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Blog: Growth for problem-solving PR agency

21 March 2023

Sandstar Communications is an international PR and marketing agency established 10 years ago. The business, based at DOCK in Leicester, offers a range of services centred around copywriting from supporting a business with its marketing strategy, media relations, exhibitions and events to advertising and social media.

The business was started by Shreek Raivadera and Simon Gribbon, friends from the age of four. Though they lost touch as teenagers, they reconnected some 20 years later when Shreek bumped into Simon at a job interview for a technology PR agency in Rutland.

Shreek talks about the growth of the business, the help they’ve received and the current business environment.

Business in the early days

We didn’t really know about running a business, so in the very early days, we went through a start-up programme with Leicester City Council which is how we met Business Adviser, Russ Pacey. It was fantastic. It gave us a good grounding in the basics of HR, finance and such things. Russ also gave us the confidence to go for it and do it in a rational, sensible way.

As you would expect of any business coach, he doesn’t give you the answers or tell you what you should do but he asks you the hard questions, so you have to think about it yourself. As a start up you know the answers, you just don’t know the questions to get them out of yourself. He did a really good job of helping us reflect on what we should be doing.

We met with Russ several times. He also made us think about the future. When you start up all you can think about is today and tomorrow. He got us thinking about the things you are going to face in three years’ time. They are not problems because if you think about them now, they won’t be problems. You’ll spend the next three years making sure they won’t become problems. This was great in helping us grow the business and gave us confidence to take on staff.

After the first year, we moved into a small office at DOCK Leicester. We’ve moved a few times within DOCK since then and are now in its biggest office. The team has also grown and includes three employees along with myself and Simon.

The pandemic caused huge challenges – how did it affect your business?

We’ve been insanely lucky. All through the pandemic we actually grew as a business and were very lucky with the client base.

One or two went very quiet but most of our clients changed the way they do business. Some doing in-person events, switched to online events and therefore needed support. We didn’t know how online events worked, but that’s what we do, we solve problems. We went and found out, we learnt and taught ourselves. We found companies that do it and managed the process with the content for our clients.

How are you coping in the current cost of living crisis?

Now we are beginning to see some clients feeling the impact. Some are a little more wary because there’s a fear that a recession is coming.

We have clients ranging from super local to healthcare charities, cancer charities to national organisations. We’ve got international clients too. It’s largely the US clients who are naturally more conservative, thinking things like ‘in Q3 there’s going to be a recession, so we’ll stop spending now’.

Our argument is this is madness. If there isn’t a recession in Q3 you’ve just killed your marketing for six months. What impact would that have on your business?

It is a bit of a challenge, but we are always hopeful. We have strong prospects and good relationships. Our growth has been organic based on referrals and we rarely do a cold pitch. We work well when we know the people and they trust us.

Ambition to Grow programme has given us tools

I’m currently on the Ambition to Grow programme for high-growth companies. It gives you the tools to reflect on your own business and it’s quite challenging in terms of looking at your business structure and leadership. You’re looking at your own skills and those of your partners and thinking these are our strengths – these are mine; these are yours – and getting the best from people.

It’s been really useful both from the experts brought in as well as the peer-to-peer side. There’s such a variety of businesses, it’s opened our eyes to how they’ve solved problems and made me think, could I apply that to my business?

What makes your business stand out?

Our sector knowledge. We know a lot about particular types of technology – electronics, power supplies, power management and streaming media. We know these markets and can write about them easily. The other side is travel and tourism, which is Simon’s background – leisure, hospitality and place marketing is also a big part of what we do. However, we’ve really broadened our industry expertise in the last few years to include sectors such as healthcare, charities, air pollution, science, space, education and many more.

The other thing is our writing. We are good with words, we’ve stayed focused. We produce content and leave the other stuff to the experts – we work with some great graphic designers for example and rely on them to create the graphics around our words.

That’s what sets us apart. We are creative problem solvers. Clients come to us with kind of a vague problem. We help them nail down what the problem is and help them solve it.

We were also early adopters of hybrid working. It’s a bit old now because everyone is doing it. Not only are we a flexible employer, everyone says that, but we genuinely were. We were able to make the work fit in around the way people wanted to work.

A lot of companies do that now, but we were doing that before we had to. So we’re really comfortable with how that works and how we work in a hybrid world.

With thanks to Shreek for his time in putting this blog together. We wish the Sandstar team great success in the future.

Pic: l-r Simon Gribbon and Shreek Raivadera outside their offices at DOCK.