Founder and Director of KW Comms Keeley Walker has worked for over 15 years in the media and marketing industries. Throughout her career, she has “developed a diverse range of skills covering all touch-points in these arenas.”
For her work at KW Comms, Keeley Walker has relied on her experience and expertise in generating content for traditional and digital media sectors.
At KW Comms, Keeley Walker also trusts her ability to “write concise and engaging copy in diverse house styles,” and she is proud of her ability to check facts meticulously and meet deadlines.
In 2019, Keeley Walker started KW Comms. The company provides “an extensive list of bespoke marketing services to a broad range of clients, both on contract and rolling retainer bases, at the most senior levels.”
Aside from KW Comms, Keeley Walker also works as the Chief Marketing Officer at Hommage, a luxury male grooming company. A start-up enthusiast, she also relishes the challenge of building new projects.
Before KW Comms, Keeley Walker also worked in a “disruptive tech start-up,” which “enabled me to acquire expertise in developing editorial and social media strategies, optimizing data analytics and delivering both digital and retail content.”
Also before KW Comms, Keeley Walker has also worked as a journalist, where she sourced and wrote stories for several British newspapers with a national circulation.
I’ve always told stories. Keeley Walker, KW Comms
Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Keeley Walker: My background was actually in traditional journalism. Remember newspapers? The physical ones that made crumply noises and broke well-researched news? That’s where I started. I’ve always told stories. I started on the broadsheets and throughout my 20s earned my living writing for and about whomever or whatever would captivate an intended audience. I look at this as the best apprenticeship I could have undergone for what was later to come. This is where I learned to communicate with different ‘targets’, how to ‘spin’, how to mine for and identify what would resonate and with whom. And I had a great time doing it. I was lucky enough to interview some of the most well-known names in the world from politicians to entertainers and, whenever I could corner them at a polo match or the like, members of the royal family. After that, facing those characters who populate the boardroom is a lot less daunting.
Jerome Knyszewski: What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
Keeley Walker: I had a lot of experience in being pitched to by external agencies when I was working in-house in the marketing department of a tech company. And it was so impersonal. I had to leave the working world temporarily due to a health scare and just as I was ready to think about re-entering the workplace, came the proverbial “Aha moment”. I had spent a decent amount of time in recovery thinking about what I would do differently given my time again and reflecting on my career, which I had always loved. I was never unhappy at work. But throughout the thinking time, it became obvious that the only way I could do all the things I wanted to do in the way that I had imagined when temporarily sidelined, was to do it myself. And I knew that there was a space for me to do it myself because, well, I’d been trying to find exactly what became my offering. The most exciting thing to discover is something that isn’t there.
Giving up wasn’t a real option for me.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Keeley Walker: Giving up wasn’t a real option for me. Mine was a choice between re-entering the working world exactly where or, more likely, lower down than where I left off, or coming back with more to offer than when I left. I chose the latter — both in theory and practice. So, I even went back to studying, something I hadn’t done, officially, for over a decade. I wasn’t retraining as such, I just knew the capabilities that would potentially be required of my offering and felt it was paramount that, although all these skills would not necessarily make up part of my own day-to-day duties, I needed a full understanding of everything that was going on. I never wanted to be in a position where I couldn’t talk knowingly on all the elements that contributed to the company as a whole — and, in order to be bespoke, there has to be a large number of potential elements. So, while I was scratching down ideas of what things were going to look like, I was also studying for a new professional diploma. And it was the best thing I could have done. It really is never too late to educate yourself and, if you are employing someone to take on a role, it should be because your time is better spent elsewhere, not because you can’t do it or don’t understand how it is done.
Jerome Knyszewski: So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Keeley Walker: I couldn’t be happier, thanks for asking. As to the eventual success, my advice would be — establish yourself as a go-to and don’t be afraid to spread the love, so to speak. If someone comes to you with something outside your wheelhouse, direct them towards the person who is perfect for them. No intro fee, just good will. Who wouldn’t want a primed client, or a primed expert handed to them? I promise, it will come back to you ten-fold. Others in your ‘space’ are not rivals, they are peers. So be generous. (And, like I said above, to become a go-to, you need to accept that there is always more to learn — even if that means going back to school to do so.)
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Keeley Walker: It wasn’t the business I currently run but my entire career got off to an embarrassing start. I’ll never forget my very first day as a cub reporter at The Daily Telegraph. I was expected to provide or pitch some kind of entertainment story. Yes, I spent the next decade building up a brimming black book of contacts that I could fall back on or tap into when needed but on this, my debut shift ‘on the desk’, I had nothing. Except somehow, somewhere, as I was scrolling through my phone, it appeared I had acquired the home telephone number of the actress Miriam Margolyes. So, I called her…. just to see how she was. The number was right. The intention was right. But the poor woman was so (rightfully) confused when Keeley (um…who?) from the Telegraph just called to see how she was doing. I don’t know which of us felt more awkward.
“Why are you phoning me?” she asked, in a genuinely calm but concerned manner after what felt like a couple of minutes of inane chit chat (it was likely far less). For all she knew I could have been about to break some huge scoop and wanted to be the one to get her first reaction.
“Just to say hi, really. See what you’re up to… We can talk about anything you want really,” I chattered, casually, my editor’s sideways glare burning through my right temple. “Anyway, it’s always worth catching up…. and…you know where I am…and…well… take care of yourself.”
I hung up.
“What was that about?” the editor queried as I considered the comparative distance of each fire escape on my floor.
“Long story,” I puffed, “but, no, nothing to report.”
When I met her years later, I recounted the story and thanked her for being so gracious and she was utterly delightful. I still chuckle at that given that, all these years later my tagline is: “It all starts with a story…”
Clearly, I knew that from day one, I just had no idea how to go about finding one.
With hindsight, my main takeaway was not to ever start a conversation you are incapable of leading, which is something worth learning in any business. That and the power of networking, putting in facetime, research and, also, that if you are going to ‘fake it ’til you make it’, your fakery has to at least be grounded in something — anything, that could make it remotely plausible.
So yeah, it does all start with a story and, regrettably, my career started with that one.
Every story has a hero, and your customer is it. Keeley Walker
Jerome Knyszewski: Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company”? Please share a story or an example for each.
Keeley Walker: Can I only have 5?
Okay, so on top of the above, I’d have to say….
- Testimonials Are Worth More Than Their Weight In Cash
When you finally launch your own company, after all the blood, sweat, tears and start-up costs that you have expended to reach the point of trading, the most natural feeling is to want to begin generating as much revenue as possible, as fast as possible. But hold your horses. Of course, embrace and relish the paid work you get — you have earnt it. But if you are turning your nose up at good projects because they are unwilling to pay the price you know you are worth, you are making a catastrophic mistake. Good business begets good business. And the more good business you do, the more rounded your portfolio of clients will be, which will only impress the big hitters you will, no doubt, be targeting who, by the way, are going to want to see evidence of your body of work to even consider you. Testimonials are crucial. So crucial that it is worth putting in the hours and offering up your services in exchange for them. Think of them as a down-payment on future business. Whatever your product or service, offer it up for a limited time either majorly discounted or even free (if it’s something like an audit, appraisal or a bit of consultancy). If the client is happy, all you ask is that they put it in writing. This is part of the humility I was talking about before. Use these testimonials as leverage, as content for your social media — as proof of concept. And think of the time spent as incredible practice dealing with a range of customers. Who knows, it may even lead to you adapting your offering slightly or niching down.
- Create Your Own Productivity Blueprint
The best thing about heading out on your own is that you have a blank canvas. No one to answer to, no rigid company practices, no set structure of deadlines and deliverables.
The worst thing about heading out on your own is that you have a blank canvas. No one to answer to, no rigid company practices, no set structure of deadlines and deliverables.
I’ve always been a bit of a productivity junkie because, as a creative entrepreneur, there is no knowing when an idea may descend upon me or, conversely, when I will experience the dreaded white noise of zero inspiration. And with no one breathing down my neck, it can be both incredibly freeing or a great excuse to kick back and just… well, wait?? This is a slippery slope and the way to avoid it is to ensure that you are always doing something. I think of it (as with content production) as tasks which are topical and those which are evergreen. You will never have a clean bill of both.
I have tried and tested every organisational and productivity technique there is (for now!).
My to-do lists had to-do lists. But exploring these techniques was a great learning curve for me because it allowed me to discover, organically, what works for me. My own blueprint. Some people are able to say, ‘every morning between 8 and 9, I’ll answer emails, then I’ll spend an hour on social, then it’s content time, lunch, a few hours of back-to-back zooms, then follow up on everything discussed in said zooms, round up the day with an hour pouring over finances and log out.
This person is not me.
I discovered how to be my most productive self by reverse-engineering the scheduling process. So, rather than planning ahead what my day would look like, meetings aside, I experimented with letting things happen naturally and filled in my planner afterwards based on what I had done. It was clear what my most productive days looked like.
This is how you learn about your best practice. And once you find your blueprint, don’t inflict it on others — give them the freedom to learn their own. And voila, everyone is at their most productive.
- Your Product Is Not The Hero.
Back to my favourite subject — storytelling. This is one that splits the audience. But I stand firm. Whatever your product or service, be it B2B or B2C, it plays a vital part — indeed, it’s the essential ingredient, when it comes to your offering.
But when it comes to your business, we exist in a consumer-centric market. The customer is your hero. Yes, you must sing the praises of your product — all the things that make it different, innovative, essential. But the halo sits atop your customer — their story, their background, pain points, need state. The moment the spotlight hits them, they feel it. Your customer is the one paying the bills and it is they who will enable your business to thrive or sink. And this does not just apply to prospective targets. Once you have ‘landed’ a client (I prefer to call them partners), there should be no shadow of a doubt that, the moment anyone entrusts you with their business, they are of paramount importance. They feel valued.
They have bought into your value proposition, now it is your turn to prove them right.
Every story has a hero, and your customer is it. And, while we are on the subject of casting — your antagonist is the issue or pain point that brought them to you and your product is the solution that leads them to a happy ending.
- Crowbar Your Least Favourite Tasks Into The Week And Attack Them Religiously
When starting out, so much of your time is dedicated towards being creative — rather than just ‘businessy’ — even if your business isn’t a “creative” one, it must be “created”.
And scheduling creativity is not easy.
Also, I don’t like to jump around from task to task every few minutes. As long as I have short, medium and long-term goals and enough white space in my planner to shuffle and change the activities needed to hit them, I never fall behind.
But there are certain tasks I have to force myself into, such as ‘Finance Fridays’ when I review and crunch any numbers that need crunching (yawn) but once it’s done, it’s done. So, the tasks that I enjoy the least are the ones that I force into my planner. But it’s not unusual to find me up late on a Saturday night churning out copy or responding to a brief. To that end, when it comes to hiring, keep your weaknesses top of mind and top of your list of recruitment priorities.
- Embrace The Moving Target
Whatever your initial idea was that brought you to make all the sacrifices and find the courage it takes to realise your vision, the final product will not look the same. There is a steep learning curve, especially when you are on your own. Rather than sticking steadfastly to your original idea, accept that it will naturally evolve. This is a good thing. But it’s important to know that, no matter how married you are to an idea, there may come a time when you simply have to let go of it. That doesn’t mean it didn’t serve a purpose, it got you to where you are. But while you are putting all the necessary building blocks together and the landscape is ever-changing around you, inevitably there will come a point where something just no longer fits and no amount of pushing or wiggling will make it slot in. Let it go. You know more now than you did when you had the idea — which is how you know you are making the right decision. If you are steadfastly committed to a cookie cutter concept, how can you expect it to take any kind of unique shape?
Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!