A winning formula

Flo Powell and Alex Hankinson, the joint managing directors behind award-winning B2B PR agency Midnight Communications, are passionate about helping businesses shape up and succeed

This summer, Brighton & Hove-based PR consultancy Midnight Communications celebrated a huge win. The team took home the ‘Small Consultancy of the Year’ award for the South East at the PRCA DARE Awards, a programme that recognises the very best PR and communications professionals across the UK.

For joint managing directors Flo Powell and Alex Hankinson, it was an incredibly proud moment – and one that represented a real milestone. Midnight Communications has been around since 1995, but it wasn’t until 2018 that Flo and Alex took over the company following a management buyout. Over the last five years, the agency has enjoyed impressive growth, exemplified by a surge of new clients and exceptional campaign results, leading the firm to secure a 30% increase in fee income in 2022, with turnover up 24%.

Alex explains that Midnight is so focused on its clients and helping them win awards, that the team haven’t had much time to do their own PR or to reflect on the recent PRCA DARE victory. “It means such a lot to receive the recognition,” she says. “We’re not out to take over the world but it’s important to us to have been able to make Midnight truly our own since we bought the business. We’ve kept all the very best bits that made Midnight such a strong brand in the first place and introduced the innovation and personal touches that make it the business it is today. We’re incredibly proud of the growth we’ve achieved and extremely grateful for all the hard work from our team, as well as the support from our partners, consultants, and, of course, wonderful clients.”

As a leading B2B PR specialist, Midnight is dedicated to helping businesses throughout the South East, as well as the wider UK, maximise their potential. “We’ve stayed true to our core PR, consultancy and media relations services ever since our MBO,” states Flo. “We can facilitate a broad range of business requirements, including copywriting and social media management, but that’s all there to amplify our core service. We really are the positive, curious, can-do partner our clients want, and we offer the same facilities and processes as larger agencies.”

Midnight Communications helps tell the stories of professional services brands, including law firms, accountancy companies, tax advisors, and insurance brokers and providers, as well as businesses operating in the built environment – construction companies, contractors, merchants, suppliers and property developers. The agency’s portfolio also centres on creating results-focused campaigns for facilities management and workplace caterers and leadership development and HR consultants, alongside delivering strategic PR to further the impact of community-focused organisations, businesses and charities.

Because the consultancy has a broad remit within the national B2B market, every day is different. This, Flo and Alex point out, is what makes the job so interesting and fulfilling. For example, at the moment, Midnight is helping Newhaven Enterprise Zone reinvent the image of its socially deprived town centre and marina, transforming it into a business success story and hub for the arts.

The team are also working with London Gatwick to raise awareness of the airport’s charitable trust, which has been set up to support local charities and community groups. “The cost-of-living crisis has put charities and support organisations under pressure, with finding the funds and resources to run operations and support audiences increasingly challenging,” observes Flo. “This is precisely why London Gatwick drafted in Midnight to shine a light on its Gatwick Airport Community Trust and Gatwick Foundation Fund. We’ve generated considerable interest and coverage in regional media in support of this campaign.”

At present, Midnight boasts 23 retained clients, including 20 renewed and three new for 2023. In 2022, the agency gained five new clients and renewed 15 retainers. “We are proud to have secured significant wins with Highbourne Group and London Gatwick, and grown some of our largest accounts, such as Compass Group,” explains Alex. “We consistently surpass our key performance indicators. For example, we overshot the agreed 36 items of press coverage for legal firm Mayo Wynne Baxter, securing 207 in total. Overall, we are dedicated to delivering exceptional results for our clients and look forward to continued growth and success. Midnight Communications set some very ambitious targets and hit them all in the first half of this year, so 2023 looks set to be another record-breaker!”

As far as achievements go, the ‘Small Consultancy of the Year’ PRCA DARE award isn’t the only award Midnight has bagged. In 2022, it won Gold for ‘Best Corporate and Business Campaign’ at the CIPR PRide Awards for its work with contract caterer Eurest, part of Compass Group UK & Ireland, a campaign which has contributed to the company’s success, meeting its commercial target several months ahead of schedule.

More recently, the team found out that Midnight has been shortlisted for the CIPR PRide Award for ‘Small PR Consultancy of the Year in the South of England and Channel Islands’. “As the world’s only Royal Chartered professional body for public relations practitioners, and with nearly 10,000 members, it’s such a privilege to be nominated,” says Alex.

The success Midnight Communications has experienced has necessitated expansion. This year, the company relocated to a brand-new office at The Old Market in central Brighton & Hove to accommodate a growing team. “We needed to move as we’ve scaled up considerably over the past year or so and now number 10 core members,” explains Alex. “We plan to expand to 12 by the end of 2023, hiring two full-time Brighton & Hove-based employees, as well as further freelance support. While we strive for diversity, we recognise that it is not very diverse in Brighton & Hove so have made plans to collaborate with other PR agency owners in the city to come together to tackle this issue and open new routes into employment.”

As the Midnight team grows, Alex says that staff retention will continue to be prioritised. The agency prides itself on its low staff turnover, and to maintain employee wellbeing and satisfaction, offers a robust benefits package, which includes full private health care, a free gym membership, extra days off for holidays, loyalty and birthdays, and access to a wellbeing platform with 24-hour phone counselling. To further enhance this, Midnight will be introducing With Juno, offering flexible benefits like yoga, cooking classes, therapy and spa treatments.

Alex and Flo describe Midnight as a solid agency with a secure foundation and positive outlook. “Often, as businesses grow, those all-important central tenets – to lead teams with kindness and keep a down-to-earth attitude – get forgotten, but we work hard to stay true to who we are,” says Flo. “While we’re a smaller team, we run our business much as a larger agency would, so we don’t need to retrofit processes as we grow. We have a completely new finance system, for example, and have invested in a finance director and head of people. We’re also very proud of our recent brand relaunch and newly developed website – it really reflects who we are and demonstrates our B2B prowess.”

Like many organisations, Midnight is adjusting to the new hybrid working expectations, which present unique challenges to a creative, collaborative and campaign-focused business. Bouncing ideas around is an important part of the agency’s process so striking a balance between team cohesion and new work-life demands has been vital. “Our current arrangement involves at least three days in the office each week, with fixed Mondays and Tuesdays, allowing flexibility for the remaining days,” says Flo. “Effective communication and seamless operations are obviously very important, and we’re making concerted efforts to ensure everything runs smoothly and people’s needs are accommodated. That said, we’ve always been flexible where we can and gone out of our way to support our team as their life needs change.”

The company holds a ‘weekend newspapers’ meeting on Mondays to kickstart the week with shared insights, and is actively planning a series of engaging events that extend beyond traditional pub gatherings, ensuring diverse opportunities for team bonding. “One noteworthy occasion was our AGM in June,” explains Flo. “We integrated strategic planning and brainstorming sessions with some exciting and memorable activities like axe throwing and clay pigeon shooting. To further strengthen our team dynamics, we’ve planned a DiSC session. The aim is to enhance self-awareness and promote understanding of each other’s working styles, facilitating smoother collaboration and effective teamwork. We’re committed to maintaining a vibrant and cohesive team because we’ve always wanted to create our dream agency. Everyone has clearly defined roles, but we’re linear rather than top-down – all opinions are equally valid.”

It has been an amazing five years for Midnight Communications, but what do the next five hold? Well, the goal is to double in size and propel the business to new heights. To achieve this, the consultancy has devised a comprehensive strategy focused on several key aspects, which, together, will amplify its brand presence and drive even more significant results for its clients.

Alex reveals: “Firstly, we aim to enhance our services by providing more visually compelling and impactful offerings that seamlessly support our core activities. By leveraging cutting-edge visual services, we can better engage our clients and offer a more immersive experience. Additionally, we recognise the importance of keen insights in driving success, so we plan to collaborate closely with a qualitative research partner to gain deeper understanding and generate valuable insights. We’re also planning to develop a range of other research initiatives to further enhance our knowledge and expertise. Becoming more data-driven is central to our growth strategy. Midnight is committed to gathering extensive client feedback through various initiatives and utilising this data to inform and refine our services. By incorporating client preferences and needs into our offerings, we can ensure greater client satisfaction and build lasting partnerships. Finally, we’ll complement our consistent drumbeat activity with more targeted and impactful campaign-driven efforts.”

As the interview draws to a close, I ask Flo and Alex for their thoughts on the current B2B PR landscape. They identify that businesses are navigating a time of heightened risk and uncertainty due to worldwide forces like globalisation, geopolitical changes, the pandemic and technological advancements. So, the way they connect with their target audiences and the world at large is rapidly evolving too, leading to a transformation of PR strategies to meet new demands.

The pair add that, at the same time, an artificial intelligence revolution is underway, but it’s not diminishing the value of human input. “There’s a growing recognition of the importance of human content and interaction,” says Flo. “Content that showcases not just knowledge but also conveys the human experience is ever-more important. With this in mind, embracing openness is becoming more important for business leaders and brand owners. They must be willing to openly discuss both their successes and their shortcomings, acknowledging that they, too, are fallible.”

She continues: “Today’s audiences are discerning and can easily detect insincere green-washing or weak ESG and D&I strategies. To succeed in the years ahead, authenticity and substance must be at the core of communication. This shift has given rise to a key PR trend – businesses must focus on conveying tangible evidence and concrete details to establish brand credibility. Lip service simply won’t cut it.”

Midnight’s top PR advice to SMEs

  • Consider the assets at your disposal and identify untapped resources, such as data, expertise, partnerships or branch networks. As an external agency with a strong journalistic culture, we often come across remarkable stories or assets, along with a wealth of data that can be leveraged to enhance companies’ narratives.
  • Put yourself in your audience’s shoes and understand what they want to hear. Focus on how you can genuinely help them, rather than simply promoting your brand.
  • Be realistic about what PR can achieve. While brands are valuable, don’t expect a single piece of media coverage to generate an immediate surge in sales.
  • Equally, never underestimate the profound impact of PR in building a robust reputation, which holds significant financial value in terms of investor confidence, customer perception and employee morale. PR isn’t a quick fix. It serves as a long-term investment in shaping a positive brand image.

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