Profile: the Brighouse PR boss putting Faith in the future
Some people have the happy knack of making the most of the opportunities that fall into their lap, and Stefanie Hopkins seems to be one of them. She leads her own successful PR and marketing agency, Faith PR, sits on the board of the Mid Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, and is about to launch Brighouse’s first ever co-working space, and yet she almost seems to have got there by accident. There was no grand scheme – she didn’t really plan any of it.
Years ago, when already an experienced PR practitioner, she was asked to pitch to Swedish cosmetics company Oriflame as a favour, but ended up beating several bigger rivals to win the account.
“That kind of springboarded the growth of Faith,” she told The Yorkshire Post.
“It was never my intention initially to start an agency – I thought ‘I’ll got for it now and try and build a bigger business’ and then I just kept going.”
Six years and a lot of hard work later, she now employs eight people and the business is expanding. In fact, Faith is in the process of moving into a former pub – the Vulcan on Foundry Street – a Victorian pile which Ms Hopkins is converting into a modern workplace at a cost of around £200,000.
“I’ve always wanted to invest in premises for Faith PR,” she says. “It just slipped off my radar for a while, especially last year when we were paying full rent the entire time for an office we were hardly using.
“We found the building just by chance and it had much more space than we needed, and that gave me the idea of creating a co-working space.”
That space, called BrigHub, could well be one of the most innovative accidental workplace innovations to hit Brighouse in years, but when more people are working at home than ever before, is this the right time for it?
“I guess some might consider it quite a risky thing to buy a building in the middle of a pandemic, to open an office when loads of offices are closing their doors, but as the pandemic progressed and we got through the first lockdown, I felt that there was still a place for an office environment, especially in a creative industry like ours,” she says.
“There’s so many benefits that you get from being in an office, in terms of creativity, client engagement and employee well-being – you need that human interaction to work.
“There’s a lot you can do remotely, but you can’t replicate the spontaneous conversations that you have and the creativity that comes from those random chats you have in an office.”
But the office vibe and the creative sparks that fly there weren’t the only things that spoke in BrigHub’s favour. Ms Hopkins reckons there’s a growing market for this kind of set-up – not despite, but because of, the pandemic.
“There’s a huge amount of new businesses coming out of this, like there was in the last recession – especially in our industry with a lot of people freelancing now – and there isn’t anywhere for them to go in the suburbs, other than coffee shops,” she says.
“Whilst there’s opportunities to rent small office spaces on a semi-permanent basis, there isn’t anywhere that fills the gap if you just want a desk or a hot-desk for a couple of days a week, just to get out of your own four walls, be amongst other people, be in a collaborative, supportive environment.
“Things like that exist in Leeds, Huddersfield and Bradford, but there’s nothing on a local level, and people aren’t going to be commuting into Leeds and the other cities as much as before.”
That positive approach to the challenges of the past year is typical. After 45 per cent of Faith’s business was paused as soon as the first lockdown began, Ms Hopkins and her team adapted and ended up picking up new clients in sectors that were still thriving, such as online retail.
In addition to growing a business, raising a family and going running four times a week – “it helps me switch off and keeps me sane” – she finds time to fulfil her obligations to the Chamber of Commerce, which she joined in 2018. Recently, she says, it has received a lot of interest as “lockdown start-ups” seek advice.
“I remember, the Chamber put out a press release announcing a new board director and it was just a photo of lots of middle-aged men in a stuffy-looking room, so I just tweeted them saying there weren’t many women represented, and if they wanted to represent business from the region it didn’t look they were achieving that.
“So they said ‘OK, come and join the board then’, so I did. I’m still there – we’re navigating our way through the landscape and seeing what we can do to help businesses going forward. They’ve had lots of new businesses join over the past six months, and we want to see what we can do to support those businesses as they grow over the coming year.”
She’s hoping her own will be one of those firms, helping Brighouse – already home to a thriving SME community – to flourish.
“I want Faith to keep growing; I want to keep investing. We’ve always been a Brighouse-based business, and we’ll stay here,” she says.
She’ll still be on the lookout for international clients – Faith has already worked with German-owned companies such as Thornton Ross and Vorwerk, and counts global energy concern World Kinect Energy Services among its clients – but she sees locations as being less important than it was – “over the past year, we’ve learned you can service them perfectly fine from wherever you’re based,” she says – and now wants to work with more Yorkshire-based companies.
“Despite the lockdown at the start of the year, there’s definitely a lot more optimism in the region. There’s an upturn in businesses looking to recruit and expand their workforce, investment is increasing again, and certain sectors, such as IT and digital, are reporting stronger sales,” she says.
“There are just so many successful and growing businesses here. Brand Yorkshire is really strong as well at the moment.
“There’s so much to go at just with businesses in this region that want to grow. They should keep us busy.”
That sounds like a plan.
Born in Germany, Stefanie Hopkins moved to England at the age of four and grew up, bilingual in English and German, in West Yorkshire.
She went to school in Mytholmroyd and then headed to the University of Nottingham for a degree in Modern Language Studies, which included a year at the University of Avignon in France.
On graduating with a 2:1, she worked as part of a multi-lingual team on the Bentley Motors account at McCann Erickson.
She then spent nearly four years at JDA, becoming a senior PR account manager, before leaving to launch Faith PR in 2007.
She now sits on the board of the Mid Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, and has just launched BrigHub, Brighouse’s first co-working space.