The ultimate PR woman: Nesta Hollis remembered

The founder of Hollis Press & PR Annual, Nesta Hollis, died recently at the age of 78. She had created a 30-year publishing success with her husband Robert. Her son, Tim Hollis, remembers a brilliant communicator and a great mentor.

Nesta Hollis: jetting off to a PR conference in New York in 1976 (left), and this year (right)

Back in the late 1960s, when Twiggy was at the height of her fame, and The Beatles were taking over the world, journalist Nesta Hollis, 29, came up with a great idea.

Nesta was then an established magazine journalist and broadcaster. She worked as a staffer on Housewife magazine and wrote for Good Housekeeping, as well as appearing on the BBC’s Woman’s Hour.

The idea came out of journalistic frustration: Nesta couldn’t find the right spokespeople in companies. So she invented a contacts directory that enabled journalists to get in touch with PR people quickly.

With her husband’s financial acumen and her editorial skills they made a great partnership. They launched Hollis Press & PR Annual in 1967 and embarked on a 30-year publishing phenomenon.

Tony Spalding, IPR President in 1988, one of Nesta’s contemporaries, said: "My memories of Hollis? First a busy PR office could not work without key contact directories at your fingertips. The cry often went up in the office ‘Who's got the Hollis?’ Why the Hollis? Because it was always reliable, well researched and above all up-to date. It was always topical and accurate."

Hollis grew from a small booklet in 1967 to a sturdy 1,000-page edition in 1996 when she retired.  

Almost 40 editions of Hollis Press & PR Annual were to be published in total; the last edition was published in 2007.

Nesta and Robert successfully sold Hollis to Threadneedle Publishing in 1989. She stayed as a consultant and editor for the handover for several years. Hollis was later to be bought by Romeike & Curtis (now Cision), and later Wilmington.

Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Hollis blossomed into many publications including Hollis Europe, Marketing Handbook and Hollis Sponsorship & Donations Yearbook.

What was Nesta like as a person?

Roger Hayes, IPRA President in 1997, said: "Nesta was someone of great integrity, passion, and so full of energy and commitment to get things done."

Senior consultant at Pielle Consulting and director at Pielle & Partners Peter L. Walker said:  "How sad to hear the news... Nesta was one of the really nice people of the world… and few did more in their time to establish public relations as a proper management activity."

She earned fierce loyalty from her Hollis staff, some of whom stayed with her for 30 years. She was always passionately interested in helping them to fulfil their potential.

Rosemary Sarginson, publishing director of Hollis and subsequent owners, said: "She had such a positive influence and her drive and enthusiasm were remarkable."

"She was ‘The Ultimate PR Lady’! She understood the real meaning of how you could be a success and be a loved person too," said former Hollis sales director Jane Ireland.

Nesta would also have wanted to thank Phyllis Oberman who skilfully secured press coverage for Hollis from 1967 onwards.

Also Jane Hammond for editing Hollis PR Weekly, a newsletter in the late 70s. Jane said: "Nesta put a lot into the development of professional, qualified public relations."

But it was her family that were the most important part of her life. She had three children, two daughters and a son. And six grandchildren, who are all girls. She loved and defended them like a lioness.

My mother passed on her love of writing to me, which I went on to use in my journalistic career. She had such a smart, enquiring mind and a great sense of fun. I will miss our great conversations and our friendship.

Several years before her retirement, my parents bought an abandoned shell of a chateau. She loved France with a passion and was very proud of her accomplishment of turning it back into a stylish, Normandy property.

In her prime, no one could work a room like Nesta. She was an accomplished businesswoman, editor and directory publisher. And she truly cared and looked out for everyone – work colleagues, friends and family.

Nesta gave her all to her life’s journey.

And what a brave, courageous adventurer she was. 

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