May 16, 2019 / by Alister Houghton

60 Seconds with Talker Tailor Trouble Maker's Gary Wheeldon and Steve Strickland

Gary Wheeldon (left) and Steve Strickland


Gary Wheeldon and Steve Strickland, co-founders of Talker Tailor Trouble Maker, talk about the business’s third birthday, how it’s different to other agencies and why AVEs are average.

It’s Talker Tailor Trouble Maker’s third birthday, what have been the highlights of the agency’s first three years?

Steve: Paying bills on time, bonusing staff and not losing our houses. We’ve grown fast, which has been a massive challenge. Both Gary and I didn’t start our business to be accountants, but you end up having to be until you can staff-up. Before setting up I thought ‘fluid assets’ was a sex term.

Gary: We’ve been #blessed to win a lot of awards since starting and have an enviable client roster I would be proud to work on at any other agency, it just happens to be ours.

We’ve maintained our integrity as people and continue to push ourselves to be the UK’s most creative, most diverse and most exciting PR firm … and not turn in to pricks.

Steve: Helping our first employee Ned set up his own PR business, Start Comms. Working with our client Deliveroo to help our former manager Joe go client side for the business in Australia. Watching Sam go from a salesperson to an astronomical media person. Being privileged to watch Lornette’s career development in person. Being able to call Alex and Vikki friends as well as be in awe of their resilience and talent.

The highlights are always the moments where we can think to ourselves, “we’ve made a difference to people”.

Why did you choose to set up the agency?

Gary: Talking over wine can be dangerous. We decided over a Chardonnay that we should either set up a PR business or try for the role of Roxy in the touring production of Chicago,  I couldn’t find a jazz shoe in size 13, so the fates had spoken.

Collectively, Steve and I have been in PR for over 35 years and by the end, we were so far removed from the actual work, that we could have been in any office, in any senior position, just playing at being senior. We decided we still had something to say, Miss Jasmine Masters, so over Christmas, we decided to resign and fuel our energy, passion and cash into starting something fresh.

Steve: Everything suffers when you start, your relationship, your friendship, your cashflow and your mental health, but Gary and I had a very clear idea of who we wanted to be in the world; the most diverse, the most creative, a business built on mutuality and trust and to be hungry for success, not greedy as people.

What have you learned from the experience of running your own business and is there anything you’d do differently?

Steve: Trust is everything, so start from a position of absolute trust in everyone you work with and for, because we believe fundamentally that we all want to be successful. It is human nature to achieve and push forward, we believe a great business can be that for people.

Our diversity policy and not accepting CVs has ensured we are a group of people – me included – who might not have made it in a traditional agency model, and we are more successful for that.

When we decided to close our office on a Wednesday and force everyone, at every level and on every type of contract, to work from home, a lot of eyebrows were raised but it has been an unequivocal success and constant reminder to everyone that their career development is entirely in their control. You can choose to fuck about, or you can rise up.

Gary: Faith that by doing the right thing, putting creativity ahead of commercial gain and understanding that the value of a person is never measured in the title they have, will see you – hopefully – eventually rewarded.

When a person resigns from our business, we tell the team that day. It’s a tiny thing that has bugged PR people for decades yet we collectively, as an industry, just haven’t uttered these immortal words to ourselves in the mirror: “It’s not that deep”.

Steve: There is lots of stuff we’d probably do differently. Not ordering product on Alibaba and being defrauded out of £10,000 is up there, but you can’t change what’s happened so just fix up, look sharp and move on.

What makes Talker Tailor different from other agencies?

Gary: An understanding that people are our greatest asset and we don’t look like any other business.

How do you look to measure the effectiveness of your work?

Gary: There is a reason average starts with AVE. Both Steve and I are sick to death of our industry’s lack of leadership on measurement, being too frightened to say that famous work brings incredible results. The only agencies that don’t sign up to this are the ones that don’t do very good work.

Our work over the last three years has helped find five missing people, has created backlogs of product orders for brands only using PR and has been featured in every major national media title.

If for example, you are a London restaurant, you need to be in The Evening Standard and Metro. Yes, there is more science to it, but just because advertising is what you pay for, and PR is what you pray for, shouldn’t mean the fundamentals of what media can do for brands are ignored. We use a lot of different tools but they’re all useless if there has been no fundamental business impact.

Steve: Oh babes that AVE thing was so clever. You could give Guy Chambers a run for his money in the writing department.

What will the agency look like in another three years?

Steve: Young, #gifted and black-ish.

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About Alister Houghton

Alister Houghton is UK Content Marketing Manager at Cision, writing and commissioning thought leadership, interviews and opinion pieces covering the earned media, marketing and journalism spheres. As well as working in a variety of roles across the business, he has previously managed media and web content for the British American Football Association.