Tara Tomes of East Village Q&A

With all the brand new developments going on in Brum, there comes new business, whether that be retail, food & drink, leisure or accommodation. All this needs promoting and marketing both locally and nationally.

There is Marketing Birmingham who are paid by the council and who tend to cover the larger corporate goings on, but there is a busy network of press companies and marketing brands who work furiously to help spread the word of the latest brand to hit the city streets.

One such company is EAST VILLAGE, run by local entrepreneur Tara Tomes and she has kindly agreed to take part in our latest Q&A to help shed a little light on the world of marketing and PR, which mostly takes place out of view of the general public.

Tara Tomes Q&A

Hello Tara, thank you for taking time out for this. I’d like to ask you firstly, what got you into marketing and PR, when did you start East Village?

My mum is a singer and my dad runs a record company, so I grew up knowing the importance and influence of the media. I guess my career path was pretty inevitable! I love writing so my natural first choice was a journalist but my dad made me aware of how unpopular journos are at times – and not always paid what they should be – so I very quickly opted for what seemed like a more popular, better paid, and more glamorous option.

Whilst at uni studying Advertising and Marketing, I did two work placements; one in Stella McCartney’s press office and the other at a music festival in Birmingham called Gigbeth. Following 18 months of extremely hard and varied work, I had no doubt that PR was for me! Uni followed with a role at a PR agency and then an in-house role, before I finally made the leap and set up EAST VILLAGE back in 2013.

For those who may not know, what exactly does your job entail?

EV team low resThis is the million-dollar question… and the answer is, in fact, a lengthy one so I’ll give you the short version.

Luckily for those of us working in PR, no day is the same; one week alone can include writing and sending press releases, travelling the country for journalist briefings, setting up press visits to launch new venues, holding press days to launch products, securing competitions with various magazines, organizing and hosting blogger events, sending out books for reviews, briefing clients for media interviews, creating communications strategies, handling crisis comms in times of need, writing new business proposals and everything in between.

EAST VILLAGE also handles marketing and events to clients, so we can add even more to the ‘to do’ list; from visiting retailers and writing their social media content, hosting retail tenant meetings, and working with advertising agencies to create campaigns; right through to planning and managing events ranging from product launches, business dinners, networking events, family fun days with animal petting zoos, shopping events for 10k students, fashion shows, and awards ceremonies.

The list is endless… and that’s just how we like it!

There is so much going on in Birmingham right now, and much more planned. How much has Brum changed since you set up East Village, do you think it’s heading in the right direction and can you see a slow down, or are things going to get even busier?

In the early part of my career, everywhere I went all I could hear was people talking about how great the city was and how underappreciated it was. It was the same old moan about Brummies being proud but not confident enough to shout about their achievements, “why aren’t we more like Manchester? They’re always telling us how great they are!” I fully supported what people were saying but wondered what the answer was so me, as a young account executive, did my bit to shout about my clients and the agency I was at in the hope that it formed part of a bigger picture that would eventually get Birmingham the recognition it deserved.

Fast forward eight years and I’m not saying that we’ve completely achieved it but things have definitely changed. The national media is beating down the door to show its support for the city; businesses like HSBC, Deutsche Bank, and ASOS are actually choosing to locate key areas of their business here; and developments like the new Mailbox, Grand Central, The Grand Hotel and Paradise just speak for themselves.

There’s a general air of positivity about the city and the headlines support that. We’re leading the way for specific industries and we’ve officially taken the ‘home of start-ups’ crown. It’s great to hear the positivity around Birmingham and it’s people like me and the EAST VILLAGE team who are in a great position to keep building on this; shouting about the fantastic venues, retailers, brands and businesses here in Birmingham.

Do you know how many marketing and PR agencies there are in Birmingham? Are there enough, do we need less or more?

Ooo this is a tough one… there are a lot! I know that much. I think there’s room for everyone, whether that’s a bunch of design students fresh out of uni, a freelancer copywriter, a new start-up like EAST VILLAGE, or a well-established agency.

Marketing and PR covers such a wide range of areas that we all need each other, in some way or another. Even when it comes to what you migh consider direct competitors; we often recommend people for work we don’t think we’re suitable or able (for conflict reasons) to deliver, and we get a lot of recommendations in return.

Collaboration is a big thing for me, and I think the more people the better… as long as everyone does it properly. I get angry when I hear about freelancers and agencies delivering bad service or over/under charging. The latter is the worst; the people out there doing it for free are just diluting and devaluing the industry. PR is often difficult for a business to justify so we – as the industry – should work together to show its value.

Please could you describe the worst, and the best part of your job?

There are so many reasons I love my job; I couldn’t put my finger on just one! I set up EAST VILLAGE to work with people, brands and businesses that I respect and believe in. I’m a passionate and enthusiastic girl so being able to buy in to someone else’s vision and sell it on their behalf is so important to me. If I’m not sure about a person or their product/service, I couldn’t work with them because I know my heart and soul wouldn’t be in it.

I am also lucky enough to have created a team that is, in my opinion perfect. Hattie and Nicole, the other two thirds of the EAST VILLAGE team, make coming work every day an absolute pleasure. They are just as passionate about what they do as I am, which is so important in such a small team. I think they’re my favourite part of my job!

Any business has drawbacks. I guess the most challenging thing for EAST VILLAGE is making that leap from a young, start-up agency, to a bigger and more established business. That said, I thought being the size we are might make bigger clients apprehensive but it’s actually turning out to be a real selling point; it means that we’re more flexible and agile than established agencies, and we also have a team that’s hungry for success so will go over and above to deliver the best possible service.

Aside from that, it’s all the usual ‘running a business’ stuff that you have to get your head around; things like cash flow, accounting, processes… all of the boring stuff that, thankfully, I can pay other people to do!

What advice would you give to someone wanting to get into your line of work? Is it essential to gain qualifications?

I think the path into PR has definitely changed; we’re seeing fewer applicants come via the traditional college-university route and more Apprentices, which is great. I think the more varied a background, the better for an agency, but PR is such a competitive industry that my biggest piece of advice is getting experience on your CV. I appreciate that, for some, gaining experience can be difficult especially if it’s not paid, but there are some really strong paid placements out there that can give you the edge.

Would you describe your role as a stressful one, are the hours long and can you think of any particular instances where you have felt like giving it all up and living out the rest of your days on a desert island.

Of course PR is demanding and stressful; that’s part of the reason I love it! Who wants a boring job that’s the same every day? The challenge of something happening at any moment is what keeps things exciting, but being organised helps us prepare for these times.

Interestingly, I find that I prioritise Work/Life balance so much more now that I own my own business. Rather than working all hours, I encourage the team to work efficiently and not feel like they still have to be in the office at 7-8pm. For some clients and campaigns, we have early starts and late nights, but for the average day I try to make sure we leave on time and actually have a life. Our job is really sociable and involves lots of events, so finding quality time at home is really important too.

I’ve had days, like today, when it’s raining outside and I have a cold so would love to be in bed but laughing with the Hattie whilst Nicole dances to the latest Drake record is what keeps me going. Plus, I’m not really into all that sand that goes with a desert island.

How does using companies such as EAST VILLAGE help a business or client? What type of businesses really benefit?

People often choose to outsource PR, marketing and/or events because they often don’t have the resource or expertise within their own team. They look to companies like EAST VILLAGE to work alongside them and deliver what they need; whether that’s an ongoing marketing strategy, or a one-off event.

As an agency, we specialise in retail, leisure and hospitality clients so use or strategic approach, engaging ideas and media contacts to benefit clients like Malmaison Birmingham, Great Western Arcade, Lower Precinct Shopping Centre, Birmingham Cocktail Weekend, and thestudio venues, to name a few. We work with everything from one man bands to the biggest property developers in Europe, which means there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach. We use our expertise to create the perfect working relationship for our clients.

Could you describe a typical day in the life of Tara Tomes, from morning till night! 🙂

I’m sure you’ve gathered by now that typical days don’t really exist. As well as EAST VILLAGE I am also Deputy Chair of Birmingham Future, the networking organization for the city’s young professionals, and I take over as Chair from August. EAST VILLAGE is located in Colmore Business District so I sit on Colmore BID’s Place Marketing Group, which plans exciting events like Colmore Food Festival. I’m also a Trustee of Ladies Fighting Breast Cancer, and Ambassador and Service Patron to LoveBrum, so there’s a lot to fit into the day.

If I were to craft what is, often, a typical day for me it would start with a 6am wake-up (allowing for ‘snooze’ a couple of times and dragging my other half, Olly, out of bed) and then an early meeting, around 8.30am, for a Birmingham Future meeting. We have eight committees who run Future – everything from professional development programmes to social events – and I’m often at a couple of meetings a month. Then I’d be in the office, starting my EV. day, which is always fuelled by lots of tea and coffee. This will likely include lots of strategic comms planning for clients, as well as some of the nice day-to-day stuff like sending press releases and doing some journalist gifting. Lots of our clients are based in the city, which is great, and means that I can pop in and see them as often as needed.

My EV. day might finish around 3pm when I’d head over to Colmore BID’s offices for a marketing meeting to talk through branding and events for the area, so I ensure my creative juices flow right until the end of that meeting. Straight after that, I’ll probably have an event to attend – either a Future or Colmore BID event, or if I’m lucky the launch of something exciting in the city.

When I get home, the pjs go straight on and Olly and I cook dinner (teamwork makes the dreamwork), followed by a nice relaxing evening catching up on Home & Away (I’m obsessed!) and browsing ASOS. I try to avoid opening the laptop when I get home but on the rare occasion I do, it’s probably to write my Style Birmingham column, which I never seem to do until the night before it’s due, or completing something fun like this Q&A. At some point, I also fit in a quick call to mum and dad… which always seems to last an hour!

When not at work, what keeps you occupied?

Work is my life, in a way… not in a sad, Bridget Jones kind of way but just in that it’s such a sociable career so you can easily fill your evenings with events. I love being involved in Future and Colmore BID too.

Other than that, I’m just your typical girl really… Olly and I spend lots of time travelling the country visiting friends and weekends, or exploring somewhere new on those odd occasions we don’t have anything planned. Anyone that knows me will be aware of my obsession with gin so finding new brands and distilleries is always top of my list… same goes for wine and vineyards really.

I’m a big… big fan of food so if I’m not creating something from my cookbook collection (current fave is Chrissy Teigen’s Cravings… she is #lifegoals), I’m eating out in great restaurants.

If you lose me at any point, you’ll be sure to find me wasting hours on ASOS, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest!

Thanks for your time Tara, and see you soon – No doubt in one of Brum’s latest venues.