It was through our wonderful mutual friend, Sarah Kent, that I first met Caroline Van Praagh (née Peers), the founder of Peers Communications, a luxury travel and lifestyle PR company that recently celebrated its first anniversary!
Caroline featured in Stylist magazine earlier this year, where she spoke of the value of her mentor, Ramona da Gama in a piece entitled “The importance of a mentor: meet successful women and the mentors who shaped their careers”
And this Wednesday, I’ll be attending an event hosted by the APM WIPM and RBS Women’s Networks, to hear all about how one of Caroline’s clients – the luxury travel company, Luxtripper – was founded. So it seemed like a good time to interview Caroline to learn how she has gotten to where she is today, and she has kindly taken the time to answer 10 questions for the benefit of all you lovely ToGetHer Further readers. Enjoy!
- What is your proudest personal or professional achievement?
My proudest professional achievement was setting up my own luxury travel and lifestyle PR business in 2015. It was daunting to take that leap but it was something I had always wanted to do and I had really planned and prepared for that moment, doing some accounting training and working with a business coach on my vision and actions to achieve it.
- Did you always know you wanted to get into PR?
No, I didn’t always know I wanted to get into PR. At school it was one of the careers recommended to me because of my interests but it wasn’t until doing work experience after university with a magazine that I was introduced to a PR agency in Manchester and that’s where it all began. I love working with people and I’ve always enjoyed communications, having studied languages at university so it seemed a really natural fit.
- What training/qualifications did you need to do to get to you where you are?
I have a BA Honours in English and Spanish, which taught me some useful skills such as planning and communication and that can be applied to working life. The work experience I did is what really gave me practical experience that allowed me to develop a career in PR.
- Other than your mentor, were there any inspiring people that helped/supported you along the way?
I’ve been lucky to work with some great PR professionals at each stage of my career and they have each taught me a variety of important lessons about PR as well as business. Having the opportunity in my last role to manage the PR agency twice when its owner went on maternity leave was invaluable and I really appreciate the chance I was given there. Outside of work my parents, sister and husband have always really believed in me, which I’m so thankful for as it’s great to have a strong support network around you.
- Being a professional woman in the workplace can come with its own unique set of challenges; can you share some examples of your experiences and how you managed to overcome them?
The PR sector and especially my experience has been very female focused with all the agencies I’ve worked for being lead by women, which has meant I haven’t experienced challenges relating to gender to work. It is something I’m aware of though because of different friends’ jobs and I’ve certainly heard some shocking stories. I think it’s important that there is a dialogue about equality and I love working with strong women who inspire others.
- What advice would you give other young women trying to get into PR or setting up their own business?
I think work experience is key, although I would recommend that people trying to get into PR find out what the work experience will involve. For example is it going to be two months of making tea and doing filing or two months of really hands on activities focused on learning specific PR skills. The latter will be a great insight into the PR world and really set you up for being able to demonstrate to future employers that you have practical experience that you will be able to use. In terms of setting up a business, I would recommend working with a mentor or business coach as it is great to have someone to bounce ideas off and help with that initial planning of your vision, which underpins everything.
- Throughout your career progression, and in setting up your own business, have you had to make many sacrifices in order to succeed?
During this first year of working for myself, it’s definitely been an adjustment getting used to not having the same salary I had working for someone else and there’s things I haven’t been able to do because of cutting back but it’s definitely been worth it. I’ve got a business plan and I really enjoy developing new business, so the cutbacks won’t have to carry on forever!
- What would have made your career path smoother, if you could go back in time and change things?
I’m really happy with how my career path has gone. I’ve worked with great agencies in permanent roles and even when I moved to London after my first role, I decided to freelance for a few months while looking for the right job. This time allowed me to see how different agencies worked and really focus on what I was looking for from my next role and agency.
- If you didn’t work in PR, what else would you have done?
I think I would have been a journalist as it includes a lot of the same skills that I enjoy using in PR. I love to write as well as travel and try new restaurants and bars, so it would be another good way to combine all the things I love!
- How do you choose to switch off in your down time?
I love to travel. It’s one of my passions and something that I focus on in the work I do through managing the PR for travel brands and luxury hotels around the world.
To learn more about Peers Communications, or Luxtripper, check out their websites, or pop along to the event on Wednesday night – there might still be some tickets available! As usual, I’ll share my write up on the event afterwards, so don’t worry if you can’t make it!