Camille Johnson is the power house behind PAB Studios. A company where she joined 24 years ago and has since grown in to one of the most successful agencies in the North. If you meet Camille, it won’t take long to realise why this blonde bombshell has amassed such an impressive amount of success.
As someone who turns heads when she enters the room, she is so much more than her looks. Intelligent, charming, witty and clearly good at business, she is one to watch. Here, we spent time with her to find out more about how she’s carved her path in a male dominated world, what success means to her and so much more…
Tell us how your journey in business started?
After dropping out of Salford University in 1994 and feeling a bit of a failure, I got a job working as a field sales representative in Leeds at the Yorkshire Post Newspapers Ltd. After a few years learning the basics, I was head hunted by PAB Studios Wakefield, which was a small advertising agency with half a dozen employees. I was looking for the next move but it was a tough decision to leave YPN, I was doing quite well and could see a clear career ladder but I believed Mick Lee’s promise at the agency that I could create my own destiny quicker, if I made it work.
I always dreamt of doing well in my career and was always prepared to work for it. When you’ve come from a single parent family background, living in a house with an alcoholic father, you spend a lot of time dreaming about the future. When my father died, I was seven, and I spent hours dreaming about driving my mum around in a sports car and going to work with a briefcase. I was sick of seeing her with heavy shopping bags trying to get on the bus home. My mum didn’t drive and always looked miserable, she spent her life looking after six children and didn’t find the confidence to gain her independence until she was in her 60’s.
When I was at the Yorkshire Post I spotted a chap with a briefcase and company car; and that became my first ever goal. I was told I wouldn’t get it, but nothing deterred me and when I landed the job, I was told I’d been lucky as the field positions were usually given to men. I remember driving home feeling such enormous pride and a new bug for goal setting.
When I agreed to leave YPN and move to PAB Studios, it felt daunting to say the least. I was their first new business person so I put a lot of pressure on myself to do well and knew I had to make it work. I hadn’t a lot of experience in the field, but I believed in Mick Lee who had offered me an amazing opportunity with no limits, he was someone I could learn from as in my eyes he was the best in the business. I loved the Automotive landscape; I loved cars and I never anticipated failure; it had to work and I was the only person ever going to stop it from working.
From being thrown a set of car keys, I obsessively practised my pitch and after ten months I’d built up a fantastic client portfolio worth a million pounds. A shock to Mick but an even bigger shock to me, as I didn’t even realise, I’d done well. I’d been out in the field picking up clients, discussing PAB Studios and what benefits we could offer them, I then processed each advertising campaigns and collected debts on a weekly basis. As time went on, we got larger and clients were now recommending us to others. We were able to introduce more staff to the business and Mick Lee and I created a strong Wakefield business. I knew at this point, I wanted to take my career to the next level and work towards becoming a Director.
Congratulations on celebrating 30 years in business this year at PAB Studios, what’s the secret to your success?
From joining PAB Studios in 1995 the main secret to my business success is loving what I do. I can get very obsessed with business, especially when I see opportunities; I literally dive in with both feet and don’t stop until I’ve achieved what I set out to do.
I’m told I have a down to earth manner which has also given me an advantage in this industry. Clients enjoy PAB’s “Jargon free” presentations as most media agencies try to baffle clients with lots of complicated, or obscure words. Abbreviations, euphemisms, and acronyms that clients hate.
As we’ve grown over the years and built up highly skilled team members, I also enjoy looking after our staff and motivating them to achieve business goals. We turnover 8 million pounds a year these days and with only 38 employees it’s important to keep everyone happy and loving work. We are outputting nearly 3000 orders each month so looking after staff is a priority; we can’t run this business without committed and caring staff. Creating a healthy work life balance is crucial and even more so today as everyone’s work rate has massively increased with the fact clients expect media changes to happen in a matter or hours, instead of what was weeks.
I’ve introduced a quarterly prize draw where staff can win a weekend away abroad or an experience. We offer regular incentives to celebrate specific days like; Pancake day, hot chocolate day and try and plan at least one summer BBQ during working hours in the year just so they have a little down time and fun during their working hours. We are very humble and never take anything for granted. We have some amazing employees who know we aren’t afraid of hard work and happy to get stuck in when we need to.
You must have seen business change so much in that time. What has been the biggest change you have seen in your industry?
The introduction of digital media. WOW! now didn’t that hit the media landscape hard. From everyone talking press, radio, TV and print – it soon changed to focus heavily on social, digital and influencer marketing. We have seen these things happen before and a lot of it can be viewed as emperor’s new clothes. We are careful that we don’t jump onto the next “buzzword” bandwagon especially as everyone thinks they’re a media or Google expert. We believe having a good marketing mix is key to our clients’ success. We love digital marketing, but we also love print, tv, radio and outdoor too.
I still love a good piece of print; when life’s so fast, sometimes sitting down to read a magazine or quality newspaper to relax is a fantastic escape from what can be very busy and complex lives.
If you could go back and do anything differently, what would it be?
Now there’s a question. I wouldn’t do anything different. In fact, when I look back, I’m quite surprised I’ve done what I have because when you get older you don’t always feel as confident. If I had the time again, I’d probably remember we all aren’t made the same way. Instead of feeling frustrated that someone isn’t working quite at the same work rate as me. In my 40’s, I now have more patience for people and appreciate we all have different skill sets and different ways of getting to the finish line.
For any aspiring Girl bosses who are thinking of launching a business, what advice would you offer?
Don’t think too hard about things. If it feels right, go with your gut. If it feels wrong, be happy to share your views with the people involved. The one thing I’ve always been grateful for is that fact I have always had a voice and been confident to air my opinions. To stand up and speak in a boardroom where male figures can easily dominate has been extremely challenging yet not challenging enough to keep me quiet. I have spent years working hard to earn people’s respect and feel I have achieved this for having a voice and simply loving doing business.
What’s your plans for the business in the future?
We have our main HQ in Wakefield and have satellite offices in Chesterfield, Stoke and now Newcastle. I would love to start a new business sometime soon, as this one runs itself now; I have an idea that I’m scoping out currently and if it takes off it will completely change the online automotive landscape. I’m really obsessed with the idea and can’t stop developing it, I just need some time to get a team together, make a prototype and persuade some people I know to invest.
Outside of work, what do you like to do to switch off?
I love to read books; I’m rubbish with reading fiction but enjoy learning so anything where I can educate myself. I enjoy holistic spa treatments and spending time with my family and friends. I need to get back into exercise and have all the equipment at home but never use it. I love to travel and enjoy booking spontaneous mini trips with my husband of 26 years.
Without the support from my husband, it would have been very difficult to achieve my dreams. Working lots of hours and often weekends in the early days was possible as he had his own car sales business so he understood the industry demand, I won’t forget this!
Can you tell us a recent ‘Girl boss’ moment?
A recent girl boss moment was buying my new Porsche 911 Carrera S. From dreaming of driving a sports car to owning one was the ultimate dream. When I bought my first Porsche a decade ago, I went to look at it with my business partner. When we sat at the desk, the salesman didn’t give me eye contact and spoke mainly to my business partner. At the end of his spiel my business partner calmly said, “You’ve just spoken to the wrong person, it’s not me who’s buying it; she is!” The salesman’s face was a picture, we left and bought one another day. There are still a lot of men out there who struggle with independent feisty women.
Who would be your dream celebrity to work with?
I really admire Mary Portas, she’s direct but I prefer to work with people who aren’t afraid to say what they think. Honesty and integrity in business is so important, Mary seems to have a sensitive side and has a real talent for creativity. I also like Deborah Meadon from Dragon’s Den. She’s so switched on is well respected because she’s very thorough when doing business. I love strong women and would love to see more of us in senior positions. When I’ve spoken to children in schools, they have the opinion the top jobs always go to men, but I say well only if you let them!
According to FTSE 100, the number of women holding senior jobs in the boardrooms of Britain’s biggest companies fell in 2018 and has flatlined for the last 4 years at 9.7%. We need to change this ladies!!
What’s your proudest moment?
My proudest moment after being told I was becoming a partner in the business was when we bought our business premises a few years ago. From humble beginnings and then purchasing a fantastic new building, I remember turning back in the car park staring at it whilst thinking “How have I done that then?”. The business premises look like a huge piece of white Lego, it won a design award in the early 80’s – and lots of people comment on how unusual it looks.
Do you have any regrets?
Absolutely not, I’ve enjoyed the ride so far. I have bags of ambition and have a wish to do better but I’m also happy to learn. I regret not speaking to more kids in schools, I’ve only done this once before, but I loved it. I think it’s very important to educate our children and teach them confidence.
We need to tell our children they can do anything if they put their mind to it. From being told I shouldn’t go for the job with the company car to now being part owner of a multi -million-pound company and driving the car of my dreams; proves anything’s possible, if, you’re prepared to work at it.
Follow her business journey right here pabstudios.co.uk