CIPR member Katie Mallinson is Scriba’s founder. An Outstanding Young Communicator winner with a gong from HRH Prince Andrew also under her belt, she steers the Scriba ship and maintains the lead on all new business enquiries.
Her passion for communicating and eye for growth opportunities means she still loves to be hands-on with several of our technical clients. She is also an advocate of workplace wellbeing, staff development and young entrepreneurialism, which sees her frequently deliver pro bono support to youngsters in education and starting out in business
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
I’m the founder of Scriba PR, a B2B communications agency based in Huddersfield. What started out as a one-woman-band in 2013, is now a nine-strong team of self-confessed word nerds who manage the retained contracts for no less than 40 technical firms.
It doesn’t matter if we’re working on a one-off project or delivering extensive PR campaigns for long-standing retainer clients – our approach remains the same. We exist to demystify the world of public relations and deliver results-driven communication strategies for organisations that want to tell their story, however complex.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
No, not at all. I was interested in so many things when I was growing up, that I found it difficult to identify one profession that I thought would suit me for life. At university, I did quite a broad degree – business management, with PR as my placement year – but my dad is an engineer, so it was always clear that I’d do something quite technical. I’ve enjoyed getting my head around complex things for as long as I can remember.
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
Plenty – both professional and personal – but then again, who hasn’t? Yes, we receive challenging client briefs daily, but that’s part and parcel of being a niche agency. I think the biggest challenges are those you can’t plan for.
When Scriba was only eight months old, I was diagnosed with a life-threatening blood clot in my leg. Given that so many start-ups fail in infancy, the fact that the business survived in the face of adversity is something I’ll always be incredibly proud of. By the time I broke my back in 2018, just a few weeks after giving birth, I was lucky enough to know that I had a fantastic team in place to look after things while I focused – briefly – on my health.
On a professional level, someone set up what can only be described as a copycat firm a few years ago. They named themselves ‘Scriba PR’ and mirrored a lot of what we were saying about ourselves, as well as our expertise.
It wasn’t something we were expecting, and we had to go through a lengthy legal process to trademark our brand and prove our identity. It wasn’t easy.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
Can I have two? The first is when Scriba was in its infancy. 12 months after my blood clot diagnosis, I was awarded the Duke of York Young Entrepreneur Award, for our commitment to demystifying the world of PR – particularly within complex B2B sectors. HRH Prince Andrew travelled to Huddersfield to personally present my accolade.
The second was winning a hat-trick of international contracts with long-term client, UNTHA. The global shredder manufacturer was my first ever retained account, won when Scriba was just one month old. Last month, in addition to acting as the bolt-on communications department for UNTHA UK and Austria, we also took on the remit for Australia and America.
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
A sense of purpose – it’s the one thing I refuse to compromise on. Regardless of what happens in business and the challenges you may face, if you stop and take a minute to reflect and focus, a defined ambition will make you more resilient in the long run.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
I think it’s important, but it’s vital you find the right person. When I left my role at a PR agency to set up as a freelancer, my mentor at the time told me that my vision for Scriba was ‘too niche’ and wouldn’t get off the ground. That came from a very experienced businessperson who – on paper – had achieved massive things, but the fit between us just didn’t work.
Now, I’m mentored by Natasha McCreesh (PiP to Grow Strong) and it’s incredibly fulfilling. She will challenge me on things when she needs to, but also understands what we’re trying to achieve here – meaning she won’t try to mould us into something simply because it fits with her view.
On the other side of the coin, I also work closely with Huddersfield University and Greenhead College in order to provide mentoring for young people who are just starting out on their professional journey.
If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, what would it be?
I wish I had the answer, but in truth I find it disappointing that we’re still having to fight for gender parity. A lot of people seem surprised that Scriba is made up of nine females and think we should be applauded because we’re women working in engineering, construction and technology.
I actually wish women – and men – were applauded for doing well and overcoming hurdles along the way. By no means should the ‘challenge’ to overcome be that of your gender.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?
In hindsight, it would be easy to say that I should have set up on my own sooner, but I did learn a lot when I was employed. It’s also important to surround yourself with a variety of specialists – and trust in them to deliver.
Early on, I was trying to be everything within the business, and was wary of hiring someone to help me with the day-to-day running of a company. But, since recruiting our operations manager, Louise Jaggar, I’ve been able to offload a significant chunk of day-to-day workload to her, allowing me space to be more strategic, and support our largest clients. When you have high standards, its difficult to let go – but it helps in the long run.
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
We’ve gone through a significant period of growth during the last 12 months, but I want to make sure we retain who we are – and what we stand for. I feel as though we have a genuine, hardworking, and loyal team, but I don’t want to take any of it for granted.
Yes, I want to continue to build the business organically and for Scriba to remain an attractive proposition for colleagues and clients, but this is a nine-person mission now – not just mine. Moreover, I want to retain those nine people, and firmly believe that by offering a range of learning opportunities and rewards, they will become even more talented – and everything else will follow.