Caroline Coskry, Oracle PR’s chief executive, talks about why she founded the specialist property consultancy, the role of niche agencies and the UK housing market.
With UK property prices at record highs and Brexit causing uncertainty in the housing market, what would you say are the biggest comms challenges facing the property industry today?
I think it really comes down to the housing and construction industry and government working closer together, and focusing on what is really needed in terms of housing.
While there are some promising pledges and white papers, we still seem to be lacking real solutions that actually make difference to the volume, quality and cost of new homes. We also still have some work to do when it comes to educating buyers about options available to help them – including schemes like Help to Buy, Part Exchange and Shared Ownership.
You’ve been working in property marketing and PR for almost 20 years. How has the sector changed in that time?
The Great Recession hit us all like a brick. Everything changed. Our clients consolidated, so many good people were made redundant and nothing was to be the same again.
But I truly believe it was for the better. Our clients re-organised, re-focused and our response was to ensure we were really robust with our communications strategy – every penny spent would count. It changed everyone’s mindset. No longer did we throw mud at everything to see what happened. We really focused on what was important and what was more of a “nice to have”.
Realising this, in 2011 when we were coming out the other side, I took the opportunity to start Oracle. Yes, the market had changed. But there is still the increasing housing demand in the country, so we adapt.
How is Oracle different from other property consultancies? And what inspired you to start your own agency?
The years went by and I had learned a lot, two things which really stood out: 1) How not to treat staff. 2) When you have an idea, implement it. Don’t wait around for the board to make a decision. So, I took the plunge and never looked back!
Our main USP is that we have the “best of the best”, some of whom I met when I started in PR nearly 20 years ago. We have specialists across five services, all specifically focused on the property sector. And we act quickly, we respond quickly and we get the job done.
How important is it for niche consultancies to offer a full suite of services to develop a competitive edge?
It’s been very important for us and incredibly important for our clients.
I started a PR business which had elements of event management and marketing. Within 18 months we were offering social media services. And just two years on, we have developed a formal offering in digital marketing and traditional marketing – yet we still operate closely as one team.
We believe this gives us the opportunity to be a truly effective, and efficient, outsourced marketing function department for our clients, whereby they can rely on us to apply our knowledge and understanding of their business and the wider market to deliver joined-up solutions.
Today, Oracle has 25 employees and works with many of the UK’s top property developers. What advice would you give someone thinking of starting their own PR firm?
It’s not as easy as it looks and cash flow will always be a problem in the beginning. Don’t take out any loans if possible – and don’t be afraid to think differently. Do things differently and offer your clients something different.
Of all the projects Oracle has taken on over the past six years, which are you most proud of, and why?
Usually I’m the first with an opinion but truthfully, I am proud of every project. Each project means something different – a different client, a different member of staff. I am proud of all the successes. The small projects, the large projects – they all count.
Each Friday, every member of staff is invited to contribute to the office “Friday Flash”, which gives everyone an update on what everyone else has achieved in the week. That is what I am proudest of.
London house prices recently fell for the first time in eight years. But where would you say is the best place to be looking to buy in the capital?
It’s still a sensible option to buy into a regeneration area, at the soonest possible opportunity. Places like Acton and Wembley are great examples of areas that have been given a new lease of life and where early buyers should reap the rewards in increased equity.