I’ve known Paula Gardner to wear many different hats, not all of those she describes in her post below but quite a lot of them. Look out for her mention of her two PR books, nice slim volumes which I recommend to clients to this day. Paula describes her journey from the glamorous world of PR to business psychology:
I’m writing this post as part of Judith Morgan’s blogfest: 52 blogs to from 52 different authors to celebrate the launch of her book, Your Biz Your Way.
My entrepreneurial journey first began in the early days after university. My boyfriend and I had started a motorcycle magazine called Fast Cat. Despite neither of us knowing what we were doing, it did make money. This was enough to help contribute to an around the world backpacking experience which lasted over a year. Prior to that, I had always been in interested in writing and publishing. As a teenager, I grew up with ambitions to work on Cosmo. The New York office of course! But over in Sydney, where we were taking a gap year, it was a deep recession and journalism jobs were hard to come by. Actually, jobs in McDonald’s were hard to come by! After much searching, I finally discovered PR, which I had never heard of before. I was excited to realise that it shares many of the same skills as the publishing business. For instance: writing, coming up with ideas and angles and connecting with people.
Back in the UK
I loved PR and, on my return, was excited to get a job in the glamorous areas of music celebrities. My excitement was short-lived, however, as I ran up against a bully at work who made my life hell. I went from loving my job to desperately scanning PR Week and the Media Guardian for alternative roles. And then, one day, a possible client walked into the office. We had had a nice chat while he was waiting for his meeting and I was looking forward to working with him. When it was later clear that he wouldn’t be working with our PR company, I chased him up and asked if he would like me to do his PR for him. He said yes.
That was the birth of Black Cat PR, specialising in working with London restaurants. This later went on to become Paula Gardner PR and have its own office in the rather nice district of St Kathsrine’s Dock in London. That office, however, was a business lesson in itself, as I soon realised that having an office – although it looked rather fun – meant I had to earn much more each month. I also still had the commute! So, after a year I relinquished the office and carried on working from home, taking delight in sneaking out in the middle of the day to have a swim when the pool was empty. Bliss! This is still one of my top things I love about working from home today. I am able to work to my own timetable and take advantage of things the 9-5ers maybe don’t even know about. The cheap cinema showings on a Monday morning; the early morning walks with the nods from the dog-walkers; having the time to stop and chat to a little old lady at the bus stop. And, of course, I can spend time with my cats.
I continued in PR in many different guises, working directly with clients, including Judith and Nicola Cairncross when they had the Money Gym. I also coached my clients around how they could do their own PR and marketing. I wrote two books on the subject, Get Noticed, and Do Your Own PR, was published in The Guardian and spoke at numerous conferences around the world.
An Alternative Reality
However, I was carrying something around with me that I very rarely spoke about. Even before I decided on going down the writing route, I had been interested in Psychology. I remember insisting all my school friends did an IQ test with me and I loved making up Cosmo-style quizzes. In fact, I had even considered doing psychology at University, until my careers guidance teacher told me I would end up working in either a prison or a mental hospital. Now, today, I would find both of those interesting but as a teenager, that put a stop to it. But I had always had a sort of half-dream, Sliding Doors-style, that there was another Paula out there who was a Psychologist. I would daydream about this for a while, then shrug and forget it.
Until I went on a date with someone. I had been separated from my husband for a while and getting to grips with the dating world when I met a man who would change my life, and not in the way you might expect. He was an organisational psychologist who was studying to be a barrister at the age of 52, quite a few years older than me. I was hugely impressed, especially by his positivity. He was facing seven years of studying but looking forward to them with verve and excitement at the thought of practising. “Even if I only work for 10 years after that, that’s 10 years doing something I know is going to really fulfil me.” I told him a little about my Sliding Doors story and he looked at me and asked why wasn’t I doing it then?
I remembering humming, hawing and giving excuses like having three kids and having to pay the mortgage. They were all very credible and real and usually any one of them would have been enough to close down the conversation. But there was something about our meeting that lit fireworks in my head. I went back home and checked out the local University, just to see if they did Psychology, They did, and were one of the best departments in the country. Not only that, they had a Business Psychology Masters which I could apply to what I was doing right now. I phoned the tutor expecting not to get through, and he answered. He seemed keen to get me on the course and even pointed the way to possible funding. Everything seemed to align effortlessly and although I was scared, I decided to do it. Interestingly, what scared me was the thought of what other people would think if I couldn’t handle it or wasn’t intellectually up to it. The things that hold us back!
My Business Psychology Masters
I studied for my Masters alongside my PR work and although it wasn’t always easy, it has actually helped me perform better at work. Psychometrics have been really useful for finding out my strengths and weaknesses and what areas would be useful to work on. For instance, when I did a personality test I found that I was low for staying on track and focused. My interests lie with big picture thinking and creating ideas. This, of course, means bright shiny ideas that can distract. I have deliberately tried to cultivate the art of finishing things, or reaching shorter goals if it is ongoing. Now, I am more productive than I ever was. Writing my dissertation has been a mammoth task too. However, doing it has given me real confidence and an awareness that I can be pretty damn bright when I put my mind to it!
My next challenge was in finding a way to transition from PR and Marketing to Business Psychology without having to start all over again from scratch. Luckily, all the things I’ve learned with my business over the years, and the varied areas I have worked in with business owners of all types, blend well. I now run Masterminds for business owners and these combine business psychology tools with my advice and support on profile raising. This is basically all the contacts and knowledge I’ve built up over the years. My masterminds are based on Action Learning Sets, a psychology tool that helps you really gain momentum in your chosen goals.
Last year I ran my first retreat in Verona, Italy. It was based around Visibility. Although the end result was raising profile for my participants, I brought in lots of psychology to help them get in the right mindset. I do believe that my combination of PR and marketing with business psychology is pretty unique. I now find my work so much more stimulating. I feel I can help clients on a much deeper level. Psychology-wise, meaning is a huge part of what makes us fulfilled in our work, and my work now has much more meaning. PR can be very superficial and sometimes that was a challenge. I now feel that I have found my place and can make a real contribution.
Read Paula’s post on her own website HERE and see all the glamorous photos she put in her original post!
Paula on Twitter: Scarlett Thinking
Paula on Instagram: Scarlett Thinking
What can I offer to you, Paula, of any value, a woman who has been in business if not as long as I have, then as much as I have (if you see what I mean)?
Your very first business showed a profit. I wonder how many can say that?
You’ve worked from an office and worked from home, yep me too. And I love the same things about home-working as you – empty pool bliss, off-peak treats and cats. They sound small, don’t they? But they are not. They constitute life (and work) by design.
You’ve written two books. Now that I have one on the virtual shelves, kudos to you for both of those and done ages ago too.
Is that barrister still solo? He sounds right up my rue! No, seriously… what I LOVE in you manifesting him was the turnaround catalyst influence he had in your life by example. The way you describe his “verve and excitement” is inspiring to me too. What a lovely word is verve?
And then the ease with which you got into Uni (“when it’s right it’s easy” – who said that? Oh, me!). Effortless alignment woo-woo. What wasn’t easy was the bloody hard work of putting your back into it to get the Masters. I am in awe of that achievement and I don’t have three children.
You were scared, sure. What you don’t say but we can all read is that you were BRAVE. What do you call people who go for things even when they are scared? Brave.
And then you saved all your best bits for last, once a PR, always a PR, eh?
The degree enables you to pull together all the threads of your career to date into one delicious melange.
And…(wait for it) VERONA! I know how much you love Italy.
But my fave bits of all are that your last para is entitled Meaning, for what else is there of any import when it comes right down to it?
The crowning glory of your story, your very last sentence bears repeating: “I now feel that I have found my place and can make a real contribution.” Amen to that and more power to your effortlessly stylish scarlet elbow.