When I left 1 Canada Square in March 2014 for the last time as editor of Inside Housing, I was doing more than stepping onto the Jubilee line away from Canary Wharf to whisk me home to South London. I was leaving behind the life I had known for the past 13 years as an award-winning journalist. I was leaving behind friends and colleagues. I was taking a leap into the world of PR and comms and launching my own business: See Media.
At the time, I had an idea that I wanted to be my own boss and continue to work with housing providers. I knew I could write, had a good eye for design and could project-manage on very tight timescales to a high standard. But I didn’t realise how much more I needed to learn (and still do!) to be a success in my new chosen profession.
The fact that, eight years later, See Media is a successful, stimulating, fun place to work with such a passionate and committed team (link opens in a new tab) still makes me pinch myself. If I am honest, I don’t quite know how we got here – I’d like to say it was judgement on my part, but really there are large and regular slices of luck.
Eight key milestones
As a team we have been reflecting on some of the key milestones on our journey. I have set some of these out below and added some reflections of my own – hopefully this is useful to others considering their own ventures.
- Have a plan and then rewrite it: My first plan with See Media was that we would support clients in a variety of sectors with their corporate publications. I was thinking newsletters, annual reports, customer publications, etc. We have been fortunate that clients have wanted these services (link opens in a new tab) – but this was not what they were most interested in from us. They wanted the full range of PR and comms support with a focus on the housing sector. To deliver this, my plan had to evolve – and quickly
- Learning to say no: This now seems obvious – there is no point in taking on work that you don’t have the capacity, the skills to deliver or that is not the right fit for your business. Yet in See Media’s early days, I said yes to pretty much everything. Need some research on fire safety products? I’m your man. Want national journalists and broadcasters to carry your event as a lead item? Look no further. Good for turnover – bad for stress levels and family harmony
- Focus on what clients want that you are good at: Again, feels like a ‘duh’ statement of the obvious. Understanding that what I am good at and want to do, is not necessarily the same thing from a client perspective was a light bulb moment
- Building a brilliant team: I am blessed to work with an inspiring group of people at See Media – both permanent team members and our network of associates. They are talented and determined. The fact that they want to work with me and share my commitment to support housing providers is the biggest stroke of luck of all
- Supportive clients: We would be nowhere without our clients. They give us the opportunity to help make a positive difference to their businesses and in the lives of their customers. They trust us to guard their reputations and welcome our suggestions to innovate and reach audiences in new ways. This is very humbling, and we never underestimate the privilege we have
- Move from London to Birmingham: When we opened our first office in London in 2018 around the corner from Liverpool Street Station this was a big moment for See Media. Prior to this point we had worked remotely from home, leading an often nomadic existence shuttling around the country meeting clients. We were putting down roots and, as I saw it at the time, allowing ourselves to build for the future and employ new people. This was one of those times when, as in point one, you have a plan and then rewrite it. The best people to work in See Media were not, as I had naively assumed, in London. They were in the West Midlands and elsewhere around the country. We shifted our base to Birmingham and today have hub offices there and in Leeds, with people based in Newcastle and Scotland as well. We were able to use our hybrid working structure to seamlessly work remotely during the pandemic and we have not looked back
- Winning our first awards: Thank you to the PRCA Dare Midlands Awards in 2020! (link opens in new tab) Working with our client Stonewater on its new podcast channel, we won the ‘charity/not-for-profit’ award. This has been followed by several more with the PRCA and also CIPR (links open in new tabs). My highlight so far was winning the PRCA ‘Rising Star’ award in 2021 – well done Sara-Anne! (link opens in new tab)
- Journalists are wrong – PR is hard! PR and comms are way tougher than I ever gave PR people credit for when I was a journalist – shame on me. Thankfully, many of my journalist skills are transferable, but I have needed to learn a whole load more! The focus on continued learning and professional development has made me a better PR person and a better MD
Running my own business has been challenging, thrilling and sometimes terrifying (March 2020 at the start of the pandemic). But I am incredibly proud that the See Media team and our clients make it possible, and we are able to do a rewarding job to an incredibly high level – here’s to the next eight years!
Stuart Macdonald is Managing Director of See Media