Money & Me: ‘Working from home with a newborn is a silver lining in this crisis’

Sophie Simpson, of PR agency Atteline, who is not paying herself during the pandemic, says she can now run her business and spend time with her daughter

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , May 7 – 2020 :- Sophie Simpson,  founder of PR agency Atteline outside her villa in the Springs 1 in Dubai. (Pawan Singh / The National) For Business. Story by Nada
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Sophie Simpson is the founder and managing director of Atteline, a retail, wellness, design and consumer corporate public relations agency in Dubai. She started the company four years ago and clients include Careem, Aspinal of London, Gant, La Senza and Liverpool Football Club. The Briton, 32, who moved to the UAE eight years ago, lives in the Springs in Dubai with her husband and seven-week-old daughter.

A huge component of our business is retail, so 100 per cent [Covid-19] has affected our business.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

I grew up in Bermuda from about age three, because my parents owned an insurance company there. It was a huge leap of faith for them to move to Bermuda [from the UK], which is one of the biggest insurance hubs in the world, and they seized an opportunity just at the moment when the market was starting to see a lot of traction.

It’s a very interesting place; it’s a British colony that works in US dollars and is just two hours away from New York. It’s a very understated place, considering how successful it’s been, and it has a beautiful community feel.

In terms of my mindset towards money, it was always very much centred around: 'you must first and foremost have good values and fundamentally hard work pays off'. I grew up in a very entrepreneurial household and my parents owned the business together, which ended up going public and it was across the globe. So my upbringing definitely guided me to be very entrepreneurial and hardworking, but also with that I suppose comes some financial success. 
One of the things my parents always said is: 'if you can, be your own boss'. And here I am today.

How much did you get paid for your first job?

I got paid £16,000 (Dh72,473) a year and it was a PR job at an agency in London. That was my first proper job, when I was 21-22, just pretty much fresh out of uni. Before that, I worked for Vogue and the Sunday Times style magazine part-time to full-time until the end of university.

What led you to PR?

I studied fashion, with a course of fashion history and theory, at Central St Martin's College of Art & Design in London. I, 100 per cent, wanted to go into fashion. I was very much into art and designing, and I followed my heart in that sense. 
But when I got to my last year of university, I realised I don't know if I want to go work for a designer; it's a long, hard slog. That's why I then hopped into editorial, as it still allowed me to be creative and gave me an opportunity to write, which I realised I loved so much. From there, I realised that PR was something I hadn't really considered and that it would be a good fit.

Were your parents supportive of your career choices?

Extremely supportive. My father said, 'don't join insurance, it's depressing'. They always guided us, but never pushed us into any role or career, as long as we were happy. 
My twin brother works in insurance here in Dubai; I'm the only one who escaped.

What brought you to the UAE?

I was working for La Perla in London and I met a gentleman when I was doing New York Fashion Week who gave me the opportunity to consider the Middle East. It was already on my radar, I was already having conversations, I wanted to come. This is where people have money, where there are amazing new designers coming out. So I made the leap to Dubai to work for a start-up PR company.

Why did you set up your own company?

I got to a point where I thought, I now have a good enough idea of how I’d like to structure my company, I have enough understanding of the business and the industry to go forward. I thought, I’ve got to do it now while I don’t have children, I’m not married and I don’t have the financial responsibilities.

Do you consider yourself a saver or a spender?

A saver, 100 per cent. I just think you should always plan for the future. I’m very much into savings for future investments, be that a house or education or retirement. Ultimately, that may also make me a spender, but it’s all about planning ahead.

How do you invest?

When I first started working, my parents encouraged me to ‘make your money work for you’. They set up some stocks and shares accounts for me and educated me on that.

Do you use a financial adviser?

Yes, I do. I completely wholeheartedly believe in surrounding yourself with people who know more than you and you must find those people who you trust and be guided by them.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , May 7 – 2020 :- Sophie Simpson,  founder of PR agency Atteline outside her villa in the Springs 1 in Dubai. (Pawan Singh / The National) For Business. Story by Nada
Ms Simpson says her main focus has been job security for her team, company stability and helping clients navigate the challenges. Pawan Singh / The National

How has the Covid-19 crisis affected your business?

A huge component of our business is retail, so 100 per cent it has affected our business. More so, it has affected us in terms of how we're executing our work for our clients. We've very much had to pivot with our strategies, so focusing on e-commerce and WhatsApp orders, and a lot of the time going outside the PR scope to support our clients, working more closely with marketing and sales teams. 
One good thing about our business is that all our clients are full-time retained clients. We don't work on project work, which was a big part of the business strategy. If you go to London, New York or Milan, all the agencies work on full-time retainers. We're founded on those more old-school practices and in this moment of crisis, it's done us very well. With that said, we've had clients who have had to reduce scope or pivot strategies.

Has it affected your employees’ jobs or salaries?

We have nine employees. My only focus is job security for the team, it's company stability, it's ensuring that the clients have the team to work to get them also through this crisis. I have decided not to take a salary and keep the money in the company, but nothing else has had to be taken. 
We're also offering home-grown businesses pro-bono two-hour PR consultancy sessions until the end of June for brands who may never have had PR or are suffering through this time. This is us reaching out to our community to say, if you would like some advice and help, we're here to do it.

How have you coped with a newborn?

I was always intending to go back to work quite early on, but it all happened a bit sooner rather than later. I had her on March 21 and the next day the calls started. We look after malls, for example, and clients were calling us [after the malls were forced to close] saying, 'OK, we need to release statements'. We don't have the liberty of having another 24 hours; we need to be ahead of each step. 
This is life and it's part of being a business owner. If anything – I'm not out and about going to meetings – I'm probably able to juggle more. I'm surrounding myself with the most supportive team. It definitely has its challenges, but I just think, while we are in a crisis, what a silver lining to have her. My husband [who works for Airbus Helicopters] usually travels an awful lot, so he is having some time with her that he definitely wouldn't have had otherwise. It's all good – I can't complain.

Do you have a retirement plan?

No plan, but we’re definitely putting money aside for those days when hopefully we can travel lots and enjoy all the hard work we’ve put in.