There’s a line in the recently released Martin Scorsese movie The Irishman where Teamsters union president Jimmy Hoffa, played by Al Pacino, asks truck driver and budding mafia hitman Frank Sheeran, played by Robert de Niro, “I heard you paint houses”.
Word of mouth has passed through the underground crime world of the Eastern Seaboard of 1950s America and Frank Sheeran’s currency is set for an inexorable rise.
Without wanting to draw too many comparisons between the dark arts of killing people for a living and running a PR agency, word of mouth has been the most important factor in building the Freer Consultancy into a bona fide player on the Scottish PR scene since I launched the business after losing my job in the wake of the financial crash just over a decade ago.
Following my wife (as she is now) to Edinburgh, when I arrived in this city I knew no-one, literally no-one, professionally or socially, when I got off the train at Waverley one chilly afternoon (it was midsummer at the time).
By translating my experience of advising FTSE-listed companies on the London Stock Exchange to the Scottish context, I found a niche advising fast-growing small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) like travel search site Skyscanner, online tyre retailer Blackcircles.com and tech incubator CodeBase around corporate PR; helping each to build a narrative in the press that would raise profile en route to milestone events like venture capital funding, mergers and acquisitions, initial public offerings and other significant events on the corporate timeline.
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When one of my first clients asked to meet me at the office at home I had exaggeratedly told him about, which in reality included the matrimonial bed, a six-month-old baby and a battered old laptop, I remember spending a frenzied couple of days rearranging the house and spending a stupid amount of money on furniture and furnishings to make the place look less like the misrepresentation I had made it out to be.
From memory, I think I may also have put the baby in a cupboard.
Fast forward almost ten years and my agency is doing much the same (the PR stuff rather than the “stuffing babies in cupboards” bit), namely supporting SMEs and entrepreneurs around PR strategy and delivery. In terms of the business, 2019 has been another good year.
It’s been fun too – I think in the main because of who I’ve worked with. People like Cortex chief executive Peter Proud rank highly here, watch this space in 2020 for all things Cortex, and Carolyn Jameson who switched from Skyscanner to Copenhagen HQ-ed customer review site Trustpilot. Overall, we now have a good mix of what I describe as old and new economy clients (although in truth, software and digital transformation have begun to blur the lines).
Among the highlights from the old economy: supporting one of Scotland’s oldest but most dynamic law firms, Anderson Strathern, in a record year for the firm; advising the EICC team including around the venue winning the much-coveted TEDSummit; raising profile for the UK’s newest private bank, Hampden & Co; and handling PR for property specialist Rettie & Co’s push into the build-to-rent sector.
Among highlights from the new economy: working closely with User Testing, the first Silicon Valley tech company to open a global HQ in Scotland; advising Cultivate and Deliveroo as the latter acquired the former; handling PR around Money Dashboard’s record-breaking crowdfund; re-engaging with digital skills academy CodeClan; supporting Turing Fest around the Scottish Tech Startup Awards; handling Care Sourcer’s joint announcement on funding with Scottish Enterprise; and supporting global tech advisory bank GP Bullhound around acquisitions in Scotland.
I have missed others out here (sorry) but I’m running out of word count and I could do with a mulled wine. Happy Christmas everyone!
Nick Freer is a founding director of the Freer Consultancy and Full Circle Partners