Building from scratch is never a walk in the park - Nick Freer

Staying at my uncle’s house in southwestern France this week, somewhere on a line between Toulouse and Bordeaux, we recalled that it had been more than ten years since we had visited last.

Nick Freer
Nick Freer

At that time, my wife was pregnant with our first child, and I was trying to make a good fist of launching an agency and building a client base.

Early clients were a bit of a mixed bag, including the British Council, Skyscanner, and a London law firm. As a corporate communications adviser in the main, the British Council was a bit outside my comfort zone.

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Supporting the culture and education body around all things PR in Scotland was a much needed piece of work at the time, although it's not necessarily a piece of work I would take on today. The world of soft power the organisation operates in is inherently opaque and, without taking away from the achievements of the organisation, going right back to the British Council co-founding the Edinburgh Festival in post-war 1947, I'm not sure I ever properly grasped the bigger picture at play.

The walled village of Sarrant in Southwest France
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Often in life, including in our working lives, you can chalk less positive episodes up to experience. For example, while the only in-house PR job I ever had was a low point in my career, on the plus side it brought me to Edinburgh where I met my wife, and it was the genesis for wanting to set up on my own.

When I moved to Edinburgh, I didn’t know a single person in the city, although I had family in Glasgow and the west. Professionally, and socially, I remember it being quite a difficult time, missing the cut and thrust of the PR world in London, and all the friends I mucked about with there. On reflection, I think I was probably quite depressed during that period.

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However, I had learned my craft from some of the best in the business during a decade with one of Europe’s top agencies and, although I didn’t know it at the time, that experience combined with a determination to succeed put me in good stead. Making a few pals in the new neighbourhood also helped.

When you build something from scratch, it’s never going to be a walk in the park. The process is a valuable one though and, for me, you have to trust your instinct. And when you’re lucky enough to have the ear of advisers to support around opportunities and challenges along the way, that’s a good place to be.

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Recently, I heard a CEO talk about how, “sometimes your tactics will dictate your strategy”, as opposed to the other way round. There is a lot of truth in this - when you throw things up and they stick, they become strategic fixtures.

Back in rural France, well and truly out in the sticks, we felt like we had gone back in time, which in a funny way we had without wifi for the week. That came as a shocker for our kids, who we may not have managed to get onto the plane if they had known in advance. While their expressions said zut alors, it was good to disconnect for a week before returning to the old routine. Très bien!

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Nick Freer is the founding director of strategic corporate communications agency the Freer Consultancy

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