What I've Learnt: Laura Mashiter, Founder and MD, Refresh PR
Laura Mashiter founded Refresh, the Manchester-based PR and communications agency, in 2009.
Refresh, which won Tech PR Agency of the Year at this year's Prolific North Tech Awards, also works with clients within the built environment and food & drink sectors. Clients include LG, Culture Shift, Manchester Digital and Distology.
The agency, based in the Northern Quarter, provides services across strategy and consultancy, content creation, media relations, digital PR, social media and more, and focuses on collaboration, commitment, teamwork, and passion.
We found out what lessons Laura has learnt.
Which single daily habit or practice could you not do without?
A lot of coffee. It’s an addiction.
What’s been your luckiest break?
When I left uni in the late 90s, I had no idea what I wanted to do so I backpacked round Australia, worked on a kiddies' camp in London, and did a ski season as a rep in France.
Finally, the cash ran out and I hotfooted it back to my parents' in Morecambe, where I got a job at Cannon Hygiene - one of the biggest employers in the area at the time - in outbound telemarketing.
I was rubbish and after a couple of days my boss moved me to inbound, where I basically took orders and upsold. I’d secured a teacher training place in Manchester before I started there, so in my head it was a temporary role (they didn’t know this!). I handed my notice in to make the move to the ‘big city’ and was advised of a job in the marketing team doing PR for Cannon, latterly OCS.
I had no idea what PR was, but having spent time with the other member of the team, Sean, I knew that I’d be a lot better with the words than the design, so ditched the teacher training course - in hindsight the luckiest move for the poor kids I’d have taught, and for me - and so began my PR life. I’ve never said it, but thank you Jane Wilmot!
Without this, I’ve genuinely no idea what I would have become after being sacked two weeks into my shiny new teaching career…
What’s your best failure?
I’ve had many! PR-wise, bringing a life-size Bob the Builder into a nursery for the TV cameras, only to have all the toddlers scream in fear while the camera was rolling…
I also once held a hawk while on a photoshoot for a pest control service - but it was so heavy, I ended up dropping it. It was hanging off my arm, flapping around! I learned the hard way never to work with children and animals…
MD-wise, while running Refresh I went off on my first maternity leave and left the company with a management team. Within eight weeks, two of the three left - both with very little notice - leaving me in an unexpected position of having to return to work full-time after my baby’s ninth week.
I was really sad about this, and I completely failed to see this would happen. I’m really fortunate that the second time round a new team fully backed me, and the company had a brilliant six months, led by the extremely competent and supportive Lucy Moore, with me working a very flexible role. I’ll be forever grateful.
What is the best investment you’ve ever made, either financially or time?
It’s working with members of the Refresh team who are mentor-able. Not everyone is, and that’s okay, but for those who want to learn, take on advice and try new things, it’s great to be able to nudge them in the right direction and then sit back and see how they then thrive.
I like seeing members of the team who have gone on to greatness, and knowing I had a hand in that happening. More so I like to see people succeeding here at Refresh, grabbing opportunities put to them and really stretching themselves.
Which book would you recommend others read and why?
All the Harry Potter books. It doesn’t matter how old you are, you can read all of them over and over again. I’m grateful to get the break away from everything into a world of Quidditch and patronus charms, and I’m not ashamed to admit it.
What one piece of advice would you give your 21-year-old self?
Listen and understand. As you get older and experience the highs and lows of life, you realise a lot of situations aren’t in our control.
Particularly in recent years I’ve met people who have been through truly horrific events, and they’ve picked themselves back up and got on with life. Sometimes it's hard to see how they have achieved this.
At 21, I was very oblivious to this. You never quite know what people are going through, and while issues are all relative to the individual, I have nothing but sheer respect for some people’s determination to enjoy life and look forward. So respect that and be sensitive to it - it’s the least you can do.
Who or what has had the single biggest influence on your working life?
There have been a few. My parents brought me up to work hard and understand the value of money, and that meant I bought my first house at 23 years old. It’s meant I’ve been able to live life how I choose to.
In work, the CEO of Cannon, Norman Haworth, was so well-respected and well-liked by every single last employee of the company - it operated at the time in 35 countries with thousands of staff too. He was instrumental in building the company up before selling to the OCS Group, and a massive inspiration to many including me.
For the past 12 years while running Refresh, Mark Bateson has helped mentor and guide me in his role as our non-exec director. His influence, based on his hugely successful career, has been invaluable and continues to this day as we continue to accelerate the business at a rapid pace.
Tell us something about you that would surprise people.
I once skied at 100kph. On twin tips. Deliberately. Despite trying time and time again, it’s never been replicated. I now stick to playing badminton in a local league.
How will the COVID crisis change work for the better?
It has changed the dynamic for the better. We’ve always had great relationships with our clients, but we were suddenly in a position where we’d be speaking with their partners, their kids, and sometimes even their pets, as we video conferenced them from our homes. It’s made everyone that little bit more tolerant - if meetings need to move for someone, it’s not a big deal and the job still gets done.
Likewise, if we can’t get to their office, work still gets done over video calls. I really hope this change lasts and there’s no reason why it can’t. I think the fact that Refresh has come out the other side in such a strong position makes us wonder exactly what's possible! If current business is anything to go by, it’s limitless.
I also love that true flexible working is now recognised. I’ve always worked pretty flexible hours, picking up the laptop if I felt creative at 10pm and, particularly in the early years of Refresh, going to the driving range or gym in the afternoons when I’m least productive.
In 2009 I had one brief to our IT company: Create me a system which means I can work from anywhere in the world. These systems give us additional flexibility easily and, although pretty common now, it’s been something in the Refresh culture from day one.
What does success look like to you?
Being happy and satisfied, surrounded by people - friends, family, colleagues and clients - who are also happy and content with life.