BA (Hons) Media Studies, Class of 2001
Co-founder of an award winning PR agency.
With recognition in over 25 industry award schemes to date, The Tonic Communications counts national brands among its portfolio of clients, and this summer was ranked by PR Week in the Top 50 of UK agencies with HQs outside of London, and the Top 40 UK agencies for healthcare expertise.
It is a source of pride for Nottingham-born Kelly Marshall-Hill, who graduated from the BA (Hons) Media Studies course in 2001.
Having always had a keen interest in media and writing, Kelly credits her first step on the ladder to Hallam too, beating off over 100 other applicants to land her first job as a PR Assistant in the University’s Corporate Communications Team. The role was crucial to her future career, and after four years she hesitantly left SHU to fulfil a desire to travel the world and expand her experience.
A stint of backpacking ended with a public relations position for an international company in Sydney, working on prominent campaigns for the likes of Visa, 3 mobile, Smiths Snackfoods and Doritos.
After returning to the UK, Kelly was recruited to replace an employee who was leaving to move to Newcastle – but during the ‘handover’ the pair forged a vision of their very own consultancy, and took the brave step to co-found The Tonic Communications in 2013.
Kelly said: “Deciding to start a business together was a huge undertaking – we both had mortgages and bills to pay, and had no income if it didn’t work out. We had only known each other for less than two months, we had no start up capital, no back up plan. But we had lots of things going for us too –we had complimentary skill sets based on 15 years of PR experience apiece, we had a similar approach to doing good work, and most importantly, we had the passion and drive to make it a success.”
The consultancy, which now has bases in Nottingham and Newcastle, employs nine members of staff and has carved a niche in supporting brands across health and wellbeing, responsible retail and sustainable transport.
“The journey to establish The Tonic as a leading UK agency has not been without its challenges and we’ve learnt a lot along the way, about what motivates us, and what kind of business we want to run”, adds Kelly. “That’s why we’ve honed in on the clients we work with. We want to support those businesses who are making a positive difference to the world we live in, because that’s what gets us out of bed the morning.”
Along with co-founder Georgina, the pair freelanced at first, offering services on a white label basis, whilst building their own client base. Although the economic climate at that stage was still in recovery, the agency generated over 40% profit in its first year of trading.
“The best advice I can offer others wanting to start a business is to be prepared to roll up your sleeves and work hard. Really hard. And seek out advice and support from others who are where you want to be. Particularly as a result of COVID-19, there’s lots of guidance and free support to tap into. Take advantage of as much as possible, and never stop learning. It won’t be an easy ride, but hopefully, it will be worth it.”