Interview | Catherine Harland

In Conversation With..

Issue 39

Business leaders and innovators in our region are something to be admired, and we are celebrating that by speaking to accomplished professionals from across the North East business community, providing a fascinating insight into how they got to where they are today.

Tell us a little about your background.

I wasn’t interested in further education and craved getting into the workplace. I was offered an apprenticeship at The Chronicle after leaving sixth form, but decided to join the family business instead. Conroys Furniture was founded in 1959 in a second-hand shop in Stanley, which my parents grew over a number of years through sheer hard graft, resulting in a chain of stores across the North East including Metro Centre, Middlesbrough, Washington and Leeds. This is where I learned the importance of dedication and a strong work ethic, in whatever business you’re in.

How did you get into PR?

My working career started on the sales floor followed by time in other departments, until I headed up the PR and marketing. This is where my love of communications was born. In those days press releases were distributed using a trusty old fax machine with no such thing as social media to communicate a brand’s voice!

How did your career progress?

In 1996, I left the family business to branch out on my own. By sheer chance, I founded a chain of hair & beauty salons where I utilised my business and PR skills to build the salon’s reputation and drive growth. Of course there were bumps and learning curves along the way, but what I have learned in business is to embrace challenges. It’s the difficult times we learn most from.

What was your proudest moment?

I’ve always been passionate about fundraising. Fashion Kicks was founded in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support, in memory of my Mum, where Newcastle Utd strutted the catwalk, raising £73k. The event went from strength to strength, and went onto raise nearly £1.5 million, a fantastic legacy to my Mum.

What made you set up your own PR agency?

At the time, I was writing for another monthly North East magazine and the editor encouraged me to take the plunge. So I did and C-PR Communications was born! The first year was surprisingly busy but also challenging, having to adapt to demands of the new business combined with working 60 hour weeks. As challenging as it was, I was working with such names as Specsavers, Durham County Cricket Club and Slaley Hall Hotel. I felt grateful and humbled for the opportunity to be working with great brands at such an early stage of trading.

Who is your inspiration?

Without doubt, my Mum. The most inspiring, formidable and hard working individual I have ever met. Her life was filled with much adversity, having an ill husband and four children, but she somehow managed to build a multi million pound business from scratch. Unfortunately she got ill herself at 57, but the pitman’s daughter did well and I’m forever proud.

You are now part of DigiPro Media. Tell us more about this.

Firstly, this was never the plan but life sometimes gives us curveballs! My daughter was relocating back to the North East after several years working in London agencies while my son had founded DigiPro Media, a web design and branding business, several years previously. It made sense to join forces to become a digital agency providing PR, social media management, online marketing and web design.

How does PR fit into business in 2018?

Public Relations has obviously evolved dramatically over the years with the use of technology, revolutionising how PR works and has created the capacity for much further reach. It remains an invaluable service and should be harnessed by any business. It is imperative to show your business as an industry leader, to attract interest, increase sales and to build reputation. PR is not simply about getting in the press these days with so many valuable platforms to use. The use of social media, blogs and online business platforms can all be a great way of cutting through the noise.

Are you a risk taker?

I’ve had my moments and I’m fortunate enough to say that the majority have been worth taking! All business owners have to take risks at various points in their career to progress, and it’s the failures along the way that we learn, and ultimately, grow from.

What pleasure do you get from working within the PR industry?

Simple. Client success. We strive to give our clients’ campaigns the maximum amount of exposure possible, so to see clients receiving the results they desire makes the job incredibly rewarding.

How do you see the PR industry changing?

In this day and age, with the digital landscape constantly evolving and the public growing less trusting of the media and online platforms, consumers require transparency more than ever. That’s why I can see a shift towards a more honest type of communication between brands and consumers, with brands opting to better interact with their audience, on platforms new and old, to build trust through openness, integrity, and most importantly, engaging storytelling.

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