Established initially in Nottingham’s Lace Market in 2004, Toast PR is a consumer and B2B PR agency with the strapline, “we make people products and services famous”. The business moved to Manchester in 2008 and has continued to grow and expand, most recently opening offices on Deansgate in the City.
Toast was founded by ex-Warwick Business School grad Julia Mitchell, previously a PR Manager at Boots The Chemist. Julia was awarded PR Week’s “Top PR Under 29” award the year she started Toast PR from offices in Nottingham’s Lace Market. Originally from Manchester, Julia moved Toast PR back to the city four years after establishing the agency and now lives in Cheshire.
How long have you been running your business and what does your business do?
I’ve been running Toast PR for 13 years now (lucky for some I hope!) We are a boutique PR and marketing agency, working across a myriad of sectors, both consumer and B2B facing. No day is the same and I absolutely love what we achieve.
We’re use our PR skills to solve our client’s problems. We are skilled at helping our clients both launch and propel their business to the next level. We tap into a range of tools to do this including storytelling, media relations, content development, video, social media and events. We are cheerleaders, creating carefully targeted noise to help get our clients noticed by their audiences.
What or who was the inspiration for the business current path you are on?
It’s hard to say who inspired me to start my business. I guess the feeling that you want to forge your own path is innate to some degree. My Grandfather was an entrepreneur (albeit in a very different field as a farmer) so maybe that planted the seed. So many puns in there!
Even when I worked in a corporate career, I was always using my PR skills outside of work to help others so I guess there was some inevitability in the fact that one day I would have my own thing going on. It didn’t feel like a massive risk to go it alone if I’m honest. It felt like a fait accompli.
Is there one bit of advice you wish you’d been given before you started your business?
Outsource the bits you’re not good at! I now have a retained branding and website agency, a full accounts team, IT support and a fantastic PA as well as inbound telephone call support – and the business runs so much better as a result!
It’s tempting to keep costs down and try and get by doing these things yourself without outsourcing them but they ultimately, distract you from doing the work you should be doing for clients, not to mention growing the business.
The one most important thing you’ve learned during the experience of running your own business?
Gosh, where do you start? There are so many lessons I’ve learnt along the way and I’m still learning to be honest. One mantra we’ve developed at Toast is that we do “good work for good people”.
If anything, I wish I’d trusted my gut instincts a bit more in the early days surrounding which work we should yes to and which we should turn down. You often get a strong inkling at the start of a relationship with a client if it’s going to work out and I really believe in listening to that gut feeling now.
What do you see as your future business challenges?
The PR industry has never changed as much as it has in the past few years and it’s important we stay ahead of the curve for our clients. As a team, we’re constantly getting up to speed with the latest advancements, training and legislation, which I think is key.
We don’t try and do everything either. The temptation is to try and be all things to all clients (a full service agency) but that can result in you losing ground in the areas you are expert in. We work with some great partner agencies to deliver on the aspects of the client’s brief we can’t fulfil ourselves. Collaboration is at the heart of everything we do.
What would you say is your biggest business achievement so far?
We’ve won a few awards in our time which are always great to receive and motivating for the team but the main achievements have actually come in the moments when we’ve pulled off big results for our clients.
PR isn’t always easy to measure in terms of results but there have been instances when due to our activity, clients have sold out of a product, sold their business or landed big contracts. It’s these game-changing moments that feel the best!
What would you like to leave as your business legacy?
Wow, big question. There have been some points in our time as an agency when we have literally “created news” for our clients. And by that I mean, we have influenced the headlines, got the TV trucks on the road to report on it and claimed thousands of column inches which has of course, resulted a great amount of awareness.
Recently we have started to use these skills for the greater good on pro bono work for charities and causes close to our heart. I’d like us to do more of this when and where possible and if this could be something we could be remembered for, that would bring me great pleasure.
When you are not running your business, what do you do to relax?
I have a five year old daughter so when I’m not running my business, I try and spend as much time with her as possible. That’s not always the most relaxing of activities as she has a lot of energy and spending time running after her is probably more tiring that running Toast!
I also love travelling, kicking back with a good Netflix show, reading and as a self-confessed fashion obsessive, I have been known to spend inordinate amounts of time reading fashion magazines, blogs and online shopping of an evening!
What is your biggest achievement outside of business?
Without a doubt, having my daughter Audrey is my greatest achievement.
I wasn’t able to take traditional maternity leave as I had to keep working and running my agency so I guess the fact that I was able to keep running the business (I was back in a pitch 4 weeks after she was born!) during this time was pretty impressive too.
These days, I can use the flexibility that being self-employed provides to pick her up from school a few times of week or take time off with her in the school holidays which is great. About 75% of the senior team at Toast are also Mothers and we run a very agile workplace in this sense. I’m a big fan of flexible working.
What would you be doing if you weren’t running Toast PR?
I am obsessed with the South of France so if I wasn’t running my business, I’d like to have a little place down there and spend time cooking and taking in the scenery. One of my dreams is to have a little apartment one day on the Cote d’Azur somewhere. The thought certainly keeps me motivated!