Inspirational Woman: Charlotte Tobin | Founder, Belle PR

Charlotte TobinCharlotte Tobin, 33, is an award-winning publicist with over a decade of experience. She founded London-based public relations agency Belle PR in 2014.

Charlotte manages the strategic growth and communications for some the UK’s most renowned talent, charity and brand names which is reflected by a steady stream of industry awards.

Not only was Charlotte highly commended as PR Week Young PR Professional of the Year, she also achieved the renowned PR Week 30 under 30 list. Additionally, Belle PR won a distinguished Campaigns for Good Award in 2019 and was a PRCA Small Consultancy Of The Year Finalist in 2020.

A business built purely on positive recommendations, unrivalled results and great people, Charlotte has built a brilliant company and is setting the standards across the industry and beyond. She is a member of the CiPR, PRCA and has been a proud speaker at the London School Of Communications.

With a combined social media following of over 20,000, Charlotte is passionate about educating a new generation on the merits of public relations as a career choice. In her spare time, she loves history and spending time with her two miniature dachshunds, Waffle and Wilma!

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I am a 33-year-old publicist, communications consultant and entrepreneur with over a decade of experience. I founded London-based public relations agency Belle PR in 2014 following roles at two other successful agencies. I manage the strategic growth and communications for some the UK’s most renowned talent, charity and brand names which is reflected by a steady stream of industry awards for my agency and me personally. I am proud to say I was highly commended as PR Week Young PR Professional of the Year, and also achieved the PR Week 30 under 30 list. I am honoured to see my agency win a distinguished Campaigns for Good Award in 2019 and become a PRCA Small Consultancy Of The Year Finalist in 2020. I have built my business purely on positive recommendations, unrivalled results and great people. In my spare time, I enjoy history [I have History Degree from Sheffield University where I specialised in WW2, American History and the Vietnam War]. I love spending time with my two sausage dogs, Waffle and Wilma – and am a passionate campaigner for dog welfare issues and legislative changes within this sector.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

In PR – absolutely not! I am from a working-class background and had very little knowledge of Public Relations as a career choice. From a young age, I saw the value of education in changing my life and my future outcome. I am state school educated and worked very hard to achieve great grades, and further my prospects.  My natural skill set leant me towards a future career in law so I studied History at University and completed legal internships. I was the first in my family to attend University, so it was a very proud moment for my family and I. Whilst at University I was heavily involved in many boards and societies. I was President of the History Society and transformed it from 20 members, to over 600 members with a robust financial, events, and commercial structure. Without knowing it – this was my first ‘taste’ of PR. The reality is though, throughout my life of education, I was always the one volunteering to lead or to be chair, so perhaps it was unknowingly written in the stars.

Upon graduation and after my legal path had begun, I had a quick realisation I wanted to follow the PR route. I had by accident watched a programme on the industry and immediately did my research. I applied for work-experience with a local firm [which wasn’t easy given the private nature of the industry] and I got my first step on a very big ladder. Coincidently, this firm based in Sussex, was one of the leading talent and PR agencies in the UK – the rest is history. I loved everything about the job [despite being a very Junior assistant] and had no doubt it was the right career choice for me. I worked my way up at this agency quickly to Head of PR looking after huge celebrity and brand names.

I then moved to a bigger and award-winning agency named EdenCanCan in London, and transitioned to International brands, celebrities and charities – and therefore bigger budgets. I gained invaluable experience from its Founders, Nick Fulford and Nick Ede who were wonderful publicists and communications professionals, and led by example. Whilst I was very happy here, I felt the urge to start my own agency, Belle PR in 2014. I wanted to work with start-ups with smaller budgets and be part of their early-expansion plans, and I was keen to work with entertainment talent on a daily basis again. I’m 6-7 years in now, we are a team of five, and based in Covent Garden, London. We have a fantastic roster of very well-known names, and I am immensely proud of our journey. I plan our growth, I plan our annual strategy and plan our client’s goals but in business, there are things you cannot plan – and that’s OK – it’s life, and it’s exciting.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Oh yes, every single day. PR is a tough industry – and it’s a lifestyle choice as much as it is a career choice. It is high pressured, very stressful by nature, and sporadic. So, by nature of the work, I am challenged, every single hour of every single day. This is of course the case for my specific line of agency PR – this isn’t always the reality for internal brand publicists for example, who often have a more stable working environment.

In agency, the starting salary is very low, or in my case was non-existent as work experience, so that was initially a big challenge for me. Post-University with huge debt, I had to work two-jobs – PR in the day, and waitressing every evening and weekends – it was really tough. It’s exceptionally hard if you don’t have a family who can support you financially – unfortunately that’s why many struggle at this early stage – I very nearly couldn’t continue. I also had the added challenge of not having ‘connections’, I didn’t have any contacts, any ‘links’ to the industry, or a favour my family could ‘pull in’ for me, I started from zero – and it’s a long way up.

And then fast-forward to 2021. I am thankfully fortunate to have a great living now, but my challenges are different. I am a business owner and many challenges come with that – I have to make very serious, difficult decisions every day for my clients, within the media and for my team. If you’re challenge shy, PR is not for you.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

To have a successful company and small business – it’s all I ever wanted, and that achievement on its own is enough for me – I did it! I am very proud to employ 4 strong, intelligent, collaborative women, who work alongside me. I am very proud to have a roster of incredible, inspirational people who millions look up to. I am very proud to see our involvement and expertise change the fortunes of brands and companies. I very proud of the real change we make for charities and good causes – we were instrumental in an legal change named ‘Lucy’s Law’ – being at Number.10 Downing Street for meetings will always be a pinch me moment. I am very proud to have been recognised by the industry with awards and accolades – there’s nothing like being recognised by your peers, who know how tough this world is.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

The refusal to give up and being kind along the way. I had an internal belief and grit from a young age that I wanted to better myself and those around me. I just knew there was another way and was determined to find it. I wouldn’t allow personal or professional challenges, falls, or pressure deter me long-term. One of my clients always reminds me of the quote by Billie Jean King ‘Pressure is Privilege’. Ultimately, feeling pressure is because you’re lucky enough to be in an environment to be pushed, to expand and better yourself. Going the extra mile from day one in all situations will always pay off [even when you feel invisible], and being a kind, sincere person will always, always hold you in good stead.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I love it – I have been mentored and I am now a mentor. I am incredibly passionate about providing advice and a path for the future generation – I didn’t have either initially, so I want to change that. We have a popular work-experience programme at Belle PR – which I just love. We give these individuals ‘real’ tasks, and real experiences so they can get a true feel of the industry. I also hold free-of-charge monthly seminars and Q&A’s with those keen to pursue a PR career – sometimes we have over 50 people at each which is an amazing feeling. The industry has changed – it’s so much easier for students to contact CEO’s and Directors directly now – that’s a great thing. There’s no better time in communications and tech to approach the very best in the sector.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

Wow where do I start, this is such a big question and I can only touch on a tiny part of it in one answer.

Firstly, I encourage everyone to read Mary Portas’ book, ‘Work like A Women’ – this outlines how bad things really are for women, especially in the work-place.

Secondly, we need to be seeing women in positions of power across the board.  When I last looked – only 34% of MP’s in House of Commons are female, only 5% of CEO’s in FTSE 100 Companies are female [2020!]. Women won’t be equally represented until big change is made here.

Thirdly, this isn’t just a women’s problem, men need to be the change here too – and in many cases now are. Michelle Obama puts it better than I ever could, ‘strong men, men who are truly role models, don’t need to put down women to make themselves feel powerful.’

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Keep going, don’t take things personally and being a good person will never go out of fashion.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

Our immediate challenge is to get through the other side of the pandemic. It’s been a tough year for small business and this sector has taken a hit, especially those in events, theatre etc. I hope to grow the agency at an organic rate, work with more amazing people and use my very privileged, powerful platform to create real meaningful change. Hopefully more visits to Downing Street will be on the cards!

WeAreTheCity has a back catalogue of thousands of Inspirational Woman interviews, including Cherie Blair, Paula Radcliffe MBE, Caprice Bourret, Anna Williamson and many more. You can read about all our amazing women here.

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