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Starting a business in Bristol: purplefish

The PR and brand communication agency explains how Bristol's start-up community has helped them and gives a taste of the city's "diverse economic base"

Company name: purplefish
Founder: Joanna Randall
Founded: 2010
Description: We offer big agency thinking from senior experts in integrated PR, social and brand communications. It’s not one size fits all – we use the most effective combination of strategic online and offline communications tools whether that’s media relations, social media brand initiatives or high impact events.

What’s great about starting a business in Bristol?

There are a lot of creative freelancers in Bristol and purplefish started as a sole trader business so having a network of people in a similar situation to talk to was definitely helpful. Although operated out of a home office at first, Bristol has a network for freelancers who are offered free desk space around offices in the city with spare desks on different days. This gives freelancers and sole traders the opportunity to meet up and not go stir crazy home alone.

As our business has grown it has been relatively easy to find serviced office space with room to expand. Creative spaces like Engine Shed, The Paintworks and Spike Island also present fantastic networking opportunities with a range of other businesses there.

What business support in Bristol have you used? How was it? 

Starting a business in the middle of a recession presented both a challenge and an opportunity. The challenge was that there was very little business support from established entities (banks and Business Links as budgets were being drastically cut). Therefore, support came in the form of other people who havealready set up businesses and were happy to support with advice and mentoring and introductions to their contacts.  A particular supporter, who I am now setting up a social enterprise with to increase diversity in the creative sector in Bristol, is a recruiter contact of mine, Liz Gadd, who has made many valuable goodwill introductions. She is also now a non-executive director of Purplefish and I rely on her counsel on an ongoing basis which has really helped us grow over the last two years.

Name the top three reasons to set up a business in Bristol:

  1. Bristol will be one of the first cities in the world to have a super fast open data network as part of the Open Cities programme launching in March 2015. It was the UK’s first cycling City, has been ranked in the top 10 cities to visit by DK Eyewitness and will be the UK’s first European Green Capital in 2015 as well as contributing to the EU’s China programme with its Bristol China Partnership.
  2. Bristol is the biggest city in the South of England outside of London. It has fantastic travel links too and by 2015 there will be four electric trains an hour going to and from the capital. It is also the gateway to the South West and Wales and all they offer in terms of lifestyle and quality of life
  3. In Bristol we do things differently which is what makes it special. As Beth Orton of Portishead said: “there’s no such thing as the Bristol sound”. The city is a melting pot of diversity and creativity in terms of the people that live and work here and the variety of businesses. This diverse economic base also makes the city more resilient to change.

Where could Bristol be better / what does it need?

Like many other cities in the UK, while the cultural make up of the people who live in the city is very diverse, the creative sector workforce does not reflect the community.

Starting a business in Bristol

purplefish founder Joanna Randall

How easy has it been to access finance to grow?

There has been very little support from banks or any other financial support organisations. Our bank has only showed an interest in the business following a strong and fast period of growth. purplefish has had to be completely self-funded from day one, we do not owe any money and do not intend to borrow.

Where do you go to network in Bristol? 

For our line of work, Bristol Media organises some good events and has some great people running it now. There are lots of public relations and digital meet ups and also agency heads come together every now and then. The CIPR South West is very active and recently hosted a very good day long conference on the Future of Social Media. Ad hoc networking is invaluable and people are very open in this city to make new connections and introductions to each other.

Where do you take a client for a business lunch/ meeting?

There’s a number of new restaurants in Bristol that are all interesting and well regarded, as well as a few established haunts that demonstrate the wide range of food and drink options available. New restaurants include Steak of the Art, The Ox and Pata Negra while continued favourites are places like Bell’s Diner, the Glass Boat and Bordeaux Quay.

Our offices are above St Nicholas Food market which has a massive selection of different types of street food options so often clients are keen to go there, it offers great quality food from around the world at great value prices (Carribbean, Italian, Lebanese and Portuguese are a few of our regular favourites!).

Where’s great for a company night out?

For company late night options there are a couple of cocktail bars that have purposefully not marketed themselves overtly but have become popular through word of mouth alone. The Redlight’s entrance just has a telephone that you need to pick up to be let in – if there’s room. While the Milk Thistle is right in the heart of the city, its interior is all old wood panelling, so it’s like walking into a manor house.


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