Category Archives: PR Week

Why New PR Agencies Thrive in a Recession

I’ve just been reading in PR Week about the wisdom or otherwise of starting up a PR agency in a recession. Hmmm, I think I’ve come across this theme before, probably in 1991 – or was it 1982?

The story goes something along the lines of: new agency is keen to build a credible client base by offering rock-bottom rates.  The clients they’ve targeted are only too happy to benefit from high calibre PR expertise at recession-busting prices.

This does of course make perfect economic sense.  I would also venture that start-ups bring more to the table than low prices to sustain their initial appeal and keep their more established competitors at bay.

The hunger to prove a point probably gives a new agency a head start with things like client service and innovative problem solving.  Fresh ideas are priceless and if PR creativity is called for, then start-ups will be more likely to tick all the boxes. 

There’s a danger that complacency may set in with typical client-agency relationships.  Some would argue that this is a comfortable environment in which personal chemistry can thrive.  Others might say that no-one wants to rock the boat when all standard PR procedures are being followed.  A new agency, on the other hand, has a blank canvas on which to introduce a raft of new ideas and follow them through with enthusiasm.

For this is the life-blood of any new business.  Enthusiasm will carry all before it when sustained and supported by true expertise and service.  The new agency’s stock will soar when everything is going well.  Needless to say, the initial rock-bottom fees will take on a value-for-money aura that no other agency can hope to shift.

There’s an intrinsic momentum with a new PR agency, a self-perpetuating energy that harnesses business opportunity with a need to succeed.  The fact that they’re operating against a backdrop of economic recession lends the whole process its own unique frisson.

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The PR Agency – And New Turks on the Block!

The latest edition of PR Week magazine features an article about PR agency structures. On the face of it, that may seem like the most boring topic in the world. For anyone in the agency business, however, it’s endlessly fascinating!

We all know that the media and marketing landscape has changed dramatically in the past few years. It’s interesting to ask how PR agencies have responded in terms of their structure and operational approach. It also begs the question: has there been any NEED to change PR agency business models?

If we’re talking here about the rise and rise of social media, another more apposite question might be: have agency people got to grips with the new social media and digital marketing age?  All the changes in the world that are made to ‘structures’ won’t affect anything if PR agency people are ignorant about the new Turks on the block.

Now, if new structures (or new business models) are devised that accommodate new-age media and marketing, then we may be getting somewhere.  If, on the other hand, there’s some nebulous shifting of deck-chairs along the lines of ad agencies (or even, god forbid, along the lines of responding to client needs!), then a lot of people are surely missing the point. 

Effective responses to change reside in people – not structures.  Flattened corporate hierarchies went a long way in recent decades towards liberating the energies of workforces across many sectors.  The beauty of the agency world – PR, advertising, design, marketing and the rest – is that traditionally they have been small enough to avoid the fug of ‘corporateness’.

By virtue of being ‘small’ (in corporate terms), agencies tend to be flexible, creative and adaptable.  Trying to apply business school organisational theory to agencies runs the risk of destroying the informal structures that made them so effective in the first place.

It will always make sense, of course, to look at how companies of any description are organised.  Getting the most out of people and other resources is the driving force behind business progress.

As far as PR agencies are concerned,  that needn’t involve structural change.  Rather, the issues are about individual mind-sets and effective leadership that will embrace change and run with it – hopefully into the arms of grateful clients. 

Who in the agency world can honestly say they know where social media is taking us?  Some will have a good grasp of the impact social media has already had and the changed context that the digital marketing world has created.  What no-one can foresee is where it’s all heading.

Less than 20 years ago, search engines weren’t on anyone’s radar.  Five years ago or so, the likes of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn were marketing unknowns.  What will happen in the next ten years – and the impact it will have on marketing – is almost impossible to predict. 

Changes made to agency structures now may be obsolete or, even worse, hopelessly inefficient in five or six years time.  The best way to respond to change is to keep things informal and generate a culture of  awareness and responsiveness to the kaleidoscope of  ideas, technology and techniques that are no doubt spooking ‘traditional’ agencies in 2011.

It’s right that people in the PR industry are questioning the status quo.  Change can be a threat if it’s not addressed.  With the appropriate responses, however, it can present new worlds of opportunity.  Age-old arguments about whether PR people should be ‘generalists’ (for which, read: G & T-tainted dilettantes) – or specialists in areas such as social media, web development or video obviously raise questions about how people-skills are organised within agencies.

Yes, we know that these skills go down in the lift every night.  PR is a ‘people business’.  Not surprisingly, though, people don’t respond well to the heavy hand of ‘structural engineering’, particularly when it constrains their creative side. 

Surely, a more productive approach would be to focus on individual development, ‘training’ if you will.  In an age where the rate of change is accelerating beyond belief, constant skills appraisal and injection (not the more complacent-sounding Continuous Professional Development!) should be a bigger priority than changing job titles, departments and command chains.

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PR in Manchester – Changes begin with MediaCityUK

(Written by Nicholas Beeson)

The recent relocation of the BBC to Salford’s MediaCityUK has provoked a lot of discussion in the PR world. A recent article featured in PR Week, discusses the impact MediaCity will have upon PR in the northwest.

The construction of MediaCity alone has cost the BBC in excess of 189 million pounds and will see high profile news outlets such as Radio 5 Live and BBC Breakfast relocate to the new Salford headquarters. The move will also see 2,300 BBC staff making the move north, but how will this impact on PR in the region?

To many, the move is seen as symbolic as the BBC try to improve relations with audiences in the north and portray the BBC as representative of the UK as whole (not just London). With all the hype surrounding the construction of MediaCity it would be expected that agencies are getting excited by the pending move.

This proves not to be the case, as Brazen founder Nina Webb says:
“I haven’t re-written my business plan on the back of it.” (referring to MediaCity).

Although the enthusiasm of MediaCity might not be shared by all, there’s no doubt that new PR opportunities will arise from the new BBC North headquarters. Many of the programmes that are being relocated are interviewee-intensive which will of course provide opportunities for agencies with clients based near MediaCity who can comment on news issues.

MediaCity is also being touted as a catalyst for growth in the regional creative industry.  The relocation will enable many agency people to create new relationships with journalists.

In many ways, the BBC’s relocation to MediaCity is great news for Manchester and the northwest. A greater emphasis may be placed on stories coming from the north, although it has to be said that London as the centre of the media universe is not under threat!

The danger with all this is that many people could overestimate the potential impact of MediaCity, and the whole exercise could prove to be a massive white elephant – as Julian Bailey, Head of Media Relations at Morrisons, so neatly puts it:

“As a PR professional based in Bradford,” he says, “I will continue to spend more time in London than Salford”.

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Manchester and PR Week’s ‘Power Book’

As if evidence were needed that PR in the UK is decidedly southern-centric, along comes the annual edition of PR Week’s ‘Power Book’, a ridiculously-named booklet packed with several hundred bright lights from the world of PR and its periphery.

If you’re looking for confirmation that Manchester, Cheshire and even the north of England actually exists in PR terms, don’t go to the Power Book. There are of course a few token luminaries from the likes of Staniforth and Tangerine but, for the most part, you’ll be hard pressed to round up a good gang of northern folk.

Not that PR people in the north will be bothered.  Whilst they can never hope to compete with arch-schmoozers like Matthew Freud or Alan Parker (who top the UK list as the most influential PR operators), northern PR practitioners know their worth.

Having said that, we all like a little recognition – especially from our peers.  Before the hair-shirts went on, there were probably a few breakfast-table smiles in Manchester and district as the selected ones saw their faces beaming out from the Power Book.

It’s only when you drill down into the content of this hideously-misnamed publication that you realise it’s all about trivia, and absolutely nothing to do with power. 

To wit, answers to questions about one’s favourite haunt for breakfast; the age of your cat; favourite gadget; and your ideal birthday present.  O Lordy – even the mighty have foibles, northern or not!

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