Kerrie Finch: What People Get Wrong About PR

An FRANK Interview With Kerrie Finch

 Photo credit: Jerome de Lint

Photo credit: Jerome de Lint

For a company that’s not even 10 years old and yet has offices around the globe, you know the woman behind it is a force to be reckoned with. “Queen of creative,” “networking ninja” and “fearless communicator” are just a few of the terms that have been used to describe her. We chatted with Kerrie Finch about entrepreneurship, the evolution of PR and how to do it well.

How has PR evolved for you, and what has enabled you as a professional to stay in the forefront?

I started my career working in the arts and entertainment sector in the U.K. at theater companies and arts festivals. Tight budgets taught me how to think and act creatively on a shoestring. Working in consumer tech in the ’90s at PR agencies in London taught me that SiLos of any kind are my kryptonite.

I feel squashed, bored and frustrated when the bigger-picture marketing communications mix is segmented into advertising, PR, experiential, digital, media and the rest, with no cross-pollination of ideas, strategy and budgets. I work best when any and all aspects of sharing a story — engaging people and brands — interact and interlink wherever, however and for whatever reason it can.

PR has done a lousy job on itself over the years and therefore can be misunderstood as the poor cousin to other disciplines, such as marketing, digital and advertising. This is ludicrous to me and plays to old-fashioned segregated thinking.

At its heart, PR is about communicating — sharing a story well-told that others want to hear and share in turn. This “joined-up writing” approach resonates with me at FinchFactor. Nowadays, this is chiming with both brands and us — as consumers — more and more.

Staying sharp at FinchFactor is all about the next generation. I learn from my team every day. And from clients. I want to be inspired as much as I want to inspire. Surrounding myself with smart people who challenge me is the way forward.

What motivated you to start your own company?

I launched FinchFactor in Amsterdam in 2009 during a European recession, and we’ve never looked back. We’ve grown every year and now stand at 25 people comprised of 11 nationalities across four offices (Amsterdam, London, Los Angeles and New York). Prior to FinchFactor, I was PR director at Wieden+Kennedy for four years. That was a riot, and I learned so much. Starting my own company enabled me to pull everything I’d learned throughout my career under one roof and apply it to a broader client base.

At FinchFactor, we specialize in helping brands grow across borders through the power of thought leadership. Our clients are creative businesses, tech innovators and category disruptors, including Airbnb, MediaMonks, Happn and Critical Mass. As an entrepreneur, I’m able to spread my wings wider, working with brands, not for them.

What have been your biggest challenges, and what did you learn from them?

Growing pains. How do you preserve and develop the Finchie company culture across borders? When expanding into new territories, what comes first? Client, office or staff? I’ve learned that I can’t do it myself. It’s absolutely a team effort. It may be my name above the door, but everyone comprises the “factor.” I’ve learned that trust is fundamental — and that letting go is really, really hard!

It’s been said that as an entrepreneur you can only choose three: work, sleep, family, fitness or friends. What are your three?

That’s a tough choice. Over the years, I’ve definitely focused on work over everything else. I'm certainly not good at prioritizing fitness. I am a terrible sleeper and haven’t enjoyed a consecutive six hours of sleep for years now. The older I get, the more I appreciate the love and support of friends and family. Ideally: It’s fitness, friends and family, because your tribe, health and well-being is everything. Realistically: The real world gets in the way. I want to earn a living, and work takes precedence.

You are in the “reputation management” business. How do you see some of the learnings being translated into individual’s personal careers? 

Personally and professionally, I believe in a world that empowers diversity and equality in leadership. To me, building a reputation means standing for what you believe in and embodying that. It’s not always easy. It involves passion, honesty and, sometimes, a cast-iron, shockproof shit-deflector shield, because there’s a lot of noise out there. The skill is to cut through it with something worth hearing in a manner that engages hearts and minds. Jonathan Mildenhall, former CMO of Airbnb, is a perfect example of how to marry personal and professional beliefs to cause positive impact.

You are amazing with people and a thoughtful connector. Is it nature or nurture? Any tips you could share with people looking to become better at connecting and networking?

Thanks, I appreciate that! I couldn’t do what I do unless it came naturally to me. Sure, pretty much anyone can learn basic skills in how best to interact with people. Taking those skills to the next level involves authenticity and natural curiosity. I’m genuinely interested in people and am always flexing my Spidey sense when it comes to joining the dots.

I hate SiLos of any kind. Cross-fertilization of people, ideas and principles enriches us all. That excites me and stimulates me. My tip would be: Don’t fake it. Always look for the thread that tickles your imagination and follow that. If you can’t find it in the person you’re talking with, move on. We live and work in a big world. Search for the threads that truly connect you to people and follow, unravel and weave those.

What’s the one thing you’re done with?

Too little time. Seriously. As an entrepreneur and sole business owner, I’d pay hard cash for more hours in the day. Having (free) time is a true luxury and should be cherished like nothing else on earth. Except maybe love. Or free speech. Or freedom from all forms of slavery. Or clean water. Or just a really good night’s sleep. But you get the point.

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Follow Kerrie on Twitter at @KerrieFinch