THOUGH she is rarely in the headlines herself, Liz Willingham has been involved in many of the biggest things to happen in the Dorset business world in the past two decades.
From the Dolphin Quays development on Poole Quay to the new Odeon in Bournemouth, her company Liz Lean PR has worked for a long list of high-profile brands.
In an industry full of young businesses, Liz Lean PR is among the handful locally that were around when many people were not online at all.
“I do smile when I think back to the environment where we used to hear objections to social media – ‘What a waste of time’,” the 46-year-old MD said.
“It was a case of having to hold your ground, keep it up, and work with clients to convince them it’s the thing to do.”
Set up in 1998, the business dealt with the expansion of Tower Park, the launch of Julia’s House and the Poet Laureate pub at Poundbury, where Prince Charles pulled pints for the cameras.
It worked on the opening of Bournemouth University’s Executive Business Centre, Arts University Bournemouth’s Drawing Studio and the Citrus building.
The client list is mainly local, but also includes Paultons Park (a major client win in Hampshire) and clothing brand Weird Fish – for whom Liz Lean brainstormed the strapline “Wear the weekend” in one afternoon.
Liz, nee Lean, came from Cornwall in 1989 to join Bournemouth University’s first PR course. “I wanted to do something in communications or broadcasting and I knew I didn’t have the family background to allow me to be an out-of-work actress in London,” she said.
She thrived on the four-year course, which included a year’s placement at the press office of Harrod’s.
She worked for two years at PR agency Aylesworth Fleming before setting up a press office at Poole Pottery. When she launched her business at Sandbanks, she expected it to remain a one-woman outfit. It now has a staff of 13.
“It got busy very quickly. I had made some good connections all over the place and it grew from there,” she said.
The company name was devised in seconds. “I had a work experience person and she didn’t know how she should answer the phone, so she just said ‘Liz Lean PR’,” she recalls.
The days of stuffing envelopes with press releases have given way to providing content for an array of channels, including social media posts and video.
“I think people are surprised sometimes how diverse the activities are that we undertake. Because we’ve been around so long, I think there’s an impression that we continue to do what we’ve always done,” she said.
“Things have become much faster paced.”
The mother-of-two says the availability of talent is one of the few limits on Dorset’s creative scene. She is involved with Dorset Young Chamber and recently spoke at Lytchett Minster School.
“I would devote any time necessary to nurturing young people wanting to go out in the world of work, helping them think about being employable,” she said.
“Having teenagers as well, it’s really close to my heart to make sure that they have the right work ethic. That’s what it comes down to. You can teach and train people skills but if they haven’t got the right attitude, you haven’t got anywhere to start from.”