Lessons I Have Learnt: Helen Oldfield

Director, Affinity PR

Helen reflects on her younger self and the ‘eureka’ moment in her business journey.

Published in UK Director Magazines Spring 24

About Helen

I am a communications consultant and specialist in national media. You can hire me to promote your business and, as a PR coach and workshop facilitator, I can also teach you how to promote yourself. 

We asked Helen to look back and reflect on her younger self.

Q&A’s

How would you describe yourself at 18?

Eager for social change in a time of massive unemployment. Keen to see the world and bored to tears at school while facing impending A levels carnage. I had bags of untapped creativity and unfocused energy.

If you could go back knowing what you know now, what three things would you tell yourself to do when you first became a business owner?

  1. Hire the best accountant you can afford. It doesn’t need to be a large, prestigious firm, but I wish I’d known to ask what advice would invoke hidden fees! When I swapped to a local start-up firm, the differences were immediate, and I have been loyal to them for at least a decade.
  2. Pay yourself something while in start-up. Worries about personal cashflow only misdirect your energy away from the business. It means you can accurately predict future cashflow too.
  3. Consider a business mentor instead of a business partner. My first PR business was a partnership, but it was soon evident that we were ill-suited in values and goals. It took two years to dissolve that partnership before I could begin again on my own.

If you could relive one day, what would it be and why?

I’d go back to 1989, launch day in the Press Office at Edinburgh International Festival. I’d have a proper conversation with every world class performer, artist and reporter I encountered. At the time I was too busy and intimidated to say much.

What are the biggest lessons you have learnt professionally?

  • A massive ‘eureka’ moment was discovering that I am neuro atypical. I’m autistic. When I’m researching or planning, I can ‘super-focus’, making me sit very still and appear uncommunicative. After busy meetings, I retreat to recharge my social battery. I don’t thrive in bustling open-plan offices. Understanding how my brain functions means I make better-informed decisions. For example, now I choose coffee with individuals instead of large networking events. I meet fewer people, but we form great relationships quicker.
  • Necessity is the mother of re-invention. I was so skint at the outset of Affinity PR that I couldn’t afford to host events – I soon learned it didn’t matter. I would suggest coffee in interesting spaces – museums, art galleries – which brought the fun back into meetings. It also saved a small fortune and that, in turn, made my business profitable from day one.

How did you deal with a big mistake, and what did you learn from the experience?

I refer you to answer 3 on the question about what I would go back and advise my younger self to do!

What does the future have in store for your company?

More work with not-for-profits, and arts and culture. Delivering more PR coaching and PR workshops for small groups of creative and/or neurodivergent professionals.

What does the future have in store for you personally?

In 2024 I will get back on a horse (literally, not metaphorically!) and I am planning long overdue trips to the Highlands, Spain and France.

Photo of Helen taken by Simply-C-Photography

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