It is the first acquisition Freshwater has completed since it bought Edinburgh-based Profile Plus in 2010.
After a £2.6m management buyout earlier this year, the agency’s growth strategy is focused on combining organic growth and strategic acquisitions – which it will carry out over the next three to five years.
Samuels replaces Saffron Pinegar, who spent four years leading health at Freshwater before starting a new role as head of comms and campaigns at South West London and St George's Mental Health NHS Trust this month.
He will head a team of seven and report to Freshwater chief executive Angharad Neagle.
Samuels said: "Great healthcare communications makes a significant contribution to the quality of patient care and staff satisfaction and welfare. Freshwater’s expertise in public engagement and involvement supports patients and communities in shaping their care and services. I look forward to working with our clients in delivering healthcare communications that make a real difference for patients and staff."
And John Underwood, executive director of Freshwater, commented: "The acquisition of Red Squirrel Communications is an exciting first step in Freshwater’s growth trajectory, following the management buyout earlier this year."
He added: "Healthcare is an important sector for Freshwater, whose income represents 25 per cent of our revenue. Meanwhile, our public affairs offering is growing, especially in the rail and infrastructure sectors. Having such an experienced and highly skilled consultant as Nick join our ranks is a huge boost to our already formidable team."
Samuels became a parliamentary researcher after graduating in 1991, and spent four years working for MPs such as Harriet Harman, Alan Milburn, Stephen Byers and Peter Hain.
He left the world of politics in 1995 to become head of comms at the Institute for Health Services Management. Since then Samuels has worked in senior comms roles for health organisations ranging from the Royal College of Physicians to NHS Trusts.
He has led comms teams at several NHS Trusts that have undertaken major reconfiguration projects. One example was the creation of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust in 2007 – the result of the biggest Trust merger in NHS history, between Hammersmith Hospitals NHS Trust, St Mary’s Hospital NHS Trust and Imperial College London’s Faculty of Medicine.
Samuels founded Red Squirrel Communications, which specialised in comms consultancy for NHS Trusts, a decade ago.
A former chairman of the Association for Healthcare Communications and Marketing, he is a visiting fellow at Buckinghamshire New University’s Centre for Health Communication Research and Excellence.
Freshwater has more than 50 staff based in Cardiff and London, and works for clients in sectors such as professional services, healthcare, infrastructure, property, transport, retail and tourism.
One of 27 agencies on the UK Government Campaign Solutions framework, it had a turnover of £4.8m in the year ending 31 August 2018 – during which period it made an operating profit of £610,000.
Some of the firm's previous health clients have included Sutton Merton and Surrey Downs CCG, Isle of Wight NHS Trust, Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust, National Cancer Transformation Programme, North Staffordshire Clinical Commissioning Group, and NHS England.
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