Rachel Hardy was born to be in PR; she’s super hardworking, passionate, supreme networker and she has (quite importantly) got the type of honesty and integrity that has made her respected by her colleagues, peers, celebrities and journalists alike. She is THE Head of Press at Lime Pictures. Not heard of it? Oh yes you have, Lime Pictures is the BAFTA award winning TV production company behind Hollyoaks, TOWIE and Geordie Shore. Rachel talks candidly in my Getting Naked With interview on how hard it is to get into this industry and how full on (I’m talking 24/7 every day of the week) it can be on the PR front line. She’s not complaining though, Rachel’s at the top of her game with a bulging black book of contacts, controversial and explosive storylines to work with plus in real life she’s celebrating the safe arrival of her first baby.
I’m in awe of Rachel, I’ve been impressed with her ever since I visited her on the Hollyoaks set (a feat of engineering if you’ve ever been – how they make it look like an entire village when it is a three sided studio I’ll never know!) and ever since we’ve kept in touch and I’ve watched her go from strength to strength. This interview breaks allll the online rules – SORRY digital folks – as it is longer than the pre-requisite 1,000 words, but by God it is good! If you read this, you’ll have all the knowledge you need to land a job in the PR industry. If you take it all in and follow this journey, you’ll know the best and worst of the industry, you’ll know what it takes to succeed, you’ll know the skills you need to get a job in PR. So what are you waiting for? Let’s get to know Lime Pictures Head of Press Rachel Hardy…
Getting Into The PR Industry
NakedPRGirl: How did you get into PR? When did you decide it was the career for you?
Rachel Hardy: Bizarrely my History teacher at secondary school told me that I’d make a great politician or a PR. At the time I didn’t really know or understand the function of a PR but it always stayed with me, though it wasn’t until I was looking to do a placement as part of the third year of my degree that I really looked into. I studied media at A Level and really wanted to work within the it, I was excited by the ability to reach big audiences with key messages. I saw a PR job for a cosmetics company with big brands that I was the target demographic for, it sounded exciting and glamorous so I applied, went to London for the interview, got the job and the rest is history as they say…
NakedPRGirl: I bet so many people would love to be the Head of Press for TOWIE and Hollyoaks – how did you get your big break?
Rachel Hardy: That first PR Assistant role was just my placement year for university and it ended up being my big break – once you’re in the industry, you’re in. I was incredibly lucky that first year and due to some big company changes (an acquisition and a merger) the PR team were particularly stretched so I got to work on big projects doing things probably way out of my experience level. I entirely embraced it, worked really hard and made some great contacts. In my final year of university I freelanced and set up my own PR agency, working for clients I’d met along the way (including the company I did my placement with) and it just grew from there.
NakedPRGirl: What advice would you give to someone looking to get a job in PR?
Rachel Hardy: Sadly there is no fast route into the industry; it’s about gaining work experience and displaying a strong understanding of the industry. I’ve done a few seminars and been asked this question a million times by down beaten youngsters who think this is a very competitive industry that is almost impossible to get into. While I agree that there are issues in the industry that make it easier for young people from privileged backgrounds to break through, I firmly believe that if you take a proactive approach to securing relevant work experience and you have a strong understanding of the industry and a passion for it then it’s actually not that hard and anyone can do it (because while it’s a popular career choice many candidates aren’t willing to go the extra mile making your competition weak). I’ve been really surprised and disappointed at some of the applications for our entry level roles. Candidates often don’t tailor their letters of interest and haven’t done anything relevant to the role. When I say relevant work experience I’m not necessarily referring to working at a top newspaper or PR agency in central London, it could be that you’ve worked on the student paper or radio station, have worked for a local paper or at a local PR agency, even just created your own magazine, website or blog or just doing some basic PR for a family business. We’re basically looking for anything where the skills could be transferred. To be honest it’s not about the experience at all, it’s about displaying the initiative and drive to have done something your competitors haven’t. While my HR team might be looking at exam results and education, all I’m interested in is your experience so my biggest piece of advice is to do more than just secure a degree.
NakedPRGirl: Once you have your foot in the door, what are your tips for landing the job?
Rachel Hardy: Once you get the all-important work experience opportunities or entry level jobs it’s about conducting yourself in a way that impresses your employer. The reality is that you’re probably only going to be doing very basic tasks initially but it’s about doing them with a smile on your face and taking the opportunity to soak up every bit of information you can. I remember when I was an intern and one of my first tasks was a mail out for a new Calvin Klein fragrance. I was essentially packing goody bags, labelling them up and arranging to have them couriered to journalists, celebrities and key influencers. To some that is a pretty mundane job but to me it was hugely exciting.
I remember packing a bag for Jo Elvin, the editor of Glamour magazine and just feeling so excited that she would be opening something I had lovingly prepared. I asked my manager if I could include a note from me in each package so that the recipients would know who to contact should they want any more fragrances. This meant that we could potentially get some feedback on the fragrance and secretly I was hoping to get my name and contact details in front of these key players. I received a note from Jo’s PA to say thank you and I was so excited I went straight to Paperchase and bought myself a little black book so she could be the first contact I put in it. I’d like to think my manager appreciated that passion and thankfully she and everyone I met during that internship has helped me to move on in my career. I worked hard for them and in return they’ve helped me which is exactly how I treat any newbie to the industry. If they’re willing to do it for themselves then I will go the extra mile to help them but I simply won’t even give a good reference to someone I don’t believe wants it enough.
Working In TV
NakedPRGirl: Let’s talk about Hollyoaks, you cover a lot of ground-breaking and often controversial storylines – which really stand out for you?
Rachel Hardy: It’s hard to just pin point one story-line but given the recent coming out of Caitlin Jenner it seems relevant to mention the transgender story-line. I was so pleased to see that Caitlin’s Vanity Fair cover was met with praise and sympathy rather than judgement and mocking. The world has come a long way in accepting transgender and I honestly believe Hollyoaks was at the forefront of that when we introduced the first transgender teen Jason Costello as he embarked on his journey to being accepted as a boy. We met with some incredibly brave transgender teens who were able to influence the story-line (they said it was the first time they felt they had a voice) and we did an incredibly insightful announcement piece with the Guardian. To secure the cover of G2 and three pages of coverage just for the show was a real high.
Another highlight was working on the Jacqui McQueen rape story-line which again I think really changed perceptions and made our audience rethink a very important and relevant issue. An ill-informed journalist wrote a negative piece about the story-line which was really unfortunate because she clearly misunderstood what we were doing with the story-line. I challenged her on her opinion piece and tried to get her to set to meet with the story and research team so she could better understand our objective. Despite my emails and calls she never got back to me and I’d like to think that’s because she knew she had gotten it wrong – it’s such a shame she didn’t want to put that right.
Alongside the serious issues we’ve also done some fantastic stunts and I believe we’ve been true innovators. We work closely with the digital team and so a lot of what transpires across all of our platforms has had heavy involvement from the press team. From killing Calvin Valentine in a flash forward episode at the peak of Ricky Whittle’s Strictly Come Dancing journey, to invading a Wretch 32 gig and inviting Heat magazine to write and star in an episode. I think we’re one of the most creative teams in the business and I love being a part of it. No two days are ever the same and we’re always pushing to stay ahead of the game.
NakedPRGirl: Quite often the personal becomes intertwined with the fictional (love lives, friendships, falling outs) – from a PR relations, are you ever called on to handle those too?
Rachel Hardy: Generally speaking programme publicists don’t tend to get involved in personal press and where there is a contentious issue, for example if disciplinary action is being taken against an artist, it would be inappropriate for us to represent the talent or act as their spokesperson. However, being that we’re in-house and work very closely with our talent over long periods of time (with both Hollyoaks and TOWIE being continuous shows) we do inevitably provide press support over and above, particularly on a show like TOWIE where the cast’s personal lives are put under the spotlight in the show. It’s hugely important for us to have a trusting and mutually respectful relationship with our talent and I’d like to think they feel well supported by us. We try not to get involved in the TOWIE fall outs – I would not want to be in the middle of a TOWIE break up that’s for sure! We never take sides but present our talent with their options and give our advice, while encouraging them to follow their own instinct.
NakedPRGirl: You also were in the PR team at X Factor – how was it to be in such a high profile show which goes out at primetime on ITV?
Rachel Hardy: X Factor was a brilliant experience and I think every TV publicist should have the opportunity to work on a show with that kind of profile. There is no better training than being on call for the X Factor when it’s at its peak.
NakedPRGirl: How was it working with such mega stars? Do you ever get intimidated or nervous? Do you have any tips to deal with nerves?
Rachel Hardy: It’s fantastic experience to work with prolific stars and their teams, particularly when they’re at the peak of their career as they are during a show like X Factor. I don’t really get nervous because I’ve learnt that they’re just normal people but when you’re working with people at the top of their game you have to be at the top of yours too. I certainly wouldn’t try and wing a press day with the likes of Gary Barlow for example – it had to be organised to the finest detail and rightly so, his team would want to know everything had been handled correctly and all was in place as it should be. But as long as you’ve dotted your i’s and crossed your t’s and communicated this to everyone who needs to be in the know then there shouldn’t be any nerves. I think you can find common ground with anyone so I always think of a talking point before I meet someone prolific to make sure the conversation flows. It’s important they feel reassured that you’re in control and capable of doing what needs to be done.
NakedPRGirl: Do you sometimes have to spend time keeping things out of the papers?
Rachel Hardy: If a story is untrue or is protected by the PCC code, for example if it relates to a medical condition and breaches someone’s right to privacy, then yes we would try and fight it out of the papers. But to be honest if a journalist has a story it is usually very difficult to keep it out so it’s more about working with the journalist to ensure they have the correct information and that they include your key messages rather than trying to work against them. It’s important to establish relationships with journalists – the golden rule of PR is to never lie to a journalist because maintaining integrity gives the journalist trust in you when you tell them a story is untrue and unfounded at a later date
NakedPRGirl: I’m sure many stars are now your friends – is there anyone that you are really close to?
Rachel Hardy: I think a relationship between talent and their PR is a strange one. I often take on a more maternal role so my relationship is usually more carer than friend. When you’ve worked closely with someone on a story or issue then it can be intense and you often become close as a result, however there have to be boundaries so it’s rare for me to be too friendly when we’re still working together. Sometimes I have to be a person of authority and I can never take sides between two cast so that can restrict a friendship from developing but I often find a friendship develops after the talent have left a show and we’re no longer working together. The cast don’t always have to like me as a person but they do have to trust I have their best interest at heart and that I’m good at my job. It’s more important for me to be respected than liked. That’s why I refer to being more like a carer; like a parent they don’t always have to like what you’re telling them, but ultimately they know you’re right(!)
NakedPRGirl: How important are those glamorous award ceremonies for the company?
Rachel Hardy: Awards and events are really important because they provide tangible evidence of a programme or talent’s success. This is particularly useful when you’re trying to sell the company or programme to a new territory. It’s been very useful to refer to ourselves as BAFTA winning when we talk to new clients in America for example. The events are also great for internal PR; an opportunity to celebrate everyone’s hard work as it is being recognised externally and of course the red carpet provides a fantastic platform not only for your biggest stars but as a place to introduce and build new ones.
NakedPRGirl: TOWIE and spin offs Educating Joey Essex and Mark Wright’s Hollywood Nights have been hugely successful, did you realise from the outset that TOWIE had that extra magic that turns a show into a hit?
Rachel Hardy: In television I see a lot of fantastic development ideas that I believe are going to be huge hits but sadly some never get commissioned so I think it’s difficult to identify a hit until it’s on its way, but with TOWIE I definitely knew Lime had something when it was so talked about after just one episode. The worry with TOWIE was that it grew so big so quickly that it would be a one hit wonder. In those early series the stories were so heavily focused around Mark Wright and his love triangles, or should I say hexagons(!) that the big question was always what would happen if he ever left. I get really frustrated when journalists write “TOWIE in crisis” pieces every time a key character leaves because 15 series in and five years later I think the producers have proved TOWIE has longevity. It truly is a real life soap opera with the ability to go on and on as it centres around a community of people with a certain lifestyle rather than relying on any one star or story.
NakedPRGirl: When representing these shows you must travel a lot, do you have fun on tour?
Rachel Hardy: I don’t travel as much as I’d like and my one regret is that I didn’t take a few years out to work in the States. Lime is enjoying real success in the States at the moment and I really hope to get the opportunity to work for that market and gain a better understanding of it and how it differs from the UK. The size and scale of the States really excites me – the audience reach is almost unfathomable. Of course the annual Marbella trip for TOWIE is always fun but it is long hours and very intense. I remember one night my colleague and I just sat on the edge of the bath soaking our feet that were raw from having been on them non-stop for about 72 hours. We didn’t speak for about five minutes and then we just looked at each other and started laughing – it definitely wasn’t the glamorous scene everyone would imagine! I’ve also been lucky enough to go on some great press trips and they’re always fun and a great way to build relationships with journalists and talent.
Working in PR
NakedPRGirl: What’s in your PR Tool Kit?
Rachel Hardy: It’s so cliche and I hate myself for saying it but everything I need is in my phone. Contacts, a phone and access to emails is literally all one needs. I rarely keep print outs now and just make sure everything is logged on my PC which I can also access remotely. I’ve made a conscious effort to file everything away properly so I can always find that old strategy or presentation for future use but everything is online.
NakedPRGirl: Who are your favourite journalists/stylists or publications to work with?
Rachel Hardy: Gosh there are so many! I like straight journalists – journalists who will tell me exactly how it is and who I know I can trust. If I think someone has been underhand I simply won’t choose to work with them again. At the moment I work closely with tabloids, onlines and the weekly magazines because that is who is most relevant to our youth orientated programmes, but there is nothing more satisfying than a glossy cover or inside photo shoot with a premium title such as a broadsheet supplement or monthly magazine so I’ll always make time to pitch something to them when we have a strong offering. On the opposite end of the scale the online outlets are great because they can react immediately. And of course TV and radio still reach the biggest audiences so there’s nothing better than a good TV or radio spot for your campaign. Ultimately, I think in this day and age when there are so many ways to reach your audience it’s very dangerous to have favourites and it’s a lazy strategy to just work within your comfort zone, approaching only those you know and like. You have to keep your contacts vast and varied. It’s the same with stylists and other creatives; of course you want to work with those you know and trust and that’s very important, I’d never take a risk with an unknown for an important shoot but you also need to keep looking for new talent to avoid being stuck in a time warp
NakedPRGirl: What is your style when you pitch a story to a journalist?
Rachel Hardy: I’m in quite a privileged position now that I rarely have to pitch anything I think a journalist isn’t interested in, in fact I simply don’t pitch it unless I think they’ll want it. Thankfully I also have the relationships to just make a quick call and find out. If they’re not interested (which most good journalists will establish with you pretty much straight away) I simply move onto the next. I think the key thing is giving journalists the information concisely and honestly and if they’re keen then you can give them the detail. I never exaggerate my offering, in fact I make any problems or drawbacks very clear from the offset so as not to waste either of our time. This game moves too quickly to over sell something only for it not to be viable when it comes to the crunch.
Every now and again we have to pitch to a new journalist where we have no ins, for example when we’re working on a sensitive storyline on Hollyoaks we’ll approach a journalist with experience in that field, i.e. I approached Viv Groskop for the transgender storyline because I saw that she had written a number of positive transgender stories before, as had Guardian’s Patrick Strudwick written about HIV issues for the Ste storyline. However, again, while these might take more of the cold calling approach, I make sure we’ve done our research on the journalist before we approach them so they immediately know we’re not wasting their time but are approaching them with something we think they’ll be interested in. If you’ve done your research then you usually find the journalist is respectful and grateful of that and will give you a definitive answer on their interest with constructive feedback either way.
I also think picking up the phone is so important and then following up on email. It’s so important to make sure your email has been seen and to take the opportunity to ensure all your key messages have been understood. Equally it’s important to document your conversations on email for reference. It’s the only way to ensure the piece plays out as you’d hoped. I think all too often PR’s assume the journalist has everything they need without checking. If you get that first piece right then follow up coverage usually follows their lead. If you get it wrong then it can become impossible to correct.
NakedPRGirl: Have you ever looked at the press coverage and though ‘I can’t believe we managed that!”
Rachel Hardy: All the time! Seeing your coverage in print is the best bit of the job. Whether you’ve generated a really positive piece of coverage or you’ve influenced what could’ve been a negative piece to make it more positive, to see something you’ve controlled and know it will be read by hundreds of thousands of people gives you a real buzz. On the day my son was born there was a Joey Essex interview that made the main front page of the Sun. It was the last interview I set up before maternity leave and I was so pleased it ran on the day he was born. We have a tradition of keeping the newspapers from the day our babies are born in my family so it is very cool that I can tell my son that front page was my work when he’s older!
NakedPRGirl: What’s your favourite channel of social media?
Rachel Hardy: I try my best to be across them all to ensure I’m still in the game for work purposes but personally I still love Facebook because, in the words of my teenage siblings, “I’m old”. I really hate the criticism that came with social media, the cynical view that we only go on there to gloat or spy on our exes. For me, it’s a lovely way of keeping in touch with all my old friends and family back home that I don’t get to see since I moved. I love looking at their wedding photos, baby announcements and to see what festivals and events they’ve been to and not because I want to negatively judge or spy, it’s genuinely just a nice way to keep in touch when we don’t have time to keep in touch on a one to one basis. I’ve also discovered many a good TV show, news article or you tube video from what my friends and family share online and I love hearing people’s opinions on TV shows, the news, etc.
NakedPRGirl: How have the changes in digital and ecommerce affected you? How did you get up to speed with the changing landscape?
Rachel Hardy: I don’t think any one individual will ever be fully up to speed on digital changes at any given time – it changes so quickly! The development of the internet and social media has had a huge impact on PR and my role is very different now to when I first started. Print media no longer holds the value it once did and we now have to service far more outlets than ever before but it also creates more opportunity and gives us and our talent a direct line to the audience which is a brilliant tool but comes with a whole host of complications. At Lime Pictures I truly believe we have the most exciting and innovative digital team and they help to keep me informed on the latest digital developments – they are always a step (or two) ahead of the industry. I think one of the biggest challenges facing digital is the inexperience that comes with it being such a new media but what we’ve successfully achieved at Lime is bringing young creative minds completely in tune with the digital age and a youth audience to a team of knowledgeable and experienced TV producers. A lot of our digital stunts are based on traditional ideas that the digital team have developed to activate across multiple platforms.
NakedPRGirl: Do you consider yourself a brand, if so how would you describe yourself?
Rachel Hardy: I don’t see myself as a brand but I do think about my programmes and talent as brands. I would describe myself as genuine and I hope that’s how I’m perceived. I don’t always agree with the way this industry works but I’ve learned that as long as I maintain my own integrity that’s all I can do. Sometimes you just have to accept you can’t change the game but you can always be a better player.
NakedPRGirl: Do you think it’s important to give off the right image? If so, what’s your failsafe PR outfit?
Rachel Hardy: I do think it’s important to give off a good image but sadly this is an area that I think lets me down. I’ve never been blessed with a size 8 figure so fashion has never really been my forte and I simply don’t have the time for the beauty regimes one might expect from a PR! I absolutely love the fact that in TV we can wear jeans and converse to work and I enjoy being comfortable for work – I genuinely think you’re more productive and creative. I try and dress smarter when we have important meetings and of course I make the effort for industry events but mostly I’m just practical and I think that’s as important as looking smart. It’s not always appropriate for the PR to be as dressed up as the talent and I really cringe if I see someone dressed inappropriately for work, particularly when we’re filming 12-14 hour days – no one can do that in a pair of Louboutin’s! I think it’s important to strike the right balance.
Rachel Hardy: I think it’s really important to have friends who work in similar roles to support you and to bounce off. It can be quite an intense industry and inevitably there will be fall outs with journalists, talent and even internally and that can really effect you personally. I often go for a glass of wine with fellow PR’s and I ask their advice. It’s important to surround yourself with friends who will support you when you’re having a hard time but who will also tell you when you’ve handled something badly. It’s very easy to go native when you’re working on a big project so you need someone to reign you in when you’ve gone off course!
NakedPRGirl: I know you are really committed to your job but I also know you have a really busy social life. How do you deal with juggling so many things?
Rachel Hardy: I’ve never been a stereotypical party PR girl and I’ve never really made the most of the perks offered to me. I’d far rather be in the local pub with my old school friends or family than at a fancy London party! I suppose I am busy in both work and social life though. I have a big family and a great circle of friends and I always commit to far too many activities than I probably should but you only live once!?! I’m very lucky to have developed a really nice life for myself and I definitely enjoy everything I do. In terms of managing it, I just do it! I’m frequently setting the alarm for 4am or staying up past midnight to pack or prep so that I can make the most of the day ahead. I was in the office until 1.30am two days after my baby was due but it meant that when I finally went off on maternity leave I had a real sense of satisfaction that everything was done. Some people think that’s crazy but that’s perfectly normal to me – it’s just how you get things done! I also live by my to-do list – I really could not function without it!!
Do you think it is important to be super passionate about what you do?
Rachel Hardy: I absolutely believe you have to be passionate about what you do. I literally do not understand why people stay in jobs they don’t enjoy. When I was preparing for maternity leave I met a group of expecting mums in an NCT class. They were all super excited about finishing work and were already talking about having a second baby soon after their first just so they could get more time off work. I think that’s incredibly sad. Of course I too was looking forward to time off with my baby but I was also dreading finishing work. I love what I do and I miss my colleagues terribly now that I’m off. It’s loving my job that gets me up at 4am and staying in the office ’til 1.30am. You spent far too many hours at work to not love what you do.
NakedPRGirl: Finally, on top of being Head of Press, you’re a new mum – how do you think you will juggle work and life?
Rachel Hardy: I have been asked this question so many times and of course as a new Mum I’m worried about how that responsibility will affect my ability to be as on call to work as I have been. Like many people living in London, my partner and I have a challenging situation as we both have a long commute into London every day and sadly no family living locally that can help with childcare so it’s just us with no back up! However, while this job demands long hours and a big commitment it also gives me flexibility. Because we work such long hours and are on call 24/7 I think we gain a trust from our employer to manage our own time. I would never abuse that trust but it’s good to know that flexibility is there when I really need it. A colleague said a phrase recently and it completely sums up my work ethic – she said it’s not a work / life balance but a work / life blend. Work frequently impacts on my evenings and weekends when talent find themselves in trouble or a story breaks, particularly when we’re filming 7 days a week and it’s impossible to switch off. It’s therefore not unreasonable that my family life might blend into what was traditionally known as the working hours. I have my phone on 24/7 so essentially I’m always working. I’m also always going to be a Mum now too – I can’t clock off from that job – so if I leave the office a little earlier to pick up my child from the nursery that doesn’t mean I’ve cut my working day short, instead I’ll just make up that time later that night when I catch up on emails or get that strategy or presentation written before bed. It all blends together. Plus I’m told Mum’s manage their time better which I can absolutely believe! I don’t intend to miss a school play or an important work meeting – the only thing I may need to give up is sleep!
Work with me – click for more information on NakedPRGirl Claire Etchell.