Financial communications specialist with broader corporate communications capabilities
There are a number of factors that set College Hill apart from its peers in the financial communications space. The first is that it isn’t trying to be all things to all people: if it isn’t the right firm for a particular client, it doesn’t mind saying so. (“We don’t need to take on business we’re not right for,” says managing director Alex Sandberg.) The second is that it places more emphasis than most on analysis, thoroughly researching what the media, the analyst community and shareholders are saying about a client company, even asking “impolite questions” of management before launching into a communications programme. The third is that armed with all that research, College Hill consultants will tend to tell a client what it needs to hear, rather than what it wants to hear.
College Hill operates across eight principal sectors, and has particular depth of expertise in financial services, leisure, and energy. The firm’s primarily focus is financial communications, with strong capabilities in financial media relations, investor relations, and M&A and IPO activity, which accounts for about a third of its financial communications income. College Hill cracked the top 10 in mergermarket’s U.K. rankings for the first half of 2005 in terms of value of deals, and was fourth (behind giants Brunswick, FD and Citigate) in terms of volume.
But about 25 percent of the firm’s work is now focused on areas other than the capital markets, including some broader brand positioning work, particularly in the business to business sector, as well as crisis management (including litigation support) and employee communications. The firm also has one of the top creative teams in the financial world, producing about 40 annual reports a year, designing client websites, and even handling corporate identity assignments.
College Hill has grown organically over its 10 years in business and now, with about 90 people and fee income of more than £8.6 million ranks in the top five of the PR Week U.K. league table. Revenues were flat last year, but Sandberg says income through the first half of 2005 was around 20 percent higher than the same period last year. Clients include the British Chambers of Commerce; Caledonia Investments, the Crown Estate, Her Majesty’s Treasury, Lloyd’s of London, Old Mutual, Royal Mail, South African Tourism, Tommy Hilfiger, and Tote.
In addition to Sandberg himself, the firm has 17 partners, 10 of whom have been together for the past 10 years, and the remainder of whom have five years each with the firm—a stability that isn’t matched by many competitors in the turbulent City PR arena. The team includes Gareth David, a former deputy city editor at the Sunday Times, who has been with College Hill for 12 years and is responsible for the transport, property and utilities teams; Tony Friend, who worked in corporate finance before joining the firm eight years ago, and who runs the financial services and oil and gas teams; creative director Guy Lane, a 14-year veteran; Mark Garraway, who was head of research at the Confederation of British Industry and who is now responsible for the food and beverage and building and construction teams, with 17 College Hill years under his belt; and 15-year veteran Matthew Smallwood, a former stockbroker who runs the leisure and media teams. And Sandberg made a major investment in 2004, hiring former Whitehead Mann chief operation officer and Henley Centre managing director Geoff Smith in a senior role with a focus on managing the business.
The firm works primarily in the U.K., but has experts in the French and German markets on staff in London, and works with a network of independent consultants in nine European markets when the need arises. College Hill also has its own office in Johannesburg, South Africa.