Sian Gaskell is the Managing Director of award-winning & fast-growing PR agency CubanEight.
What is your background? What made you decide to get involved in supporting entrepreneurs?
I studied English at University of Birmingham and wasn’t quite sure what to do after graduation! I got my first PR role working for Channel 4’s Schools division supporting their educational programming with teaching resources and events. From there, I found myself in tech PR through working in publishing focussed PR agency at a time when books were becoming more digitalised in format. After that, I moved to a global tech PR agency, Weber Shandwick, which I loved! It was great getting to work with lots of innovators, and the company had a very global outlook due to running multi-market campaigns. Later, I moved to an agency called Hotwire that my former boss had set up, and I was there for 5 years. It was a great entrepreneurial environment that gave lots of opportunity and empowerment to its team to learn new skills. After my time there, I freelanced for a while before deciding to utilise the skills and experience I had by setting up my own agency, and so I self-founded CubanEight 12 years ago.
What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
From my experiences and observations, I would say it’s about wanting to build something different that you have belief in.
How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?
I moved to Oxford a year before establishing CubanEight and began to work at another PR agency, but I soon realised I wanted to do my own thing and build a company myself. Additionally, I knew that if it didn’t work out, I could go back to another company, so I might as well give it a try. I had existing clients who wanted to continue working with me, so I wasn’t having to start from a completely blank slate, which helped give me confidence in myself.
What would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
Confidence, self belief, and a positive outlook. Not in a naive way, but as an agency a strong value of ours is a can-do attitude that you can bring to both clients and your team. Also, resilience. It isn’t an easy thing to run and build a business, and you have to keep motivating yourself, which can be really hard at times. I would say that I see failure as a good thing to have in a journey, as you can learn a lot from it and build back even stronger than before. You also need to be able to have passion for your venture, it’s really important to be able to enjoy what you do!
What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
I enjoy the ability to have control and flexibility of my own schedule, which is so important to allow me to have time for both my business and my family. I also love running an agency where I can work with businesses who are defining markets or have created breakthrough tech, it really feels like you’re at the innovative edge of the market. I’m also just really proud of what I’ve built and the team around me.
What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
Mary Portas is a good example, as she just has so much passion and belief in what she does. Holly Tucker, who established Not On The High Street, is another, and she now runs support for female-led small businesses. Someone I’ve worked with and admire is the founder of Zendesk, Mikkel Svane. Zendesk are a business that reinvented e-commerce customer service, and he wrote a hugely inspiring book about his own journey called Startupland, which shows just how much you can learn from the hard moments in creating a business.
What has been your most satisfying or successful moment in business?
Creating a good reputation after working so hard to cultivate just that. Also being recognised for our work, such as being named UK PR Agency of the Year, and being recognised on a global level by Forrester. More recently I was proud of how we came together as a team during the pandemic. It was a challenge, but we pulled together and learnt so much about real teamwork and how to keep team spirit and a good working culture going remotely. We’re now still using those skills, as our physical space is in an office hub just outside Bicester but everyone mostly works remotely and comes together in person once a month. It’s all about a focus on working smartly and making sure that people stay connected.
What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
As the agency grew, I would hold onto a lot of responsibility and that can get overwhelming, so I’ve realised that sometimes you need to share the load and the vision. That opens up shared responsibility and also makes everyone part of the journey. I had been guilty of not always doing that, but when I did I found it was liberating and empowering for the whole team.
How have you funded your ideas?
I started the agency with clients and went from there – . We’ve never actually had any external funding, instead it’s all been client based.
Are there any sector-specific awards/grants/competitions that have helped you?
When we started, we had clients but we knew we needed to build the brand and get our name out there. From early on we made sure to get on the PR Week Top 150 and build credibility by getting our campaigns noticed. We’ve won numerous awards for campaigns, which are great for getting clients as they know they’re in safe hands, but are also really good for team morale and helps recruitment.
What resources would you recommend for other women?
In Oxford, I’d recommend OxLEP, which is aimed at supporting small businesses. There’s also a lot of public sector support, such as from the council. Venturefest Oxford, which we have supported, provides an annual event for start-ups where you can find out about innovation and funding. Just recently I participated in the OxTech Fest, which is linked to Oxford Brookes and was a great two-day virtual event. OxPR is a great forum which also runs events. Outside of Oxford, the Allbright has some great speakers. I also like to listen to audio books, and sign up to newsletters so that you can tailor the content that is useful to you – for example I get one from Harvard Business Review and they share management tips of the day, which I find really useful. Social media can also be a great source of inspiration, as platforms like Instagram can give you access to people you never normally get to ask questions to. It helps with making you feel part of a community of female business owners that aren’t confined by location, which helps create support networks that are so important to have.
Any last words of advice?
Be brave and do it! If you have the conviction and vision behind you, do it! If you don’t, you won’t gain experience and learn from the journey. If it is a success or a failure, you will still learn. Don’t be afraid to reach out to those who have done it before, so many people will be happy to help you if you message or email them,