FOCUS: THE NORTH - The new game plan for the north - As preparations for the next Commonwealth Games begin in Manchester, clients are realising that there are many northern front runners in the national PR race

The media spotlight may have been beaming down on the north-west region for negative reasons over the past year - such as the bombing of Manchester’s city centre, and the attempts by Manchester airport to cope with the protestors against the new runway - but PR practitioners are positive about the progress of the region.

The media spotlight may have been beaming down on the north-west

region for negative reasons over the past year - such as the bombing of

Manchester’s city centre, and the attempts by Manchester airport to cope

with the protestors against the new runway - but PR practitioners are

positive about the progress of the region.



’It is an exciting place to be. Manchester as a city is going through a

renaissance and it is becoming known internationally as well as

nationally,’ says Rob Brown, chairman of the IPR North West group and

managing director of Leedex in Manchester.



For example, the Commonwealth games are coming to the city in 2002 and a

new body, Marketing Manchester, has been set up with the aim of

improving the image of the city.



However, the north of England in PR and media terms does not just mean

Manchester. Other major centres include Leeds and Newcastle in the

north-east, each with their own distinguishing characteristics.



In the north-west region, a major factor that characterises the PR

consultancy scene is the high level of owner-managed agencies - players

such as Staniforth, Communique PR and Mason Williams.



Paul Carroll, chief executive of Communique PR, explains: ’There are

more privately owned companies so there is more of an entrepreneurial

atmosphere.’



Put them all in a room together and they play their cards close to their

chest, fiercely guarding their corners and giving nothing away about

their new business progress or their company strategy.



This defensive attitude could be linked to the fact that there is a lot

of staff crossover between agencies in this region. Tony Tighe, managing

director of Mere Communications, estimates that Communique PR,

Staniforth and Mason Williams are responsible for training around 70 per

cent of PR practitioners in the north-west, some of whom - including

Brown at Leedex - now run major agencies in Manchester.



’One differentiating issue in the north is that we know who our

competitors are,’ says Harrison Cowley’s managing director Denise

Mullen, who is based in Manchester. ’We have a better idea of our own

USPs and when you get a brief you know if you can do it better because

you know what your competitors have in their toolkit.’



There is a lot of consumer work for agencies in the north-west,

especially from the retail sector. As a result, agencies in this region

tend to be generalist rather than specialist.



Clients tend to be national brands headquartered in the north (such as

Marks and Spencer, which uses Staniforth PR, and hobby brand Airfix

which uses Leedex); regionally-located brands seeking a national media

profile (such as Lancashire Dairies and marmalade brand Duerr’s, both

with Mere); national brands which need regional activity to underpin

their presence in different parts of the country (such as the National

Lottery which uses the Harrison Cowley network); and brands wishing to

tap into the service an international network provides (such as Royal

SunAlliance Engineering which has just appointed Shandwick in

Manchester).



There are also clients which need on-the-ground support and an in-depth

knowledge of the region. A recent example is London department store

Selfridge’s recent appointment of Mason Williams to handle the opening

of its new store in Manchester.



Not all locally-based companies seek agency support, however, as

in-house PR departments are relatively strong in the region. Manchester

Airport, for example, has an in-house team of 12 which handles media

relations, sponsorship, internal communications, Parliamentary affairs

and crisis management. It only uses agencies on an ad hoc basis for

specific projects.



Similarly, United Utilities has 20 people in its in-house team to cover

North West Water and Norweb. Communications manager for the utility

division, Andrew Hewitt, says: ’We do our own PR strategy and with a

strong in-house department we don’t need to duplicate skills by hiring

PR agencies so we only tend to buy in outside skills such as

design.’



Marketing Manchester however, (the body set up last year to revamp the

city’s image), has used locally based agency Communique PR for project

work since April. Chairman Sir David Trippier says : ’It is important to

use an agency that has a feel for the region.’



As well as the home-grown agencies, the region has attracted national

and international PR consultancy brands eager to take a slice of

north-west business. Hill and Knowlton recently closed its Manchester

office to concentrate on its London office. But McCann Erickson and

Shandwick are both committed to developing business in the area.



What is important is that agencies embrace the attitudes of each

region.



Robert Salmon, director of Shandwick North’s Manchester office, says:

’National companies have failed in the past because they set up northern

offices as a satellite of the London operation, but we are ’hub

operations’ for the Shandwick network.’



McCann Erickson’s Robert Taylor says that his agency is ’prepared to

develop a PR service which is right for Manchester, even if it is

different to what our other offices offer’.



Across the other side of the Pennines into the Yorkshire region, the

major players such as Brahm, Sinclair Mason, Ptarmigan and Clark and

Company often find themselves pitching for business against agencies

based in the north-west and some consultancies are making sure that

their new business potential sits astride both sides of the Pennines.

Harrison Cowley has just opened a Leeds office, for example, while

Leeds-based agency Ptarmigan has just opened a new office in

Manchester.



Ptarmigan director Jason Madeley says: ’We have crossed the Pennines and

expanded because we are not just doing ’regional’ PR. We are doing a lot

of work for top national brands.’



This work includes sponsorship campaigns for clients such as Vauxhall

and Green Flag. And the agency also handled the launch of the Royal

Armouries Museum as part of a pounds 40 million development on Leeds’

waterfront.



Clark and Company’s Brian Clark says that Leeds is an important centre

for the financial and services sector. His agency handles Arthur

Andersen, for example, and Barclays Mortgages uses Harrison Cowley’s

Leeds office.



New areas of opportunity for PR are also opening up with the burgeoning

tourism market and developments such as the new sports arena in

conjunction with Leeds United football club.



As business expands into other areas, Dennis Kelly, managing director of

Leeds-based agency Brahm PR, has noticed that the weight of business in

the region is starting to shift away from pure media relations. He says:

’The large consultancies in the north are winning more strategic level

work in areas like issues management, brand development, crisis

preparation and internal communications. A few years ago a regional

consultancy would have dealt only with operational PR involving

straightforward media relations and event management.’



But, it seems to be a tougher task for agencies based in the

north-east.



The PR industry in that region is made up of small players which tend to

cover all sectors rather than specialising in one area. The largest

agency in the region is Northern Profile. Robin Ashby, managing director

of Newcastle-based PR agency Bergmans says that there appears to have

been a decline in the number of pitches taking place in the region.



’Many bigger companies in the region tend to have decisions made about

PR and marketing done outside the region and therefore tend to think

that to get the national sector experience they need to employ a

London-based agency,’ says Ashby.



Lynx PR, which has agencies in Leeds and Newcastle, says this was

typical of the north-east region until recently. Deputy managing

director Peter Downey says: ’Companies in the north-east saw PR as

community relations and this was fuelled by the fact that consultancies

were not selling PR as a marketing tool.’



This is changing, however, and there is a growing confidence from and

towards regionally-based agencies.



Adam Roscoe, managing director of Greenwood Tighe stresses that ’being

provincial by geography doesn’t mean we’re provincial in outlook. We can

deliver work for national brands and if businesses are centred locally

then we have to give them a reason not to go down to London’.



Case study: Putting together MFI’s national campaign



Proving the point that geographical location is no hindrance to

implementing national public relations programmes was the challenge for

Greenwood Tighe Public Relations (which has offices in Cheshire and

Leeds) when it was charged with the task of handling the launch of

furniture brand MFI’s redesigned stores across the UK.



The company planned to introduce the MFI home works concept which

featured a redesign of its stores as well as several new product ranges.

The overall aim was to upgrade the profile of the stores and to promote

MFI’s image as well as extending MFI’s traditional customer base to

include new groups of store users.



But as the new concept was to be rolled out across 53 stores up and down

the country, the overall objective had to be translated into specific

local activity relevant to each area. Greenwood Tighe’s task - which was

coordinated from the Leeds office through MFI account director Sue

Flynn - was therefore to ’localise’ its PR programme for each store

launch.



It first carried out research into each area and liaised with

locally-based media in advance to discuss promotional opportunities for

the store launch.



The consultancy provided details of investment, appointments and

training to local press and liaised with media contacts,

region-by-region, before and after every part of the programme to build

and maintain awareness of the relaunched stores.



It ran competitions with local media titles aiming to involve the local

community and to position MFI home works as part of that community.



It held a sneak preview evening and for the official launch ceremony the

winner of the newspaper competition was invited to open the store in

that area. Photocalls featured local figures and representatives from

local schools, groups and fund-raisers. MFI home works also gave support

to local charity groups.



This strategy succeeded in generating two opportunities for

local/regional coverage every day, while staggering the release of

information helped extend press coverage and maintain awareness over the

allotted time. The close relationships forged between Greenwood Tighe

and local media at the outset was key.



’The main challenge was making sure that the launch events happened on

time at each of the venues. From Southampton to Inverness we had to be

there,’ says Greenwood Tighe managing director Adam Roscoe.



’We had to make sure that everyone in the catchment area knew about

it.



All of this was delivered by staff in the north and north-west offices,

so geography was not a problem,’ says Roscoe.



Manchester: The fight to prove it’s the cream of the north



A battle is being fought over who has the right to promote the image of

Manchester.



The official body set up to carry out this task is Marketing Manchester,

headed by former minister Sir David Trippier. It was launched in April

last year to revitalise the old image of the city.



It is attempting to tackle the perception that still persists -

especially overseas - of Manchester as an outdated industrial city

region.



’The focus is on promoting Manchester’s image and values to generate

business, investment and increased prosperity for the city region,’ says

Trippier.



But a row has broken out over the new promotional campaign that

Marketing Manchester unveiled in May this year after it had consulted

with 600 organisations and individuals across the region.



Its mission statement is ’to create a single promotional identity that

would bring together all the most compelling attributes of the city

region and reflect the spirit of Manchester and its people’. And this

culminated in the unveiling of its slogan ’Manchester we’re up and

going’.



But controversy has struck the heart of Manchester and the new branding

has been criticised as ’dull’ and not evocative of the city’s

culture.



PR and design practitioners are now protesting that they can do the job

better.



Rob Brown, managing director of Leedex, says: ’The campaign has failed

to win the hearts and minds of the city.’ In an open letter to Sir David

Trippier, Brown says that Marketing Manchester has ’a PR crisis on its

hands’ and is urging the people of Manchester to come up with a better

slogan to give them more of a stake in the campaign.



’There is an opportunity to harness the energy of a broad range of

people who are not behind the campaign as it stands. We should let the

people decide and invite them to submit new slogans and logos,then pitch

them against the recently launched design,’ says Brown.



In the meantime, a rival body has sprung up called the McEnroe Group -

named after tennis player John and his infamous retort ’You cannot be

serious’. The organisation - formed by local businessmen such as

property developer Elliott Rashman and property specialist Tom Bloxham -

has worked with designers to present a rival campaign under the banner

’Made in Manchester’.



Marketing Manchester has so far not risen to the bait and, despite being

the target of so much criticism, has not joined in the mud-slinging. It

has instead invited a representative from the McEnroe Group to join a

working group which is looking at the issue.



Trippier says: ’It is too early to say how we will harness the group’s

ideas. But as Marketing Manchester and the McEnroe Group are in absolute

agreement about what we want for the city, we must now harness this

enthusiasm.’



Much of this debate is being staged on the pages of the Manchester

Evening News, so all eyes will be on Marketing Manchester’s next

moves.



Brown insists, however, that a relaunch of the campaign would ’benefit

from the positive and substantial media coverage that would ensue and it

could be turned into a PR triumph for all concerned.



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