Steven George-Hilley, Centropy PR: ‘Putting humanity back into comms’

Centropy PR’s co-founder Steven George-Hilley on how the global Covid crisis has transformed PR and communications forever

What inspired you to start Centropy PR and what makes the agency different from its competitors?

I’d spent over a decade in the agency system, working with some of the biggest brands in the tech, fintech and financial services industries and was seeking a fresh challenge. I could see there was a gap in the market for a new kind of agency that could successfully combine public relations services with policy expertise to deliver high impact campaigns.

After years of managing large teams and complex multi-country PR campaigns, I felt I had the right level of experience to take the plunge and go out on my own. From the very beginning we prioritised client service standards, creating specialist campaigns designed to reflect the requirements of our customers and secure results that could provide real value to ongoing and existing sales efforts.

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How have you managed the agency’s growth over the last three years and what challenges have you faced?

To be honest, we started out with fairly modest ambitions. The main purpose was to create a more flexible working model to help me juggle a young family and pay the mortgage on time!

I’d definitely say that the first six months were the hardest, it was a lot of lonely late nights, working on project briefs and pitch presentations. At the beginning everything seems so much harder: managing VAT returns, paying salaries, and preparing client contracts takes up a lot of time and energy.

After an anxious first few months, it became clear that we were onto something, and the prospective client briefs kept on arriving. When it’s your own agency you put so much time and effort into preparing for new business opportunities that it can be both exhausting and demoralising when you lose out.

Within our first few months we had suddenly signed over 10 retained clients, which was a real confidence boost and allowed us to reinvest in staff training and services. Our client portfolio now contains heavyweight enterprise tech, FTSE 250 and leading financial services brands.

What impact will the Covid-19 pandemic have on PR and communications campaigns?

This has been a truly terrible year and like everyone else, we have had our fair share of problems. However, the inconveniences and frustrations I’ve had to deal with are not comparable to those who have lost their lives and livelihoods due to this evil virus.

As a PR professional, it’s critical to keep your ear to the ground and understand the public mood. There has been a clear shift of open support for the men and women on the frontline in our NHS and wider public services who are fighting against Covid every day.

Likewise, brands large and small are having to rethink the way they operate to ensure they achieve a real and genuine connection with customers during this difficult time. Putting humanity back into communications is now a top priority. The days of aggressive sales strategies are over – brands must be seen to be doing their bit and helping everyone get along in these dark times.

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Where do you see Centropy PR in five years?

It’s been an exhilarating and exciting journey so far and if anything, we’ve been far too cautious with our growth plans. We now have a solid client base on which to roll-out new services, win larger accounts and increase our team headcount.

Above all, I want Centropy to be know an agency that delivers first class PR services to clients, looks after its people, and gives something back.

We will not let the pandemic derail our commitments to charitable donations and aid work.

The team has already led successful national pro bono campaigns to promote documentaries around tackling UK knife crime and the murder of Stephen Lawrence.

This week we are launching our fully funded Centropy Building Schools for Africa programme, with our first school scheduled to be built in Sierra Leone next year.

These are very dark times, but we all have a part to play in making things better.

Steven George-Hilley is the co-founder of Centropy PR

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