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Rachel Bell - Bell's Shine

School > Hotel Concierge/Receptionist /Personnel Manager (Hyatt Hotels) > PA (Fleishman Hillard) > Account Group Secretary (Fleishman Hillard) > AE/SAE/AM/AD (Fleishman Hillard) > CEO (Shine)

“When we let our light shine we unconsciously give others permission to do the same” (Nelson Mandela)

Such words are suggestive of just some of the secrets of Shine’s success over the years, so no wonder they light up at the top of the company’s website. Set up over a decade ago by the inspiring and refreshingly open Rachel Bell, this now 50-plus strong consumer PR specialist has recently won yet another plaudit for the way it values its staff in the form of September’s PR Week ‘Best Places to Work’ awards. No surprise then that each Shine employee is known as a ‘shiner’! But, as if accolades weren’t enough, it’s through talking to Bell that one realises this belief in people really isn’t mere spin; it’s an ethos which truly courses through the veins of the agency’s culture.

Naturally, tracing Bell’s own career path offers more clues as to how this people-centric approach evolved.

I speak to Bell over the phone one afternoon – a planned 10-minute ‘quick chat’ turns into a 40-minute ‘natter’ about northern roots, actors (she’s married to one), kids and the country. We hit it off, but then, without devaluing its sincerity, I suspect hitting it off with people is Bell’s forte. Even when we get to the nub – the subject of her career path – there’s still plenty of bubble (and strife) in the way that Bell tells her story, and what emerges is both the personal and professional, inseparably intertwined.

After leaving school, aged 17, and already clearly driven and excited by the world of work, Bell’s first job was with Hyatt Hotels. She arrived as a concierge, became a receptionist, and then gravitated toward HR where she took on the role of Personnel Manager. Here her passion for people, and looking after them, emerged and developed; inducting new staff and, in the most commonsensical way, simply making sure 800-or- so people were happy doing their work.

So one might expect Bell’s path to extend further into HR rather than PR, but aged 19, she left Hyatt to do a short secretarial course which led to her being given a 1-day assignment with Fleishman Hillard as PA to the MD. She stayed the week and became an Account Group Secretary the week after. “I had no idea what PR was” she admits, but essentially, organising events, drafting newsletters and drawing on her boundless resourcefulness played to her strengths. The team was young, vibrant and creative, and it flattered her to be handed tasks beyond the norm for a secretary. She became an AAE, then an AE, then an SAE. By 29 she was an AD with the potential to head to the boardroom.

But Bell was realising that promotion opportunities might be more limited now than they had been, and after ten years at Fleishman Hillard, it was perhaps natural anyway that she might be thinking about leaving the agency. Around this time an ex-client approached her to coax her inhouse with a particular piece of business. Instead, after resigning from Fleishman Hillard, she set up Shine with the account, confident she could grow the piece to double its previous size.

“I had no burning desire to set up a business” Bell says, but this phase in her life clearly took on its own momentum and one can see how ability for managing client work had combined with the capacity for managing people too in her career to date. Listening to Bell, being MD, (now CEO) of her own company appears as a natural step, especially once she begins to expand on how life impacts professional development. It’s at this point that our conversation touches on the influence of her Yorkshire born/bred father. He ran his own engineering business and had “a knack for direct and open client chat; a naturalness coupled with innate business savvy”, but more than that, she says, “he was a bon viveur – he had a huge energy”, and this clearly helped shape Bell’s happy, smiley demeanour. But Bell’s father died in the week before she was due to launch Shine. It was to be an event that touched the spirit of the agency in a positive way, she believes. In that inaugural year back in 1998 the agency didn’t lose a single pitch – Dad’s inspiration translated into a “gimme the job” attitude that consistently worked.

And here we are 13 years on. Bell and her army of ‘shiners’ are having a ball, working hard but always with a sense of fun that migrates into the work the agency produces. Clearly shaped by those early days at Hyatt, people are put centre-stage, looked after through share ownership, holiday sales, sabbaticals and plenty of work/life balance. For Bell, ‘looking after people’ means not only giving them a stake in what they do but by also giving them space to express what makes them tick, or not tick! Bell tells me that she regularly ‘speed-dates’ each ‘shiner’ - sessions are run on a one-to-one basis and serve as feedback opportunities designed to see how staff see how the business (and life) is going – “what would you do if you were CEO?” she asks them. The answer might be as seemingly simple as “get a speedier scanner”, but what counts is that everyone is given a chance to be happy; to shine - truly shine.

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