By Adam Wakefield
In 2003, James was a fresh-faced university graduate interning at public relations company Text 100. Little did she know it at the time, this was where she would meet her fellow Tribeca co-founder and business partner Cian Mac Eochaidh.
James recalls how she and Mac Eochaidh, her account director at Text 100 at the time who had moved to South Africa from Ireland, had “many chats” about both of them wanting to start their own companies.
It was in late 2005 that those “many chats” manifested into committed action.
“We both knew that we could do amazing PR for clients, so going it alone was a logical next step. We’ve never looked back,” James says.
Tribeca officially opened its doors in January 2006. The company has won a PRISM Award
, the annual Oscars
of the public relations industry, every year since.
At the 2016 PRISM Awards
in April in Johannesburg, Tribeca won a Gold
award for media relations for its Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Cape Town 2015 campaign and received its first Gold award
as the Best Mid-Sized Consultancy
In an industry full of “great work”, James says Tribeca’s success always starts at the same place: Putting people first.
“Tribeca has been successful because we’ve maintained our focus on our people first, and our belief that if we attract and retain awesome people, business will come. We have a strict policy of hiring people before we win business, preferring to invest in building capacity before filling it,” she says.
“As a result, our people are not vulnerable to retrenchment should we lose an account – we hold onto them until we can fill any business gaps. This certainly isn’t the industry norm. Happy consultants equals happy clients equals happy business.”
This has seen Tribeca steadily grow in a manageable way, with the agency having turned a profit every year since it was founded.
“Our clients read like any agency’s wish list. We ensure we focus on helping our clients achieve their business objectives. If we aren’t doing this, they shouldn’t use a PR agency,” James explains.
From the very beginning, James and Mac Eochaidh wanted to do things differently. They wanted an agency that valued, supported and believed in its people first, that liked its clients and the work they did for them, and that looked after its suppliers and partners.
They wanted an agency which valued work-life balance and actually made it happen, and lastly, they wanted an agency both of them could be “incredibly proud to be a part of”.
“Ten years later, I know we’ve done just that,” James says.
This does not mean getting there was easy. Being a mother of two small children, James says running an agency taught her everything about work-life balance, what to do and what not to do.
This is especially important since a lot of the Tribeca team either have young families or are planning to start one in the near future.
“Ensuring that we adhere to our people-first and work-life balance principles is absolutely critical. At times, I don't get this right personally, and sometimes the agency doesn't either,” James admits.
“However, we are quick to identify when we're not adhering to these principles and we are able to quickly rectify.”
Given the vagary of demands placed upon public relations professionals today, which James describes as an industry norm of “excessive working hours by over-stressed and over-stretched consultants”, the key to maintaining work-life balance is flexible working hours, a generous leave policy, getting your birthday off, and viewing overtime as a problem and not a requirement.
This means staff with children are able to drop them at school or be present for their extra mural activities, while others can go to gym, get to the shops before they close or deal with the other minutiae of day-to-day life.
“This is no different for me. I lead by example.”