We’ve switched things around in this interview. Public affairs advisor and subject of the first Lockdown Lowdown Stuart Thomson steps in as guest interviewer and gets to ask our founder and director Louise Morriss a bunch of questions, as we celebrate Amazon PR’s 20th birthday.
Stuart: I wanted to start by wishing Amazon PR a very happy birthday. Getting to 20 years is a fantastic achievement for any business. You have had to win business, deliver for clients, build and develop teams and that’s to say nothing of all the admin of running a business as well! What made you want to start Amazon PR in the first place? And what was your first piece of work?
Louise: Thank you very much. I can’t quite believe it’s been 20 years!
Quite early on in my PR career I had an inkling I’d like to do my own thing. I did a few years in agencies, a short stint in-house and then three years freelancing, all of which was great, but the idea had taken root. Plus I knew I wanted to work on causes rather than consumer brands. So in 2000 I took the plunge. Looking back, it was a fairly impulsive decision, but I was young, had no mortgage and no responsibilities, so it was low-risk. I also had a lot of support and encouragement, which made all the difference. It all started in my basement flat in Highbury – with no clients, no staff and no money, just a fairly stubborn determination and a willingness to work. And dial-up internet!
I have very fond memories of Amazon PR’s first client: Islington Enterprise Agency. The project was a gender mainstreaming conference. The budget was pretty minimal, as I recall, but it was interesting work and it got us off the ground.
You’ve kept focused on the voluntary sector throughout; was there a time when you considered taking on other sorts of work?
I set out specifically to work on issues-based PR campaigns and for not-for-profit organisations. During our first decade we did voluntary and public sector work. As well as charities, we were appointed by Government departments and quangos. We turned down a couple of businesses. One was an airline. We were working on climate change projects at the time, so apart from having no desire to work for an airline anyway, it was something of a conflict of interest!
The past decade, during austerity, has seen our public sector work reduce. We’ve taken on a small number of commercial clients – one healthcare brand that came to us via a charity partnership, and a couple of like-minded consultancies that also serve the voluntary sector such as Legacy Foresight. I am very open to looking at responsible businesses, but we would only take on projects we really believe in.
We love working with you and the team, and it is clear that you have managed to maintain your enthusiasm and creativity. That is not always easy. How have you managed it? It can’t all be down sci-fi escapism?
We love working with you and your team too! And in fact a lot of my energy comes from the people I work with – staff, partners, but also clients. Every project is different and we cover a really broad range of issues – health, social care, housing, legal rights, education, environment. Plus each client has a different approach and culture, and different needs.
“No two briefs are the same, which keeps us all on our toes.”
Being a small team helps too, as we are able to adapt and experiment. I worked in a really big agency once, and seeing an idea through to fruition was sometimes painful as the process was so unwieldy. But for us, we can come up with something in our Monday morning meeting and have it in place by Tuesday afternoon.
Watching Doctor Who and The Mandalorian help keep me energised too, of course.