Delivering PR Without Borders™

A conversation with Brendon Craigie and Ellen Raphael, founders of Tyto.

What is Tyto?

Ellen: Tyto is a new European PR agency, focused on the colliding worlds of technology, science and innovation. We are different in that we operate across both geographical borders, but also services borders, within the discipline of PR itself.

Brendon: There’s a lack of innovation in the PR agency model. We thought there was a real opportunity for us to create something better. We wanted to build a business that had less hierarchy, fewer layers, and a team of people entirely focused on clients and what they needed.

Simply put, we are one team, working across different countries and across different disciplines, cutting out those silos and divisions. We’ve increased creativity and productivity, and cost efficiency for clients. We call our new operating model PR Without Borders™.

Where does the name come from?

Brendon: Tyto is a genus of birds consisting of several owls including barn owls. We wanted our name to mean something. What we draw from the name Tyto is that we want to help our clients take a strategic birds-eye view of challenges. We want to provide them with incredible vision to spot insights and opportunities, as well as potential issues. Like an owl, we aren’t just looking ahead but can turn our attention to everything going on around us. Owls are also fast, agile, and pretty high up the food chain, which is where we expect our clients to be.

How did Tyto come about?

Ellen: We’ve known each other for 20 years and been married for nearly 14 of those. For most of that time we’ve operated in the same universe of comms, but in different areas: me in insights, issues management, science and health, and Brendon in tech and corporate, so we’ve spent a lot of time talking about the industry, our experience and what works and doesn’t work.

Agencies usually have lots of divisions. You’d be on a call and say, “Ok, now we’re going to phone in the French team”, or some other team. It was always a bit clunky. Even on well-run international accounts, it just felt there were a lot of barriers, both internally and for clients trying to activate across more than one market.

Brendon: We decided to bite the bullet and set up our own agency – the best possible agency we could imagine, and then try and find like-minded people, employees and clients, who wanted to share that vision and work with us to push it beyond our imaginations.

What kind of clients does Tyto work with?

Brendon: I’ve always been a firm believer in progress, and in the idea that innovation, new technology and scientific understanding can make the world a better place. It’s really businesses driving innovation today. Those are the types of businesses that we want to work with, helping them to build internationally.

Ellen: We want to be a partner more than an agency. Sitting at the table with our clients, working through those business challenges with them, and finding great communications solutions to their problems.

Where is Tyto operational?

Brendon: We are fully operational in the UK, France, Germany and Spain, with close working links with the US. I’m very excited about Europe. Yes, it’s gone through some difficult years recently, but Europe is still one of the most dynamic and innovative parts of the global economy. And a lot of the new global generation of businesses are coming from the US or Asia, wanting to expand into Europe and needing PR support, but they’re limited by the traditional agency model as to how they do this.

At the moment, they have two choices – hire a global agency with offices in different markets, which is really expensive and subject to these restrictive siloed operating models, or identify different agencies in each market, which is time consuming and prone to the same issues! With Tyto, we are completely redefining that approach.

What kind of people work for Tyto?

Ellen: Everyone is smart, experienced and senior, but the characteristic we share is that we’re all really entrepreneurial, and all committed to making a better future for the industry.

Brendon: A lot of us have been on similar journeys – we’ve experienced the old agency world, and many of the team have worked client side as well. We all believe we can do something better. It’s been a self-selecting process – the people attracted to our proposition are a certain type of person – they are naturally curious, collaborative and they share our vision.

How does a ‘cross-border’ team work in practice?

Brendon: Having spent a lot of time in the US, I saw how much more common it is there to have a de-centralised team than in Europe. The surprise for me in setting up this business was going out there and speaking to people, testing this approach both with clients and potential employees. It almost felt like we were pushing on an open door. The response was so positive to what we were trying to do.

Ellen: There are so many amazing technologies that help people stay connected. It really doesn’t feel that much different for me from when I worked in an office. You still have to email, call, message – what does it matter if the person you need to speak to is on the next floor, or another country?

Brendon: What’s so exciting when you’re setting up a new business is that you can put in place far more innovative ways of working that are harder to implement in an established business. For example, we don’t use email at all – we do all of our internal communications through Slack. We use Zoom for video calls. We’ve set ourselves up with very cool, smart technology.

Why does Tyto say it’s Proud to be PR?

Ellen: When we were talking about setting up Tyto, we felt really strongly that the industry needed to take back its ownership of PR. At the time, advertising agencies and management consultancies were moving into PR, but the PR agencies were running scared! Everyone was dropping ‘PR’ or ‘Communications’ from their names and we strongly believe that this devalues what we do.

There’s so much noise out there, and so much unfiltered content – there’s never been a greater need for experts to help companies navigate this landscape.

Brendon: The PR industry historically has a problem demonstrating value. And yes, it is important, but there’s something more fundamental than the usual discussion about measurement going on. Which is that if you think about the people in agencies that have the most experience, are the most skilled, often they do the least client work. In the traditional PR agency model, the career trajectory for someone is not to become an incredible practitioner, but to become a manager, and then a boss. In other professions there isn’t this same obsession with becoming “a suit”.

One of the differences about our model is that it allows us to hire people who love what they do, love working in communications, and want to continue to develop and evolve their skills as practitioners. And we’re very proud of that, of our experience and of the work we do. And we’re just getting started.