Profile: Ailana Kamelmacher, founder, Story PR

Just two years into a new venture, Story PR's founder has won former employer Innocent as a client. Gemma O'Reilly talks to her.

It is a PR professional's dream. Contact trendy, up-and-coming brand; ask for non-existent PR job; land dream role. For Ailana Kamelmacher, the dream became a reality when she was offered a job in-house at smoothie maker Innocent in 2002.

After she emailed a generic Innocent contact email address asking for a PR job, co-founder Richard Reed invited her in for a chat, and she spent the next six years heading the firm's comms function.

The story has now come full circle, as Kamelmacher's agency, Story PR, has just landed its first project with Innocent.

These tales are illustrative of the bubbly 33-year-old's attitude to life. As she lounges in the library of a private members' club in Soho, Kamelmacher's optimism and go-getting attitude shine through.

'If you just sit and wait for things to happen to you, they never will. We have a phrase in our office - "Moon on a stick" - which encourages you to scare yourself because amazing things could happen.'

She currently heads five-strong food and drink specialist Story PR, which she launched in the summer of 2008. It has been selected to handle the PR for Innocent's next consumer event, a 'Five a day' cafe set to open in London in September. Kamelmacher credits the new project with embodying the 'we can do anything' attitude she says Innocent inspires, which she found liberating after three years working agency-side. 'As long as you came up with an idea and had a really good reason why you wanted to do it, they generally let you get on with it. That was the brilliant thing about Innocent,' she says.

She fondly remembers her time at Innocent, during which she was instrumental in growing the brand from a £3m, 20-staff business to the £100m-plus global behemoth it is today. 'It was very early days when I joined. It was an incredible place to be,' she recounts. 'It was fast-growing and I was learning new things all the time.'

Innocent co-founder Reed credits Kamelmacher with playing a vital role in building the brand: 'Not a week went by without us being in the press when Ailana worked here. She is super-bright, extremely creative and played an instrumental part in establishing the brand.'

Innocent has been incredibly supportive of Story since its launch by passing on new business. The majority of the agency's client list has ties to the brand. Healthy food firms Graze and Little Dish, and chewing gum company Peppersmith, have either received investment from Innocent or were founded by former Innocent employees.

'There's a gang of us doing new things who all previously worked at Innocent. It's like the School of Innocent,' Kamelmacher jokes.

Former colleagues say her forte is her ability to work with new brands such as Graze, which she helped launch last year, and to help build businesses from the ground up using PR. 'Ailana really knows how to work with entrepreneurial businesses,' says Citigate Dewe Rogerson MD Deborah Saw, who worked with her during her two years at Burson-Marsteller. 'She not only understands their business strategy, but she can communicate their personality and the passion that drives them.'

While some would shy away from launching a food specialist agency during a recession, Kamelmacher characteristically jumped in head first two years ago.

'Everyone needs to eat, so right now I'm in a good sector,' she laughs. 'Food brands are still launching and I believe the current economic environment actually drives creativity and makes you work harder.'

Food is clearly her passion and she admits to wanting to 'talk about food all day'. Words and language come a close second. The chatty PR professional, of Russian descent, was raised in a bilingual household, which she believes has instilled in her a love of language. 'For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be involved in words. Both words and food have a massive impact on people's lives,' she says. 'Food is obviously a "connecting" thing that people sit together and share, but you also do the same with stories. There's a synergy for me. Hence, the name of the agency.'

Former employer Jean Wyllie, who hired Kamelmacher when Wyllie headed Fodor Wyllie Associates, is vociferous in her praise for her former protege: 'It is good career advice for anyone to hire smarter than you. Ailana epitomised that for me. Anyone who meets her will be joyfully carried along by her genuine enthusiasm for her clients and the work she does for them.'

Clients can definitely expect a fun-filled ride.

 

AILANA KAMELMACHER'S TURNING POINTS

- What was your biggest career break?

Writing to Innocent and telling them that I should do their PR. Richard Reed, one of the founders, wrote back saying they were not looking for a PR person but maybe I should pop in for a chat. It definitely proves that, if you want something, ask and you might be in with a chance.

- Did you have a notable mentor?

Jean Wyllie was my first boss. She taught me that honesty and straighttalking works and the value in looking after your people. Also, Deborah Saw, who had an amazing knack of pulling back from the detail and pushing us to think strategically and creatively.

- What advice would you give to anyone climbing the career ladder?

Put yourself in everyone else's shoes first. Ask a million questions. That way, you'll probably come up with a better solution. Remember that the junior reporter you are pitching to could one day become the editor.

- What qualities do you prize in new recruits?

Strong personal values. Intellectual curiosity. A sense they will deliver on what they promise, and a spark in their eyes when they talk about eating or cooking food.

 

CV

2008: Founder, Story PR

2002: Head of PR, Innocent

2000: Associate, Burson-Marsteller

1999: Junior account executive, Foder Wyllie Associates

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