Lauren Stevenson went from being the PR Director for my-wardrobe to being Head of PR for one of the most famous department stores in the world, Harrods. She's since branched out on her own and founded PR agency Aisle 8. We caught up with her to find out how it's all going.
In October 2014 you set up your own fashion PR agency, Aisle 8. Why did you decide to branch out on your own?
Virginia (Virginia Norris – Aisle 8 co-founder and former head of global PR for Whistles) and I decided to launch Aisle 8 after seeing a gap in the market for an agency which bridged the gap between traditional PR and digital marketing. We had both been working within the changing media landscape and working for pure-play e-commerce and bricks and clicks businesses where the different communications channels were owned by different teams. We knew we had the expertise to bring a 360-approach to communications by marrying our media relationships built over many years, with our thorough understanding of digital.
Was it a scary decision, leaving the safety of an amazing job at Harrods?
It was one of the scariest but most exciting decisions of my life. You often hear people say that the most difficult part of starting a business is actually making the decision to do it and that is absolutely right. You go from the comfort of a job where you go to work every day, your salary comes in at the end of month, you have a PA to manage your diary, to sitting at your kitchen table thinking “right, what do we do next?”.
How does having your own company differ from being an employee?
It’s completely different to any of my previous roles. You just cannot compare it. As a Director or Head of a department you can always build your team and create your strategy for the year, but it always falls under the brand you work for and the culture of that brand. Virginia and I have been able to create our brand identity, build our team and client portfolio and create our own culture – one that we want our team to love and be part of. We want our team to come into work every day loving what they do and the clients that they represent, being inspired every minute of the day and feel fully part of the DNA of Aisle 8.
What’s the best thing about setting up your own business?
You become the master of your own destiny, building your team and business exactly how you want it to be, with no one to answer to apart from each other. You can command your own working hours and in today’s digital world, you can literally work from anywhere in the world.
And what are the negative aspects about setting up your own business?
It takes a lot of courage to start your own business. I couldn’t have done it without Virginia, plus having someone by your side to share the excitement, the worries, and the successes, is just amazing. It’s your own money that goes into the business and you put everything on the line, but that gives you the added kick every day to be successful. I will be honest, we work 24/7, but we’ve done that for years and now it’s for Aisle 8, for us and for our team.
You joined forces with Virginia Norris from Whistles on this venture, what have you learnt from her?
Virginia is a force of nature. She is one of the best PRs in the business. She is creative and dynamic, but most importantly is one of the nicest and most respected PRs, which is proven through the incredible relationships she has built over years. Virginia’s ability to build brands and establish absolute credibility and integrity in the fashion arena brings something new and exciting to every client or campaign. I learn so much from her every day – from her approach to challenges and issues to her ideas and creativity when building campaigns, which are truly endless.
What sets your PR company apart from the rest?
We understand that the customer has to be put at the core of every campaign and we need to understand how they consume media and we feel so incredibly privileged to have launched Aisle 8 in October with a world-class portfolio of clients, including the soon-to-launch Very Exclusive, luxury e-tailer STYLEBOP.com, male cancer charity One For The Boys, designer re-sale website Covetique.com and LVMH-owned media platform NOWNESS. Our client mix has continued to build with the addition of global online market place Boticca.com, designer Catherine Quin and florist Grace & Thorn, plus five brands, who we consult for behind the scenes. We wanted to blur the traditional lines of the agency-client relationship, bringing the in-house approach to each client, and it has created exceptional relationships with every brand we work for, allowing us to be more dynamic and really deliver for their business.
How did you get to where you are today?
During my marketing degree, I really enjoyed the PR element of the course and I had always loved people and felt a natural path towards the fashion industry. I was lucky enough to secure a two week placement at luxury Chelsea-based PR agency Aurelia, where I had the opportunity to work across clients such as Versace, Elie Saab, Salvatore Ferragamo, La Redoute, Diageo Reserve and Tiffany & Co.
Once I graduated I was offered a permanent role at Aurelia PR where I worked for a year, before moving to global PR agency Ketchum. I then moved to Hill and Knowlton working in the Consumer Tech division on brands such as LG, Intel, P&G and a start-up etailer called my-wardrobe.com. Working closely with the founder Sarah Curran, I was given the opportunity to join the founding team to build the UK and international PR.
What is it about the fashion industry that you love so much?
The fashion industry is constantly evolving and is driven by some of the world’s most creative, innovative and inspiring people. We have seen a huge shift in the industry with today’s digital landscape, but it’s made it only more exciting to work in.
To other women thinking about taking the leap to set up their own business, what would be your advice?
Do your research and know that there is a clear gap in the market for your business and a customer base. We knew that the PR agency market was extremely saturated, but we could see that there was a clear gap for what our agency would offer. You need to have the funds to start your business and manage your cash flow. Cash flow can be the biggest hurdle for any business and you need to ensure you plan for every eventuality. I know so many women launch businesses on their own, but I can’t express how amazing it has been doing this as a partnership with Virginia and being able to share that journey with someone else is something I would definitely recommend.
What are your workwear wardrobe staples?
Les Chiffoniers leather leggings, Helmut Lang blazer, Theory tank, Roland Mouret or Victoria Beckham dress, Valentino shoes and Saint Laurent Sac du Jour bag. For evening a Victoria Beckham, Roland Mouret or McQueen dress never fails.
How would your colleagues describe you?
I think they would say that I’m passionate, positive and motivating. I’m a hard taskmaster, but I work to pull everyone together to deliver amazing results and celebrate successes together as a team. My team and I laugh every day and there is a real team spirit with every one helping each other regardless of the task in hand. Even though we are a lean team and we work long hours, there is a close team unit in place, so the hours fly by with a smile on our faces.
What’s best advice you’ve ever been given?
Be positive and believe in what you want to achieve, because positivity and self-belief get you half of the way there.
What’s your 5-year plan?
We launched Aisle 8 on the 1 October 2014, so our number one priority is cementing our position here in London. Our world evolves and changes so fast so we have concentrated on building a plan for the next two years. If you look at five years ago the PR and communications landscape was a very different place and we know it will continue to change over the next five years. We didn’t set up Aisle 8 to be another large agency with hundreds of retained clients, we want to create a boutique agency, which concentrates on offering digital consultancy, 360 PR and communications expertise to a select number of brands, which complement each other.