In episode 13, Sue Anstiss talks about the journey from founding her company in the back bedroom almost 25 years ago at age 26 to running an award winning sports PR agency.
Sue Anstiss is the founder and MD of Promote PR, a multi-award winning agency specialising in the field of sport and fitness for over 20 years. Promote is renowned for its work with women and girls – driving grassroots sports participation and fitness.
A founding Trustee of the Women’s Sport Trust, Sue is also Chair of Get Berkshire Active, a Board Member of the County Sport Partnership Network and a member of ukactive’s Supplier Council.
A former volleyball player turned netballer, Sue took up triathlon in recent years and has represented Great Britain in World and European Age Group Championships.
THE TRANSCRIPT BELOW WAS TYPED FROM A RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT. BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF MISHEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, WE CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS COMPLETE ACCURACY.
TX: 1.4.17 – Ep 13. Sue Ansitiss – Sports PR professional on business culture
HOST: TAMMY PARLOUR[Music]
TP:Welcome to A Question of Performance. I’m Tammy Parlour and in this series I’ll be talking with leading figures from sport and business about what improves, limits and drives performance. Join me for 20 minutes of discussion twice a month to hear a range of views on what it means to be successful, how to cope with failure and what people have learnt along the way.[Music]
Today I’m with Sue Anstiss, Managing Director Promote PR. We talk about the journey from founding the company in her back bedroom at age 26 to running an award winning agency almost 25 years later. I suppose I’m most interested in the company’s longevity and how she creates that culture of success.
Sue, a lot of people work in PR and a lot of people also love sport, not everyone has the gumption to start up their own Sports PR agency, could you talk to me about how that came about?
SA:I found myself working for a sports brand sponsorship. At the time, the brand chose not to launch into the United Kingdom and by way of different opportunities I setup on my own at 26 at the time, and the company generally then evolved into public relations, but it was an accidental, a fabulous accident that I ended up doing what I’m doing now.
TP:Well for an accident you’ve been going over 25 years now, which is absolutely incredible. How’s the game changing since you started?
SA:It’s definitely got more competitive, I think we were fortunate to be early in the space of sport and fitness PR as it was growing, so it’s become more popular and definitely the space of running an agency has become more competitive, and I think what agencies are doing is ever changing and evolving.
TP:If you look back at your time since setting up Promote, have there been things sort of almost proudest moments that stand out in your mind?
SA:The fact that we stayed true to what we were about, so I think there are many agencies, and it could be the same with many businesses, as you try and move with the marketplace you need to keep developing, but we’ve remained true to what we’re passionate about, which is sport, physical activity and that wider fitness area, and I think that’s what’s enabled us to be successful, so I guess that’s what I’m very proud of is us staying to true to who we are in that marketplace.
TP:You talked about the importance of a team – I don’t think any team happens by chance. How do you create that positive team?
SA:I guess I am – we do talk about our life mottos, I’m very glass half full and you reap what you so, so I think probably from a cultural point of view it comes from top down within an organisation, I think that’s my attitude and it’s been the old you give to receive etc. So I think that’s been a core piece for us as an agency is people first and fabulously wanting them to well skilled and experienced, but it’s about getting the people; we’re very much a people business, it’s about relationships – I think business is about relationships.
TP:I would assume that what motivates you and what pushes you on has changed over time?
SA:Yeah, it’s interesting actually. It’s never really been about money and obviously making money and have a successful business enables you to do more of the things that you love, but that’s never really been the main driver us, which may explain our kind of success and longevity. I think it’s very much been wanting to make a difference, make a contribution to be able to do something that we’re very passionate about and spread the word about that too. So working with people that we love we’ve always had the belief that we do our best our work where we’re working for clients that we like and respect and hold similar values, so there’s quite a lot of business that we turn down over the years [laughs] as well to make sure that we maintain that. So, to me, I know it’s said often isn’t it, but you spend so much of your time in the work environment, I think it’s really important that you love what you do and I’ve been incredibly fortunate to build a career based on something that I feel passionate about. I would choose to spend my time with the kind of people that I work with were it not a work environment.
TP:You talk about it being important that you make a contribution, what is the contribution that you make?
SA:That’s interesting, I think that’s probably changed over time. So in my early mid-20’s wanting to work in a sector that I was passionate about that I believed in, so I think sport and fitness and, well, I feel something that positively impacted people lives, whereas perhaps I could have got into other areas of PR or communications, so making a difference in that way and believing in what you’re promoting was important. And I guess as time has gone by and I’m fortunate now to be in more of a position of perhaps influences through the contacts and networks that I’ve got that it’s been fabulous, it’s been wonderful and I guess how we’ve met to be involved with the Women’s Sport Trust, to involve I’m a Chair of the County Sport Partnerships across Berkshire and I’ve sat on the National Board for County Sport Partnerships, and I work with UKactive, so it’s lovely to have a role that enables me to give me in a more pure way I guess as a volunteer across those Boards and organisations.
TP:You talk about very much glass half full rather than half empty, but can I tempt you into the dark side for a moment!
TP:And [laughs] talk about the harder times and I suppose what perhaps what extinguishes that flame a little bit and how you have overcome – there must have been difficult times over the past 25 year?
SA:Yeah, indeed. And I guess…yeah [laughs] definitely there have been, and I try to remain ever positive. I think it’s because it’s not worrying too much about the things that you can’t control is again a bit of way to look at it in that sense. I think that there have been times – often running an agency it’s either too much business and not enough people in your team or too many people and not enough new business, so there is a constant, I guess, challenge in that space. And there have been times when it might be easier to panic or get upset and distressed about losing clients and losing fantastic team members, but I think the longer you do it [laughs] looking back over the couple of decades it generally all comes right in the end. And whether it’s people leaving because they’ve got new roles or they’ve fallen pregnant are all wonderful changes moving to the other side of the world, fantastic things happening for them and obviously that’s not always fantastic for the business and the organisation, but, generally, I think things come good. Ultimately, if you treat people positively or a positive outlook things will come good for you. But no, they definitely have been darker times of anxiety in terms of the financials primarily.
TP:What do you find most stressful is it the financials?
SA:I think I get frustrated sometimes – I do like things to be just and fair, so I think sometimes where we’ve pitched for a business and we’ve not won the business but it’s not been on a completely even playing field sometimes I think I find that more of a frustration than making me angry, maybe that’s my passion now on the Women’s Sports Trust and Equality Within Sport and those areas I guess maybe it’s redressing that balance a bit too. And I think that’s just about life isn’t it? You go to sleep, wake up the next morning [laughs] and move on. I recognise that changes happen for a good thing. Looking back at when I set the agency up way back up, I was made redundant from Quaker Oats when I was working Gatorade at 26, it was a massive shock, it’s almost like my dream job of sports marketing for Gatorade and I was made redundant. And, at the time, it was a terrible moment [laughs] [unclear speech 7:55] my career, but actually it was because of that that I then took the stop into working on my own to setting up the agency and here I am today, so I do believe you take a path – or whatever those phrases – a door closes and another one opens? But it’s what you make of it when misfortune or the things that you’re not expecting happen there’s always something good around the corner.
TP:Do you think working for yourself makes you unemployable now?
SA:[Laughs] That’s very interesting isn’t it [laughs]. Probably, yes. I don’t know, I do think there’s a joy to doing your own thing and owning your own thing and I still think back to those first days of running my agency in a back bedroom in Heston on my own with a fax machine and [unclear 8:42] phone, I didn’t quite feel real. I still have an element of that joy of owning and – not controlling necessarily, but the ability to be creative to do what it is that I choose to do. So yes [laughs] I probably am unemployable [laughs].
TP:What are you most excited about at the moment?
SA:That’s interesting I’ve just been in a meeting with someone saying I don’t think I’ve quite enjoyed what I’m doing as much as I am right now almost these last few months really. I think I’m very excited about the shift in Women’s Sport and Activity and whether it’s funding and profile I do think I feel very proud to have played a small part at a time when things are changing, so that’s excited me it’s lovely to be making a difference there. Some lovely – I guess for me it’s about new clients, but clients that we’re enjoying working with and have a similar goal and passion for sport and wellbeing as we do, so that excites me very much. And the team, I think just seeing the team grow and develop – some young people coming in maybe a year out of a university or straight from university but learning from them and then seeing them grow and develop. Somebody once said when I talked about losing people when they’ve done a great job and they go on and that actually running the agency we kind of give them the wings, which is a bit trite but they come to us and we give them the wings to go and do other things, and as long as they’ve made a good contribution and they’ve enjoyed being here we’ve gained from working with them that’s quite a positive exciting thing – not that any of them are allowed to leave of course at the moment, but that excites me almost seeing new people coming through it and develop as well.
TP:So you’re running Promote PR, you’re a founding Trustee of the Women’s Sports Trust, you’re a Chair of Get Berkshire Active, you’re a Board member of the County Sport Partnership, you’re a member of UK Active Supplier Council you’re not really a low achiever.
TP:I also remember you’re an age group triathlete as well [over speech]?
SA:Mmm, not quite so much of the triathlon at the moment actually [laughs], a bit more…
TP:Where do you get the time?
SA:Yeah [laughs] isn’t it that you give a busy person a job don’t you to get it done? So I think that’s juggling and lots of things help other things. So I love what I do on my Board roles but they definitely help my work as well, so they definitely cross over in synergy there that I feel I give a lot voluntarily to those positions but I learn a lot and gain a lot that helps from the agency too. So I think those whole [laughs] multitasking and seeing those opportunities that’s kind of how view and envisage those two, and I think it’s having a good team around and I’m not particularly good at delegating I do tend to take more on my staff than perhaps I ought to, so that’s something that I know that I need to let go a little bit more of, but’s quite hard when you’re so passionate about things [laughs] that you do.
TP:This whole podcast is about performance and success, I think we’ve heard a lot about this already, but how would you define success?
SA:Yes it is interesting isn’t it, and for me, personally, it’s about happiness, it’s about contentment and knowing that if – hopefully not – I should get knocked over by a bus on the way home [laughs] today, I think success in work life breeds success and happiness in family and all those things, so to me that’s about being successful, which maybe different and is different I think to other business people perhaps. I think it is about the commercial success of a business too is important, but for me success is more about personal satisfaction and happiness, balance, contentment, those are the things that make me feel I’m successful or I’m having success.
TP:Are you successful?
SA:Oh [laughs] oh! People tell me that I am. Yeah, I think I believe that, and I’m happy, I’m incredibly happy and I absolutely love what I do and I work hard to try and get that home life with three teenage daughters and time/balance right, so I do think I’m very happy and enjoying what I’m doing so, therefore ergo I must be successful so yes, I think I am.
SA:It sound a bit arrogant doesn’t it to say I’m successful but I’m perfectly happy.
TP:Is there anything you’d wish I had asked you? Anything you hoped that I would be asking you?
SA:No, I don’t actually. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the conversation and it is interesting to stand back and think about the things that I’ve done. And I guess it’s what you think might change in the future in that if I looked back, would I do things differently if I’d come into knowing what I know now 20 odd years ago? But I don’t know that I would have done things very differently, I think – yeah, the personal behaviour that you have, the culture you create is reflected in the business and the success that you have is my belief.
TP:Well I’ve just got a few quick fire questions to round things up.
TP:What did you eat for breakfast this morning?
SA:Oh my Lord! Okay, what did I eat for breakfast? I didn’t have breakfast, but I’ve just been out for an amazing steak lunch with my non-Exec Director so that’s why I didn’t have breakfast this morning because I knew I was going to a very fancy restaurant for lunch.
TP:Fantastic, and favourite piece of sports kit?
SA:Well [laughs] I’d probably have to say a Polar watch because they’ve just appointed us as new clients [laughs]. It’s a tricky question for me because I’ve got so many [laughs], I’d have to name my TRX straps, I’d have to name all of my clients.
TP:[Laughs] You’d have to name all your clients – maybe we’ll move on from that one that then [laughs]. Sporting hero?
SA:Probably…oh actually quite similar I’d say I realise this has been said before, but probably here right now I would say Kate Richardson-Walsh just for all that she’s done and who she is. We saw her briefly, her Helen briefly at the Hockey Super Six’s at Wembley and it was amazing to see this little trail of girls running behind them like the Pied Piper attracting that following of young girls and inspiring young girls, so I think probably Kate in all that she is – yeah a fantastic woman.
TP:Most useless piece of advice you have given to somebody else or received?
SA:[Laughs] Oh, I don’t know. I have been told the past to try and be more like a man and be more commercial and be more aggressive, so that’s probably a bit useless because I think you find your own way to manage and be in business, you do what’s right for you.
TP:Greatest passion outside of sport?
SA:My family. Yeah, children and my family, although [laughs] they probably say Cooper my miniature Schnauzer in the last few months, but…
SA:…yeah family, definitely family.
TP:And last one, best performance enhancer?
SA:Sleep, if we don’t get enough of that [laughs] so probably sleep.
TP:Brilliant. Well it’s been fantastic talking to you today, Sue.
TP:Thank you very much.
SA:Thank you so much, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.[Music]
TP:Thanks for listening. You can follow the conversation on Twitter, Facebook and also don’t forget to subscribe online to aquestionofperformance.com.[Music]
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