ONiT! PR is a London based public relations, events, marketing and management company.
Founded by spoken word artist Sidel Stewart in 2011, ONiT! PR specialises in raising the profile of performance art in the UK, with emphasis on spoken word and performance poetry.
Why did you decide to start your company?
ONiT! PR was born out of frustration in my day to day dealings with promoters and event programmers.
Being a performer gave me an edge, I had the benefit of the artist experience as well as the audience experience. This was coupled with an interest in PR and the desire to push performance poetry and spoken word to another realm, one where we would be taken just as seriously as other performance specialists such as comedians and singers.
At the time in addition to performing myself, I was part of a collective called Partnas in Rhyme and we put on a monthly poetry event in London called Rum Punch. The show was going very well and in sourcing artists and dealing with the operational and marketing aspects of the event, I was beginning to build some very good relationships with performing artists.
How was your company name conceived?
The name ONiT! was conceived long before it was clear exactly what the company would do. I had been toying with the slogan, “I’m on it!” when someone would ask me something, or whether I was interested in doing a gig.
I started to play with the words, put them together, changed the casing around and it just spiralled from there really. I also thought it was quite apt for a PR company.
What was your career path prior to starting your business?
Prior to starting ONiT! PR I was a personal assistant and worked in a broad range of industries including not-for-profit organisations, creative companies and in financial services.
Having always written, in 2007, I wrote my first poem, delivered it at an event and got the performance bug. From then, I knew I wanted to perform. Within six months of performing, I had the bones of an idea to create ONiT! PR based on my own experiences – the good, the bad and the frustrating!
Did you always know that you would start your own business?
No, by no means at all! Starting my own business had never occurred to me prior to performing. I had always been happy being a PA, and enjoyed the flexibility of doing contract work as it afforded me the opportunity to do the same work but in various settings.
It wasn’t until I started performing and realised a gap in the market for the services ONiT! offers, that I actually started to consider whether I could start my own business. Even then, after numerous business courses, pep talks from friends and a leap of faith, it took me a year and a half to actually pluck up the courage to go ahead and do it!
How did you secure your first client?
I’d attended a free, weekly, live music event that, in my opinion, had massive potential to be very successful. The problem was no one seemed to know it even existed, so whilst the venue had a capacity of around 150 people, less than 10 were actually going along.
I approached the bar management, told them of the potential I saw. They said they were interested and asked me to draft them a proposal. I said, “no problem!” left and then had a moment of doubt. What would they be looking for, how would I convince them, why would they want to pay me to bring them punters, without even knowing me?
Those were just a few of the self doubting questions that plagued me, but I wrote a brief proposal, and emailed it to them, they said yes and the rest, as they say, is history!
What are you working on at the moment?
At the moment we’re working on our Artist Services; a comprehensive booking management, PR and marketing service aimed specifically at UK based performing artists who want to raise their profile and build relationships.
We currently have four stellar artists on our books and things are going well. Since launching the unprecedented service in June 2011, we are a year in and are currently revising the package components based on what works well and what doesn’t work so well, to offer the most productive and cost effective options possible.
Can you describe your typical working day?
My typical working day starts around 8:30 am, when I turn on the radio, my phone, power up my laptop and make a double dose cup of tea.
I check the diary, emails and voicemails to see what may have come in overnight and prioritise what to respond to first, all whilst listening to the radio, so as to hear the news and find out what’s going on in the wider world.
Usually I’ll check our social networks, have a browse around Twitter to see what people are talking about and look up various poetry and music related news and events.
I may have a bi-weekly client call with an artist, to catch up and discuss activity, strategy and generally find out how they are. I’ll also be liaising with bookers to confirm gigs, negotiate fees, send contracts, publicise events that ONiT! artists are involved in and generally act as their eyes and ears in terms of sourcing new opportunities for them to perform and network.
On the events side, I may be meeting a client to discuss marketing and promotion of their event, or exploring opportunities for new business.
My day officially finishes at 7pm, but I almost always work later and if there is an event happening, which is generally 6 days out of 7, I’ll check it out, sometimes as many as three in one night! It can be exhausting, but it’s rewarding and I’ve built such great relationships with many of the promoters that it would almost be rude not to go.
What have been the highlights of running your own business?
The highlights have been, and are, working with people who are passionate about what they do – that’s an important factor for me and I would be uninspired to work otherwise.
Working to your own schedule, on projects and with people that you choose to work with, as opposed to working for someone else and having to just do what is put in front of you. That has to be one of the biggest highlights too – it’s a beautiful thing!
What is the hardest part of running your own business?
The challenges for me in running my own business are based on dealing with the less desirable aspects like some of the administrative functions, namely finance and business planning.
It can be difficult dealing with people when it comes to money too, a lot of people don’t see the true value in certain things and look for quick fix solutions at little or no cost. Being a micro business, it has a massive knock on effect if people aren’t forthcoming in financial matters.
What has been your proudest business moment so far?
Building a business based on my performance art, as I’m a spoken word artist who has only been performing for four and a half years.
The fact that I had no previous experience of running a business and that I’ve reached this far, where ONiT! PR is a recognised brand within the area of performance art, in such a short space of time, is an ongoing proud moment for me. It’s been very hard work, but every minute of it has been worthwhile.
What, or who, inspires and motivates you?
I’m inspired by passionate performers; they make all the hard work worth it. I’m also inspired by my Mum, who has triumphed over very challenging circumstances on numerous occasions. Her strength, drive and determination are what spur me on, in knowing that if I can dream it, I can achieve it.
What advice would you give to someone who is considering starting a public relations business?
I would advise that they start with a strategy; practical coupled with theory. Take a course in PR, CIPR offer a fantastic foundation course, and gain some experience alongside the formal qualification.
Many people think PR is glamorous and exciting. It can be, but it takes hard work and a lot of drive, it’s an immensely competitive profession and you need to constantly be on top of what is going on in your field, otherwise you’ll struggle. Last but by no means least, network, network, network! As a PR, your contacts are your bible, without them you don’t have much!
Fast forward five years, where do you think your business will be in 2017?
I would like to think that in five years time, ONiT! PR will be the first choice for PR, marketing, events and artist management in the UK, bar none!
Sidel, is there anything else you’d like to share?
ONiT! also works with non-UK based artists, we work with overseas artists to secure gigs in the UK so that once they arrive they have performances already lined up. We’ve worked with a few US based artists who have given us some glowing testimonials.
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Photography credits: Sloetry © 2011
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Sidel Stewart was interviewed by Octavia Goredema, founder of the Twenty Ten Club.
Octavia Goredema was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in 2012 for her work at the Twenty Ten Club, supporting Black female entrepreneurs.
Do you have a question for Sidel? If so, please feel free to post a comment below: