Class of 2007: Agent99 founder Sharon Poole on why being your own boss is worth fighting for

Sharon Poole founded public relations agency Agent99 in 2007 after realising she knew just what clients wanted and how to provide it. Her journey over the past 10 years has had its share of challenges, but she says she wouldn’t change a thing. 

What inspired you to establish your business 10 years ago?

I had been working across a number of different agencies of different sizes, and I saw the good, the bad, and the ugly. I came to realise clients—no matter what their size—are looking for creativity and results above all else. They don’t want time wasted in meetings and presentations or other things that don’t end up in results.

We created a really lean model, which really hit the mark. We got popular immediately and we started to land a big client once a month. The philosophy behind the business was really strong because I knew what big clients were looking for, and I knew how to deliver it.

What were you doing before?

I was a marketing manager working on the business-to-business side of a large paint distribution company. I studied marketing and commerce at Deakin, so I ended up doing PR instinctively. It was a natural fit for me; I love writing and chatting to people, and I love telling a good story.

Sharon Poole Agent99

How has your industry changed over the past decade?

Our industry is changing a mile a minute; it’s unrecognisable from the time I started. There are so many channels for a brand to tell a story, and so many ways for viewers to find those channels. It’s now all about where you are getting the message across, and how you’re getting it across.

Social media, and social platforms in general, means how you pull together a campaign is so different. PR is no longer in its traditional form.

What challenges have you come up against?

There have been two main challenges. One of the dangers for any business is growing only with one specific client. It happened to us four years ago—one client overtook 50% of our business and then abruptly pulled PR in-house overnight.

That was a massive challenge for us, but I’m proud to say we regained our lost ground within three months. It was one of the scariest moments in my business’ history.

The second challenge is how the social media and media landscape is changing so drastically. You have to be able to get your head around it to deliver a good product. The audience is hungry and they want to get information in so many different ways. Bigger brands might not be so nimble, so we’re always striving to try new things and pushing clients to try them too.

Some clients are more advanced than others in that area, so it’s an educational journey to bring them forward with us and help them understand why we’re recommending certain tactics.

What is the most rewarding aspect of being your own boss?

I’ve really loved mentoring my team and seeing them grown and develop and be autonomous in what they do. It’s such a proud moment to see where they’ve come from and where they are now.

I also love the lifestyle that being your own boss offers; for example, I’m working from the local library today. I get to keep my own hours and be able to have a young family that I can spend time with. This is worth fighting for but it’s coupled with really hard work—so sometimes I have to pull my sleeves up and get into it.

If you could go back and change one thing, what would it be?

I wouldn’t change a thing. I’ve had the best time ever, even in situations like when we lost our major client.

It’s the ups and downs that are so rewarding in business. If you survive during a tough period and come out on the other side, you can give yourself a good pat on the back.

What do you think are the three most significant factors or developments that will affect your business in the next 10 years?

The media landscape changing drastically one of biggest challenges—clearly the way people consume media is changing and thus the landscape is changing too. Agencies will have to cater to change and keep ahead of the pack.

Another factor is technology and how now it’s all about data and how we use it to make recommendations, and how you use it going forward. It’s a challenge and opportunity, and we see it as both. It’s part of making sure we always remain relevant to the market and across the whole industry. Some are doing it better than others and larger agencies will always have an advantage, but there will always be room for specialist agencies.

For us, we will continue specialising in what we do, which is collaborating very strongly with partners to give a full and specialised service.

Generally, I’m excited about the next 10 years. The world’s business climate is now interesting with [Donald] Trump coming in impacting the economy and general sentiment. It’s a real time of change and I’m excited.

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