Five Questions For…Heloise Hooton
Hooton founder Heloise on how she can spot a potential Hooton employee across a crowded room, what she loves about working in Amsterdam, and why bad PR is her nemesis.
What made you set up your own PR company?
When you decide to set up your own business, it’s normally a response to seeing things done the wrong way - and having the passion to do things better, the way you wish you’d seen things being done. I worked in-house as a PR at Wieden+Kennedy Amsterdam, BETC Paris, D&AD and shots magazine, and during my years in the industry, I began to develop my own vision for a purpose-driven, ethical PR company, staffed by talented, creative and good people, a small PR company built around doing things the right way.
What is the wrong way?
For me, bad PR is when agencies and individuals look at everything through the same lens every time, with no creativity, no cultural awareness. This leads to bland campaigns that simply won’t land with journalists. It’s not ok to take someone’s money and not do a good job of telling their story! This sort of PR is my absolute nemesis, it gives all PRs a bad name.
Hooton is not here just to promote something. We’re here to take good care of something that clients have worked very hard for, perhaps for years. It’s a moment of maximum sensitivity, and bad PR tramples all over this. We work with some clients who have had bad PR experiences in the past, and it has been scarring. If your story fails to be told in the right way, you feel unseen, and this can fatally damage company morale. So I understand why some brands are nervous about letting an agency talk on their behalf. This requires real trust, and at Hooton, this is not a privilege we take lightly. We understand that this is an honour and a responsibility, being trusted with a brand’s reputation. It requires a relationship built on mutual respect and unwavering honesty.
What makes you turn down a client?
We can hold our head high and say retrospectively that 95% of our clients we totally believe in. We made one or two errors early on, but now we are B Corp and we only work with brands, companies and individuals who are trying to make a difference. We have very strict criteria for who we work with, and spend a lot of time ascertaining that we believe in what they’re doing, because otherwise we can’t tell their story wholeheartedly.
Secondly, we ask if the brief has potential for success, and we’re not scared of telling clients no, don’t invest your money in this, this is what you should be doing, or now is not the time to spend your money on PR.
Of course we look at budget, because we employ six full-time employees and three top tier journalists part-time.
We also look at what we will learn at Hooton, i.e. what's in it for us! We want to evolve and learn as individuals, and if we have a stake in the game, this is beneficial for clients. When we began working with Archwey, a pioneering sustainable-materials company on a mission to eradicate single-use virgin plastics from the world’s waterways, we didn’t necessarily know about the nitty-gritty of plastic taxes, or recycling policies around the world. But we were excited to learn, and we believed in Archwey, and this was enough. We have learned so much from our clients, and our curiosity is really fundamental to every project we take on.
What are the difficult conversations you have to have with clients?
I truly believe that one metric for judging the calibre of a PR is our ability to tell clients what they don’t want to hear, that they’re not ready for a certain campaign, or we feel their money is better invested elsewhere.
We have also resigned clients when the time is right. We’re no longer a fit culturally, values no longer align, the relationship has come to an end. Or if their cultural values dominate ours negatively. We used to work with a company that had no boundaries in terms of work-life balance, and I realised it was starting to affect our own work-life balance. As the boss, it was down to me to call time on this working relationship, or risk Hooton becoming infected with this toxic workplace culture. Ethics are often what you say no to.
How do you spot a potential Hooton employee amongst a sea of applicants?
We definitely all possess a geeky passion for media and culture, so I look for people that are fully immersed in the wider world. And I always admire curiosity, and encourage question-asking.
I particularly love working with younger teammates who question the ways of doing things, which is really refreshing. I’m of a generation where things were done in a certain way and questioning the status quo was not encouraged. I love that things are different now. I encourage question-asking.
We also benefit enormously from the diversity of our small team; members of the Hooton team have come from Zimbabwe, India, Germany, Italy, France, Ireland, the UK and the US. We really benefit from learning about different workplace cultures and ways of doing things - diversity is not just a box-ticking exercise here!
And Hooton is very much for creative people who work hard and play hard: we’ll travel on amazing adventures to Mexico, we go to electronic music festivals, we have weird hobbies…but we're also geeky and dedicated enough to immerse ourselves in the world of ocean-bound-plastics and how we can tell sustainability stories to the world.