains in many areas. I was chair of EWIF (Encouraging Women into Franchising) a few years ago and have recently been reading about the incredible successes some of their award winners have had in the last 12 months. As long as your particular marketplace is still able to trade, those who put high standards, professionalism, exceptional service and the welfare of their staff at the top of their agenda, seem to be winning hands down.

What is the most important task you carry out each day?

Stepping away from my desk. My brain sometimes just stops working and, much like a laptop that has frozen, I need to switch it off and back on again. I need to be creative in my thinking and if the cogs seize up, then we’re done for. My break might be unloading the dishwasher, hanging out the washing, taking the dogs for a walk or having a nap. We are not machines and I honestly believe it is unhealthy and unrealistic to think that just because your bottom is sat on a chair in front of a desk from 9 am till 5pm you are ‘working’. It worries me terribly that young people are working ridiculously long hours and feel it is beholden on us, the older generation, many of whom are now ‘the boss’, to say ‘stop’. It really is just a job and you’ll be much better at it if you step away from your desk for long enough to enjoy returning to it.

What advice would you give to your 21-year-old self about your career journey?

If I could go back a bit further to 16, I’d have said, ‘knuckle down, go to university and pursue a proper career’ but knowing me I wouldn’t have listened, I’d have been halfway down a gin and tonic looking for the next opportunity to get up to mischief. My boarding school eventually gave me a key to the front door so I could go out to dinner with my boyfriend in the evenings. I’m presuming they thought it was safer to let me go rather than catch me climbing out of a window?

To my 21yr old self I’d say ‘it’s going to be one hell of a ride; you’ll learn every single lesson the hard way but you will find enormous satisfaction in being self-employed.’

Have there been any positives about 2020 and lockdown for you?

On balance probably not. I lost most of my clients at the beginning of Covid 19 and as the Director of a Limited company, I am one of the three million #Excluded who received no meaningful support from the Government.

Drawing on an in-built resilience I appear to have picked up over the years though, I dug deep and have now built the business back up to pre-covid levels, with new clients who I am thoroughly enjoying working for.

What causes you the most stress at work?

The inability to predict whether stories I draft for clients and send to the press will be used. I can send similar stories (eg: a business rebrand/acquisition) to two different regions, one area will lap it up gaining coverage everywhere, while the other will ignore it completely. The press have, like all industries, suffered during the pandemic and with journalists working from home I can’t even phone them to have a chat, so it’s just a case of ‘email and see’ which is really difficult.

If you could instantly change one area or thing about your business, what would it be?

I wish I did not have to pay the Copyright Licensing Authority and the Newspaper Licensing Authority money to receive and share coverage that I wrote. That really annoys me. Without the content written by PR’s, most media publications would be empty, and yet we get charged to see copies of our own work. How is that fair?

What do you do to unwind?

I run. I started running a few years ago, have two half marathons and numerous triathlons under my belt and am looking forward to getting back to competing in 10k races at weekends. I also entertain a lot and also spend a lot of time camping in my motorhome.

If you could give a single piece of advice to a start up entrepreneur what would that be?

From a PR perspective, try to make sure you do things ‘right’ from the start. It is never too early to think about CSR and PR credentials. Ask yourself, what good is my company going to do? How is it going to make life better for other people, for the planet? What are the pillars you want to build your business on? Write them down, pin them on the wall and keep referring to them. In the early days you may not be making huge amounts of money or winning big contracts, so be noticed for being the good guys instead and by having those standards, in place you’ll be heading in the right direction from day one.