60 Seconds with Milk & Honey PR’s Kirsty Leighton

Kirsty Leighton, former Hudson Sandler MD and the founder of Milk & Honey PR, talks to Gorkana about her experiences as a team leader and the challenges and rewards of setting-up her own agency.

Kirsty Leighton

What made you decide to leave Hudson Sandler and set-up your own agency?
Hudson Sandler is a wonderful agency with an enviable client list. I was lucky enough to hold the role of MD there for five years. Coming into a capital market focused agency with a brand background was exciting and the agency evolved quite considerably during those five years. I have always, however, secretly yearned to do something on my own terms. The move of HS out from under Huntsworth was the catalyst I needed.

What do you hope will set Milk & Honey apart?
We are an agency where people come first. Where passion and creativity are prized. Where clients are celebrated. One where there is time to think, to go the extra mile. A land of opportunity as the name suggests!

Our focus is managing and nurturing reputations for ambitious growth companies. We work with senior decision makers to change the way businesses talk. We don’t start with numbers, we start with people. We specialise in enriching messaging. Making your story more beautiful, colourful, inspiring or simply less complicated. We weave these rich, emotive messages into intelligent campaigns that deliver business value.

What challenges do you anticipate?
The first few months threw up a whole array of expected and unexpected challenges. I was ready for the frustrations of managing without tech support and the accounts department – thank goodness for YouTube and QuickBooks. I was prepared for the challenge of starting out as a party of one. What really surprised me was just how much support and encouragement I received.

PR is all about relationships and I’m blown away by just how wonderful my business network has been. Friends and colleagues from years back inviting me for coffees and offering projects to get the ball rolling. Ex-clients, business partners and industry friends making introductions, getting me on pitch lists and offering recommendations. This first month was quite a confidence boost.

The challenge now is more business as usual. Finding the right talent that aligns to our values of – bravery, energy, passion, respect, loyalty and collaboration; on-boarding new clients and sticking to the growth plans.

What are you most looking forward to?
Right now we have a wonderful office space in Battersea Studios where we can walk to work (we all live near Clapham, so far). As beautiful as the offices are, I am looking forward to getting our own space and creating something special. Warm, inviting, inspiring.

What, do you believe, is your strength as a team leader?
I’m incredibly lucky that over my 20-plus years in the industry, I have had the chance to see into lots of different sectors and lead different types of PR agencies – corporate, brand, financial, technology and full service.

This has taught me to appreciate and seek out different talents. I also grew up in an ISO9000 organisation, so as a leader I am structured. I hope this makes me clear in my expectations and empowering in the delivery.

What’s been the highlight of your career to date?
I adored my time at WE Communications. Every couple of years I was given a new challenge, which saw me manage technology, social innovation, digital, consumer, corporate and healthcare teams in Europe, then taking on a global role and travelling extensively. It was great fun.

I’ve always focused on growing businesses and building award-winning client campaigns. That is what I love, and I’m proud of all I’ve achieved on that front. The greatest highlight is probably the network of amazing PR people I have worked with over the years, seeing what they are achieving now. It makes me feel extremely proud – and quite old!

What career advice would you give your 21-year-old self?
Relax, no-one expects you to know very much when you start-out in the industry. Get time with as many senior PRs as you can. Learn every day. Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions. This is a people and relationship business and we are providing a service. Attitude is king. You have great opportunities ahead of you. Always show commitment, progression and loyalty before you move.

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