‘It was at the time of The Spice Girls,’ remembers Julian Henry, founder of Henry’s House PR, who worked with Hickson at the time. ‘Charlotte was nervous beforehand, but very impressive.’
Hickson, who has just launched her own agency, Monsta, worked with Henry on youth brands at Lynne Franks, before following him to Henry’s House in 1998. She then managed Will Young, Gareth Gates, and S Club 7, and directed the Big Brother, Big Breakfast and Pop Idol accounts.
In 2002, 19 Entertainment beckoned and she worked with Simon Fuller, its charismatic chief executive.
She was personally responsible for Rachel Stevens’ solo launch and the PR for Victoria Beckham’s solo single This Groove/Let Your Head Go, released in 2003. Her job was to steer the media away from Victoria’s hairstyle and her new best friend. It was quite an awakening, providing ‘great training’ for the crazed celebrity world: ‘I was staggered by the amount of media interest on every level of her life and I have a massive amount of respect for how she deals with that.’
Sipping on a Diet Coke at Frank PR’s Camden headquarters where she is currently borrowing office space, 34-year-old Hickson explains that she is currently a one-woman outfit, but would like to hire ‘if things go to plan’. So far, she has signed up three clients: Rachel Stevens, who she’s advising on creative development, Joel Beckett, aka Jake Moon in EastEnders, and an internet portal, www.log.tv.
Hickson is a smart, determined businesswoman who is clearly well liked by her former colleagues and managers. Brian Beech, the managing director of Euro RSCG Biss Lancaster Manchester & Edinburgh, who gave Hickson her first placement while she was studying for a PR degree at university in Leeds, describes her as ‘the daughter I never had’ and attended her graduation ceremony. Julian Henry says Hickson ‘cares about every detail and she’s dynamic, energetic and respected’.
She clearly has the pedigree to start her own agency, but in a crowded market, what will differentiate Monsta? Hickson says her USP is that she understands ‘how to get a brand and a talent out there as one’.She cites Justin Timberlake and McDonald’s (Timberlake sang the ‘I’m lovin’ it’ jingle and made cameo appearances on the ads that formed part of McDonald’s global repositioning) as a good example of how brands and talent can join forces.
She expounds: ‘The right people for this kind of job are the ones who say ‘I saw Beyoncé on that and I thought, “Wouldn’t it be brilliant if she was photographed by x photographer and was wearing this?” That excites me. I’ve often enjoyed the creative element of a campaign the most. When Rachel [Stevens] went solo, the PR campaign helped changed her image. She wasn’t a little girl in a pop band anymore.’
Andrew Bloch, the founder and managing director of Frank PR and a friend of Hickson, believes her major strengths are her vision and her experience in managing artists: ‘Charlotte’s training will come in useful because the idea of celebrities as brands originated from 19 – just look at The Spice Girls and the Beckhams. She’s got real integrity, artists trust her implicitly, and that’s why she can manage them effectively. People who understand the longevity of celebrities as brands are very few and far between, whereas there are lots of people who are ready to help those who become famous overnight make as much money as possible in a short time.’
Perhaps because of her experience on Pop Idol and Big Brother – which helped in no small way to contribute to the very concept of the overnight celebrity – Hickson is all too aware of how our definition of celebrity has shifted. She comments: ‘Celebrity used to mean people who were celebrated for their talent, but today, there are so many people who are celebrated because they’re figures that people have become familiar with over an 18-week TV show.’
ickson found her niche helping these fledgling stars find their media feet: ‘The contestants don’t know what to expect, and that can be frightening. With Pop Idol, these guys were on stage once a week for the next 15 weeks, and suddenly their parents would be door-stepped or their grandma would be hassled in the street for photos. My brief was to show them it was part of the job; they had to learn to deal with it.’
She adds: ‘You’re on call 24/7 when you’re looking after talent because you’re the one who gets called when there’s a paparazzi in the garden, or if there’s something in the paper that’s upsetting. You’re dealing with real people and it’s their lives, but at the same time, it’s really important not to become too engrossed in the emotional side of it at the expense of talent-related activity.’
Anyone who knows Hickson glows with praise about her, but her profile could do with a boost beyond her industry friends and peers. A ring-round of some well-known agencies in the talent field (LD Communications, The Corporation, Taylor Herring) generated silence or confusion on the other end of the phone. Hickson will have to work hard to get herself known in the world of brands, which is well-served by a number of dedicated, established agencies.
But, as Julian Henry points out: ‘PR is a business where anything’s possible.’
PRWeek: What was your biggest career break?
Charlotte Hickson: Probably Pop Idol in 2002. It was fun, intense and crazy. We were working
on the most out-there TV property and the team was very tight; we all became great friends.
PRWeek: What advice would you give someone climbing the career ladder?
CH: Observe. Observe. Observe. Keep your mouth closed and watch a lot. I think it’s important to watch other people, not just for what they do well, but also for what they don’t do. Celebrity / talent PR is not frothy or glamorous. The man in the street gets the finished product, but he doesn’t see the blood, sweat and tears behind it.
PRWeek: Who was your most notable mentor?
CH: I couldn’t choose between Simon [Fuller] or Brian [Beech]. It’d be like choosing between mum and dad! Brian very much felt I was relevant for this business, and I’m really grateful for that. With Simon, I’m grateful for the opportunity to be able to work with someone who’s at the top of his game and has been for years.
PRWeek: What characteristics do you prize in new recruits?
CH: Somebody who’s a team player. You get a lot of people who believe their own PR and get lost in that, whereas what you need is someone who’s interested in getting the job done, and who’s really creative and energetic.
Henry’s House PR
Lynne Franks PR (Health and Beauty Division)