15 questions with Kate Bowden Smith

It's our birthday! We're celebrating 15 years of Pier this March and what a ride it has been. To mark the occasion, we grilled our CEO and founder Kate with 15 questions on her journey with Pier since 2008.

1. How did you get into PR?

After doing an HND at Bournemouth University I was keen to do something with boats, I applied for a PR Assistant role at the British Marine Federation but didn’t get it – usual problem that I had no experience. So, I volunteered to work at the Southampton Boat Show press office, on no pay. I stayed in the local YMCA as I couldn’t afford anything else and didn’t know anyone in Southampton that I could stay with. I’m so glad I did it as after an amazing two weeks I had learnt loads, made lots of contacts and been given a chance to prove myself – and was offered the job afterall! Thanks to my bosses Catherine Hands and Denzil Lee the following 18 months taught me loads about PR, marketing and the marine industry – I learnt to sail in my spare time as well which was great!

2. Why did you set-up Pier?

I think a combination of my parents running their own business, and then working at three great agencies with really entrepreneurial leaders, gave me the appetite to try it myself. I had no idea whether I’d succeed but if you don’t try, you’ll never know. So, with a very supportive partner (now husband) I left a secure job and took the plunge.

3. Why did you call the company ‘Pier’?

I had moved out of London back to my hometown Felixstowe and wanted a name that reflected the seaside location. PieR linked well to PR, was short and snappy and rooted us firmly by the coast. Piers reach out to connect people which is what we spend everyday doing, so it seemed the perfect fit.

4. What was it like in the early days?

We started in my spare room; I had recently had twins, so it was a proper juggling act. I owe a lot of thanks to Sophie Daranyi and Stephen Morris at Haygarth, I left the company to start out on my own and they entrusted me with the PR for Haygarth whilst I built up my own network of new business. We still have a very close working relationship with Haygarth today.

5. What’s been your most memorable moment?

Winning Agency of the Year for the first time and winning Leading SME Supplier from our client ScottishPower.

6. How have things changed for Pier in the past 5 years?

One of the biggest changes has been made possible by COVID, with remote working becoming the norm. This has enabled us to employ great people without the constraints of them having to come to the office every day. We now have a presence from the south coast all the way up to Scotland, including Manchester, London and our original base in Suffolk; this is good for clients as they know we have a local presence, and good for us as we can employ the best no matter where they are based. We’ve also invested in a new brand, which is a great way to mark the next chapter of Pier as we head towards a new financial year with exciting new clients and an invigorated team ready to drive the business forward.

7. Why is renewable energy so important to you?

I started working in renewables about 20 years ago when offshore wind farms were only just starting to appear. My work with the Carbon Trust was a brilliant introduction to renewable energy and the challenges the UK faces moving towards a decarbonised future. It’s such a huge, multi-faceted topic, I was hooked immediately and have been fascinated by renewables ever since; whether it’s helping to launch new innovations or working on a public consultation for a new wind or solar farm, I love it!

8. What do you like most about the food & beverage sector?

My first client in this sector was Jose Cuervo Tequila, arranging sponsorship and managing sampling at events like to Time Out Awards. From there I worked with Nescafe and Nestle Ice Cream for years, launched a number of food brands into the UK, managed trade and food service PR for brands as well as large integrated consumer campaigns.  The changing communications landscape is probably my favourite part; when I started out our main media channels were food magazines, regional press and broadcast. Whilst these still remain important, social media has stolen a large slice of the comms pie and is an ever-changing channel, providing new and interesting ways to reach the target audience.

9. What things do you think you got right?

People, as a very people-based business it’s essential to get good people. With a mixture of luck and good judgement we’ve recruited brilliant people at Pier.

10. Best thing about running a comms agency?

Variety is most definitely the spice of life and that’s what running a comms agency had provided in spades. I’ve been part of so many amazing projects, working with so many different people, it’s been fascinating.

11. How does it feel celebrating 15 years of Pier?

To be honest it makes me feel a bit old! It seems like yesterday that we started out so it’s hard to think that 15 years have gone by!

12. What do you love most about being in Suffolk?

Water, I love being by the water, whether that’s walking along the prom in Felixstowe or paddling on the Deben, Suffolk is absolutely beautiful.

13. What’s life like outside of work?

I love life, I have a fabulous family that is very close and am blessed with some amazing friends. I try to get outdoors as much as possible, walking every day and getting on the water when I can, either kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding. If I can smile and have a giggle every day, then I’m happy.

14. Any thing you’d do differently?

Worry less and spend less nights working into the early hours – although Pier wouldn’t be the same if that had happened! I think focusing about doing a great job has really spurred me on.

15. And finally, any advice?

I have two bits of advice for anyone looking to start their own business: make friends and enjoy what you do. Making friends is important in business: give people a helping hand, listen to them, ask questions and introduce people to other useful contacts, there’s no feeling like it. Enjoy what you do: it’s easy to get bogged down in work, remember to come up for air and enjoy the ride!

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