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What I’ve Learnt: Rick Guttridge, MD, Smoking Gun


Rick Guttridge co-founded Smoking Gun PR, the successful Manchester public relations agency, in 2010.

The agency, which has created successful campaigns for Silentnight, Les Mills and England Squash, prides itself on its imagination and ingenuity.

Here, Rick shares the lessons his career has taught him…

Which single daily habit or practice could you not do without?

Radio 5 Live to start the day – my perfect blend of getting up-to-speed with breaking news and sport.

What’s been your luckiest break?

I really believe in making your own luck in life – however, everyone has a load of ‘sliding door’ moments that change and define their own journey. While at Brazen, I’d just been offered a number-two role at another agency when the pregnancies of both co-founders created the opportunity of me staying and becoming Acting MD.

However probably the biggest slice of luck was in getting my first role in PR via a series of spurious connections that started with a pint in my local village pub when I came back from a year in Australia. I also got offered a role as junior sports reporter at the Wigan Evening Post a week into my PR life, and had a crossroads moment. Thankfully I stuck with PR, but had it been the Burnley Express and being paid to watch my footy team home and away, everything could have been very different.

What’s your best failure?

2019. Build it and they’ll come, so they say. Smoking Gun achieved record top and bottom line figures in 2018, and we invested in a range of plans, people and activity to make 2019 even better.

I personally underestimated the impact Brexit negotiations and every single major parliamentary vote would have in reducing both client confidence and spend, while also killing our new business pipeline. Add to that a couple of our larger clients pulling out of the UK and in-housing PR, and it hit us hard.

We had to make tough decisions, including letting some very good people go through no fault of their own. So why my best failure? Getting the business lean, more agile and mentally trained for dealing with adversity – the first real time in the business’s history – meant we recovered at the end of the year and were able to act swiftly and decisively when COVID struck thanks to lessons learned.

What is the best investment you’ve ever made, either financial or time?

[Co-owner] Vanessa and I decided from year one that we’d give at least 1% of profit to charity on top of offering discounted rates to charity clients and pro bono work. We believe that business of all sizes should make a positive difference to the world. It’s something we’re immensely proud of.

Which book would you recommend others to read and why?

Reading for pleasure, the Brighton Trilogy by my Uncle, Peter Guttridge – a perfect rip-roarer of a murder mystery blending a real-life crime with fictional characters across multiple decades. Genuine page turners. Business-wise, every agency owner or senior figure (or anyone with aspirations of rising to that level) should read ‘Agencynomics’, a simple and effective guide to running a profitable agency.

What one piece of advice would you give your 21-year-old self?

Beware imposter syndrome! Don’t waste your time and energy looking over your shoulder thinking you’re going to get ‘found out’ and everyone else is better.

Who or what has had the single biggest influence on your working life?

Getting a strong work ethic and knowing the value of earning your own money from a young age. From starting as a paperboy at 12, I’ve had some sort of job ever since.

Tell us something about you that would surprise people.

Shh, I’ve signed the Official Secrets Act but I can’t talk about it. Seriously.

How will the Covid crisis change work for the better?

The Directors had to dial up our empathy to 11 during the crisis, to try and understand how all our team felt and were processing the situation. I don’t think we were alone in this, so hopefully it means a more understanding and people-first corporate world.

What does success look like to you?

Having a measurable impact on improving the lives of our staff though their personal development; helping clients achieve their goals; and keeping up my record of never having missed a single one of my four boys’ sports days or nativities.

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