Richard Dawes is sitting in the sunshine on his office balcony overlooking Trafalgar Square with a massive grin on his face. Life is good for the 35-year-old, who walked away from his job as head of press at Polydor Records to start up his own music PR agency with The Outside Organisation's Stuart Bell in the middle of the worst recession in living memory.
A year on, the pair have a range of highprofile figures on the books, have been involved in many of the biggest showbiz stories of the year and have just won the PR contract for one of the music world's most prestigious events, The Brit Awards. 'That was THE moment for us,' says Dawes. 'It was a fairytale just to be on the pitch roster in our first year. I still can't quite believe we have won it.'
The launch of DawBell last September certainly created a stir in the industry after it emerged that Take That, Leona Lewis, Ronan Keating and Sir Paul McCartney were following the pair, and amid rumours of an acrimonious split with Bell's former employers The Outside Organisation.
Dawes admits it was a nervous time for the pair, who first met as press co-ordinators at rival record companies. It was just three months after the birth of his child and three months before Bell's wedding, but he said they knew it was time to do something for themselves. Despite being individually well known, the aim was to establish DawBell as an agency in its own right in the first 18 months. And with offers of work coming in through recommendations and more than 500 people applying for a junior PR job vacancy in June, the plan seems to be working.
Recently, Dawes and Bell knocked down the wall of the 'small photocopying room' they called their office, to create a bigger area for the agency's seven staff. 'We were so excited to have the extra space that we were like kids at first, moving desks around and wondering how to lay it out,' he grins.
It is easy to imagine them bounding around the office with their enthusiastic grins. Indeed, it is hard to see how anyone could dislike Dawes, with his friendly, thoughtful manner. He is driven by the idea that he wants to look back and know he did the best job possible at the time. 'Then you have no regrets,' he says.
His first paid job in PR was at Island Records, where he was 'the dogsbody to the dogsbody, but I just loved it', he says. He joined A&M Records a few months later, where he worked for Andy Prevezer, now press director at Warner Music.
When Prevezer was offered a senior job at Polydor, he only accepted on the condition he could bring Dawes with him.
Prevezer says Dawes was valuable because 'he was enthusiastic, affable and intelligent, with integrity and sensitivity. He was immediately likeable, keen to learn quickly and destined to go places. When A&M Records was bought by Universal, I didn't want to lose him to the outside world and I didn't want to be personally responsible for him losing his way.'
He adds: 'Now his reputation, as far as work on each act, is without peer and both managers and artists like him. It pleases me more than any other thing to see him doing so well.'
Dawes is one of the newer breeds of publicist who is on friendly terms with the media, rather than the scary stereotype. While he will stick up for his clients, his aim is to have relationships with journalists based on mutual respect. 'Dealing with the media is a bit like parenting. It's about saying "I'm really disappointed", not screaming and shouting,' he says.
And Dawes has his fair share of media stories to shape. He was heavily involved in stories about Take That member Mark Owen's affairs in March, but, in his characteristically polite way, he refuses to discuss behind-the-scenes details. 'I'm really sorry, but it's like a doctor/patient thing. I was there to support him through it, but it would be unfair on a lot of people to talk about it,' he says.
But he does hint at some of the more interesting times in his career - singing karaoke with Take That in a bar in Tokyo and having to follow Limp Bizkit to a strip club after a dinner.
Dawes says the next move for the agency is to expand into other areas such as events and computer games, and to continue using social media.
He also remains passionate about breaking new bands and unsigned artists, and attends three to four gigs a week. But right now, on the balcony, he is allowing himself a moment to reflect.
'Setting up DawBell is the best thing I've done in my career. I still remember all the nervousness at the beginning, so to be sitting here now is fantastic,' he smiles.
Richard Dawes' turning points
- What was your biggest career break?
When Polydor poached my old boss Andy Prevezer at A&M Records, he told them he was only taking the job if he could take me with him. This gave me my foot in the door at Polydor. I eventually ended up as head of press there eight years later.
- Have you had a notable mentor?
Selina Webb, the director of comms at Universal UK/Polydor, has been instrumental in making me the PRO I am today. She made me challenge the norm and push myself above and beyond. It sounds like a cliche, but it really was like that. I owe her a lot.
- What advice would you give anyone climbing the career ladder?
Everyone has their own motivation for working hard, so work out what that is and use it. Don't ever stop being keen and enthusiastic, and follow through with your promises. Also, constantly be creative and unique. You will get noticed over and above the regular Joes who just tick the boxes.
- What do you prize in new recruits?
All of the above plus top interpersonal and writing skills including being good on the phone, super-efficient and prepared to muck in on any job.
Tell PRWeek about your career turning point.
2009: Co-founder, DawBell
2007: Head of press, Polydor Records
2002: Senior press officer, Polydor Records
1998: Junior press officer, Polydor Records
1997: Press assistant, A&M Records1996: Helper to the press assistant, Island Records