In celebration of 15 years since he founded The PR Office, company Chairman, Shimon Cohen, sat down with Senior Account Executive, Drew Salisbury, to discuss the inspiration behind the business, the highs, the lows and aims for the future.

In the first blog of a three-part series, Shimon discusses how The PR Office came about.

DREW: It’s been 15 years since you decided to set up The PR Office. How would you describe the last 15 years?

SHIMON: The last 15 years have been – by far – the best 15 years of my career. It has been a hugely exciting period with amazing client work, incredible opportunities, fantastic travels, with some remarkable people who have come through the office. We have the most incredible team and we’re doing wonderful work. The reality is that I couldn’t have hoped for anything better. It’s been a wonderful period.

DREW: What was the catalyst that made you want to start afresh and set up your own company?

SHIMON: There were two specific reasons. The first was this: what happens in big corporate – and I worked for a big corporate for 14 years – is that you get really good at something and then get promoted to be doing a job that you know nothing at all about. That is what happened to me.

At the age of 40, I was very excited to have been asked by Lord Bell, the Chairman of the Bell Pottinger Group, to become the chief executive of Bell Pottinger Public Relations. It was an enormous promotion and very flattening and exciting, so I said yes. What I didn’t quite understand is that, being a client man through and through, I was now asked to become a manager and manage people’s holidays, hiring and firing people – all the things that come with being a manager. I had no interest whatsoever. In the meantime, I kept some of the clients whom I’d been working with and so effectively was doing two jobs. It was becoming just impossible and there were not enough hours in the day to do the two jobs.

Little by little, I neglected the management role of being chief executive and after a little while, it became completely obvious that I didn’t want to do it anymore. So, I went and suggested that I didn’t want to do this job anymore. That’s effectively the first reason why I wanted to leave, but at that time I was persuaded to stay and essentially become a consultant within the main part of group. So, I did because I had no intention of leaving really. But it was clear that I wanted an opportunity to create my own agency be more hands on with clients.

The second reason for leaving was that I had managed to secure a fantastic assignment with the Nelson Mandela Foundation to head up international communications for the launch of Mandela’s 46664, which was his aids awareness campaign. The launch was taking place at Green Point Stadium in South Africa with literally everyone in the music industry at the time: Queen, Bob Geldof, Beyoncé – it was incredible.

You’re probably thinking now: what has that got to do with me wanting to leave? Well, I had the great pleasure and privilege to write a speech for Nelson Mandela to deliver at Green Point Stadium in the middle of this huge concert, which incidentally became the world’s most watched concert in the Guinness World Records. Anyway, when I returned to the office to share with my Bell Pottinger colleagues this hugely wonderful, exciting moment not only in mine but the company’s career, it became absolutely apparent that the then chairman of the consultancy group that I was now part of was just not interested at all. I realised then and there that effectively the soul had been taken away from the company. It wasn’t really about the work we did for clients. It was much more about management, targets and numbers. So, I went that day to Tim Bell and said: ‘I have to go. I can’t take much more of this. It’s just not the company that I want to be in anymore. It doesn’t do communications anymore, just management.’ So, I left. I set up The PR Office which has always had our clients as our number one priority.

DREW: What has been your PRO career highlight so far?

SHIMON: I wouldn’t even know where to begin to answer that question because the truth is that the highlights would have to fall into a number of different areas and so to narrow it down would be very difficult. There’s an office building, the office building we’re in at the moment. I wanted to be in this building at the start but couldn’t afford it. That’s one highlight: to be able to afford where you want to be because it was an aspiration and we achieved it.

I could also name a number of people, who over the past period that they’ve been working with me, they’ve developed into exceptional talent. That’s a highlight as well: when you see people, who have real talent. Some have moved on and that’s natural in a young person’s career and others have stayed and are still with us. I hope they will be with us for a very long time. So, that’s a highlight where you develop talent and you look at these people and think: ‘This is super!’ I get a great deal of pride from other people being good at their job.

I could talk about client work. For example, we continued the Mandela Foundation project which was glorious, culminating in the 18th July being designated by the United Nations as Nelson Mandela International Day. That’s certainly a highlight.

Running the campaign for His Royal Highness Prince Ali of Jordan during the FIFA presidential elections and the launch of His Royal Highness’ Association of Football Development Programme Global (AFPDG) in October 2018 are also highlights. I could go on and on because there have been so many. Truthfully, I don’t think there is any one thing that really stands out as there has been so many and continues to be so many. There is such a long list of highlights, it would be invidious to cement just one.

In the next blog, Shimon will look at the state of the PR industry and the changing role of communications professionals.

About the Author: Shimon Cohen