Rory Godson speaks to Business & Finance about what inspired him to go it alone in the UK and the opportunities that await Irish companies in London.
Early in 2004, Rory Godson walked out the front door of the Goldman Sachs head office in Fleet Street, turned left and set up shop as a strategic communications consultant on top of a champagne bar on nearby Ludgate Hill.
From his time at Goldman Sachs and his previous career as business editor and Ireland editor at The Sunday Times, Godson knew that London was the global news centre and he was convinced that there were opportunities for him to help Irish companies explain themselves. He was also convinced that his experience in the hurly burly of Dublin and London newsrooms would equip him to advise business leaders in time of stress. He named his business Powerscourt: “I thought it would resonate with Irish clients but would not sound like Shillelagh PR to UK clients – we needed to ride two horses.”
Less than a decade on, Powerscourt’s spacious office in a new build office block in the city seems to be proof of concept. After growth in eight of its first nine years, the company now has 35 staff and a great track record. It was recently ranked second in the UK and seventh in Europe in Mergermarket’s 2012 M&A table of PR advisers, by deal value. The Daily Telegraph has described the firm as “the city’s fourth emergency service”, and it competes amongst the heavyweights as one of London’s leading business communications firms, advising on the biggest takeover globally so far this year.
Godson’s years of shuttling between Dublin and London for The Sunday Times means he was well positioned to leverage his relationships on both sides of the water, but it was Irish connections that provided Powerscourt with its initial support. “Our network of Irish contacts was integral to Powerscourt’s early success,” he explains. “Peter Sutherland was our first retained client at Goldman Sachs and early on we won a competitive pitch for the financial PR mandate managing eircom’s IPO in 2004. It was a major piece of business that set us on our way and we couldn’t afford to fail, frankly, because the inter-connectivity of boards in Ireland meant that our reputation would be tarnished elsewhere if we did.”
Acting as an intermediary between Dublin and London enabled Powerscourt, over time, to carve out its own niche representing the wider community of non-UK companies into London, a segment that now makes up about 30% of its revenues. Clients now include Spanish travel technology experts Amadeus IT Group, telecoms and ICT provider KPN and TMF Group, both based in The Netherlands. And while Powerscourt is no longer “the Irish firm in London”, Irish connections continue to play an important part in the non-UK element of the business. In recognition, last summer Powerscourt hired Claire Turvey from a Dublin agency, to top-up its expertise in Irish business and the media landscape.
Currently among the Irish clients that Powerscourt represents from London are Aer Lingus, United Drug, Greencore, DCC and the NTMA. London’s international media has been used to support Aer Lingus in fending off unwanted approaches from Ryanair and to help the NTMA communicate with global markets. More recently, Powerscourt worked for Greencore and United Drug with communications around transitioning their listings to London Stock Exchange.
“A by-product of the 2008 financial crisis was the reminder that Ireland’s key economic relationship is not Brussels, Berlin or Boston, but London. As the economy in Ireland came to a shuddering halt, people finally realised the enormous benefits of integration with the UK economy,” says Godson. “The Irish Government has also been blessed with staff in the London embassy that are proactive and have been able to take leadership in fostering the British-Irish economic relationship; their attentions no longer consumed by Northern Ireland. They have been a great asset to Irish business operating in the UK and British companies in Ireland.”
Godson maintains that there are a host of fantastic opportunities for Irish companies in London, not least because of its unique position in the global market.“London is the leading international financial centre and the media centre of the world, which is why companies want to have their stories understood here. Through London, Irish businesses can gain access to international media outlets with an international audience of investors and financial communities.
“Any business or organisation that’s serious about managing its global reputation needs to consider how its reputation is managed in and through London. There are around 250 foreign banks located in the UK and three out of four Fortune 500 companies have offices here. The captive audience in London is second to none, but what is crucial to get right first time is the way in which the city is approached and how your story is told. This is both the challenge and the opportunity.
“Our insight into the UK market gives us a unique perspective on how it can best be leveraged, whatever your business. We don’t tell our Irish clients how they should or must approach the city, but rather we guide them on how people do it here, which is an important distinction. It’s worked well for us to date, with growth of 30% per year for the last three years, and I have no doubt that as businesses become more and more engaged with reputation as a success factor, that our role will continue for many years to come,” Godson concludes.