Laura Sutherland is the Founder and Director of Aura PR, a strategic public relations and crisis communication consultancy based in Glasgow. She is a Chartered PR Practitioner and has over 19 years of experience in public relations and communication.
Laura set up Aura PR over a decade ago, where she helps clients, from small to large businesses, solve problems and develop solutions based on data, strategic thinking and a collaborative approach.
Laura also runs the world’s first PR festival, PRFest, which she established in 2015. Between the 17–18 June 2020, PR professionals from across the globe will come together (virtually in 2020) to learn, share and collaborate. Whether attendees work in agencies, in-house or are freelance, they will be equipped with the knowledge they need to confidently tackle any PR task or challenge.
When I met Laura last year in London during a whirlwind lunch at Caravan in Granary Square, I remember thinking “wow, this woman really speaks her mind!”. She’s a straight-talking Scot leading the way in PR and I instantly admired her for her confidence (and the fact that she’s not afraid to have a heated debate). She’s also an early adopter, surging into the world of digital, Podcasts and E-courses while everyone else is still talking about the future of print media.
In this interview, I asked Laura about her established career in PR, her fantastic initiative PRFest and what the future of the industry looks like.
NakedPRGirl: Where are you from originally and where do you live now?
Laura Sutherland: Not much has changed! I’m from Glasgow and still live here. I did consider moving abroad when I was younger, but then work and boys got in the way!
NakedPRGirl: What did you study? What was your first job?
Laura Sutherland: I went to college and studied Hospitality Management. I left school early because I knew I wanted to work in hospitality. I trained at college for three years and secured a management training position within a really prominent Scottish hospitality operator. My first job, though, was when I was 13 and lived in the country. There was a coffee shop next door and I went to work there in the summer as a dishwasher! You’ve got to start somewhere!
NakedPRGirl: What was your big break?
Laura Sutherland: One of my regular customers asked me to go and work for her lifestyle PR agency. She said I had ‘balls’. I worked there for just over a year, before being made redundant, and launched restaurants, L.K. Bennett in Scotland, worked with some amazing brands on jewellery and watch collaborations, like Patek Philipe, Rolex, Bvlgari, Ebel and more. It was a really varied role, what we would now call integrated. I worked across the full spectrum for my clients. I loved it!
NakedPRGirl: Tell me about your business, what is the idea behind it?
Laura Sutherland: I’m a Chartered PR consultant and I run Aura PR and I work with clients on strategy, using data to inform it. At the moment people haven’t quite caught onto using data to inform strategy, so it’s not for all clients, but I’m sticking to my guns. I believe it’s the only way to have an informed strategy, which means it’s more than likely going to work and you can measure it more easily. I also train in a variety of practical aspects of PR, to help teams modernise and I run the world’s first PR festival, PRFest, which is actually on next month! It’s a growing community of forward-thinking, lovely PR professionals. We’ve got a strong focus on professional development.
NakedPRGirl: How did you come up with the business plan? And name? Who did your branding for you?
Laura Sutherland: The business is 11 years old now, so it’s moved with the times, as has my ambitions and business plan. I’ve actually been learning to design in the last year or so, so I developed my own brand identity. I love creating visually pleasing content and ‘stuff’ so it was fun. I’ve even designed and developed my own magazines over time!
NakedPRGirl: What’s your USP?
Laura Sutherland: Me! I’m my USP! So much of being a public relations consultant is how we handle situations, clients, ourselves and indeed skills, knowledge and experience varies per person. I’ve been in the business over 19 years now and nearly all of it has been in integrated working, so I’ve had a big head start to most PR professionals, who are still quite fixated on media relations. My skill set is vast and I’m naturally able to adapt and change up when required. I take delight in learning new things and seeing how that can add to my own skill set and what I offer to clients. I’m also chartered and there aren’t many of us around!
My approach with data is also not adopted by many, so my approach and processes are fairly unique. So yeah, I’d say I am my USP!
NakedPRGirl: Do you have a particular career highlight that stands out?
Laura Sutherland: Yes, launching my own agency in 2008, during the last recession. It was like giving myself permission to steer my own future! I’d also say I’ve had a few others—the first consultant PR award I won from PRCA and then I was so honoured to be presented with the Sir Stephen Tallents Medal from the CIPR President last year. I was asked to give a speech, which I wasn’t expecting, and yes, I cried!
NakedPRGirl: Tell me about PRFest, I’ve never been, but am looking forward to it this summer.
Laura Sutherland: Oh, it’s just such a nice experience, if that can make sense. Before now, it’s been an annual face-to-face event, with a focus on professional development and driving forward people’s modern day PR skills. It’s a community of senior, like-minded people, who are loyal, passionate and really lovely human beings. The event was supposed to be only one-day this year, a new approach to the event, but as lockdown hit and people will be nervous about being in groups of people, I have rethought and modelled the event to now be an online learning, sharing and networking opportunity for the PRFest community. People from across the world speak and now people from across the world can attend! You can find out information about the programme, speakers and tickets at www.prfest.co.uk.
NakedPRGirl: You’re a really active member of the CIPR and PRCA, how did you get into that and would you recommend it to others? How important is the PR community to you?
Laura Sutherland: I’ve been a volunteer to our industry, in numerous roles, for over 11 years. I firmly believe you get out what you put in. I’ve always said that. I’ve chaired Scotland groups, been a Board Director and Council member and now, I chair the CIPR Fellows’ Forum and chair the PRCA Scotland group.
NakedPRGirl: What’s your personal style? Have you had to look at marketing yourself as a brand?
Laura Sutherland: I like this question. I really see people, especially consultants, as personal brands. I have my business brand and I have my personal brand and there is definite crossover. In terms of colours, pink has always been my colour, a specific colour of pink, cerise. I’ve always loved colour and cheery design. My clothing tends to be quite tailored and classic. If I go off-piste people tend to really notice I suit classic cuts because of my shape. My brand is more about leadership in my industry than placing myself as an icon. I’m 100% committed to helping others and showing them the way.
NakedPRGirl: How do you use social media for your business? What’s your favourite social media channel? Do you have any social media tips?
Laura Sutherland: Yes, I’m all over it. I’d say don’t look at my own social media! It’s like cobbler’s children – you never get round to doing your own website and PR because you’re so busy doing it for other people! I’m actually revisiting a lot of this just now as I’m going to streamline my approach—I essentially have three brands of my own to deal with—me, the business and PRFest. It’s a lot to manage. I’d say I love Instagram for a quick look and nice things and I love Twitter for chatting and having conversations about things. I fell out of love with Facebook a long time ago and LinkedIn just never seems to bring me results, even though I invest quite a bit of time on it, in it and have 1,000+ connections who I actually mostly know!
NakedPRGirl: How have you seen your industry changing over the last few years?
Laura Sutherland: I’d say in the last 10 years there’s been a big change in terms of digital skills and tools, then in the last couple of years, AI and automation has been a game changer, even more so now. It’ll be both exciting and interesting to see where things go from here!
NakedPRGirl: Where do you see it evolving in the future? Perhaps post Lockdown?
Laura Sutherland: Ha, well right now, it’s about coming back to purpose, then looking at the philosophy, narrative and insight. Brands will want short term projects for the time being and that’s ok. We need to be prepared to lead the economy as much as advise leadership. Now is the biggest opportunity for our industry to show its true value.
NakedPRGirl: How do you manage your blog/social media workload—are you a planner and a scheduler? And do you get techy in the back end?
Laura Sutherland: Badly! I’ve got three websites and blogs to look after, plus all social for my three brands!
NakedPRGirl: Who in the industry inspires you?
Laura Sutherland: Too many to name as the list grows continually!
NakedPRGirl: How do you split your time between business and real life?
Laura Sutherland: I’m good at the balance. I tend to work five days 9-5.30 and then I close the door and move onto my personal life. I’m on hand outside those times, obviously, but there should always be a line. Also, if I need to attend a personal appointment for my hair or nails during a working day, I’m not scared about doing it!
NakedPRGirl: Do you have a motto or mantra that you live by?
Laura Sutherland: Yes, “what’s meant to be, will be”.
NakedPRGirl: Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
Laura Sutherland: I don’t have a 10-year plan. I live in the moment!
All images courtesy of Aura PR Laura Sutherland. Visit the Aura PR website at www.aura-pr.com.