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Carden Calder

carden-calder-100When the global financial crisis hit, Bluechip Communications saw its revenue drop by 50%.

But by cutting hard and cutting fast, the financial services public relations firm survived.

Now Bluechip turns over $2.6 million a year with turnover up 20% on last year and founder Carden Calder attributes the businesses success to hiring smart people, learning to pitch and being selective about Bluechip’s clients.

Bluechip Communications

Based: Sydney

Age: 40

Position: Co-founder and managing director of Bluechip Communications

How did you spot the niche for Bluechip?

We've turned away lots of opportunities to do other sorts of work but keep coming back to these really core services we provide to just one part of business, which is the financial services sector and all we do is communications so, by nature, we are quite boutique.

The reason we're in that space is partly personal and partly professional. Partly it was about understanding there was a real gap in the market and the reason I filled that gap was that I was in house as a public relations person and also working on projects and just unable to find people who liked the work, were specific enough in our expertise in the industry and were also good communicators.

Either I worked with people who I didn't think were that great at what they did, or I worked with people who were amazing at what they did but who perhaps didn’t have the moral compass I was looking for. Some just weren't treated well by their employers and I thought, “There must be a better way.”

PR people historically didn't treat their people well. Others didn't have terribly skilled people working there. The profession hasn't always attracted the best and brightest, let's say.  It seemed to me very clear that there was an opportunity for somebody to start something in Australia that was quite narrow and the people in it needed to know the sector really well, as it’s reasonably complex and the issues are quite specific.

But it’s also an opportunity for a firm that treated their people very, very well, and one of the things that drove that was a better way to have a life and make a living. I wanted a better way to serve clients and a better way to get an outcome.

Historically there have been some pretty poor practices in this profession. Integrity I think has always been a key issue in the business and it was not something that was regarded as an essential hiring criteria, frankly. But it is with the clients we work with.

So how have you differentiated Bluechip from others in the industry?

A lot of it is just about hiring. We've got an absolute commitment to doing the right work for the right people. So for us there are plenty of clients we can’t ever work with because we can't represent well and we can’t support them in their communication methods or feel confident that we're doing the right thing.

We have to be quite careful about the clients we take on, so it starts partly with that, but then it's also about the people that we're used to hiring. We hire people who meet a benchmark, who have some integrity and who are intrinsically motivated and who fit the right values for our firm. So if we start with hiring then that attracts the right clients as well, because the right clients want to work with those sorts of people also.

And how do you attract that top talent?

The best way is to attract them by word-of-mouth, and by who knows who already. One of the key hiring things that I think works well for us is that when people hear about us, if they know someone who sounds like us, they're happy to refer them.

But the other really big thing is that if a candidate looks at our website or if they read our blog, they start to get a sense of the culture of the firm of the DNA of our business. They immediately start to get all these signals about whether it's for them or whether it's not for them.

One of the biggest sources of traffic on the Bluechip blog and when we see spikes in traffic is when we run job ads. Candidates are quite information hungry – the good ones will do quite a bit of research before they decide to apply. We deliberately provide enough signals that they get a sense quite early of whether they're in or out.

We need people who are smart, who are the best at what they do, who work hard, and they have to have that intrinsic value set that we can't give them. If they don't come to us already wanting to do the right thing, wanting to work with other people who are like that, then we can't really change who they are, we can't re-engineer the person.

We can train them into financial services but we can't train who they are fundamentally. So when they meet our team, either they switch on or they actually get a bit scared. Meeting our team, for people who aren't quite the same as the rest of the team, is overwhelming, sometimes threatening, actually quite scary. But people who meet our team and fit our team are like, “Wow, this is the best move of my life, this is the only place I could possibly work.”

Cara Waters

SmartCompany editor

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Cara Waters is the editor of SmartCompany. Previously, Cara was a senior reporter at the Financial Times website FT Adviser in London and she also worked for The Sunday Times in London.