Alpaca Communications: Peter Elms
While working with a farmer struggling to get planning permission, this entrepreneur came up with the idea for his specialist PR agency
Name: Peter Elms
Company Name: Alpaca Communications
Location: Greater London
Date Launched: 1/10/15
No. of employees: 5
Tell us what your business does:
Alpaca Communications is a specialist PR agency that campaigns for the things we need: more homes, secure energy and better public services.
We’re different because we only campaign for things we care about – we’re not pushing sugar water.
I’ve always worked best when I’m doing something I care about.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
The idea for the business came when working on a project for a farmer who was trying to get planning permission for an energy from waste plant on his farm, which the local residents really didn’t want.
Working on the project I met Alpaca co-founders Nick Leaney and Mark Clayton who work for a company called Aardvark (another great name).
Together we realised that not many people provide great PR support for important projects like the one we were working on.
A couple of conversations later and Alpaca Communications was born.
How did you know there was a market for it?
There’s a huge need for homes and secure energy infrastructure.
One of the main barriers to getting these things built is NIMBYism, the ‘not in my back yard’ mob.
We help solve this problem.
We reckon that as long as we need homes, energy, and public services there will be a need for the type of PR we specialise in.
What were you doing before starting up?
I’ve been working for PR companies of all different types and sizes for the last 10 years as well as bit of time as a lawyer, which has been helpful when starting Alpaca Communications.
Have you always wanted to run your own business?
I’ve always wanted the things that running your own business gives you i.e. the freedom to execute your own ideas.
But I didn’t know that meant running my own business until this year. It was the right time, with the right people and the right idea.
How did you raise the money?
The best thing about starting a PR company is that you can almost run the whole thing from an IPhone.
My co-founders have invested some money into the business so that we can get some instant scale, and central London offices, but we’re all driven to keep overheads as low as possible.
Describe your business model and how you make money:
We run campaigns for clients, we simply charge our clients what it will take to make their campaign a success.
That’s what will make clients stick.
We look at what clients want to achieve and how we can help them get there, and then price accordingly.
I’m a big fan of Ascending Transaction Models (hat tip Daniel Priestly), I think this is especially valuable for start ups.
What can you do for free for a client that shows your value, doesn’t harm your business and moves them towards buying your core product?
What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
We’re not the first people to recognise that housing developments need PR in order to get built.
There are a number of companies that work in our space.
Getting the opportunity to talk to people about the way we work, that we don’t just consult, we campaign – that’s been the hardest part.
Getting people to give you their time is hard.
There’s no magic formula here, you just have to out meet, out call, out tweet and out email your competitors.
If you do that, and work smarter, things will start to happen.
What was your first big breakthrough?
Winning our first client in month one was huge for us. You invest time and money in your idea, so when the market gives you some positive feedback it’s pretty special.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
It’s way too early for me to give anyone advice! But I can honestly say that I’ve never enjoyed work as much as I do now and I think more people should feel good about the work they do.
Where do you want to be in five years’ time?
I’d like to be able to point at a few wind farms or big housing projects and say – “we did that”.