Profile: Miki Haines-Sanger - Kitchen table creativity

Home working has not stopped the Golden Goose MD winning a Gold PR Lion. She tells Alex Benady how she juggles domestic life and creative vision.

Miki Haines-Sanger
Miki Haines-Sanger

In the kitchen of Miki Haines-Sanger's Richmond home, her two-year-old daughter wolfs down a plate of sushi.

On the floor by the fridge the baby lies yelling while his nappy is changed.

Meanwhile, 38-year-old Haines-Sanger sits at the table, spewing out fantastic, often hilarious ideas: collect tents at Glastonbury for luxury recycled wrapping paper; get nightclub bouncers trained by the Queen's etiquette specialist; reject 'festive fatties' who have put on weight over Christmas from a dating club for good-looking people.

It is not chaotic. It is just noisy, smelly, everyday life. And although it does not look exceptional in any way, one cannot help thinking that this apparently innocent domestic scene raises real questions about the way companies are structured and creativity is managed, in the PR industry and in marketing services as a whole.

Last week Haines-Sanger's company Golden Goose won a Gold PR Lion at Cannes with a brilliantly simple campaign to promote Sea Containers House, a large office block overlooking the Thames.

The Deerbrook Group was redeveloping it and wanted to whip up interest from potential tenants. Haines-Sanger came up with the idea of covering the front of the building in an immense black and white photo of the royal family for the duration of the Queen's Jubilee.

It was gobsmackingly effective. The football pitch-sized image was flashed round the world and became one of the outstanding images of last summer. Within a few months Sea Containers House found a new tenant in the Ogilvy Group.

'The idea of a building wrap was the very first thing I thought of in the briefing,' says Haines-Sanger, adjusting the baby she is now breastfeeding. 'I thought it would be so poignant for the royal family to see an old photo of themselves as they went past in the flotilla. I came back from the briefing and worked out the details with my staff round this table.'

Her point is implied, not stated: of 20 PR Gold Lions awarded at Cannes this year, 16 were for work created by ad agencies and 15 went to firms owned by global networks.

All of them reflect the fundamental assumption of the corporate world that if you are to function, if you are to manage, you have to exclude messy, smelly reality. You have to create a sanitised working environment where the real world cannot get past the receptionist.

The implication is that if world-beating work can be cooked up in a kitchen full of children, why bother with the WPPs and Omnicoms of this world?

'I'm not on an ideological crusade,' says Haines-Sanger, who does not 'do' confrontation. 'I've discovered this way of working almost by accident. It's not about consciously keeping overheads down, it's simply about providing flexibility because it's inflexibility that kills creativity.'

Perhaps. But maybe Haines-Sanger's Cannes success is not so much about a way of working, as her own personal creativity and brilliance.

In 12 years, Haines-Sanger has earned a reputation as one of the most creative talents in the UK PR industry. 'She is one of the best of her generation and combines a hugely creative spirit with a rigorous operational brain,' says Matt Peacock, group comms director of Vodafone, who was her boss when they worked at AOL.

Nick Fulford, MD at EdenCanCan, is even stronger in his praise. 'Of the hundreds of people I have worked with she is in the top two or three for creativity,' he says. 'She doesn't have to put on a false (corporate) face; she can be who she is because she is so good.'

That in part may be because she learned much of what she knows about PR as a child. Her father was UK marketing and sales director of Japan Airlines, while her mother was a celebrity wrangler and VIP welcomer for British Airways.

But success is not just about developing brilliant ideas. She knows how to present them to the media. 'She understands exactly the need for the quirky and offbeat. She's proactive, bright, sparky and intelligent,' says one senior Fleet Street section editor. 'She's not bolshy and she's not up her own arse, and surprisingly that really sets her apart.'

In truth, running Golden Goose from her kitchen was not entirely her choice. She split with her former business partner Laura Wood last year and had to keep costs down while she rebuilt the business.

She has done that using a small team of what she describes as 'kitchen ninjas' - mostly highly experienced women such as Nikki Verdon, former head of comms at Lulu Guinness, and her current partner Harriet Vocking.

Given her stellar reputation, it is probably fair to say that Golden Goose is punching slightly beneath its weight as Haines-Sanger slowly rebuilds her business. Her client list includes smaller names such as Sea Containers, Alibi Health Drink and Access Self Storage. Samsung is the only blue chip brand on her books.

She admits that giving an interview in her kitchen was a risk: 'If we hadn't won the Lion, I wouldn't have had the confidence to do this from home.'

She does have facilities in Soho for meeting clients. Perhaps the Lion will give bigger clients the confidence to sit in her kitchen with her.

CV

2003: Founding partner, Golden Goose PR

2001: Consumer comms manager, AOL UK

1999: Senior account manager, Joe Public Relations

1997: Junior account executive, Barclay Stratton

TIPS FROM THE TOP

What was your biggest career break?

Getting a budget to show what we can do - Sea Containers is the first time a client has hired us for our big idea and been able to afford to do it.

Have you had a notable mentor?

Bob Leaf from Burson-Marsteller gave me sound advice about ways to grow the business when we started out, and Nik Done from Unity encouraged me in every way to build it back up again.

My right-hand woman Harriet Vocking is a mother of three and incredibly creative and strategic - she inspires me every day.

What advice would you give to people climbing the career ladder?

To work hard and be nice to everyone.

What qualities do you look for in new recruits?

People who are naturally motivated and excited by creativity. And good writers.

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