'Creativity isn't born in London' - Does PR need to have its bubble burst?

Is the PR industry stuck in a London bubble, out of touch with the everyday lives of the common Briton? Ogilvy PR's CEO fears it may be...

Is London miles away from the rest of Britain, in PR as well as politics? (©Alamy)
Is London miles away from the rest of Britain, in PR as well as politics? (©Alamy)

On Friday, PRWeek reported comments by Ogilvy PR's UK CEO Marshall Manson that the firm's work was too often "based on insights that are too 'Shoreditch' and too rooted in a world view that’s either unfamiliar or uncomfortable to people beyond the M25".

His comments followed research done by parent group Ogilvy, which showed that people outside of London - particularly those who voted for the UK to leave the EU - felt little sense of shared experience with capital-dwellers.

The story provoked a big reaction on Twitter - some of which is shown at the end of the story - and PRWeek asked four comms professionals who ply their trade, or have in the past plied their trade, outside of London, for their views.

Nina Webb, CEO, Brazen

Brazen has offices in Manchester and Dubai

"It’s a no brainer isn’t it? Understanding your customer is absolutely at the heart of every good PR strategy and that means being in touch with people from all over the UK - it means visiting your clients’ outlets and offices, from Preston to Plymouth, and constantly talking to customers from all walks of life, from two to 102. You can't do that by sitting at your desk and wondering what’s in the hearts and minds of everyone outside the capital.

"How many London PRs really make that commitment? Some of our Northern-based clients tell us that their previous London agencies had never stepped foot in their stores, never mind talked to a real customer.

"It would take a special kind of ignorance for anyone to assume that an agency based outside London is not as capable as those based in the capital. It has certainly never been an obstacle for us. Quite the contrary - many clients actually seek out agencies based outside the capital for a fresh, new perspective, free from the safety of the expected. And in the current economic climate, brands want value for money, which London agencies simply can’t offer because of their postcode.

"Creativity isn’t born in London, it’s born in the minds of creative people wherever they reside."

Alex Myers, founder and CEO, Manifest

Myers set up Manifest in partnership with a Leeds and Manchester business. It also has a New York office and is now independent of its Northern partner.

"I don't think this is a new problem - as a northerner arriving in London nearly ten years ago, I found account managers calling people and brands 'regional' as an insult. However, the gap between Londoners and the rest of the country has certainly widened, just as the gap between generations has."

"I hate stereotypes, but it's true that there are a lot of insular London agencies trying to hire in 'cool' by recruiting Shoreditch hipsters that take their creative cues from the last Arcade Fire secret-gig they went to."

"The problem is a lot bigger than Brexit, and I think although well-meaning - and better than nothing - I can't see Ogilvy asking the team to get out of London achieving anything long term... rather than trying to 'get out to the regions', we should be asking agencies to re-centre themselves as human, not hipster. Focus not on getting out to the regions, but hiring the best talent from there and allowing them to flourish."

Jon McLeod, Weber Shandwick UK

McLeod chairs Weber's Manchester office, in addition to leading the corporate, financial and public affairs practices in London - splitting his time between the two cities

"The consumer brand narrative implications of the EU referendum result are profound. We know now that there is a deep variation in the values espoused by consumers, which in part reflects where they live. Brands and political actors need to take account of this. And you can do that in part through research and analytics, but the on-the-ground insights can also make a difference.

"It is partly about understanding businesses and communities outside the M25. It is also about understanding channels. Local media, community engagement and partnership activity relevant to people in their region is key. National templates can fall foul of local preference. The unacceptability of The Sun in Liverpool is just one example of that.

"Our Manchester team includes ‘expat’ Londoners, who have had their eyes opened to different ways of working and engagement with audiences, which I think would be hard to obtain in London. The relationship with clients can be different, too – closer and slightly less transactional. It’s as if you’re partnering with them for the economic benefit of the region."

Steve Howell, CEO, Freshwater

Freshwater has offices in and out of the M25, with a headquarters in Cardiff and a London office.

"We’ve long thought that the PR industry is too London-centric and so have made our regional delivery a positive selling point.

"We encourage cross-office working, with our staff travelling between multiple locations and working on a diverse range of campaigns in both the capital and across the regions, thereby getting the best of both worlds and, importantly, retaining a sense of perspective.

"We’ve seen instances of some London-based PR agencies thinking that a one-size-fits-all approach is appropriate. It might have made sense when all the media was London-based, but that isn’t the case now, especially with the rise of social media."

The best of the Twitter reaction

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