Slag heaps, coal mines, male voice choirs and sheep. This is the
image of Wales that has been perpetuated by the media for decades and
that Welsh PR gurus have been fighting to bring up-to-date.
Work by the Wales Tourist Board and the Welsh Development Agency over
the last decade has taken the Welsh economy into the 21st century and
has created a buoyancy and optimism in the country - especially in its
capital city Cardiff.
’Wales is booming and the Welsh economy has seen massive inward
investment thanks to the WTB and the WDA,’ enthuses Mike Smith, chairman
of the IPR Wales Group. ’They have successfully turned around what was a
dinosaur of an old industrial economy built on the iron and coal
industry and transformed it into a hi-tech industry. And Welsh PR is
reaping the benefits of this fast-developing situation.’
Most of those beneficiaries are concentrated in Cardiff. Around 98 per
cent of PR agencies are based there, ranging from a series of
one-man-bands to the four biggest players. The biggest home-grown
agencies are Quadrant and Golley Slater, while the newest English
arrivals are Lowe Bell Good Relations and Harrison Cowley.
The arrival of English agencies has been the source of tension in the
past as there has been a traditional rivalry between Cardiff-based and
Bristol-based offices. Leedex, which set up an annexe office in Cardiff
from its headquarters in Bristol, found that the ’absentee landlord’
scenario did not work and had to withdraw.
Mark Riggott, financial director at Leedex in Bristol, says: ’The office
didn’t make money and the impression we got was that you had to have a
presence in Wales using Welsh people to do business with their
Quadrant’s senior partner Bill Jenkins qualifies this: ’Companies have
tried to do it by remote control but Cardiff is recognised as a strong
enough media centre without having to deal with a consultancy from the
other side of the bridge. For the contacts and knowledge you need to be
on the spot.’
When Lowe Bell Good Relations set up its Cardiff office in 1989 it
appointed Cardiffian Noreen Bray, who had worked for 13 years on news
and current affairs for the BBC, to run it. ’The company needed someone
who understood the people, the language element and the politics,’ she
says, pointing out that the benefit of having Lowe Bell in Cardiff was
that it was not just a satellite but gave clients an access point to the
whole Lowe Bell group.
Another English network, Harrison Cowley, had never really done any
business in Wales before it set up in Cardiff in 1989 but has managed to
establish itself since.
Director Melanie Faithfull says: ’You can’t march in with very English
views. You have to understand what the country is about and respond to
the needs of the marketplace and the clients.’
But in responding to the market, Faithfull sees her main task not as
stealing business from rival agencies but in creating a larger
The Cardiff Bay Development Corporation has gone some way towards
developing that market. A quango set up in 1987 to put Cardiff on the
international map, the CBDC has been working on a series of industrial
and commercial regeneration initiatives and has helped to attract many
new companies to the area.
Now that the infrastructure is in place, property developers are setting
up and Harrison Cowley has been winning business from new clients such
as hotel group TBI and house builder St David.
’There are clients which have never had a consultancy before so you have
to educate them about PR before you win the business and enlarge the
cake for everyone,’ says Faithfull.
Quadrant’s Jenkins agrees that the PR cake is growing. ’With all the
inward development in Cardiff, companies are setting up their
headquarters here for the first time and we are in a strong position to
deal with the new set-ups. It gives PR companies the chance to sell in
the notion that PR belongs in the boardroom as a management function
rather than an add-on service.’
The arrival of private sector clients has opened up a new source of
income for PR consultancies, but the market has traditionally been
reliant on public sector business.
Jonathan Smith, managing director of Golley Slater, the
longest-established consultancy in Cardiff, is not as optimistic about
the current state of the market. While he recognises that the public
sector has done ground-breaking work in attracting inward investment, he
still feels that the market is not big enough, particularly as public
sector business is declining.
Smith says: ’We are not crawling over each other to pinch each other’s
business but I’d be more upbeat if I thought that there was more private
sector business in Wales as it is a public driven economy.’
One of the biggest public sector accounts in Wales is the CBDC, worth
around pounds 150,000 in annual fees to Quadrant, which has held the
account since 1989. As CBDC has a small in-house team - consisting
mainly of public affairs manager Frank Leavers - and a multifaceted
communications programme, it has always outsourced its PR.
This compares with other public bodies which have such strong in-house
teams that they only call in external agencies for special projects.
Marc Evans, who runs a ten-strong press and PR team for the Wales
Tourist Board, does most PR work in-house and stresses that his team
functions like a commercial agency. He employs local agencies for
short-term projects but generally relies on building up good
relationships with local, national and overseas journalists to help find
a place for Wales in world tourism.
The Welsh Development Agency also handles most of its PR in-house with a
team of nine, headed by media and communications director Bet
It has retained agencies around the world and Lowe Bell in London
provides support with the national press and public affairs. Davies
prefers to use an agency in London ’because for a public organisation
with an international profile it is bizarre that the media should have
to be referred to an agency just two streets away from us’.
With public sector work on the wane, agencies are looking for new areas
of growth and to expand their skills.
Lobbying is an area that is likely to grow, particularly now that the
Welsh Assembly could become a reality. Quadrant has already made
in-roads into this area by setting up Wales and Westminster
Communications, a joint venture with Westminster Communications, and has
public affairs offices in London, Edinburgh and Brussels.
Jenkins says: ’Up until now it has not made a huge contribution to our
income but it has enabled us to provide PR programmes from the strength
of a good political and public affairs understanding.’
In the meantime, PR in Cardiff is cashing in on two events that it hopes
will banish the image of sheep and coal mines for good. The European
summit is being held in Cardiff next year and the city plays host to the
Rugby World Cup in 1999.
’These events will give Cardiff dramatic media exposure,’ says Hugh
Jones, PR manager for destination marketing organisation Cardiff
’And we have to make sure that these opportunities are exploited for the
long-term prosperity of Cardiff. After all, who’d ever heard of
LEARNING CURVE: EXPORTING PR PEOPLE READY TO DO BUSINESS
One of Cardiff’s main exports to the UK’s PR industry is freshly-trained
Boasting the only postgraduate diploma in public and media relations in
the UK, Cardiff University takes 30 students a year and aims to give
them enough practical experience to be properly prepared for a PR
’After you’ve done the course you’ll hit the deck running in your new
office. Nothing will be thrown at you which you cannot handle,’ says
course director Mike Smith, who carries with him more than 30 years
experience in PR. He set up Golley Slater in 1969 and is currently
chairman of the IPR Wales Group.
Lasting one year, the IPR-accredited course includes teaching by the
Cardiff Business School and Centre for Journalism Studies. The syllabus
covers all areas of PR but also aims to give practical experience of
real situations such as handling crises, issues management, new product
launches and achieving business objectives.
The practical element involves students spending one day a week at a PR
company, culminating in a three-week placement at Easter. Major
PRagencies which have offered their support include Hill and Knowlton,
Shandwick, Burson-Marsteller and Cohn and Wolfe.
Smith’s strategy has been to establish links with the leading London
consultancies and this seems to have paid off. He estimates that 80 per
cent of students have jobs in PR within two months, and the rest by the
end of the year.
He says that the key is instilling in students a practical sense of what
it involves to work in a PR company. ’To be an effective PR
practitioner, it doesn’t matter what you want to do,’ says Smith. ’Most
important is to find out what is acceptable to your target audience
whether it is a client, journalist or supplier. You have to know inside
out and backwards where they’re coming from.’
Students enthuse about the course and the practical experience it has
given them. Louise Plank has just finished her placement organising the
BAFTA-Cymru awards. She recalls: ’I had to collate the database,
organise photocalls and host the media at the event. I loved every
minute, but I would not have been ready without the course.’
CASE STUDY: CLEANING UP OIL WITH A SLICK OPERATION
On the evening of Thursday 15 February 1996 when the Sea Empress ran
aground and spilled 120,000 tonnes of oil over the south-west Wales
coastline, this could have signalled disaster for the tourism
The national media showed images of beaches and wildlife blackened and
damaged by oil. The Pembrokeshire phones - which at that time of the
year were usually buzzing with bookings - stopped ringing.
The Wales Tourist Board had to act quickly before the incident embedded
itself too deeply in the minds of potential holidaymakers and, in
collaboration with Regester and Larkin, it drew up a strategy to launch
the ’Welsh Tourism Fights Back’ reassurance campaign.
The campaign reinforced the message that the beaches would be clean by
the summer and a helpline was set up to give basic information to
holidaymakers and monitor their attitude. ’We had to tread a careful
line not to make exaggerated promises to the public but to give
reassurances on the basis of truth,’ explains Marc Evans, the WTB’s
The campaign focused on drawing media interest to the clean-up operation
and to areas that had not been affected by the oil spillage. And it
organised a large number of press visits by UK and international
Once the beaches were clean, phase two of the campaign involved a higher
profile strategy to bring visitors and media back. The WTB committed
pounds 40,000 towards the campaign and transferred the lead role to
regional tourist company Tourism South and West Wales. It hired
Cardiff-based consultancy Golley Slater to do promotional PR for the
1996 and 1997 seasons.
Local media were co-operative, and the Western Mail ran a series of
positive stories about tourism in the affected areas. And by liaising
with the environmental group Friends of the Earth, the WTB managed to
help tone down reports of the damage to wildlife by pointing out that it
was as interesting to observe devastated areas during their recovery as
when they were in a healthy state.
As a result, business across all sectors last summer was down just five
to ten per cent on average compared with Cardiff Business School’s
initial estimate which suggested that tourism income would be down
almost 13 per cent (pounds 20.64 million out of a projected total of
pounds 160 million).
Evans says: ’The recovery of south west Wales is a classic example of
how PR can turn what could have been a disaster into a relatively good
news story especially when there was not enough money in the budget to
do large-scale advertising.’
CASE STUDY: CARE WITH THE KOREAN PROJECT
When the Welsh Development Agency started negotiating with Korean
company LG over a deal worth pounds 1.7 billion and 6000 jobs to Newport
in Wales - the UK’s biggest inward investment - the WDA’s PR department
was given a key role in securing the business by keeping the whole deal
Bet Davies, the WDA’s media and communications director, was charged
with arranging private, highly confidential visits from senior figures
at LG. She could not tell colleagues outside her department and the
whole thing was handled by a circle of six.
Wales was competing for the business against other European locations
including Ireland and Scotland, so external activity involved continuing
to raise the profile of Wales in Korea. This included a visit by WDA
chairman David Rowe-Beddoe to Korea, which gave the opportunity for
press conferences and seminars to push Wales as the preferred
Internally, Davies set a new departmental interior strapline ’Making the
Difference’ and made sure that her staff paid attention to every detail
when the Koreans came to Wales.
Disaster struck when press speculation about the deal threatened to ruin
negotiations and could have damaged the whole relationship. ’Trust is
important in the Korean culture and as they thought we had leaked the
story they broke all communications for two weeks.’ recalls Davies. But
WDA’s personal relationship through its office in Seoul managed to bring
them back into the frame and the deal was signed on 12 July 1996.
Since then, the WDA has supported LG in handling the British media.
It also produces the LG newsletter to keep all parties up to date with
the progress of the project.