Ellen Carroll – Quality Over Quantity
Written by Joff Alexander-Frye
Photography by Nick Hook
Ellen Carroll is an expert in her field. With twenty-two years experience in the world of PR, she has worked with some of the largest national and international brands in the process and is a dab hand at it, with an enviable client list that has included the likes of Experian, Thomson Reuters and family businesses such as David Nieper.
Ellen was “made in Nottingham” as she phrased it, and is the youngest of six children, born to Irish parents in England. She told me how her Dad sadly passed away when she was eleven, prompting her Mum to think about moving back to Ireland, only to be convinced not to by her older sisters.
Ellen graduated from University in 1995, having shown interest and promise as a budding journalist in her teenage years. At University, Ellen pursued lots of journalism and PR work experience, working voluntarily for the local MP and for Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) who’s vision is to work towards “A world without poverty”. This was a formative time for her, both personally and professionally and really stoked the fire for PR within her, cementing its potential, power and importance.
After graduating, her first job was as a head-hunter and, after turning down the opportunity to join York Press as a journalist, Ellen decided to use her writing skills to their full potential by moving ‘to the other side’ of the media landscape, into the world of PR.
Her first major PR role was for McMeekin Associates, a York-based B2B PR Agency specialising in Technology. She then worked for York College as their sole PR person which, bearing in mind they had 15,000 students at the time, is quite the achievement. Responsible for building their brand identity and reputation, she relished the challenge and found it a satisfying and rewarding role.
After a few years at York College, Ellen moved to Derby to care for her ailing Mum. This meant taking a step back from her career and doing some temporary work to fit around her Mum’s needs. After her Mum sadly passed away, Ellen went back to work, at a Marketing and PR Agency in Derby where she started as a PR Account Manager, eventually rising through the ranks to manage their entire PR division.
Eventually Ellen felt “called back to York” and, in a moment of gutsy brilliance, rang Norwich Union (now Aviva) to ask if they had any PR jobs going. Not only did they have a vacancy but she had got directly through to the hiring manager who, after a short phone call, offered her a job and she started the next day!
That particular role was very much a ‘crisis comms’ type of PR role, managing the insurance firm’s reputation in the public eye, their public affairs and also dealing with the media when potentially negative news stories were breaking. I got the impression that this had been a hardening and proving time in Ellen’s career; standing her in good stead for future work as an independent consultant.
As if Aviva wasn’t an impressive enough freelance job for Ellen to land, she then moved after a few years to become one of the primary PR experts for Experian, the global consumer credit reporting agency. In particular, she worked for their Information Solution Division, at the time the largest and most profitable division within Experian, looking after the PR for eight different business units; the heights of corporate PR in all its glory and challenge. Ellen’s full-time role involved producing economical and statistical reports for the press, including the Financial Times, summarising the state-of-play in the UK economy and identifying areas of both growth and economical challenge. Truly fascinating stuff.
In what became a frequent occurrence, Ellen stopped for a second, cracked a smile and went on a humorous tangent, telling me that,
It was only after getting home after my interview at Experian, that I realised I had a massive split up the back of my trousers. I’d even done an office walkthrough at the end of my interview, so everyone must have seen more than they were expecting of me that day!”
Five years into this corporate PR role, Ellen held close to her heart the dream of owning her own business one day. So strong was this desire, that she took holiday time from her full-time job to study at an entrepreneur training incubator for people who wanted to start their own businesses. Here Ellen received vital skills and training which resulted in her building a proper business plan and, in 2007, she handed in her notice at Experian to go and start Nellie PR (named after her Mum, also called Ellen but, in traditional Irish fashion, nicknamed Nellie).
When her boss at Experian heard the news that she wanted to leave, they did what any good organisation would and quickly pivoted, offering Ellen the same job she had done for them before, but as a freelancer rather than an employee. This gave Ellen the lucky break that she needed to get Nellie PR going properly, whilst also not burning bridges with Experian. It says a lot about Ellen that a company as large as Experian would value her so highly and work so hard to retain her services. As I said at the beginning of this article, she is truly an expert in her field.
She has been very fortunate to receive a constant flow of recommendations from contacts, previous clients and journalists alike, meaning that she has had a steady stream of work since starting in 2007. Against the backdrop of two recessions and an economic environment of austerity, that is no small achievement. She is even able to be picky about her work and the clients that she chooses to work with. A nice luxury in business and great work if you can get it!
A real key to Ellen’s success has been her laser-focused approach to PR. She takes a real strategic approach to create opportunity, demonstrate value and secure business impact. She avoids, what she calls, “fluffy PR” and instead focuses on achieving key objectives for the companies she works for; whether that be getting close to Government, becoming the industry-leader in their field or wanting to sell their business within the next five years. Whatever their goals are, Ellen works tirelessly to create PR strategies on the results needed; unrestrained from that which might waste time or distract from the task at hand.
Away from work, Ellen lives in Teignmouth and is the mother of a three-year-old boy who, according to Ellen, is a “real beach bum”. After his birth, Ellen took the first real break of her career, then returning to work part-time to fit around caring for her son. It was during this time off that she had the idea to build PR that PAYS, a brand-new online programme which equips individuals and companies with the PR knowledge and skills that she has honed over her lengthy career. Importantly, the programme aims to help participants to create their own strategic approach to PR and also helps them to build their reputation and relationships for the long-term; with lots of hand-holding and extra support from Ellen herself.
Building her own support network, Ellen recently secured a place on the prestigious PR Week and Women in PR Mentoring Programme, a scheme set up to empower women to climb the PR ladder and take prominent leadership roles within the industry.
Ellen shared how she
“has poured her heart and soul into building PR that PAYS and feels passionately that companies and PR professionals themselves, can benefit from taking a more strategic approach to their PR and comms.”
With an initial 30-day course currently being piloted and a longer six-month course close to completion, Ellen is perfectly placed to start tooling up businesses all over the U.K and beyond with the PR skills to ensure that their PR really does pay!
To find out more about Ellen, Nellie PR and PR that PAYS, visit her website or follow her @Ellen_Carroll on Twitter.