From winning ‘Creative Entrepreneur of the Year’ at the Great British Entrepreneur of the Year Awards in 2016 to being invited for breakfast at the House of Lords aged 27 to celebrate her success (plus countless nominations along the way including those for ‘Women in Business’ and ‘Fashion Agency of the Year’) it’s safe to say that Rosie Davies is not your typical 29 year old.
Having made and sold teddy bear Brownie outfits aged 8 and toyed with the idea of writing the phonetic dictionary to make her millions after being diagnosed with dyslexia aged 14, the entrepreneurial spirit in Rosie is clear. So much so that at the age of 12, her Dad bet her £50 that she’d have her own business by the time she was 25.
Given that Rosie owns two businesses now, The London Fashion Agency, an independent PR agency for fashion, homeware and lifestyle brands and PR Dispatch, her most recent endeavour in which her team feed the insight, contacts and support to smaller brands allowing them to do their own PR from as little as £39 per month, it’s safe to say that someone needs to pay up!
I joined her and her team at their quirky base in Brixton – a far cry from the polished Central London showrooms so typical of PR agencies nowadays – to delve into the story behind her success and find out what ever happened to that £50.
She can. She did. Has he paid you yet?!
Rosie Davies. Well we still argue about this! We can’t remember if he bet me or I bet him! … Maybe we should just take each other for dinner and call it even!
SC.SD. Let’s start from the very beginning then because there’s a big backstory that led to The LFA isn’t there….
RD: The girls have heard this story a 1000 times so (to her team) I’m so sorry guys! Shannon actually recited it back to me the other day!
After studying Textile Design at Liverpool John Moores and following it with a MA in Textiles from the Chelsea College of Art and Design in London- a course that she admits was simply to delay getting a proper job and to cushion her landing in the capital- creativity comes naturally to Rosie.
RD. I was never any good at anything else, horrific actually at most subjects…. I didn’t know what to do… in hindsight I should have done marketing or something but I didn’t even know that was a thing! I didn’t know what PR was….
SC.SD. What was it about London that appealed?
RD. I just knew I had to move away from home because it was very comfortable- by home I mean Liverpool- I love Liverpool but I know I wanted more than what Liverpool could offer…. I always knew I wanted to start a business from the age of 8. My dad had his own business so I thought that was the normal thing to say. Teachers used to be like…
She pulls a sceptical face.
SC.SD. “Yeh alright love…”
RD. “Sure, sure, ok Rosie..!” I thought I wanted to work in fashion so I moved down here, did an MA, knew I didn’t want to be a textile designer (!), was in £12000 debt, so I thought I’m going to try and work on my own.
Juggling a job as a nanny for a 5 and 7 year old in Fulham, and shifts at the local pub in the evenings and weekends to help cover the rent, Rosie used any spare time that she had to start a few businesses, all of which were product based.
RD. I tried to make dresses that flattered women’s body shapes… I tried to start a brand with tweed accessories… that was obviously terrible! My heart just wasn’t in it.
SC.SD. Do you think it was more that you wanted to own a business as opposed to being driven by what the business actually was?
RD. I was driven by the fact I wanted a business! Not the fact that I liked what I was doing! I still have about 100 prototypes of tweed eye masks! I learnt how to build a website and all about photography though. Social media was becoming something then too so I’d learned all these things from these failed businesses.
After a year of nannying, Rosie applied for a position as a buyer’s admin assistant at Arcadia along with a two week unpaid internship with an independent Brixton based brand named Lowie.
RD. Much to my parents dismay…
SC.SD. You went with the unpaid job…?!
RD. I went with Lowie… still to this day I don’t know what it was! My Dad had said the only thing you’re going to do is go and work for yourself.
We’re interrupted by Milo – the office dog – who is clearly a tad restless. Office talk gets side-tracked quickly as we try to work out whether he’s too hot or just needs a number two!
RD. It’s not a poo is it?!
Discussion moves on to the ways in which you can tell the difference and whose role it is to take the dog outside! Today it’s Cecilie, the LFA’s “Senior PR Guru”, who volunteers and after a quick office hunt for poo bags, Milo ventures outside!
SC.SD. This is going in the interview by the way!
RD. Aghh! Right, where were we? So I took the internship for two weeks and it was amazing. They asked if I could design prints but I said I was interested in the business side so they gave me a pile of magazines and I started emailing them, sending them images, calling….
SC.SD. And were you taken seriously on those calls?
RD. Some yes some no. I had a much more northern accent back then, everyone was so posh and I was so scouse and I remember feeling really out of place. I don’t fit into this world!
SC.SD. Well you did go straight to Chelsea!
RD. Very true! What am I doing here!?
After the two week internship was up, Rosie headed back to the pub. Bronwyn, the Founder of Lowie then offered her an internship for one day a week for three months and finally, when they opened a pop-up shop in Covent Garden, Rosie was offered a job five days a week.
When a company that Rosie didn’t wish to name opened up next door however, and asked who hung the lights in the Lowie pop-up (it was Rosie), she was offered a three month internship with them, unpaid except from expenses, with the potential for a full time job when the three months were up. With a ridiculously well paid job teaching textiles to a famous singer’s daughter in Chelsea for four hours a week (thus helping to cover the bills) three guesses what Rosie’s answer was..!
RD. I was like YES. Bronwyn at Lowie completely understood and I learned so so much. About website traffic, how to build a brand, putting on events, PR call-ins… when the three months was up she said she’d hire me. Anyway I went on holiday and when I came back – my dyslexia was always bad- I sent a few emails off that had spelling mistakes and two days later she sat me down and said we’ve decided not to give you the job.
SC.SD. What went through your head in that moment?
RD. I remember just thinking that’s because I messed up on my spellings. I remember crying the whole way home, I called my Dad and he went nuts at me because I’d done another unpaid internship!
So I called Bronwyn the next day, explained what had happened and asked if she’d pay me one day a week to do her PR and marketing and she said yes. So she was my first ever client!
Bronwyn went on to introduce Rosie to another brand called Labour of Love who hired her too. Rosie set up a freelance website and rosannadavies.com was born.
SC.SD. Is that when you used your fancy name?
RD. That’s when I used my fancy name!
SC.SD. I remember reading that on the website and laughing because everyone calls me Fi but I sign off as Fiona and every time I’m like why am I doing this!?
RD. Yes I quickly learnt! When I met people and they said “Hi Rosanna,” I was like ewww that’s not my name!
So yeh, more clients were coming on board, I used my experience at the old company to really build the SEO and I got to number one on google for freelance fashion PR so started to get loads of requests!
The problem was I knew what to do to get brands into magazines but I didn’t know how to run a business so I was taking on everyone, good and bad, and I learned very quickly that you can’t PR a bad product.
SC.SD. How do you judge that? Is it not subjective or do you follow the trends?
RD. It’s not trend based. It’s about colour, range, branding, imagery, social media… We get approached by some amazing brands but they don’t have enough variation of product so it’s not worth their outlay for PR because there isn’t enough for the press to feature. Black handbags for instance, the press have enough black handbags, give me something different.
We tend to focus on fashion accessories/jewellery, lifestyle, homeware, diary brands, notepads, quirky little things that have the variation.
Working at Lowie one day a week still, Rosie spent the rest of the week working from her bedroom in a rented flat in Brixton. Her clients were gaining coverage in the likes of Elle, Vogue, Style, Grazia… so soon, she took on two interns.
SC.SD. How did you find them?
RD. So Liz interned for Lowie too …
Cecilie returns with a triumphant Milo.
RD. Did he go?
Cecilie. He did!
RD. Oh Milo, darling I’m sorry!! Thank you Cecilie! Sorry!! (Speaking to Milo) You should have gone earlier mate, 20 minutes we had outside!
Sorry… and Beth worked for the old company- they were great. Then Lowie had a desk available in their studio so I rented a desk from Bronwyn which was £250 a month- my biggest outlay at the time but I just needed to get out of home.
SC.SD. What were those first few months in the flat like?
RD. It’s why I got a dog because I was so lonely at the time! My boyfriend used to come home and I’d chat his socks off because I hadn’t seen anyone all day!
Rosie’s fiancé Nick has been there since day one of LFA.
RD. He was actually the one that came up with the name!
SC.SD. Oh really! Does he rub that in now!?
RD. I think he’s actually forgotten! I looked to see if the domain name was available and it was so I bought the URL, started to build a website which was terrible at the time, started making the pricing more transparent and refined what we actually did….
SC.SD. So is that how rosannadavies.com transformed into LFA?
RD. Things with clients were going well, we were getting coverage so I started thinking what if you could offer affordable PR- this could be the business that I’ve always wanted. I’ll just keep the overheads really, really low.
With a lean business model and no central London showroom, Rosie and her team are able to keep their costs at a fraction of their competitors so clients can reach the right people and spend the thousands that they’ve saved elsewhere.
In January 2016, Rosie took on Cecilie on a freelance basis 2 days a week which gradually worked its way up to full-time employment 5 days a week and a few months later Shannon joined the team- first as a freelancer and then as a full-time employee.
SC.SD. What did it feel like to suddenly go from doing everything yourself to having a team that you were responsible for?
RD. I think the thing that surprised me the most was that I thought managing a team would be easy but it takes a lot more time than I thought it would. I’d say that to anyone that’s starting a business, if you’re going to take someone on to help you, make sure that they’re the right people. Make sure you have time for them. And if I could change one, it’s that I need to find more time for the team.
I remember when Cecilie signed her contract, I suddenly had to pay HMRC. You actually have an employee who’s your responsibility and I remember being like oh my god… when she first started (as a freelancer) we were only bringing in £2000 a month and I didn’t know how I was ever going to pay an employee, but then having her there just grew the business.
SC.SD. So it was a gamble?
RD. Yes which is why I started her as a freelancer. Then Shannon signed a contract, my employers contribution went up (!) and then we’ve got Tasha who’s with us 2 days a week and then Yemi has been interning and is starting part-time next week. We always try and have an intern with us – they have to be doing a related course at university – we’ve had some amazing people!
I think I was quite relieved to be able to pass something over. I know naturally I’m not a good manager though.
Shannon. I don’t think that’s true!
RD. Thanks Shannon!
SC.SD. Did she pay you to say that!?
RD. Yes! I think the business would grow quicker if I really focused on growing the business but it’s so hard. You get so bogged down with HMRC, and VAT and emails… admin. We’ve got an in-house meeting tomorrow about LFA PR and I would have loved to have spent two hours this morning just planning for that but I couldn’t!
SC.SD. Management is so complex though. Before I left my old company I went on a 3 day residential course learning about management and there’s so much more to it than I thought…
RD. I need to do that. I think I’m just learning as I go on. I never expected when people joined that they’d know 100% what to do but one thing I do know is that they always do the best they can do and I don’t ask for anything else. As long as nothing went out to press that we were going to get sued for! I read somewhere that ‘It’s PR not ER’, it’s not life and death. I still have lots of involvement with our LFA clients but at the same time the girls make their own decisions.
SC.SD. That’s really good. What is your favourite part of this job? Is it working with brands, is it managing the girls… it’s clearly not the shitty admin!
RD. It’s definitely not the shitty admin! Erm…. it’s seeing our clients in the press, that’s the best feeling. One of our clients was speaking to Shannon the other day and they were featured in Vogue and for a small brand, that’s massive, they were overwhelmed with sales.
It’s still exciting! And to hear that they’re happy. I’d hate to think that any of our clients weren’t happy with our PR.
SC.SD. How do you handle the conversation when it’s just not working?
RD. Even now, we’re very honest and we’ll be the first people to say it’s not working. It happens a lot less now I’m not taking on board every Tom, Dick and Harry but we’ve had people who don’t quite have the budget and are really pushing it and it’s just not worth it. If you are really stretching to pay that PR fee a month this is not for you. We’re not perfect but we learn.
SC.SD. Have you had any moments where you’ve just thought ‘I can’t do this’.
RD. I can do my top 2 lowest!?
SC.SD. Go for it! Do we need the tissues!?
RD. I’ll be ok! Just before Cecilie came on, we lost all of our clients… except from Lowie.
SC.SD. Good old Lowie!
RD. Good old Lowie! Bron’s still hanging in there! It was 2014 and people ran out of budget, they didn’t want to do PR anymore, there was a bad recession, it was dire. I called my Dad and said I’ve lost all my clients and he said, “just go and get a proper job.” I went home to Nick and he was like “Don’t do it. I know you can do this.”
SC.SD. What if he hadn’t have said that? What if he’d said, “I agree with your Dad”, what would you have done?
RD. I would have told him to fuck off!
SC.SD. That’s the spirit!
RD. Haha! The other one has been quite recently. People told me I had ‘imposter syndrome’. I just found everything really overwhelming, and felt like a complete fraud. We were launching PR Dispatch, I was splitting my time between two businesses, I felt like I was letting the LFA girls down because I was trying to get PR Dispatch off the ground. We completely ran out of money. I just thought ‘am I the right person to be doing this?’ and I rarely feel like that. It got to a stage, 2-3 months ago, where I didn’t know how to make everyone feel motivated again. We were going through Brexit, all of our clients were feeling it and the first thing they look to is PR. These girls worked so hard but I remember saying to Nick “I don’t want to get out of bed today” and that’s the first time I’d felt like that.
SC.SD. How did you get through that?
RD. I took a few days out the office, not consecutively but I worked from a few coffee shops. When I’m feeling down though, I just look at The LFA website and just remind myself of what we’ve built and how much people love it. Sometimes I just click through the timeline which is so sad but I think ‘we did this’ so pull your finger out Rosie and stop being mopey!
And, Shannon’s going to laugh but we tried meditation too!
Shannon: I enjoyed it!
RD. We did a bit of meditation- headspace! And we’re going to the countryside tomorrow for a team day.
SC.SD. You can’t beat a day in the country! Talk me through what led you to launch PR Dispatch too. Is it a separate team?
PR Dispatch is Rosie’s second business in which the team feed the insight and contact and support to smaller brands allowing them to do their own PR. For £39 per month, brands are given the contacts, insight and features along with a Facebook community support to do their own PR. At the time of the interview, there were 89 subscribers.
RD. No, we all worked together to get it off the ground! I just figured out LFA is only scalable to a certain point. We only want to work with independent brands that are ready to invest in PR and that won’t pay the bills and a growing team so PR Dispatch allows us to scale, help smaller brands and keep LFA special.
SC.SD. Any days that stand out that have been amazing with that business?
RD. When one of our PR Dispatch subscribers got featured in The Stylist. It was only me and Shannon here but I lay on the floor and cried on the carpet with happy tears. We had people subscribing, dropping off, we rebranded, it had been a rollercoaster but that one person getting their own bit of coverage – the awards have been amazing – but that was the moment I was like this is a viable business. Nothing else matters, profit, turnover etc… it doesn’t work unless you’ve got a viable business.
SC.SD. Absolutely! Given that you’ve spent the past few years putting everything into these businesses, have any relationships been affected along the way?
RD. Erm… I’ve actually got very few friends. I can count my friends on one hand, maybe two, but they get it as far as they’re really busy as well.
I have two friends who have their own businesses, they’re great and it’s so important to have them because your friends who aren’t in this environment can take you away from work but when you’re in the real shit, you need to talk someone who has been through it so I go to them a lot.
The worst thing for me is that I’m actually a real introvert. I spent all week like la di da but then at night time and at the weekends I’m just exhausted and just want my own time and space. Nick has a huge group of friends who I love but I have this disappearing act that I do. Nick calls it ‘be bright be gone’ because I’m great for an hour and then I just disappear and go home.
SC.SD. On your own?
RD. Yes, he’s really cool with it. He knows that this is so draining…
SC.SD. I think it’s so important to enjoy your own company though. There are a lot of people that constantly want to be around people which is great if you enjoy that but I’ve never understood it- I need my own space.
RD. Exactly, I can’t do it. Nick is the only person that I can be with all the time and he’s hugely supportive so I’m so lucky for that. Everyone always goes “oh you’re doing so well” and you just feel like a fraud because you’ve just paid a massive VAT bill and there’s no money left in the bank or you’ve had someone tell you you’re new business is crap… and I always say “social media sugar-coats everything” because it’s just not the case.
SC.SD. Everyone has said this so far! Social media makes having your own business look so fancy, you must be on your way to making millions etc… but actually it’s bloody hard.
RD. Haha! Still getting paid very minimal over here.
SC.SD. So what’s your advice to anyone that wants to set up their own business, either in PR or fashion broadly?
RD. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. I very rarely believe I can’t do something, there’s lots that I can’t do I’m sure, but I always believe I can. Lots of people say I’m so brave and it’s not bravery, I just know no different. People worry too much about how much money they’re going to earn or their life plan, if you want your own business you just need to go for it. Even now at 30 next month, I’m not like aghhh! I’d like to have kids one day and I’m trying to set the business up for that but just be fearless and be yourself. Don’t try and be someone you’re not. When I first started I was like, I’m going to be a posh PR girl…!
SC.SD. It just doesn’t work.
RD. People see right through it.
SC.SD. On the website you say “no mean girls” here. Talk me through that.
RD. When you say you do Fashion PR people roll their eyes, it’s got such negative connotations. We’ve had people that intern here that have had horrible experiences elsewhere and I wanted to make sure that people know we’re really friendly, we’re really approachable, we’re really straight and honest… we’re not actually very fashion. We just love independent brands and I want it to be a nice environment. I don’t think I’m ever mean. Am I mean?
RD. I think they bully me! Especially Cecilia, she rips me 24 hours a day.
Cecilia. It’s bullying with love!
SC.SD. Haha! Do you have any favourite quotes that you apply to the business?
RD. “Being all things to all people is a recipe for mediocrity.” I read it in a Richard Branson book and it’s stuck, I can’t claim it as my own!
SC.SD. It’s very true though. Do you think these two businesses are it for now then or is there anything else bubbling away up there behind the scenes?
RD. Oh my god if I start another business Cecilie and Shannon will leave! Erm, no in all seriousness I’m going to start another business. Not yet though, I’ll give it 5 years.
SC.SD. Do you know what it is yet?
RD. Yep, it’s a product based business.
SC.SD. It’s not the tartan eye masks is it!?
RD. No! It’s not the tartan eye masks! I just think I’ve got a textiles degree so one day I’d like to put that to good use when I’m older. LFA is my baby, PR Dispatch is going to help loads of brands with their own PR which is really satisfying… but yeh, Nick and I talk about our lives one day and it’d be nice to know that both businesses are running themselves, I can come into London 2-3 days a week and then the other 2 days I could consult for small country brands. It will always be small businesses and independent brands though. To become a specialist in that market would be the dream.
SC.SD. What do you want your legacy be then?
She pauses for a while.
RD. ‘She helped independent brands get their products noticed.’ Is that a legacy!?
SC.SD. We’ll make it one! You are the PR Queen for Small Businesses!
After fumbling around with my camera for 10 minutes, all the while very aware that I was surrounded by a team that know how to work it a whole lot better than I do (!) we say our goodbyes!
The LFA website is right when it says there are no Regina George’s here. In fact, it’s quite the opposite and I leave with the feeling that a lot of that is down to the fact that the team are led by a woman who hasn’t had anything handed to her on a plate. She’s worked damn hard around the clock for a good ten years (with knock backs along the way), all the while refusing to simply just settle.
She is the definition of an entrepreneur, she juggles the pressure of success – which can often be overwhelming at times – with an honest, ‘hands up’ approach when it all gets too much; and her legacy at 29 is already one to be proud of.
There’s simply no choice but to respect her.