Sandy Lindsay - Northern light shines bright

The boss of Manchester-based award-winning consultancy Tangerine has an insatiable appetite for PR, and growth. Cathy Bussey reports.

Sandy Lindsay: has an insatiable appetite for PR
Sandy Lindsay: has an insatiable appetite for PR

Sandy Lindsay is like a living, breathing, human bottle of champagne. Bubbling and effervescent, the MD of Tangerine PR, the CIPR's consultancy of the year 2011, is practically popping her cork with enthusiasm.

'We've had such a great year,' she says. 'To win the CIPR award was amazing. It was the third year we had been shortlisted and if I'm honest, if we had won in the first year I wouldn't have been sure about it, but this year I felt we deserved it.'

Manchester-based Tangerine has been on an upwards trajectory for some time. Two years ago, the agency caught PRWeek's eye and was profiled in the 2009 consumer league tables. After two more years of relentless growth, plus an acquisition, Tangerine is sitting pretty with a fee income of £1.6m during 2010.

'In the past year, we've organically grown 85 per cent of our current clients, retained 100 per cent of our clients and won some great new ones,' says Lindsay.

The agency also snapped up digital shop Juice - the name was a total coincidence - run by Paver Downes co-founder Steve Downes, in November 2009.

Lindsay, 45, considers Tangerine very much a national PR agency that just happens to be based in Manchester, rather than a 'regional' PR agency. Its client list includes household names such as Dulux and Wimpey.

The agency did set up a London office five years after its inception: 'We had a lot of money in the bank, so we thought we would do it. We employed a London MD and five staff.' But Lindsay says she simply 'didn't need' the London branch and when it closed, the two main clients the office had won were retained when the team returned to Manchester.

The London experiment lasted a year. 'Possibly we picked the wrong people to run it,' muses Lindsay. 'I don't know if we'd do it again. Maybe we could if we'd had somebody in the Manchester office who wanted to move to London.'

What Lindsay is not saying, is that maybe she herself could have made a success of the London office.

Lindsay loves coming to London for work and pleasure, she says, but Manchester is home and is where she wants to be. It is London's loss, as Lindsay's drive and ambition would undoubtedly be as successful in the capital as they have proven to be in the heart of the North West.

PR appeals, she says, because she is 'easily bored'. 'I don't have any hobbies,' she admits. 'I've tried them all. I tried horse riding and got bored. My husband bought me a piano for my 40th birthday and when I didn't become a concert pianist overnight, I got bored.'

But the constant and non-stop nature of PR has kept her interest. Lindsay began her working life as a nanny and 'lasted about 4.5 seconds' thanks to an employer who wanted a cleaner, not somebody to take care of the children.

Her office-based career began in administration and a role at the British Amateur Gymnastics Association led her into marketing: 'I fell into it really. Then came my first role for a PR agency at Powell Communications and it was love at first sight.'

A career at a big PR agency seemed a certainty. But Lindsay is not just restless, she is also a woman who likes to prove a point. 'In my family, we don't start our own businesses - we work for other people,' she says. 'But people started telling me I couldn't be senior in a large organisation and have a strong moral streak. I started my own business to prove it is possible to run a business in an ethical way and still be profitable.'

By ethical, Lindsay does not mean green, vegetarian or holier-than-thou. The ethics she refers to are business ethics of honesty, courtesy and respect. 'Some people see the word "ethical" and think Tangerine will be an easy place to work,' she confesses. 'It's not an easy place to work. We expect a lot from our people. We work hard and get a lot done. Tangerine is a bit like Marmite.

People either love it from day one and stay forever, or they say "oh my god, I can't work here" and they leave very quickly.'

However, Downes says: 'Sandy is a great person to work with. You can guarantee she'll tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear.'

For Lindsay herself, crisis management is the ultimate PR experience - another factor she describes as 'a bit Marmite'. 'If you do it well, then a business can really fly,' she says. 'Plus, it's great fun.'

It is no surprise that the megawatt, 100mph Lindsay not only thrives on the most pressured and difficult aspect of the profession, but also finds it enjoyable.

It is impossible to imagine Lindsay easing off the throttle any time soon in her quest for growth.

2002 MD/founder, Tangerine PR
2000 Associate director, Harrison Cowley
1998 Account director, Harrison Cowley
1995 Account manager/director, Powell Communications
1992 PR manager, Aga Rayburn
1987 Various roles, including marketing manager, British Amateur Gymnastics Association

SANDY LINDSAY's turning points

What was your biggest career break?

My first agency was small but it had a big specialism - crisis management.

On my first day, I had to do a live down-the-line interview on ITN about some injured children on behalf of the Greater Manchester Ambulance Service.

Have you had a notable mentor?

Before I started Tangerine, Alastair Gornall, founder of Consolidated Communications, agreed to be my mentor. We wanted to be a national player and 'Ali G' helped us to achieve this from day one.

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

Build a network, in the traditional as well as the 'new' sense. You will always be one step ahead if you know the right people and they trust you.

PR is all about who you know, from contacts in the media, through to business, local, regional and national government/bodies, and trade associations. Having strong contacts can short-cut so many things.

What qualities do you prize in new recruits?

It depends on the role, but in general terms: common sense, positivity, tenacity and passion.

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