Interview with Denise O’Leary, founder of Purpol Marketing

Business awards hold great power in driving yourself and your business forward. Denise O’Leary, founder of Purpol Marketing and author of recently released book Winner – How to win business awards shares her business journey, the challenges she has faced and why she thinks business awards are a really important tool that should be used by all businesses. 

What’s your career journey? How did you come to set up Purpol Marketing?

I launched Purpol Marketing in 2014, as a one woman, home-based business offering brand, marketing and bid strategy consultancy specialising in the manufacturing and construction industries.

I saw the marketing ‘fluff’ delivered by some agencies and wanted to offer credible, hard-headed and logical suggestions to clients that actually work. I spotted a gap in the market for a tailored service, high level bid support and marketing director expertise on a pay-as-you-go basis. 

From marketing construction to chocolate, lingerie to Legionella monitoring Purpol Marketing, has helped businesses of all types and sizes create winning marketing campaigns and successful bids.

I have always been keen to defy historical gender typical roles and have been pushing the boundaries of interconnecting work for years. Starting in the male dominated Railway Brake Engineering sectors and then onto plastics manufacture before finally landing in the construction industry, I developed my own company that specialises within the construction sectors whilst also working with a variety of clients from varying trades.

As well as bid writing and marketing strategy, we provide services specialised in website customer journeys, bid assessment, award entry, graphic design, and enabling government procurement. We also provide marketing and export mentoring and support numerous interns and work experience students.

How did you go about building up your client portfolio and network?

Starting a business is always difficult, and unlike many agencies, I did not start ‘on the inside’ and then take existing clients when I started out on my own as historically I had been the client on the corporate side! I concentrated on building my network and enhancing the company reputation, delivering excellent work, to the promised budget and timeline.

I targeted online networks such as LinkedIn to connect with as many people as possible; I joined local networking groups and made sure I shared lots of content on my social media channels – such as videos on top tips on how to win bids – all of this activity builds your reputation in an authentic way.

We also understood that many start up businesses need specific help with their marketing but are short on both time and budget.

Our Magnificent Marketing course was designed to help Business owners and managers build a successful marketing plan and our The Better Way to Bi’ course was targeted to show them how to win contracts. These could be topped up with personal consultation, or used as standalone education.

Creating PR was also a significant attribute in raising the company profile and showcasing the expertise we deliver. I decided to focus on entering local business awards initially as a cost effective way to showcase the Purpol Marketing name and what we can deliver whilst meeting with other local business owners. 

What motivated you to write your new book Winner – How to Win Business Awards

Winning is now a business for us – having won dozens of awards alongside client bids valued at over £3.5bn to date. My love of competitions started as a child, entering slogan type competitions in the days prior to the internet.

I studied competitive behaviour as my thesis for my BA Business Administration degree, gaining a First; and wrote on the impact of the Internet for my Master’s degree thesis, gaining an overall distinction.

From winning three year’s supply of OXO and two years’ worth of tights and trips around the world, I understand what makes a compelling competition entry and I have transferred this learning in to how to win business awards.

The book gave me a chance to transfer the learning from the face to face consultancy I deliver into a book that is available worldwide. I am thrilled it has already been an Amazon Number 1 best seller in the PR category and is gaining more five star reviews all the time.

The process for winning awards is very similar to our proven formula for winning bids – each award entry needs to be treated as a bespoke marketing campaign. In easy to understand chapters, the book takes the potential award winner on a journey to success.

Starting from ‘Has my company got what it takes to win awards’, right through to ‘How to make your entry stand out’ and ultimately ‘what you can expect from an awards ceremony.’ 

Included are real life tips from winners, hints from awards judges as to what they look for when assessing an entry, what they award points to, and also what they don’t like to see

The book has additional insight from a business psychologist on why award entries can provide validation for yourself and your business. He explains the influence of the individual’s attitude to risk, how to exploit the personality traits of a winner, and how the psychological process of entry can improve your attitude towards your business to drive further success. 

Why do you think it’s important to empower female entrepreneurs to enter awards?

For all entrepreneurs, winning an award has numerous benefits for your business and there is an award for everyone. Awards enable you to:

  • •     Gain competitive advantage
  • •     Achieve independent validation
  • •     Generate free PR
  • •     Boost team morale
  • •     Secure trust in your business

It is sometimes an issue for female entrepreneurs that they are shy about showcasing their achievements, but as there are awards of every sort there is sure to be one that fits what you do.

Winning an award is not boasting – it is about presenting your business in a positive light and raising your profile so that more clients can understand what you do.

There are awards of every description:

  • •     International and national
  • •     Regional and local
  • •     By sector, e.g. Retail
  • •     By role, e.g. architect
  • •     By demographic, e.g. gender, or even Young Entrepreneur

With personal experience of the journey of starting my own business to national award winner, I understand the issues faced when entering awards.

Having built up many friendships with other business owners, judges and award organisers, I have been able to collate all their learning and experience into one practical guide that I was keen to share and get as many people winning as possible!. Once you have won, you definitely get the taste for it, so it is about building confidence and letting people shine.

What has been your proudest moment to date?

I was very proud to have my two nieces Taylor and Scarlett attend my book launch event, especially when they told their teacher they were going to a book launch and pointed out to people where their names were in the book dedication! 

I also had a testimonial from a reader who said:

“After reading Denise’s book we put an action plan in place to start entering some local/regional business awards and really can’t believe the results to date! Two awards entered to date with one win already and just learnt we have been selected as a finalist for the other! Naturally we are targeting more in the coming months already. The PR opportunities associated with this are massive!”

Last year was an amazing year, topped by winning two International Stevie Awards for Women in Business and attending the celebration ceremony in New York – what a fabulous experience, and it continues to be so – meeting with likeminded powerful yet friendly business women and their supporters – who feel like a family.

Purpol measures its success on client experience and importantly, how much our clients win. The record is testament to our success in providing clients with the customer service they expect – Purpol has a 90%+ success rate for its bids compared to the 60-65% industry average.

In the last year we secured a framework which will allow 10 years of work for a local contractor, worth £20m and also a 5 year exclusive contract worth £18m for housing within Wales for another client. These are particularly meaningful as they provide business certainty and the ability to take on more trainees and apprenticeship due to the increased workload.

Purpol actively supports local students – we are delighted to form the next generation of marketers. This is a way to give something back to the community and the training experience the students are given helps to secure and develop the future of the industry.

Being able to speak on my career journey was a step into the unknown for me (against many perceptions I am an introvert, who usually keeps all personal details private). Standing on the stage at the Women In Construction Summit sharing my career journey and tips for diversity was a step outside my comfort zone which proved hugely satisfying with amazing feedback from the people I touched.

My intern stated:

“It was great to watch Denise throughout the day and get hands-on industry experience from a practiced individual such as herself. Watching Denise’s presentation was also highly enlightening and reaffirmed key elements of the marketing and bidding that are crucial to implement if you wish to have a successful business.”

Purpol continually evolves – delivering international as well as local assignments, speaking at International expos, representing females in construction, visiting No10 and the House of Lords, and being a champion for policy change. 

What has been your biggest business challenge and how did you overcome it?

When running your own business, the challenges are continual! You have to be very quick to adapt and change direction if you need to and that includes making sometimes very difficult decisions.

Supporting the government with the target of 30% of its £260bn spend to go to SMEs, I  have developed face to face and online training as well as speaking at seminars.

I am also leading the charge with Purpol, in challenging the diversity balance within construction and have started to speak on my own career journey ‘from Railway brake engineering via Manufacturing to Construction and Entrepreneurship’.

The uncertainty around Brexit affected the businesses in the last year, with insecurity in the construction sector, as well as a ‘conspiracy of silence’ around how this is impacting marketing and training agencies specifically.

I have had to stare down this challenge head on, and restructured the business, trading the previously dormant Purpol Limited as a focused consultancy with Purpol Marketing continuing to provide marketing and bid support.

I broadened my associate network, providing ongoing project based employment for several women (and some gents) skilled across the marketing spectrum. Many of these women are juggling families and caring responsibilities and have previously found it hard to gain work on challenging yet enlightening projects.

I would advise don’t be afraid of change – understand it and embrace it! Look at what the market can provide, and if you need to change your approach then do it, You cannot be too fixed in your ideas, but you do need to hold true to your vision and values as these are the core of what your clients are buying from you. Form great networks and embrace everyone’s success.

Who is your biggest inspiration?

My inspiration comes in many formats, and I have to be honest that I am not easily impressed, especially with people who think they have succeeded by diminishing others. I love to see the tenacious nature of many individuals who manage to rise above the circumstances that they were dealt, and achieve what they want to move themselves forward.

These can be micro steps or major ones, but is always heartening to read about how people have achieved their dreams. I love cheering when others succeed, in sport, in business and in life. 

Everyone is on a different path so needs to do what makes them happy and fulfilled.

What is your business motto?

We help you win more, more often!

Denise O’Leary is the founder of Purpol Marketing and her book WINNER – How to Win Business Awards, is available in bookstores and on Amazon. You can contact Denise by email.