Posted: Fri 28th Jan 2022
At Enterprise Nation, our ongoing research has shown that businesses that seek advice as soon as they need it do better than those that don’t.
We’ve partnered with Dell Technologies on the Help to Grow: Digital series, which showcases expert advisers and inspiring entrepreneurs.
Here, we speak to Adrian Mahoney, founder of The PR Store, about his relationship with technology and how he’s used it to his business’s benefit.
Before you set up The PR Store, you were a journalist. Can you take us through your career prior to going into business for yourself?
I trained as a journalist at Napier University in Edinburgh. After that, I found employment with the Falkirk Herald newspaper, which is the founding title of Johnston Press, or JPi Media as it’s known now.
I wasn’t sure a national newspaper was right for me. But as the Falkirk Herald is the largest-selling local weekly in Scotland, switching to another paper would’ve felt like a bit of a sideways move. So I thought I’d go into PR, and I went to work for a government agency called Scottish Homes.
I did that for two years, until a friend who ran a PR agency asked me if I’d go and work for her. I held that role for about six months, but I started to get itchy feet and was considering going back to newspapers. But in the end, I decided that I should just set up on my own. So I created my own agency.
How were those early days of having your own PR business?
Initially I was doing lots of media stuff. But I had a client who was looking for copywriting and so I started doing more writing for the web and less of the PR. Obviously my background was in print – I’d been writing and getting things published since I was at secondary school.
At the Herald, I used to sub-edit pages and design pages, so I’d picked up some design and print skills. And I’d do print jobs for my PR Store clients. In fact, the first PC I bought was a Dell, because I needed a computer with enough memory to handle a print job for a client.
Once the web started taking off, I thought I should get into doing more online stuff. And so I started learning about WordPress and the rest of it. Back then, it was just a blog platform, but now people are building quite sophisticated websites with it, despite having no real coding skills. Which is incredible. So the PR and comms market has opened up a lot, changed a lot. And I like that.
You mentioned needing technology to be able to cater to your clients. How does that apply to your role now?
I’ve always had a home office, and obviously it’s come into its own during the pandemic. It’s been the same for many of us. We’re more home-based than ever before and we’re using technology a lot more.
As I said, one of my first PCs was a Dell PC, and it was a great little workhorse for a good number of years. Over the years, I’ve gone through different manufacturers and brands, but the laptop I’m using now to speak to you is a Dell.
I bought it so I could go out to different places and write emails and do writing assignments and work remotely. Before that, I had a very cheap and underpowered laptop. It was awful, like death warmed up to run. Once I got this Inspiron laptop, it was like chalk and cheese.
It’s a 2-in-1 device. It has a touchscreen so I can use it as a tablet to watch movies, or if I’m doing a demonstration or presentation. It’ll do different things and it’s very fast. It has an SSD in it. It’s light, it’s flexible.
So in terms of that investment, it was a really good spend. My previous laptop, I hardly ever used, but this became a tool I really wanted to take out to coffee shops or use in other parts of the house.
How has the technology benefited you during the pandemic?
I didn’t purposely buy this laptop to do meetings. But obviously over the last year or two, I’ve been using it a lot more for Teams calls, Zoom calls. One thing I have done throughout COVID-19 is to create audio guides for my charities clients. I’d been thinking about how I could do more digital content and so I started recording these audio guides, doing interviews with people in the community.
At the time, I wasn’t allowed to visit people in their homes and so I had to do calls with them, whether it was via Zoom or on the phone. Not everyone had access to Zoom, so for the telephone interviews I had to buy a new recording deck. That cost me quite a bit of money, but it was the only way I could deliver the project.
I was interviewing a lot of retired or elderly people and I didn’t want to take COVID into their homes. So I had to invest in technology to help me out. But for a lot of small businesses, that investment is a big challenge.
How do you balance the need for investment in tech against your limitations as a one-man business?
I do like tech and there are always new things coming out that I want to try. But it’s also a case of seeing what I can afford and whether it’s the right time to spend. It has to be affordable. Because I’m a small business, we’re in the middle of a pandemic and there are good months and challenging months in terms of finances.
The cost of technology for small businesses is getting higher because you now have the subscription model for a lot of services. Some of the tools and software packages I’ve used in the past are now subscription versions only. It’s fine if you’re buying them to use every single day, but for some businesses you might need them just once or twice a year.
If you have a big throughput of customers and money coming through, it may be easier. But for me it’s always a question of whether it’s affordable. Can I fund that right now? Do I have some cash in reserve that I can use to fund that tech? And sometimes I’ve had to just struggle on and deal with the limited technology I have at that moment in time.
Do you make use of the many free tools and services that are online now?
The rise of online services and tools has been another big change in technology. When I first started the agency, I was buying lots of boxed software. But now you have great free web-based tools that let you create content and generally make your life better.
As a small business, it’s about looking at what you can use and what you can afford. There might be really high-end things that you can subscribe to, but there might also be free stuff that’s pretty good and does what you need it to do.
Social media is now a huge part of PR. You’ve been there for the birth and rise of it. What are your feelings towards social media?
I use it. I don’t share every aspect of my life but I chart bits of it. I’ll tweet things I think are interesting and I’ll put the odd post on Instagram. It’s great for reach and for getting an instant reaction. I work with charities and we share things on social and get immediate feedback from people, so that’s really positive.
In terms of PR, you can reach out to lots of people and other organisations and then they can amplify your message and get it out to a much wider world. That’s a really positive thing too.
When you work with clients, do you present social media as an essential technique that they should be using?
A lot of small business clients already have a social media feed, and they’re doing stuff on their own. And sometimes they aren’t doing it that well. So sometimes it’s better to get a professional who’s had years of experience and will do a professional job. And I think you do see the difference.
You’re also getting a plan. If you use an agency or a creative professional, you’re thinking about social media as part of an integrated marketing and comms campaign.
As I’m a journalist, I always tell clients we should be doing local press as well. Because although sales are down, if you look at the social media accounts of some of these local newspapers, they have a really big reach. If they run a piece of copy or a press release you’ve written, their social media will amplify it, and it’ll probably have a much bigger following than the client you’re working with.
People sometimes forget the more traditional, old-fashioned media and think they don’t have a role in this digital world. But they do.
Dell Small Business Solutions
When you run a business, Dell Technologies Advisors are there to help with the right tech solutions. From PCs to secure datacentre systems, cloud solutions and more. Call an Advisor today on 0800 085 4878 or chat with them online at the Dell website.