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Fleur Madden: In The (Re)Public Eye

Fleur Madden The Red Republic

Fleur Madden has just wrapped up an epic month. And even that is an understatement.

Two weeks ago her boutique PR agency, The Red Republic, was officially welcomed into the folds of global advertising agency network, McCann Worldgroup. The public announcement of that partnership was made earlier this week. It is an incredible milestone for the Brisbane-born agency and the crest of a wave that Fleur has been riding for the past 14 years.

Fleur was a 23-year-old reporter when she saw the opportunity to apply a fundamental rule of business – solve a problem. That problem was the shoddy press releases that were landing on her desk. Using her one free day a week, she started a PR consultancy that she christened Red PR in a playful salute to her red hair. The business that followed however was anything but play.

Within six months, Red PR was winning enough clients to warrant an office space and staff. A few years later, while her peers were downsizing, Fleur headed in the opposite direction by expanding to Sydney for a shot at national jobs. The bold move paid off and propelled the young agency to the forefront of consumer PR.

Soon after came the invitation from the Public Relations Organisation International (PROI) for Red PR to join its network of leading, independently owned agencies as its first Australian partner. Fleur is currently PROI’s Asia Pacific chairman and its only female board member.

To celebrate its 10th anniversary, Red PR underwent a rebranding exercise and reemerged as The Red Republic. The word “red” no longer bears reference to colour but is a symbol of the agency’s mindset and cultural blueprint.

“And “republic” because we see ourselves as our own country,” Fleur said, matter-of-fact. “The rebrand was one of the best things we have done. It made people realise we are not just a publicity house but specialists in a very broad range of services.”

A year after the ink had dried on the agency’s new letterhead, Fleur began formulating the next big move. She assessed The Red Republic’s potential and concluded it was time to pass on the torch.

To her delight, there were many hands keen to take over. The road eventually led to the McCann partnership and saw Fleur shifting from agency owner to The Red Republic’s CEO.

woman with drive caught up with Fleur to talk about playing it safe in entrepreneurship, overnight successes and the harsh reality for brands with no online presence.

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Was it difficult to hand over a business you headed for 14 years?
Yes. It took a few years in my own mind. And even before I signed, I was asking myself whether I was really going to do this. But it was time and I had to be unselfish in how it worked for me. The business has so much more potential but it needs the infrastructure to get to the next level.

I have also discovered that I am exceptional in start-up phases but I tend to get bored. Which is interesting to say after 14 years! But part of the journey as a leader and business owner is knowing your strengths and where to play them. (Tweet This)


What is the reality of working in PR today?
It is incredibly fast-paced industry that demands very hard work, very long hours and hardcore negotiating. It is very interesting to see the next generation come through. Quite often during an interview, the candidate will ask about flexibility and I tell them if that is what they want, then PR is not for them.


What remains the biggest misconception of entrepreneurship?
That success stories are overnight successes. Some businesses may take off quicker than others but there are usually years of sacrifice behind it. (Tweet This)

Another misconception is flexibility. I hear people say they are starting their own business for more flexibility. Six months later they are talking about having to work weekends. Entrepreneurship takes time and consistency. No one gets into it to be an overnight success or for more flexibility.


You once said that there is no room for doubt or playing it safe in entrepreneurship. Does that mean you have never second-guessed yourself?
As an entrepreneur, you always have to back yourself otherwise your team will not back you. I am not saying I never have doubts. I just do not express it outwardly.


Tell us about your fascination with digital campaigns.
Anything that revolutionises the way we do business is always exciting. The digital space provides an opportunity to speak to customers at any time of the day without having to go through a third party. It is an amazing platform for finding out what your customers want. And yet there are brands that still do not have an online presence. It blows my mind because really, they have been left behind. The massive social media growth enjoyed by early adopters is over. Now it is about staying relevant.


What is your favourite digital campaign?
The Old Spice Man. It was an outdated brand that needed find relevance in the 21st century. It had to be aspirational for men while also speaking to women who buy personal hygiene products for their man. That campaign is five-years-old but still gets shared to this day. It is superbly clever.


What was your biggest mindset shift this year?
When my General Manager went on maternity leave, I had to fill in for her and I actually enjoyed it. It is so important that even when you are at the top of your game to revisit your roots and remember what you are good at in the business.


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