“You’re looking at my arms!”
I had to admit Aneela was right - she had caught me red-handed, staring quizzically at her slender biceps. Chatting over lunch, she had just shown me a photo of her lifting a barbell with enormous weights that surely weighed far more than she did. It didn’t seem humanly possible and Aneela is hardly how I would perceive a weightlifter to look. But what do I know? For her bodyweight and age category, Aneela Rose is an AWPC World Champion Powerlifter.
Appearances are not always what they seem. A petite frame disguises the steely determination that has driven Aneela to build a successful PR agency and out-lift all her competitors. This year Aneela celebrates 15 years of running her own business and, typically, she is looking forward ambitiously.
“I like to reinvent the agency every few years,” says Aneela. I love bringing on board people who want to change the world and try something new as this keeps us fresh and interesting to our clients.
“I’m not afraid of making decisions or making mistakes, it’s complacency that scares me. Within the next year we are forecasting our growth within the sectors we excel in such as manufacturing, engineering, construction and technology.
“Known as a glamorous geek and with a PR background in flight simulation, I’m completely at home focusing on more technical campaigns.”
“We work with some very successful global companies in these sectors, and our evidence based marketing, or data-driven sleuthing as I like to call it, really hits the mark with generating results.”
If the agency’s future is in the manufacturing and engineering sectors, Aneela’s biggest break and proudest moment in business was when she secured a highly sought-after PR contract in the luxury leisure sector.
“I went on my own in 2004,” recalls Aneela. “I was fed up with reporting to managers who didn’t know anything about my job. I was Head of PR at an IT company, but reported to a Sales Manager who didn’t understand PR - which so often happens.
“Initially I went into retail as my dream had always been to have a shop with my name above the door. Graham, my husband-to-be, was a Financial Director at a local company at that time and wanted to leave his job as well. He always encouraged me to follow my dreams so we opened the Aneela Rose Boutique in The Lanes in Brighton. Graham actually left his job before me and, for a while, ran the shop on his own. I was working seven days a week - midweek as Head of PR and weekends at the shop.
“The shop was brilliant fun, but we didn’t make any money. One morning, when it was very quiet, I wrote a press release for my friend’s business. She paid me £200 and Graham commented that I had earned more money writing than we earned in the shop that day. He suggested I set up a freelance PR business, which made sense as we had already built up plenty of press contacts with the shop. In 2004 I set up Aneela Rose PR.
“Our first client was Amberley Castle which was amazing, as I had no experience in the hotel or luxury industry. A good friend of mine told me that Amberley Castle’s PR Manager was leaving, so I got in touch straight away.
“In the interview I was asked which hotels I was looking after, and I confessed I had no experience in the sector, which I assumed would have ruled me out. In fact, it was the opposite; the castle didn’t want any conflict of interest. We got on so well that they appointed me on the spot.
“I immersed myself in Amberley Castle and spent long hours really understanding the business. My lack of sector experience didn’t really matter as I understand PR and how it works, what makes a good story and how to get the story out there at the right time. I know how to build relationships with journalists and understand what they are looking for in a story. The key is to understand the business and know what they want to achieve.
“Within a few months I was picking up new clients. My second client was Kate’s Cakes followed by one of their distributors, Southover Foods. Then I was appointed by an orthodontic company, so within the first year I already was building an eclectic client base across a wide range of sectors.”
Aneela’s business grew quickly from working as a freelancer with a desk in her bedroom: “I realised I was building a grown-up company. It was such an adrenalin rush. From day one I had a mindset that I would always be professional. Even when working from my home, I’d dress smartly and asked the same of my staff too.
Her journey has had its ups and downs. The lowest point was when Aneela brought in someone to run the company when she had her first child - which resulted in losing clients and staff. ‘It was my biggest mistake,” reflects Aneela. “My husband believed I should have trusted my team to look after the business, and he was right. I would never make the same mistake again.”
The business recovered when Aneela returned and she set up Purple Rose Digital at the time when digital marketing and social media began to take off. “We were perceived as ‘just’ a PR company but not necessarily a digital company. The important thing back then was to make people aware that we offered the whole package: social media, email marketing, PR, sales activity and events.”
The digital off-shoot served its purpose, but Aneela realised that running two companies was not the most efficient proposition: “In 2016, we combined the PR and digital companies into Rose Media Group, which allows us to grow the business and perhaps even look at some acquisitions.
“PR is still at the heart of what we do: it’s about memorable story-telling, but we also offer expert digital marketing as part of the package, including SEO, website design and build.”
Speaking to Aneela it is apparent that her business is a very important part of her life, but not her sole drive. Aneela explains how her life balance works: “The key elements of my life are like three circles or cogs: my family, my work and my sport. If I removed one of these circles my life wouldn’t be as smooth as they are all interlinked and interact. I need all three. I want to be a businesswoman, a mother and to be physically active. At the centre of the cogs is my husband, not me. He is involved in the business, at the centre of family life and encourages me in my sport. Since I realised this it has made everything make sense.
“I’m successful and happy because I rely on other people to help me rather than do it all on my own.”
Knowing how interlinked her work, sport and family are drives Aneela to train even when it would be much easier to watch TV. Her original passion was throwing the javelin, until one day a coach made the left-field suggestion that she might do well at powerlifting. It wasn’t a bad suggestion as she is now a world champion. To be precise Aneela is the AWPC (Amateur World Powerlifting Congress) World Powerlifting Champion 2018 and the ABPU (Amateur British Powerlifting Union) British Powerlifting Champion & Record Holder 2019. In May, Aneela broke two British powerlifting records in the Masters 56kg bodyweight class.
As well as the drive of competitive sport, the powerlifting has another therapeutic benefit for Aneela: “When I train for my lifting I surround myself with people who know more about the sport than I do, and they tell me what to do. At work I’m the leader, and home I am mum. In sport, the role is reversed and it is me who relies on others, which is a welcome release for me.
“At the agency I always stress that everyone should have a life outside work as it is important that people have a balance in their lives. I like to take an interest as it should never be all about work.
“I am very proud to be, I believe, the first British Asian female to win gold within this federation in my weight class. It is a male-dominated sport and I am a physically small and older Asian female , which I hope will break down barriers and encourage others not to be scared of taking chances. I am planning to get more involved with local communities and schools and hold motivational talks.”
After spending some time with Aneela, it is clear she is an incredibly motivated individual who has been able to combine successfully a thriving business, family life and sporting achievement. She passionately believes that with a positive mindset and consistent action, you can achieve great things.