Since establishing Athene Communications in 2003, Richard Astle has helmed the consultancy through a change in government, 1 recession, 4 Olympics and hundreds of campaigns, projects and clients
Managing Director Richard Astle found time to go to three World Cups and three European Championships. Asked what the highlight of these football travels had been, he said: “The eight hour journey in convoy across the South African veld to watch England play Germany in 2010 at Bloemfontein.” And the low-light? “Travelling back after a 4-1 defeat!” As the company celebrates 15 years in 2018, we sat down with Richard to talk about starting your own company, the world of communications and what the future holds for Athene Communications:
What inspired the inception of Athene – what made you take the leap of starting your own business?
“I was previously the Corporate Affairs Director at Pearl Insurance – once a huge employer in Peterborough. The parent company ANP made some bad decisions during the ‘.com’ boom and unfortunately Pearl became insolvent during the crash. “I had the choice: find a similar job locally, or in London – or start a company of my own. I decided to start Athene Communications because I believed there was a need for a full-service agency to provide PR & communications services across the Peterborough region. “It began in my front-room briefly, but we quickly established an office at 26 Priestgate. I was very clear from the start that I wanted it to be a company, with an office; replicating the team feeling I had experience of at Pearl and other previous jobs.”
What have been the big changes for Athene Communications in the last 15 years?
“Well, l I think it’s been a game of two halves. In the company’s first seven or so years, we worked significantly in the public sector – with Peterborough City Hospital, the City Council and Greater Peterborough Enterprise Partnership among others. We had only around five core employees, with a number of associates working around us. “That all changed in 2010 with a change in government and in economics. We took the opportunity to move to an employee model and began working more in the private sector. Seeing those opportunities when they arise has been key to the success of the company.” Is there a moment that you’re most proud of? “I think certainly winning the Outstanding PR Agency of the Year at last year’s Chartered Institute of Public Relations Awards was a huge milestone for the company – to be recognised by your peers is special. “Beyond that, for me, I think it is watching the employees at this company grow and develop, both in skill and confidence. It is one of the great benefits of running your organisation – you create the environment in which people can flourish and then you watch them do just that.”
You saw the company through a recession during its fairly formative years. How were those challenges?
“We were lucky not to really lose any employees during the recession – which as an MD is always a positive. We maintained not just our headcount but our turnover too. “When I started the company I met with peers and former colleagues and they often advised me to find a specialism for the company to excel in. I decided to specialise in people who payme! Perhaps that’s part of why we stayed strong during those harder years. But of course, we have found our specialisms at Athene – fromEducation to Community Engagement. “We’ve been able to grow those specialisms separately in recent years, while keeping them within the banner of the company. This takes away some of the risk by not being aligned to the whims of one or two clients.”
What about the wider world of communications – where do you see things moving over the next 5-10 years? Any advice for anyone looking to start their own company in the sector?
“I think firstly, with communications, the fundamentals don’t change. We’re here to help clients reach their audience – it’s simply how we do that most effectively that has changed. Where once we might simply pull together a press release and send it to the Peterborough Telegraph, now there are many different potential avenues – from your own social media to digital marketing. “As for advice? You have to love communicating and hopefully be a natural communicator – whether that’s words or visuals. “You should be a curious person – and have an inquiring mind. You have to ask a lot of questions to your clients to unpick key messages – those aren’t always the most easy or obvious questions. But if you do your job right, they’ll be happy you asked.”