Some people are destined to pursue specific vocations; models are an obvious example, blessed with enviable bone structures and long limbs they are genetically destined to utilise their beauty as a means of making a living. Antoni Heatley, Founder and Director of boutique PR agency Cutlass Communications, possesses an easy charm and affable nature, essential personality traits required for a career in public relations –it is easy to see why Antoni was destined to work in PR. Needless to say as a good PR practitioner, Antoni is adept at forming and maintaining relationships with journalists, unlike some PR’s –believe me, I interact with a fair few, Antoni comes across as genuine, and in an age of fake sincerity, displaying the aforementioned is akin to hitting the PR jackpot. Antoni’s propensity for sincerity forms the bedrock of Cutlass Communications:
“I still deal with journalists on a one-to-one basis, I think that’s key to any agency, you shouldn’t just be relentlessly pitching.”
Cutlass Communications; is an agency that specialises in the promotion of drinks brands from the burgeoning Silent Pool Gin to the established Buffalo Trace Bourbon and many more in between. Cutlass Communications also promote several high profile events including: London Cocktail Week, Cocktails in the City, Tequila Fest, Grotto Outré, and The Shoreditch Christmas Market & Winter Gathering, to name but a few.
Since Antoni’s entire business model is built up around alcohol it is wholly appropriate that we met in a bar to conduct this interview. Not just any bar mind you, the venue of choice was Netil360, a rooftop bar, on the top of Netil House in Hackney, a 1950’s former office block which is now home to a vast range of enterprises, a creative hub for East London’s finest including Cutlass Communications.
After working several junior press officer roles in television, a move to London from his native north west cemented Antoni’s enthusiasm for the drinks industry. “Moving down to London to work in a drinks marketing agency is when I fell in love with the whole bar and drink side of things.”
Antoni had proven to be a loyal employee by clocking up six years with Inspirit Brands before new ownership and shortly the dismantling of said agency led to the departure of both Antoni and a fair amount of the brands. However, rather than seek the relative security of working for another agency, sensing a business opportunity Antoni took the proverbial plunge and set up Cutlass Communications:
“I approached the brands that left and decided that I would set up an agency to accommodate the smaller brands that can’t necessarily afford to pay the inflated PR fees that some of the bigger agencies charge.”
Focusing on the smaller artisanal drinks brands was and still is a savvy business decision, along with providing Antoni with personal satisfaction. “A lot of the brands we work with are top quality spirits – that was the driving theme of setting up Cutlass; this is where I get my buzz.”
Antoni takes considerable pride in helping to build up burgeoning brands; there are no limits to how a successful PR campaign can propel obscure brands into the public’s consciousness. “I’ve built over 20 brands over the last 10 years; take Ketel One Vodka for example, a brand that I worked on while I was at Inspirit, it grew to the point that one day Diageo bought it, the PR campaign definitely had an influence on the eventual sale.”
A successful campaign is not necessarily equated with oodles of cash – although it can’t hurt! Cutlass Communications, along with numerous smaller agencies have to rely on active, creative minds to get noticed in an already over –subscribed industry. A campaign that not only provides extensive coverage, but coveted industry awards certainly signifies a job well done. Antoni and team picked up two awards at the International Spirits Challenge, billed as ‘the most authoritative, respected and influential spirits competition in the world.’* The awards won were for PR Agency of the Year (2014) and PR Campaign of the Year (2014) for The King’s Ginger 172nd Birthday campaign.
“They (the judges) were impressed with the fact that we had a very minimal budget, despite this we were able to create good coverage by being creative. We rely a lot on relationships; I’ve got a very strong network of contacts right across the board from music to bars and of course media.”
Despite grumbles from certain quarters about how digital media and SEO agencies are threatening traditional PR, Antoni, the optimist disagrees. “A perfect marketing campaign is when you have each element, even though not every brand has these mediums at their disposal.
“What we do is create strong social media content, a lot of the social media agencies that we work with approach us on a regular basis about coverage we have going out, or an idea for a possible video, we seem to be the driving force. I don’t think traditional PR or digital media will ever go away, I think both distinct mediums will continue to work hand in hand.”
Success for Antoni is both modest and achievable. “I never wanted to create a huge agency that looks like a telesales office. Success for me would be having a team of seven people all experts in spirits, bars, pop –ups and food. Also, still being around in 10 years time, that would be success.”
If there were no Cutlass Communications, what would be the alternative plan? “I would still be fighting my way up in agencies, I don’t think that I would be at the level that I’m at now, I probably wouldn’t have moved through the rankings as fast.”
An avid football fan – as a proud Mancunian, Antoni’s team of choice is Manchester City, naturally, so another career could have beckoned. “I always wanted to be a football agent, before I started Cutlass, it was on my radar.”
Football’s loss is the drinks industry’s gain; mind you I can easily envisage Antoni as a football agent; his affability and sincerity would have done wonders for the image of the stereotypical avaricious football agent.
For further information please visit: cutlasscomms.com
Grotto Outré is on until the 22nd December 2015. www.grottooutre.com
The Shoreditch Christmas Market & Winter Gathering at the Red Gallery is open on the 19th December 2015. www.redgallerylondon.com
* The International Spirits Challenge