‘I used to have a poor view of PR,’ recalls the former Watchdog presenter, who today balances his commitments on Channel Five’s The Wright Stuff with the chairman’s role at rapidly expanding media agency IncrediBull Ideas. ‘I was doing some voluntary work with the Cystic Fibrosis Trust and just didn’t think they were getting the recognition they deserved. Then I met Richard [Parkinson, an experienced public relations executive and Bull’s business partner] in the BBC bar and together we decided we could do a lot better for them. We pitched for the account, won it and then realised that we’d have to work on setting up the company.’
Five years and £10,000 later (Bull and Parkinson each put £5,000 into the business at the start) IncrediBull Ideas is pulling in more than £3 million of turnover a year, employing 25 individuals and operating four interlinked media businesses, namely PR, events, design and talent management. To Parkinson, however, these subsequent successes all relate back to the Cystic Fibrosis contract. ‘Having a charity as our first client was actually really useful,’ he explains. ‘It means you have to be extremely efficient, you have to get the most you can from their budgets and it just gives you a very different perspective.’
Given the success of this account – IncrediBull Ideas continues to work with the charity in a PR capacity and its events division organises the Cystic Fibrosis awards every year – it is little surprise that numerous other not-for-profit firms are also clients. And alongside the likes of Age Concern, Barnardo’s and Cancer Research UK, sit an impressive stable of major corporations as well, from Coca Cola and HP all the way through to National Express and the Lawn Tennis Association.
To Bull, the diversity of the services IncrediBull now has to offer is integral to the firm’s success. ‘Having the four divisions gives us two main advantages. Firstly we can build our offering around our diversity, so if people just want PR that’s fine but these days people come here for the additional things we can offer. Secondly, as we don’t have to outsource things like design, we can turn round jobs very rapidly.’
Going forward, Bull notes that ‘we’ve been looking at acquisitions in both the PR and events management arenas, but while we’ve seen some nice companies, many of the people we’ve met won’t go the extra mile, won’t lick stamps, etc, when we really need them to, so I think the challenge for us is to identify the right individuals. That doesn’t mean we’re ruling out acquisitions altogether though and we’re looking to expand in talent management and events, then PR. In future we will grow more aggressively.’