Irish PR start-up CW8 Communications aims to double headcount

No Davos, but founder Seán Pattwell forecasts busy year after shock of Covid-19

Seán Pattwell, chief executive of CW8 Communications: ‘Everybody likes the Irish, you know.’ Photograph: Robbie Reynolds.

Seán Pattwell, chief executive of CW8 Communications: ‘Everybody likes the Irish, you know.’ Photograph: Robbie Reynolds.

 

Were it not for the pandemic, public relations boss Seán Pattwell would be among the Irish contingent headed for snowy Davos this January for the World Economic Forum (WEF). Instead, the slopes of the Swiss town are quiet and the founder and chief executive of CW8 Communications is eyeing WEF’s planned May relocation to his “career home town” of Singapore.

When Pattwell was in Davos with clients a year ago, the risks posed by the emerging coronavirus were not exactly top of anyone’s mind. “We were all talking about Greta [Thunberg] and her town hall.”

CW8, a cause-focused agency specialising in a “Davos-esque agenda type of advisory work” with CEO clients, had clocked up a “huge amount of physical events” in 2019 – its “go, go, go” first year – but these melted away once the pandemic struck, replaced by a string of webinars. Nevertheless, Pattwell is entering 2021 with turnover reaching seven figures, a remote workforce of seven and confidence that its services will be in sufficient demand for it to at least double its headcount over the next 18 months.

“My big message is that I am hiring. I would love fabulous talent to come join us. We want to work on really exciting things.”

Pattwell (34) founded CW8 Communications in late 2018 after leaving his global head of communications role at leasing giant Avolon to set up on his own.

From Clonakilty, he began his public relations industry career in Singapore, before his “bucket list of countries” brought him to agency offices in Spain, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Hong Kong.

In the latter, he worked for FTI Consulting and became an adviser in the region to Avolon, before Dómhnal Slattery “took a punt” and offered him an in-house role based in Dublin. The Avolon founder remains a mentor, but after two years Pattwell decided he was more of “an agency beast”.

Drawing on his CV’s global footprint and assisted by language skills picked up while on “perpetual Erasmus” at university – “my Arabic isn’t amazing,” he says – CW8 has built up an international client list from sectors such as fintech and food security. One is Pure Harvest, an agri-tech start-up in the Middle East that “grows tomatoes in the desert” and now supplies supermarkets in the UAE with produce. It raised more than $100 million (€83 million) in 2020.

Post-Covid challenges

Pattwell believes Irish communications practitioners are well-placed to help global companies navigate the post-Covid challenges. “Everybody likes the Irish, you know.”

With the timing of Covid-19 vaccine rollouts still uncertain, he is not sure what kind of physical presence his clients can have in Singapore, though he is still planning how they might use the event to address pressing civil society issues such as the combating of hate crime and disinformation.

The theme of this year’s WEF gathering of the political and business elite – only the second time it has been held outside Davos – will be “the great reset”, which Pattwell has mixed feelings about.

“The great reset is a really interesting concept. I’m just not sure we can go out with lofty sentences just yet. I think the level of inequality that will arise out of this period of time has yet to be determined, and those lofty sentences, they can be tone deaf,” he says. Tone is a frequent topic in his conversations with CEOs.

“Before we talk about the great reset, first we have to talk about the great regret. And the great regret is what any leader who missed the opportunity to do the right thing during Covid should be having now.”

While 2020 was a year for taking stock, trial and error with technology and asking people “the Meghan Markle question” – if they were okay – this year, there will be less opportunity for respite, he predicts.

“I think Q3 and Q4 will be bananas. Like it’s going to be just so, so busy.”