Upturns, downturns and a global pandemic. How Nottingham’s longest-serving PR business continues to flourish in an ever-changing world
Two dukes, two duchesses and two bishops; sounds like the start of an absurd joke but they’re actually just a few of the clients that we - Nottingham’s longest-established public relations consultancy - have worked with over the years.
So how has Redbrick Communications survived 27 years, during which we have seen the world’s biggest financial crash and an unprecedented global pandemic that shut down economies across the globe?
It all began back in 1996 when two Trent Polytechnic (now Nottingham Trent University) graduates set out on a grand business adventure. Our aim was to establish a public relations business with a difference; to deliver brilliant stakeholder communications, whilst at the same time providing a launchpad into the world of brand, marketing and media to young graduates looking for a career start.
Over the past 27 years, the company has received industry recognition for numerous campaigns, whilst partnering with a long list of household names, including Meccano, Chatsworth, Corgi Classics, Boots, EON and the Royal Armouries. Alongside these brilliant brands have been a raft of lesser-known names but equally valued clients - from East Midlands Tourism and East Midlands Training and Enterprise Council to LB Foster Europe, Ascari (supercars), the Institute of Quarrying and the Galleries of Justice.
Steve Houghton is the joint managing director of Redbrick. A former Boots the Chemists PR man, his communications career took him to Australia before returning to the UK and establishing Redbrick with Clive Purcell, a friend from their Trent Poly days.
“The world was a very different place in 1996. The speed of technological change that we have experienced over the last quarter century is really quite extraordinary. The internet was in its infancy and email was just an internal messaging service. Thinking back, one of Redbrick’s earliest financial outlays was on a photocopier to duplicate the thousands of press releases we posted out by hand to the press. It cost £3,000! Now it’s simply the click of a mouse and the job is done using a fantastic cloud-based media database. The photocopier was sold on eBay many years ago!”
Proud of our alumni
One of Redbrick’s proudest achievements lies in the start it has given to a raft of young people setting out on their careers.
Clive Purcell is the joint managing director of Redbrick: “Our success has been down to the brilliant people that we have employed over the years. Most of these have been graduates with little or no experience, who we believed in and tried to equip with the skills to go forwards in their careers and life.
“It’s hugely gratifying that we are still in touch with many of them and continue to follow their successes with almost parental pride. Some of them have followed in our footsteps, establishing their own PR businesses, whilst others have prospered in the corporate world, reaching very senior marketing roles at some of the world’s best-known brands.
“Giving bright, gifted and enthusiastic young people the chance to shine has enriched our business with new ideas, up-to-the-minute skills and incredible creativity. But most importantly, it has been about enjoying the moment in a relaxed but professional atmosphere, as well as rewarding success through profit share and other incentives. In turn, they have been hugely loyal and made working a pleasure. It can’t all be nose to the grindstone!”
Let's take it back to the start
Back in 1984 Steve and Clive's paths first crossed when they both studied BA Humanities at Trent Polytechnic. Fast forward just over a decade and Steve had just returned to the UK following 18 months on the road working in Australia and exploring the world, whilst Clive had also just settled back in West Bridgford after a period working for one of the UK’s top five PR consultancies. Fuelled by the creative fervour that only comes from a long evening over one too many drinks, the boys decided to ditch their careers in the corporate world and bet on their own skills and experience with their own consultancy. With Steve’s background in the cautious world of blue chip businesses and Clive’s in the ‘wing and a prayer’ consultancy community, they began a quarter century of business success that continues today, albeit with a lot more grey hair and considerably earlier nights.
Over the years, Redbrick has cemented its reputation for always going the extra mile. Clients such as Chatsworth worked with the company’s media team for over a decade and a half, whilst engineering giant L.B. Foster is now in its ninth successive year. Clive explains: “We’ve always managed to retain clients and build strong, mutually supportive relationships. We know from experience that success is built on working together; the more both sides invest in the relationship, the greater the returns.
“Clients like Meccano and Corgi Classics knew this only too well and over many years working together we helped build a brand reputation that drove increased sales, strengthening brand equity for future expansion, business mergers, acquisition or sale. The same awareness of a strong brand was leveraged by the Employability and Skills Group, which started life as a £2m training provider and was acquired for £80m within five years of its aggressive buy and build strategy.”
Growing, adapting and diversifying
Along the way, the business has transformed its original offer based around traditional media relations, diversifying it into sophisticated, integrated digital communications strategies that provide detailed insights for clients. Clive continues: “Building, protecting and enhancing brand reputation has always been at the heart of what we do. We now cast our net far beyond press relations. Our strategies are informed by achievable business objectives. When we started out we jumped at the opportunity to do anything, but we have learned that it’s better to say ‘no’ than to disappoint because our reputation is built on the reputation we build for our clients - so it’s important that we are as invested in our clients as they are in us. That’s how success grows.”
Our office is, well, beautiful!
Based in a beautiful Georgian Grade II listed townhouse on St James’s Street, the impressive building provides the perfect backdrop for client meetings, as well as an inspirational and creative environment for its loyal team.
Liz Bee is an account director and has been with Redbrick for 22 years. She says: “Why would you want to change jobs when the clients that Redbrick attracts are exactly the kind of businesses and organisations that excite you? I’ve worked on amazing toy and collectable brands, as well as some of the UK’s best-known historic houses. Add to that festivals and music venues and it kind of captures much of what I love - and I get paid to do it!”
So what does the future look like for Redbrick? Clive concludes: “We flourished during the pandemic. We’ve all stepped out into the ‘new’ world and we’re excited at the opportunities ahead. Our clients supported us through difficult times and as the economy attempts to bounce back from shocks such as the Ukraine conflict and Kwasi Kwarteng’s calamitous mini-budget, we’re looking forward to supporting them with brilliant brand, media and marketing that gets them noticed.”