Meet Marina Hall, Head of Finance and Legal affairs at PHA Media. She graduated from Jesus College, Cambridge, with a degree in pharmacology before pursuing a career as a Chartered and European patent attorney. Marina came first in the UK in her qualifying exams and became a partner in London patent and trademark specialist firm Elkington and Fife LLP at the age of 28, where her clients included Dow Corning, Smith Kline Glaxo and Takeda Chemical Industries in Japan. She was involved a number of notable cases at the European Patents Court in Munich.
She stood down from the partnership when she had two children and became one of Reckitt Benckiser’s in-house patent attorneys, joining the healthcare team of this multi-national consumer goods company, based in Hull.
In 2005 a complete career change saw her as a founder partner of London PR agency, PHA Media helping the company grow from a staff of two to over 70 and a place in the UK’s top 20 independent PR agencies in 2016.
Now a mother of three, she is heavily involved in company growth strategy, developing the hugely talented team at PHA as well as heading the finance and legal affairs at the Soho-based agency. In this installment, Marina discusses what are the 5 steps you believe are the fundamental core basics towards starting a business and the importance of PR for start-ups.
Can you tell us a little bit about what you do at PHA Media?
With my background as a Chartered and European Patent Attorney, my experience lends itself nicely to manage and guide the legal, finance and HR functions of the business which I set up with my husband, Phil, 11 years ago. Phil’s former career as a journalist and newspaper editor means his focus is on the core service of our business, representing the clients in the media whilst my focus has always been on practicalities and the logistical side, something I really enjoy. I work closely with the finance team to ensure everything is ticking along in order and the HR team to help develop and train our staff. The most rewarding and satisfying aspect of my role without a doubt is watching the PHA team grow into skilled professionals and leaders throughout the years.
How do you like to start your day?
My day usually starts in ‘mum mode’ with school bags and breakfasts to organise for three. This means I usually don’t have time to think about work until all the children are at the school gates apart from answering the odd email here and there. I then like to check in with the teams I work closely with across the business to get an agenda in place for the day and answer any queries. Part of my role on the board of the business means I need to help drive strategy so I also like to put aside some time each day to focus on particular areas and put a strategy in place for how we might achieve our goals.
What is on the horizon for 2017?
As a business each year we have witnessed incredible growth so my time over the majority of 2017 will be spent on investing in our staff through training and development. This will effectively help develop the business even further and ensure we continually go that extra mile for our clients.
What has been the hardest challenge you have had to overcome?
The biggest challenge I have faced thus far has been balancing a career with having children- a common issue which so many women face in their lifetime. When I had my first child, I went back to work full-time shortly after and that was a real struggle. In the early days of the business, I would often have to get up at dawn to do half a day’s work before the children awoke. However, as our family and business grew, I was able to benefit from the flexibility of running and owning a business, so I made my working hours fit around the children. Now we are more established and have fantastic team leaders, I don’t need to be in the office as much so I split my time between working from home and in the office.
You have 11 years’ experience since starting in your spare bedroom with your husband, how do you feel the market has changed since you first began, and how have you adapted?
The media in itself has vastly changed and people are consuming news in ways we could never have predicted once we started the business. For this reason, we launched a digital and creative side of the business several years ago so that we can offer fully-fledged integrated campaigns to our clients. We have extremely talented staff members who specialise in all aspects of the media, be that in traditional print formats or online and social media and we continually invest in their training to develop well-rounded employees. I believe adaptability is key in ensuring a business’ success and keeping our finger on the pulse is something we pride PHA on, along with building and establishing strong relationships with clients, the media, politicians and bloggers alike. Our current focus is expanding our online reputation management team by utilising more our in-house technical expertise to help individuals and companies manage their reputation online, an area of increasing importance.
Although you currently are Head of Finance and Legal Affairs, did you pretty much have to be involved in all aspects of your company before expanding?
Yes. When we launched the business my responsibility was incredibly varied and I pretty much did everything from purchasing our computers, arranging office space to recruitment. Over the years we have established teams and procedures to look after these areas but as a business owner I am still involved in each area which previously fell under my responsibility due to my emotional investment, this is always changing and expanding, I am now heavily involved in PHA’s own marketing and website which I find fascinating – I don’t think that is something I will ever be able to let go of!
You now employ 70 staff at PHA Media, how do you scale?
We have been quite fortunate in the fact that we have experienced a lot of organic growth year on year. This has been fuelled by the diversification of the media and the need for more brands, organisations, and individuals to tell their story in the public domain. I think a lot of our growth has also been as a result of the staff we hire at PHA, who have spotted opportunities and ways to expand our business across different sectors. We pride ourselves on an entrepreneurial nature, where each department and individual is encouraged to go out and cease opportunities that interest them. This in itself has enabled us to scale across different industries and diversify our expertise. We are currently looking at our internal structures to create Divisions to allow even further growth and opportunities for our staff and clients alike.
Can you talk us through the importance of PR for start-up brands?
PR is a hugely important and valuable marketing tool for brands of any size. Whilst allowing a brand to tell a story in a non-obtrusive way, PR increases visibility and helps businesses stand out from competitors. A piece of press coverage in a targeted area of the media also enhances credibility and drives awareness of a brand to its key audience and stakeholders. In our ever-increasing digital-first world, online media coverage also has an impact on a company’s digital footprint and SEO.
Reflecting back, if you could change anything since starting what would it be?
I don’t have any regrets, but if I could say anything to myself ten years ago, it would be to worry less. In the end, it always works out. The success of any business requires risks, calculated and well managed but nevertheless risks, it’s important to have a sense of perspective!
What crucial lesson have you learned from any previous mistakes?
I don’t really think I’ve made too many mistakes, perhaps taking things too seriously at times! But I always try to take the positives out of every situation, good and bad, there are always lessons to be learned and taking away a positive message is far more motivating than dwelling on the negatives.
Is there any piece advice you were given that you took and applied to PHA Media?
My parents always taught me to own my dreams and from a young age, I had always wanted to own my own business, part of the reason Phil and I took a leap of faith and set PHA Media up. They also encouraged me to take a broad interest in the world, probably partially responsible for PHA being a broad sectored company, catering to a variety of different niches.
Finally, what are the 5 steps you believe are the fundamental core basics towards starting a business?
1.Surround yourself with talented people- this is crucial in enabling your business to flourish. If your staff are highly skilled and have the confidence to go and develop the business in different areas, then it will no doubt grow rapidly.
2.Be original. Whilst it’s important to follow industry standards, make sure your business offers something different to your clients, to differentiate from your competitors.
3.Don’t be afraid to shout about your credentials. If you’ve done something good, tell people and spread the word online. It’s your hard earned work that adds to your credibility.
4.Invest and reward in your staff. Your staff is your biggest assets. Make sure you constantly put them at the forefront of your growth strategy as their development is highly important to your business’ success. And allow them to make mistakes – it’s the only way to encourage creativity.
5.Go above and beyond for your clients/ customers. If your client recognises that you go the extra mile for them, it will instantly build trust and loyalty. One of our clients, Simon Dolan, actually invested in PHA and now sits on the board because he was so impressed with our proactivity!