Opinion: Creativity thrives in independent arena

Does size matter in PR agency terms? There is no denying the rude health of small consultancies that remain determinedly independent in the predatory jungle and that give the big communications cats a run for their money. Take Tulchan Communications, which was founded by Andrew Grant four years ago when he left Brunswick to branch out on his own. Last year, it ranked third in the M&A league tables, taking a large bite out of Brunswick despite that company's own undeniable strength and reputation.

Tulchan has something the market wants. It's called niche. When the larger agencies successfully house niche businesses within them, everyone is happy: Chime Communications, for instance, is a 'partner' of YouGov and has a profitable research division comprised of two semi-independent businesses, The SMART Company and Opinion Leader Research.

Bringing in key personalities to a corporate climate can lift a businesses profile while the players deliver their expertise. Weber Shandwick is doing relentlessly ambitious growth planning on this basis, with Colin Byrne's signing of David Yelland making all the right headlines.

The PR business remains personality led, and personalities tend to thrive best when given true independence. In all but the most exceptional cases, selling to a corporate proves the end of the creative road.

So the news that Tulchan has invested in a new-media training agency headed by former FT retail correspondent Susanna Voyle and chaired by Alison Canning tells us much about the growing trend for diversified niche services in the independent sector.

Grant told me the large agencies tend to be 'just a big process house', while niche consultancies 'really add value'. He pointed out that in-house capability has been transformed over the last decade, with highly competent teams that will only outsource what they cannot nurture inside.

Could it be the case that the era of the communications group has been replaced by satellite clusters of related businesses that don't feed off a centre so much as interact when they need to?

Perhaps this is why Chime describes itself as 'the UK's leading independent communications group'.

We shall see. I wish Tulchan luck.

Kate Nicholas is on maternity leave.

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