Location, location, location

The majority of the UK PR industry is based in London, figures from the PR Census show. Are non-London agencies missing out? Cathy Bussey investigates.

Location, Location, Location
Location, Location, Location

Judging by figures revealed in PRWeek and the PRCA's PR Census 2011, the UK PR industry seems to have structured itself around the location of the media. By far the largest proportion of the industry is based in London, where the national press is housed. The rest of the industry is spread across the UK, as is the regional press.

The figures (see below) will come as no surprise, as it has long been acknowledged that the PR industry, in particular the consultancy and agency world, is exceptionally London-centric. The question, therefore, is are non-London PR agencies 'regional' rather than national agencies?

There are obvious advantages to being located in London. Agencies in the capital are close to the country's political and financial centres, as well as the headquarters of the UK's national media. Many large national and international firms and organisations are also headquartered in London. And in the endless search for talent, agencies based in London may feel they have a competitive edge.

Given these advantages, agencies based outside of London are arguably 'missing out', both on valuable relationships with national media and opportunities with big-name, big-budget clients. But 49 per cent of the UK PR industry chooses to base itself outside the capital, and not just for the more affordable conditions.

'If it was ever true, the idea that "regional" agencies could not mount national campaigns is certainly now dead,' says Francis Ingham, CEO of the PRCA. 'The PR Census and the PRCA's business matching service show that clients increasingly understand PR excellence and the ability to deliver nationwide campaigns exist in many non-London agencies.'

Here PRWeek presents the views of four PR agencies located outside the capital, explaining what they gain from a 'regional' location.

PR IN THE UK
% working in the industry by region
South East 12%
Greater London 51%
Midlands 12%
South West & Wales 6%
North West 6%
North East & Yorkshire 6%
Scotland, NI & Channel Islands 4% 

19% in PR - In the South West and Wales are male (UK lowest)

47% in PR - The North East and Yorkshire are male (UK highest)

48 - Average weekly hours worked by PROs in London (UK highest)

43.9 - Average weekly hours worked by PROs in the South West & Wales (UK lowest)

90% of the PR workforce in London is white (UK lowest)

98% of the PR workforce in Scotland is white (UK highest)

£50,587 - The average salary for those working in PR in the North East & Yorkshire (UK highest outside London)

£33,094 - The average salary for those working in PR in the North West (UK lowest)

 

MANCHESTER - TANGERINE

Sandy Linsay

Sandy Lindsay, MD

"When Sir Alex Ferguson wakes each morning, does he lie there feeling smug because he coaches the region's leading footie team? Does he buggery! He lies there feeling frustrated because his is 'only' the second best club in Europe.

When I launched Tangerine, Manchester was my home and it never occurred to me that my business would reside anywhere else. But neither did it occur to me that this would mean we would be second division.

Growing up as a competitive dancer, I was told there's no point doing anything unless you can be the best. So this was a natural intention for Tangerine - location was, and is, irrelevant.

Our first client was GUS Home Shopping, which begot Baxi Potterton, which begot Pets at Home. All national brands, wanting national exposure.

Less than ten per cent of our fees come from clients only wanting North West exposure. Most want national exposure.

The mad 90s myth that only London agencies can achieve national coverage is dead in all but the most old school of client psyches.

So location is pure geography - it's an implacable fact that the lion's share of companies are based in the South, but this doesn't mean we can't work with them.

More than half of our fee income comes from the lower half of the UK, including ICI Paints, AkzoNobel and Mars Drinks.

The only 'issue' with this is the same when the polarities are reversed for London agencies working with northern clients - travel."

SOUTHAMPTON - CARSWELL GOULD

Gill Gould

Gill Gould, Managing partner

"There are certainly advantages to being located outside of London when it comes to PR. For me, picking Southampton was a conscious decision when I founded Carswell Gould 15 years ago. Having worked in the marine industry previously it was the perfect base from which to build an agency working with marine clients.

Each year we are heavily involved in the PSP Southampton Boat Show with a number of our clients, and getting to Cowes Week is a 20-minute skip across on the Fast Cat.

However, our agency has evolved over the years and now we work with clients across a wide range of sectors, from healthcare to education and finance to construction. This proves that while being in the regions can provide you with the perfect platform to specialise in a sector, there are always opportunities to diversify your client base.

While national companies are generally attracted to the capital, we still win national campaigns, and we work closely with business associations such as Business Solent to attract more national companies to the area. Similarly, we support schemes that retain talented graduates from the region's many universities and find that with Bournemouth University on our doorstep, we are never short of gifted PR, web or design graduates looking for jobs. The university is one of the most highly regarded in the UK, both for design and PR.

London is only an hour away, so we regularly visit journalists at their offices and invite them to client events such as Cowes Week and the PSP Southampton Boat Show. Add to that the power of Twitter, Facebook and Skype and London only seems a stone's throw away."

GUERNSEY - ORCHARD PR

Steve Falla

Steve Falla, Director

"It doesn't really matter where in the world you sit. Remote working means you can never be quite sure where people are located anyway; it's the quality of work that matters.

I was born in Guernsey, then moved to the UK as a news journalist, but was lured back by the island's lifestyle and the opportunity to be a first mover in PR in the late 80s. Initially I worked for the first pan-Channel Island PR firm and then started Orchard in 1996.

In some respects we are 'national', as Guernsey and Jersey are independent, self-governed, vibrant business communities, with lots of media - including two daily papers, four radio stations and two TV stations.

We gain a lot from our location as we are part of an international community, in which many people have breadth of experience across a number of geographies, bringing a cosmopolitan flavour to the place and the way business is conducted. We engage with the media our clients need to talk to, whether local, national or international.

The downsides of our location are we're less likely to pitch for big London accounts - or charge as much as our peers in the capital.

Eighty per cent of our senior team have worked in comms in London and we hire high calibre account executives. They get to combine a highly professional varied career with a Guernsey lifestyle and that's tempting at all ages, yet we don't suffer from a 'big fish, small pond' mentality.

In any event, we're in London frequently. It's less than two hours door to door to Victoria station - so, closer than from Bristol."

ST ALBANS - TWELVE THIRTY EIGHT

Hamish Thompson

Hamish Thompson, Creative director

"Can a PR agency be national when it is based in the regions? You bet.

When I set up Twelve Thirty Eight I thought very carefully about whether to start in London or St Albans, where we're based.

Starting here has turned out to be the right decision because the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. In fact, I'm not sure what the disadvantages are.

Here's a small sample of the upside. We're based right on the Market Square and on a Wednesday I can wander around the market and hear what's on the minds of a much more diverse group of people than you would find in any central London street. That's hugely important for insights and the storytelling process.

By being here, we are plugged into the nuances of opinion, aspiration and concern of many more sub-groups of Britain's spenders.

Our work for clients is all about tapping into the spending power of the suburbs, dormitory towns and regional cities as well as the capital. We want to be close to where commuters travel from as well as travel to. Being in central London would filter out daily access to pensioners, mothers on career breaks, non-metropolitan youth, to name just a few groups.

Being in an affordable high street location, we're surrounded by lots of shops, which gives us an advantage as most of our clients are retailers or FMCG companies.

So, closer access to many other aspects of British life, less metropolitan bias in our insights, easier access to clients that choose not to base themselves in London - and equally convenient access to London-based media. We're proud of our contacts book and we can get to parts of central London quicker than some agencies based in town.

All of our clients trade either nationally or internationally, so I guess they see the case as well."

HOW I SEE IT - Jemma Cowen, Account manager, Gorkana Group

Jemma Cowen

We've noticed a surge in interest from freelance PROs in our Media Database service over the past two years - a trend which is set to continue, with more experienced consultants feeling confident enough to set up alone and work on their own terms in tune with their lifestyle and location. Forty-four per cent of our freelance customers are based in London - in line with the PR Census findings in terms of a London-centric industry - and the majority of the remainder split across Cheshire, Scotland and the Home Counties. Freelance PROs are increasingly collaborating to pool budgets and share costs of tools and services.

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