Freshwater PLC

Origins

The agency was formed as a sole trader in 1997 by former BBC journalist Steve Howell. In September 2000, the agency was incorporated as Howell Communications Ltd. By the end of its second year of incorporation (2001-02), Howell Communications had grown to 13 staff and in May 2003 opened a London office. In 2004, the company embarked on its next challenge – to grow from its Welsh base to create a UK-wide regional PR network, at the heart of which would be a service centre and head office in Cardiff. In August 2004, it re-branded as Freshwater. Funding for the expansion programme posed major challenges – initially growth capital was raised from private investors and also Finance Wales. During 2003-2006, £2.2m was raised, which, together with cash generated from profits, was used to fund acquisitions and business development. In 2007, Freshwater joined the Alternative Investment Market, which provided funding for the next stage of its growth strategy, including four acquisitions to date: Lynx PR specialising in utilities and community relations, which strengthened the specialist offer and northern network; Waterfront Public Affairs and Conference Company based in London; Merlin Marketing and PR in Cardiff and most recently, Irish PR agency Life Communications.

Success Factor

Recently, Freshwater’s successful growth has come from the success of its long-term strategy of establishing a regional network with specialist expertise. Freshwater is uniquely positioned to enable it to operate a ‘best team’ approach, taking consultants from across the group to best meet the needs of each individual client depending on region and sector. This has resulted in the expansion of some of its major clients, such as the National Grid, into more regions of the UK, as well as the winning of new clients because of a unique regional and specialist offering. From the outset, the agency has constantly looked for ways to improve quality and deliver business results for clients and Freshwater has a track record of winning regional and national awards for the services it provides its clients. Finally, Freshwater has retained profit to generate funds for growth organically. It has also had non-executive directors since incorporation and now has four who bring with them a diversity of business experience. This has stood the company in excellent stead throughout this tough economic period and a strong business foundation means investors are more willing to take the company seriously.

The Future

Freshwater is striving to lead the way in establishing a modern communications business, offering clients tailored communication campaigns to suite their specific needs, whether it be digital, social marketing, public affairs or traditional media. Freshwater recognises that the media world is changing and that services need to adapt in line with this. More and more traditional media is moving online, changing the way people obtain their information, interact with the media and form their opinions. Its vision is of a full-service media consultancy that offers clients advice whatever the medium and a commitment to providing the very best in high quality consultancy is what will continue to drive the future of the business. Freshwater’s journey on the acquisition trail has not ended yet and it is still looking to fill several gaps in its geographical reach and areas of specialist expertise.