Maja Pawinska Sims 17 May 2023 // 8:45AM GMT
LONDON — Former Harvard leaders Louie St Claire, Pete Marcus and Ellie Thompson, have launched technology-specialist strategic communications consultancy Delphi.
The agency, which launches with three clients in the fintech, cybersecurity and automotive sectors, will work with technology companies to help them “increase their reputation capital and transform the role that communications plays in business success.”
Harvard chairman St Claire, planning and strategy lead Marcus and CEO Thompson all joined Harvard in 2011 when it was a £1.1 million, 11-person technology PR agency. Over the next 12 years, they grew Harvard to a £10 million revenue PR and marketing agency with a team of more than 100. They left the business in February, with former Weber Shandwick and W Communications leader Rachel Friend joining Harvard as executive chair.
The trio have more than 65 years’ combined experience working with global technology leaders and challenger brands including Amazon Web Services, Meta, Square, O2, Vodafone and Microsoft.
In conversation with the three founders, Thompson told PRovoke Media: “We’ve all been in communications for a long time and we know what comms is good at when comes to the technology sector – telling powerful stories – but there is room for comms to play a bigger role in business strategy and we see an opportunity for agencies, consultancies and brands to meet that challenge in a sector where that need is greater than ever.
“We were starting from a blank sheet of paper: what could we do, if we could do anything? We want to have fun and work with people we like working with in an industry we know and are passionate about.”
Of the agency’s proposition, Marcus said: “More than any other sector, tech had huge growth during the pandemic and now we are seeing some retrenchment and layoffs, while also going through a transitional moment as we shift into a new AI-driven era, so brands need support and advice to navigate that shift. Technology is also more culturally dominant than ever, and is the most powerful and influential industry in the world: it leads the news agenda and shapes conversation, and with that power comes responsibility. This puts technology communications leaders under extreme pressure.
“Tech firms need to future-proof their functions and be invaluable assets to the businesses they serve. That means looking at comms structures, stories and the leaders tasked with telling them, as well as drawing on actionable insight and analysis from the outside to make sure the work they do is anchored in supporting business success. This all comes together to make us feel that it’s the right moment.”
St Claire added: “With Delphi, we will be bringing consultancy and coaching to our clients but with a real focus on action and delivery. Having spoken to in-house comms leaders, we know that there is a real place for a consultancy offering that plays a vastly different role to tech agencies today."
In shaping their proposition for Delphi, the team spoke to 20 communications directors in technology companies from start-ups to global brands. Four key challenges emerged from the research: their organisational structure and the trust, credibility and standing they have within the business; a lack of clarity around the strategic purpose of the business; the communications function not always being valued or empowered; and raised expectations of their agency partners, which means they are looking beyond traditional PR support in specialist areas from business consultancy to behavioural economics.
St Claire said: “In working with clients, we’ll assess what they need as a business, work out where they need help, and then inspire and act – we’re not just an advisory.”
Thompson added: “We’re not about replacing existing agencies – we’re a different sort of strategic partner: all the stuff that takes trust and close partnership at a senior level. We should even be able to make that relationship better. But there will be times we come up against other agencies. The pressure for brands to regularly switch out their agencies is intense, but it takes money and loses knowledge capital, so fresh eyes that enable them to sharpen up that strategy can be powerful.”
After their first year – which is being self-funded by the three partners – Delphi plans to attract funding early in 2024 for Create, an investment model to help like-minded specialists start niche consultancies.
St Claire said: “Our purpose is to build better technology businesses, and we can’t achieve that on our own. It’s about building an ecosystem, and investing in up and coming talent to create five or six brands that sit alongside Delphi, maybe focusing on areas such as ESG, creative, DE&I, and AI, data and the web3 space.”
Delphi launches with a set of stated intentions to ensure that as the business grows it has a positive impact on the world around it across DE&I, sustainability and wellbeing, continuing the team’s focus on these areas when they were at Harvard.
Thompson said: “DEI was always central to our work at Harvard, and it’s some of the work we’re most proud of. Our commitments for first year are to become a pending B Corp, have an inclusive culture – including underprivileged social groups and covering race, gender and the LGBTQ community – and we will diligently measure what we do.”
St Claire added: “With Delphi we have a real opportunity to do more by building an inclusive, purpose-driven business from the ground up. We intend to continue our work to drive positive change in the industry.”