Melissa Hobson: Melissa Hobson PR

Today's firms need to prove they are environmentally-friendly to attract business - which is where Melissa Hobson PR comes in. The startup provides expert resources and guidance for green PR, supporting companies at all stages of their sustainability journey.

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Age of the founder: 34
Location: Reading
Date launched: March 2021
Number of employees: 1

What does your business do?

I help sustainability, conservation and for-purpose organisations make a positive difference to our planet through copywriting and tailored PR support. As a published journalist, I understand first-hand what elements a story needs to land. As such, my strategic communications help clients tailor their approach specifically to their target publications, rather than just shouting into the void. As well as PR strategy development, implementation and team cover, I sell PR guides and resources on my website and provide PR Power Hours for small organisations that need some expert guidance but aren't yet ready to invest in a PR agency or retained consultant. I also run a weekly marine conservation newsletter, Baleen, which filters through the news to share the top ocean-related story every Monday.

Where did the idea for your business come from?

It was a natural step: I've been working as a PR consultant (in-house and agency side) for 12+ years but, over time, I've been able to bring my passion for the ocean and environment closer to my PR & copywriting expertise. The idea for the newsletter came from the fact that I'm always trawling through the latest marine conservation news while researching article ideas and thought other people could benefit from the fruits of my labours (especially when my pitches aren't picked up!). It's been popular so far and I'm looking forward to continuing to grow its follower-base.

How did you know there was a market for it?

Since moving into the marine conservation sector several years ago, I've noticed an increase in public awareness of, and support for, the importance of sustainable and ethical businesses; starting with the Blue Planet effect. While networking with various ethical business owners, I realised lots of them are in need of support from a communications professional with extensive expertise in the charity, conservation and sustainability sectors. However, I wasn't expecting quite how much demand there would be: particularly recently, with the publication of the IPCC report and in the run up to COP26 in Glasgow, I've been blown away by how many companies are in need of support.

What were you doing before launching your business?

For the last three years, I'd been working in-house at small marine conservation charities and freelancing as a journalist on the side. Before that, I was based in London for 10 years where I worked on PR campaigns (both in-house and agency side) for the likes of Cancer Research UK, JustGiving, GoFundMe, British Deaf Association and more.

Have you always dreamed of starting a business?

Honestly, no! When I was Associate Director at an Independent PR agency, people would ask me if I'd soon be thinking about starting up my own agency but that wasn't something I aimed for. Since leaving London, my main driver has been to make a positive difference through my work. While there are some brilliant agencies working on cause-based and charity campaigns, it felt like it was time to set up on my own so I could focus on helping the organisations and businesses that align most closely with my own business mission.

How did you finance your business?

I used money from my savings.

Explain your business model and how you make money.

For clients, I usually offer bespoke package pricing (rather than hourly rates) so they know exactly what they're paying for and can easily budget accordingly. I also sell digital resources and one-off services, such as PR Power Hours and training sessions.

What are the main challenges you have faced? And how did you overcome them?

Getting used to the feast and famine of being freelance is quite the rollercoaster. I've, luckily, not had too much experience of the famine end yet but lots of people have been getting in touch needing help promoting amazing causes and it can be hard to say no. However, I'm getting booked up further and further in advance which means I'm able to be more confident in turning down last-minute requests as I simply don't have the time. I'm also working with my career coach – the wonderful Helen Jane Campbell – on how to say no when I'm at capacity without feeling bad.

What has your experience been of starting a business during a pandemic?

It's actually been really positive. Before the pandemic, I was based in the Philippines and Mozambique for the charities I was supporting so I was very used to working remotely. But I think, had I started a business at that time, companies would have been more nervous about me being based abroad – or even, not easily commutable to London. Now, it feels like most businesses have a solid understanding that you don't necessarily need to be working on site to get the job done – in fact, many people can be even more productive when remote – and are more likely to be happy bringing on board a remote consultant.

Describe your first breakthrough.

I would say it was probably the first time I was published by National Geographic online. Being associated with such a well-known and prestigious publication definitely adds clout to my offering!

What advice would you give to other aspiring business owners?

Not PR-related, but switch to a green web hosting provider and take steps to reduce the size of your website: powering datacentres and cloud computing is, reportedly, the second largest global contributor to carbon emissions after the aviation industry. So, taking steps to make your website as environmentally friendly is an important (and not often discussed) step – plus it improves the customer experience, so is also better for business.

What is one resolution you have for your business this year?

To get my work-life balance right!

How do you see your business developing in the next three years?

I hope to build up my regular client-base, particularly with marine conservation organisations and businesses innovating in the sustainability space. I'd also love to see increased demand for my PR Power Hours as I love empowering small business owners to feel confident and ready to approach their own media relations. I also hope that in a few years, I won't be working with ‘sustainable' brands because all organisations will be taking solid, science-based steps to becoming more sustainable and reaching net zero.

If you're a business owner with a startup that's less than six months old, apply now to feature as one of our Just Started business profiles.

Helena is from Yorkshire and joined Startups in 2021 from a background in B2B communications. She has previously written for a popular fintech startup covering everything from money-saving tips to cultural reviews.

She is particularly interested in project management software and the films of Peter Jackson.

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