Porta CEO Steffan Williams departs as firm merges Redleaf and Newgate

Steffan Williams has left his role as chief executive at Porta Communications, with senior figures at Redleaf and Newgate promoted to joint CEOs as the group announces plans to combine both agencies.

Emma Kane, chief executive of Redleaf Communications, and Brian Tyson, managing partner at Newgate Australia, have been made joint CEOs, the AIM-listed group announced this morning. They replace Williams, who had been in the role since 2016 and has left with immediate effect.

Porta said Kane’s first responsibility will be to combine Porta’s two largest London-based comms businesses, Newgate and Redleaf, and lead the enlarged UK agency as its chief executive.

The combined Redleaf/Newgate operation will have 100 employees, with offices in London, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Leeds and Manchester. The wider Newgate network includes offices in Europe, Australia, China, Singapore, Hong Kong and the Middle East.

Redleaf was founded by Kane in 2000, going on to acquire integrated financial services agency Polhill in 2010. In 2014, Redleaf was acquired by Porta, and since then revenue has grown 27 per cent and pre-tax profit by 53 per cent, the holding company stated. The agency’s specialisms include strategic comms, stakeholder engagement, issues and crisis management and media relations.

Tyson, the founding managing partner of Newgate Australia, which was created in 2013, was appointed to the board of Porta in 2017. Porta said he has helped the Australian business become the largest and most profitable part of the group, combining financial comms, public affairs, corporate comms, digital, stakeholder and community engagement and a market research business.

Porta chairman John Foley said: "Redleaf has been a great acquisition for Porta and it now makes absolute strategic sense to combine the business with Newgate and create an enlarged business to capitalise on the expertise and proven track records of the exceptional people at both firms.

"In Australia, from start up five years ago with a core group of eight people in offices in Sydney and Melbourne, the business now has more than 100 professional staff and opened additional offices in Canberra, Brisbane and Perth."

'Right people to lead the group'

Speaking to PRWeek about the merger decision, Foley said: "Redleaf and Newgate have been in the same offices since earlier this year, and also Redleaf was an acquisition where the earn out period has now ended.

"I’ve been chairman of Porta for a year, and in that time we’ve done a fair bit: we’ve been beginning to sort out the balance sheet, we’ve got a bank line in place, the company’s profits and revenues are ok and going up.

"For the next stage in the group’s development, Brian and Emma are the right people to lead the group. Brian’s been on the board since 2017 and makes a really great contribution. Emma’s clearly a very experienced and dynamic leader in her own right, so the combination of the two of them in the UK and Australia could be very exciting for Porta."

He said the new entity will retain both names "for the moment", with Kane and her team "announcing moves to combine the two over the next few months".

Asked about the reasons for Williams' departure, Foley said: "It’s not really a question of who’s not appropriate, it’s a question of who is more appropriate, and most appropriate, for the next stage; it’s as simple as that."

Today’s news follows a period of change at Porta, following a reshuffle of senior positions after the departure of former chairman David Wright last May, and Italian PR firm SEC taking a 19.3 per cent stake in the group last summer.

Gavin Devine, the former MHP chief executive who had the dual role of UK CEO of Newgate and chief operating officer at Porta, departed in February this year.

Porta is set to announce its full-year results for 2017 on Monday (30 April).

Porta said in a trading statement in January that adjusted EBITDA should be around £2.5m for 2017; ahead of the result achieved in 2016 due to a Brexit-related dip, but still slightly below 2015's headline EBITDA figure.

This article was updated on Friday morning with additional comment from John Foley.

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