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They said I’d never amount to anything – but now I run my own PR agency

Vicki Hughes runs Fugu, a Brighton-based PR and communications agency with a social purpose. Here she shares her story and advice for those wanting to get into the industry.

When I left school at 16 I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Coming from an all girls secondary modern, the only option on offer to me was to train to work in a clerical environment.

My working class upbringing had instilled in me the importance of getting a trade, so I trained to be a secretary and learned shorthand and touch typing. This allowed me to earn good money and opened doors into the world of work, but I also knew that I didn’t just want to be someone’s assistant for the rest of my life.

Going to university

Doing temp and weekend jobs whilst at college really opened my eyes to some of the other options out there. I started to meet people who were doing A-Levels and going to university. I’d never even thought this was possible before.

When I was growing up, my world was South East London, north of the Thames was a foreign country! I had no concept that I could do anything other than get a local job in retail or admin and settle down. Going to university changed all that.

Read more: I was lacking in direction after university, but now I’m a manager in a job I love

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I knew what my future was supposed to hold. But I guess I have always had a tendency to rebel and kick against any box that someone tries to put me in. I’m still proving wrong the people who told me that I would never amount to anything.

I sometimes wish I could be more relaxed and chilled, but I know it has given me the drive to push myself forward. Where I am now is way beyond what my 16-year-old self could ever have imagined.

Vicki Hughes, Fugu PR

I’ve been very lucky. I am forever thankful to the education system and funding that allowed me to develop and break away from the chosen path laid out at school. Sadly, if I was in the same position now, I’m not sure I would believe that university was even an option given the cost and the massive debt. It’s tough for young people today and it feels as if the barriers to social mobility are becoming greater and not fewer.

My first PR job

So, after university, I fell back on my secretarial skills. I had a year of earning money, paying some debts and doing a bit of travelling. But I soon started to feel insecure and felt the need for a proper job. However, I still had no idea what I really wanted to do.

Growing up, it seemed that all the adults in my life hated work, except one, She was the most bubbly, happy person I knew. And she enjoyed her job. She worked in PR.

So I searched around and finally got a foot in the door with a trainee role in a growing PR consultancy with a great reputation in West London. Initially, I was just providing admin support, but within six months I won a place on their graduate scheme. I loved the job. I loved the variety and working with so many different and interesting people.

One minute I had to learn Klingon for a Star Trek campaign, and then talking about improving environmental standards to meet the upcoming EU recycling and waste regulations for a trade body.

I love going from one area of interest to the other. That’s one reason Fugu is multi-sector. I truly believe in the importance of constantly pushing yourself outside your bubble. It’s personally rewarding and positive for the clients too because you are constantly using your experience to evolve and develop your thinking. It stops you getting stuck in your ways and fuels your creativity.

Setting up my own PR firm

I worked my way up through the ranks and then got a management role at another agency in London. But the pull of returning to Brighton was too strong and I was lucky enough to be offered an opportunity in an up and coming agency there.

We did a huge amount of work during the dot com boom at the start of the 2000s, but, after taking time out to have children, I knew I wanted something with more flexibility and a little more meaning. So I thought I’d have a go at doing something myself. That was 10 years ago.

Initially, I started off by doing some consultancy work with no real idea of how things might go. However, I was blown away by the support I got from other local business owners. We have a wonderfully supportive community in Brighton, and people came out of the woodwork to offer me work. And things have just grown very naturally and organically from then.

I have really loved building a team and seeing people grow and develop. In fact, we’re recruiting now because many of the current team have been promoted to more senior roles and we need more people to grow with us.

We have a plan. We want to take on more interesting work, whilst maintaining the values that are important to us. We want to continue to make time for community and passion projects, so we can try and ensure that we are making a positive impact through our work.

Vicki Hughes, Fugu PR Brighton

Have a life outside work

Balancing the pressures of work is always tough. We try to make sure people don’t do horribly late hours and that everyone has the time and flexibility to have a life outside of the job. Everyone is a human being, there’s so much more to them than the job they do.

Earning cash does not get me out of bed in the morning, it’s what are we creating and what impact that can have on others. I want Fugu to be a place where people can bring their whole selves to work and be valued for who they are.

What we look for when we’re hiring

In the end, we are PR and communications firm and editorially led content and media campaigns are our bread and butter. Candidates who can demonstrate that they are committed to the sector will always have an edge.

Ultimately, the kind and depth of experience we are looking for will depend on the role on offer, but excellent writing skills are essential, and we always try to make sure we have regular entry-level roles. We’ve offered a number of paid internships over the past decade.   

Surprisingly, we still get people turning up for interviews with no clear idea of what Fugu does. We are pretty open about ourselves, so it’s not hard to do some research and find out where we are coming from. We also want people to be open in return. For me, an interview for a job is not a test with wrong or right answers. It should be a conversation where both parties can establish if there is potential for a mutually beneficial working relationship to develop. After all, no one wants to be stuck in a job that isn’t right for them.

What I’d tell my younger self

Things have turned out okay, to be truthful. I feel so lucky to be doing a job that I love in a city that I love with so many great and wonderful people. So I guess I wouldn’t change anything. However deep down, I do wish that I had had a bit more confidence in myself when I was younger. It took me quite a long time to stop accepting the limits that others were putting on me.

So I would tell my younger self that she can be who she wants to be. Nothing is off limits, just keep doing what you love and things will probably work out alright in the end.

Bex Bastable
Bex Bastable
Bex is a journalist and the co-founder of The Women's Work Collective.


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