PR Interview with Lotte Jones and Kev O’Sullivan, co-founders of Surname & Surname

About the agency

Surname & Surname launched under Blue Rubicon in March. What do you think it brings to the PR industry?

Lotte Jones (LJ): We fuse painstaking accuracy and commercial understanding of brands with limitless imagination to create campaigns that make people think, talk, feel and consume differently.

How do you plan to combine creativity with a strategic approach for your clients?

Kev O’Sullivan (KO): Sometimes it really is more confrontation than a combination: we can reach a strong, undeniably logical strategy but then good creative just doesn’t want to play. We’re tough on ourselves to ensure the creative always matches the audience's and client's needs. That’s why co-creation is so important to us – we often conceive the creative with our audience and/or clients in the room.

What industry sectors does the agency specialise in?

LJ: At the moment our clients stretch from taxis to tech and we love that. Both Kev and I have worked across a huge range of sectors over the years and when we started building the team we were very keen to ensure that we kept this breadth going forward.

In your opinion, what are the main challenges facing the PR industry today?

KO: Finding talent. We work tremendously hard to track down people who have a passion for the creative and a strategic mind yet don’t mind rolling their sleeves up when needed. I’m sure this is a challenge for many industries, but the way we work at Surname & Surname, we need versatile, adaptable characters and there doesn’t seem to be that many out there.

About clients

What clients do you have on board so far?

LJ: At the moment we have Hailo, Herman Miller, MSC, US architecture firm LSM and a few more we have yet to announce….it’s been a very busy six months!

Tell us about one of your clients you recently worked with.  What was the company’s brief, your approach and the result?

KO: Our Quidco launch was unforgettable – lovely brief, lovely clients and no hitches. In short, the client’s revolutionary free app enables any user to check-in at any one of 70+ UK retailers to receive free cash in their bank or PayPal account. To dramatise the fact that UK shoppers are now literally paid to shop, we developed the Quidco Cashback Boutique. The pop-up store just off of London’s Oxford Street was completely made of free cash which visitors could walk away with, no questions asked. As well as hoards of shoppers, many of whom queued for hours, the store was visited by news, personal finance and entertainment press as well as high profile names. Downloads of the app increased by 650% on the day the boutique launched.

How would you create a brand for your client that everyone would talk about?

LJ: Start small and keep credible. It’s impossible for a brand to get people talking if its promise outshines the reality.

Is there a potential client you’d love to work for?

KO: We’ve been fortunate enough to work with virtually every type of client over the years, from funeral directors to circuses. We’re especially inspired by clients with a great variety of challenges, like another tourist board, broadcaster or high street retailer.

What advice would you give to recent business start-ups on their PR strategy?

LJ: My instinct would be to tell them to get a presence on social media, but simply having a twitter feed or a Facebook page isn’t enough; you need to be creative with it. If audiences are going to find services or products appealing they don’t want to be sold-to, they want to be engaged with.

About journalists

Which areas of the press do you communicate with the most and which media outlets or journalists do you find you work with the most often?

KO: A cliché, but we speak to everybody from business editors to the producers of scripted reality shows. Our team will pick up the phone to anybody.

How do you think the PR/journalist dynamic will change in the future?

LJ: It’s clear that both industries have become a lot more sophisticated in recent years and the stereotypes of both disciplines are falling by the wayside. As a result, I think there’s more respect and more listening done on both sides in order to craft angles which suit both an editorial and a client agenda. My hope is that this only gets stronger.

If you could ask a journalist one question out of the ordinary, what would it be?

KO: What’s the most inappropriate story that a PR’s ever sent you? When I was 21, I was called by Andy Coulson regarding Kwik Save’s newest variety of washing up liquid.

About you

What media do you seek out first thing in the morning?

LJ: I suffer from a fear of not knowing what’s happening in the world at any one minute…in fact, I think there should be a name for this condition. It means I get told off every morning for checking Twitter on my phone before I even stop snooze on my alarm. Then the TV will go on to BBC Breakfast. My journey to work consists of Daily Mail online, Metro and emails. I then arrive at work with plenty to talk and think about.

Name three guests you’d invite to a dinner party and why.

KO: Alvin, Simon and Theodore, of course. Pop stars, movie stars, chipmunks – what else is there to say?

If you could work anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?

LJ: It feels unimaginative for me to say, but London. Our press and our British propensity to question the world around us makes this job the most interesting it can be. Can I have the climate from Italy and the working hours of Spain too please?

Do you attend networking events? If so, which are you attending soon?

KO: Our sister agency Blue Rubicon holds a series of invitation-only debates, where influential speakers explore current communication challenges and insights – it’s mostly comms professionals but from every different sector. A great place to talk shop.

What’s the first rule of good PR?

LJ: More often than not, the simple art of building strong relationships with clients and journalists will be the best tool in your armoury. 

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