Almost 30 years ago in 1989, dewinter’s founder and former editor of the Liverpool Weekly News, Hems de Winter, set up the agency to deliver high-quality design, stunning media relations and strategic marketing and PR support to their clients. If you’re lucky enough to go on a tour around their offices, expect to yourself having to look twice at certain parts as there’s a chance you’ll come across lots of little pairs of clogs that have been hidden under office desks and behind flower pots, in homage to Hems de Winter’s Dutch heritage.
dewinter combine their roots in journalism with expertise in content marketing. They were storytellers then and they remain so now, the only difference being that their stories now appear as online articles, blogs, social media content, infographics, videos and much more, as well as traditional column inches.
“We’ve been storytelling since 1989 and have evolved drastically over the years, from pure PR into a new-breed of customer engagement agency,” says Kate Cox, MD at dewinter, who became a partner in the business 11 years ago and now fully owns and leads the agency, along with the specialist national retail PR consultancy, theretailroom.
“Storytelling is such a valuable skill and always has been. They engage, inspire and educate. With the plethora of communications channels now, our creative stories ensure our clients achieve stand-out across any platform.”
The agency’s heritage lies in the historic city of Chester. In 2014, they opened a small office in Liverpool as a platform for growth in the city and then in 2016 doubled their headcount and moved into the Cotton Exchange Building. “Although our roots are in Chester, I married a Liverpudlian and the family’s extended family are based all over Merseyside, so it was a wonderful opportunity to work in the city that we all love.
“Despite our North West office locations, we deliver award-winning campaigns for national and international clients, so last year we opened a London office in Finsbury Square to provide a base in the capital where we can meet with our clients, suppliers and media contacts,” Kate explains.
Dewinter’s clients are many and varied, from big-name brands to boutique British brands. They work with the likes of Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod, an international festival of music, dance, culture and peace, Nuffield Health and world-leading logistics provider, Flex. Then of course, in support of Merseyside’s entrepreneurial spirit, they promote the Merseyside Innovation Awards throughout the region. Their sister company, theretailroom, is one of the UK’s leading shopping centre and retail specialist marketing agencies, working with centres up and down the country, and supporting retail brands including Aqua Optima, authentic American BBQ restaurant chain, Red Dog Saloon, and English heritage brand, Royal Crown Derby, the fine bone china perfectionist that has manufactured luxury tableware and giftware in England for more than 260 years.
“Every single client we work with has fascinating and engaging stories to tell – it’s our job to identify and share them. We pride ourselves on building close relationships with our clients and being an extension of their team rather than just a supplier. For that reason, it’s always a highlight when we achieve huge headlines and footfall figures that really make a difference for our clients,” says Kate.
“This recently happened with Combermere Abbey, who we were working with to help launch their new, exclusive wedding venue. We achieved BBC, ITV, Daily Express and front page on The Telegraph’s property supplement. We have such a close relationship with clients and a deep understanding of the audiences, that we’re like one big family and that’s a fantastic feeling.”“ We always try to go above and beyond to achieve the best possible results.”
When it comes to their highlights and wins as a company it all very much depends on their client’s business objectives and their vision of success. “When working with Royal Crown Derby on the launch of its commemorative collection celebrating the birth of Princess Charlotte, it was all about driving sales through the website as well as brand awareness reach. Tens of thousands of pounds were delivered. Ultimately, we celebrate success that makes a difference to our client’s business.”
Dewinter, unsurprisingly, was named PR Agency of the Year at the City of Liverpool Business Awards last year, which for them “was the icing on the cake for 2017 as it really did cement our arrival in the city,” reflects Kate. “We do enjoy winning awards… every CIPR accolade or Purple Apple is recognition of our fantastic, hard-working team’s efforts that not only benefits the agency but our clients too.”“ Respecting one another is a given. We encourage one another to challenge ideas and when things go wrong, as they inevitably do, we have a no-blame culture. ”
What sets them apart from everyone else is how they work collectively, which is something that is fed back to them frequently by their clients. “We’re completely transparent, trusted advisors, and experienced and creative communicators who are committed to our clients. We always try to go above and beyond to achieve the best possible results,” she says.
“Our approach to delivery also sets us apart, we don’t set wishy-washy goals. We align our strategy and tactics with our clients’ business objectives and we don’t stop until our targets are achieved. We’re so confident in our media liaison skills that if we issue a story and it doesn’t gain coverage, we’ll draft and issue another one at no cost.”
You’ll find that over the years behind many successful campaigns, team dewinter have been the creative thinkers and doers behind them. With that in mind, we couldn’t help but be curious about what’s needed in terms of skills and outlook for somebody to join their team. “We’re a team of professional and experienced storytellers. From our writers and designers to videographers and event managers. We don’t just create content – we bring it to life. That’s a constant across the team,” reflects Kate. “We’re also all completely committed to our clients and one another. We’re a small team so we’re like a family. We look after one another and we even have house rules that are emblazoned on our office walls. Respecting one another is a given. We encourage one another to challenge ideas and when things go wrong, as they inevitably do, we have a no-blame culture. We identify what went wrong, work together to fix it and then put measures in place to ensure the same mistakes don’t happen again.”
Unity is what springs to mind when speaking with Kate, but unity in a sense that there’s a good level of understanding amongst the team and everyone is there to not only work hard but to have a good time together doing so. “We’re more than a group of colleagues, we really are a family and we look out for one another and celebrate our successes as a team,” says Kate. “Every member of our team here is fun, fearless and free – searching for joy in everything that we do. They’re our house rules and they perfectly summarise our company culture.
“When we’re pitching for new business we try to get under the skin of potential clients, which has led to team days out on zip wires and spa days to UK-wide tours of shopping centres.”
As a team, they try to not get too bogged down in the day-to-day and make time for learning and creativity. Through regular away days and ‘dewinter Walkabouts’, which allow team members to spend time in agencies that offer different services to them –from web development to videography – so that the team are aware and up to date with what’s happening in the wider creative sector. “We find it’s a great way to generate ideas and grow the agency’s knowledge base, as well as making connections with other businesses.”
They’re a team that are not scared to try new things and aren’t confined to what is normally done. Perhaps this is where their creativity comes from, while also combining it with commercial understanding. “Even if it’s the most wonderful idea in the world, if it doesn’t deliver on our client’s business objectives, we don’t do it.”“ Every member of our team here is fun, fearless and free – searching for joy in everything that we do.”
Like for many industries, the skills required to enter the world of PR and Marketing have changed dramatically over the years. An example of that would be; five years ago they would have been looking for separate PR Executives and Community Managers, but now they’re looking for executives with a much broader range of skills. “Traditional skills like organising events, writing press releases and issuing them to media are still important, but they also need to be able to create digital content, manage social channels and update website content,” she explains. “If they don’t have those skills, we will look for people who demonstrate a willingness to get stuck in and have a go. We’re always looking for people who want to learn. Nothing is static anymore so even those of us who have 20 years in the industry are learning new skills on a weekly basis.”
With the industry constantly evolving, they’re not standing still when it comes to growing their team and bringing in new perspectives. Their approach to hiring is pro-active and forward thinking, as much as it is inspiring. “Nurturing fresh talent is something we’re passionate about. Last year we appointed our Liverpool office apprentice on a 12-month programme and will be extending the apprentice programme this year. We lecture and present to students at Liverpool Hope University, Liverpool John Moores University, the University of Chester and various colleges across the North West.” Kate continues, “we have dedicated support for Liverpool Hope University’s Insight to Business Awards and we have welcomed more than 18 local work experience and placement students in the last 18 months.”
On the topic of looking ahead, we ask what’s on the horizon for dewinter? Well, theretailroom is a big focus for the business and they have extensive plans to further develop it by providing industry reports, events and campaigns. In fact, it was recently appointed by Aqua Optima, to support its ambition of becoming the leading water filtration brand in the UK, as well as launch its partnership with parkrun UK. They’ll also be ramping up to their second Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod in July who are just days away for announcing their headliners for the finale festival, Llanfest.
“As well as maintaining our presence in Liverpool and Chester business communities we plan to utilise our new London office space to continue to grow awareness of both dewinter and Theretailroom in the capital and beyond,” ends Kate.