PR consultants have traditionally been nervous of moving to jobs,
such as managing agency staff, which take them away from clients. Being
attached to a client, and therefore to a stream of revenue, is a
But it appears that leading consultancies in consumer PR are aware that
they face increasing scrutiny from clients. Not only are agencies
introducing evaluation techniques to rival those of the advertising
world but they are also attempting to structure themselves along similar
lines to provide better service.
Some agencies are beginning to recognise the value of employing
consultants whose main responsibility is not to manage a client
relationship. Lexis Public Relations - named in December as one of the
UK’s top 100 fastest growing companies by the Sunday Times - has
announced a restructuring in which six staff, led by board director
Tricia Beaumont, are to give up day-to-day management of client
relationships to form a creative and media department dedicated to media
relations, sponsorship and sales promotion.
Members of the creative team, which range in seniority from board
director to junior account executive level staff, will be used by
account handling teams and have regular contact with clients, unlike
most advertising agency creatives. Account administration, organising
presentations and pitches for new business, writing client reports, and
managing clients will be left to the 36 remaining staff, who will be
divided into six separate client handling groups.
’We don’t have the luxury of having a completely separate creative
department, but the market is moving towards greater specialism,’ says
chief executive Bill Jones.
Lexis managing director Hugh Birley says: ’There is a realisation that
PR people are generalists who are attempting to do everything. The media
environment is becoming more sophisticated and we can’t expect a
generalist to be really expert in media, sponsorship and sales
Birley says Lexis’ restructuring and formation of a specialist creative
and media team is a reaction to the success of specialists such as brand
and celebrity-focused agencies like Freud Communications and Mark
Borkowski Press and PR: ’They each have a de facto specialisation but we
are a traditional agency working in consumer, business-to-business and
We are more exposed to growing specialism so we need to keep our offer
Other agencies have formed specialist teams who do not manage client
relationships. Two years ago the Quentin Bell Organisation established a
media relations team to handle its consumer accounts. It also has a
dedicated media promotions team.
Trevor Morris, managing director of QBO, says that in addition to
editorial and advertising, promotions are featuring increasingly in the
media and PR people need to understand this area. He says QBO’s decision
to establish specialist teams was driven not so much by the threat from
the likes of Borkowski but by the increasing ability of advertising and
sales promotion agencies to offer PR skills.
QBO’s reasons for setting up a dedicated media relations team are
Morris says: ’There’s an awful lot of terrible copy coming out of PR
agencies but using specialists helps.’
He argues that ex-journalists are better employed writing press
releases, devising media strategies and story angles and liaising with
the media than orchestrating marketing, planning or client
presentations. This also leaves more room for the marketers to focus on
what they’re good at.
Agencies with established reputations for media specialism are not being
left behind. The recent restructuring of Lynne Franks PR, which resulted
in a name change to Life PR, saw the agency establish a media division
called Exposure. This dedicated team, headed by director Francesca Lee,
focuses on winning targeted and relevant media coverage for clients.
Life PR director Claudia Marten says: ’Exposure allows us to be
specialised in dealing with particular subjects. While we all deal with
the fashion press it was difficult for us to provide specialists with
knowledge of youth or women’s issues.’
Marten argues that the move towards establishing specialist media teams
is driven by the changing nature of media itself: ’The massive media
explosion means that more experience is required to put a brand at the
forefront of the consumer mind.’
Creating specialists also allows personnel more suited to client
handling and marketing to focus on their own strengths. However,
cultural changes within agencies inevitably bring teething problems.
Morris says: ’The change took four or five months to get used to.
Clients were delighted but it was a big internal issue.’ Managers
accustomed to appointing key staff in an all-encompassing role had to
think again and staff have to get used to not being as involved with
some clients as they may have been in the past.
Birley, however, is prepared to allow time for his creative and media
team to pay dividends: ’In six months we expect creative and media will
be ahead of the rest of us in their thinking and will add value.’