Jane Austin, founder of Persuasion Communications, discusses what made her found her own agency, its content-based approach and her thoughts on this year’s Cannes Lions.
What made you decide to found Persuasion?
Being skint is the mother of invention. I’d been a journalist merrily living on pittance but after becoming a single mum I had to start my own communications company to help keep the bailiffs at bay.
Because I did things my own way, using my journalistic sensibilities, I was able to turn Persuasion into something I really loved doing, but that also paid the bills.
You were one of the early adopters of using a content-based approach. Why has that worked so well and how have you been able to evolve it?
We’ve always been about putting useful, interesting stuff into the world to spark debate and make people think. Our network of journalists, writers, consultants, events and media experts work with clients to generate and execute ideas around anything from podcasts to research.
Over the years, I’ve broadened the team of specialists we work with and developed a way of operating that’s as flexible and tailored to each client as is humanly possible. We’re very opinionated and passionate, which some clients love. Others make their excuses and leave the room.
How diverse is your client list and are you looking to expand into other sectors?
We started out specialising in ad agencies but now we’ve got everything from global football networks to petcare brands. Clients span marcomms, tech, broadcast, design and fitness.
We are currently looking at a travel entity and opening offices in two other markets, but as for expanding into other sectors, a vodka and a mini-break brand would come in very handy.
What have been your highlights at Persuasion so far?
Nauseating as it may sound, the main highlight is that I work with an incredibly intelligent, savvy, loyal and fantastically funny group of people; some have been friends and colleagues for nearly thirty years.
From a results point of view: getting a client an entire Radio 4 programme built around her blog, clients getting new business directly off of our initiatives, helping companies build their profile for sale and just some really strong, original stories. We also won four Lions at Cannes a couple of years ago, which was an unexpected but, clearly, delightful surprise.
What is your strategy for managing the gap between what clients expect and journalists want?
It’s all about being brutally honest and encouraging clients to have an open mind. We’ve also really honed our ability to think laterally about how we get stuff on the news agenda.
How do you look to measure your PR output?
The usual: clippings, content analysis, impressions, leads, coverage book, length of client relationship; although I would like the industry to collectively try and find a succinct and credible algorithm.
Finally, Cannes Lions is almost upon us. What is your view on the festival of creativity?
There are three certainties in my life – death, taxes and traipsing up and down the Croisette for a week in June every year.
This year, it’s great to see that the festival organisers are being much more proactive with the push to increase diversity, which has been lacking in recent years. This is reflected in both the speaker line-up and their updated jury guidelines, which encourage judges to consider whether ads perpetuate damaging stereotypes and inequalities before giving an award.