The agency was formed as a sole trader in 1997 by former BBC journalist Steve Howell. Based in Newport, it focused initially on media relations and established a reputation for excellence by handling the PR for The Celtic Manor Resort’s £100m expansion programme and Wales’ bid to host the Ryder Cup. Sir Terry Matthews, the owner of Celtic Manor, said the agency had played ‘a very important role’ in the successful Ryder Cup bid. In the first three years, the biggest challenge was the difficulty a small team faced in meeting ever-expanding client needs. With success came higher client expectations – which were met by having a highly committed and tightly-knit group of staff. From 2000 to 2004, the company enjoyed four consecutive years of profitable growth, which laid the foundations for another phase of development – embodied in a new business plan for 2004 to 2007. This envisaged the creation of a UK-wide regional PR network, at the heart of which would be a service centre and head office in Wales. Funding for the expansion programme was a major issue - initially growth capital was raised from private investors and more recently it has come from Finance Wales. Since completing its 2003-04 trading year, Freshwater has continued to grow, both organically and through the acquisition of agencies in Glasgow (Nov 2004) and Birmingham (June 2005).

Success Factor

The first key factor is that of strong client relationships and commitment to service delivery. From the outset, the agency has lived and breathed for its clients. We haven’t played lip service to this, we constantly look for ways to improve the quality of what we do and increase the results achieved. Quality is built on the sustainable basis of a profitable commercial approach that allows the company to reward and incentivise staff and invest in infrastructure. The business has also adhered to solid business principles, such as cost control, cash flow management and re-investment of profit. Indeed, Freshwater retained profit to generate funds for growing organically, being able to invest in its own office premises in Newport by April 2001 and then to buy new purpose-built 4,000sq ft offices at Cardiff Gate last year. Shortly after incorporation, the company had its first non-executive director. It now has four who bring with them a diversity of business experience from local to national level in several different sectors. They provide advice and valuable support to the two executive directors Steve Howell, chief executive, and Haydn Evans, finance director. A strong board has helped ensure better business decision-making and given confidence to investors and other funders.

The Future

Freshwater UK is aiming to be one of the top providers of regional PR services to major national brands, while also retaining or developing strong client portfolios in each region. The business has made acquisitions in Birmingham and Glasgow and opened offices in Bristol and Edinburgh, and is in discussions to establish a strong presence in the north of England. It is also looking at options for extending our network internationally Alongside the acquisition strategy, Freshwater is growing organically, particularly through cross-selling between regions and service offers and by raising its profile with major brands needing services in several regions.