Caroline Kinsey, Cirkle: Thriving despite the slump

Agencies that have survived the recession have emerged leaner and more driven than before.

The past year has been tough for many in the PR industry. Nationally, many agencies have feared the worst - or even made redundancies. But the industry and the economy as a whole in the Thames Valley have fared better than most, and the region has started 2010 in far better shape than it was 12 months ago.

There have been significant falls in unemployment throughout the region over the past six months, and a large increase in the number of job vacancies despite downsizing at companies including Vodafone. Buckinghamshire in particular is the entrepreneurial heart of the county.

We have a large number of business start-ups (with high survival rates) that demonstrate the skills and knowledge that abound within our borders. Many of the start-ups are formed by people who have been made redundant.

Employers throughout the Thames Valley have started to recruit again and, as a direct result, the number of vacancies has risen by about one-third in the past six months. The number of people claiming benefits is falling. Buckinghamshire, for example, has a claimant rate of just over two per cent - one of the lowest in the country. There are about 40 per cent fewer people chasing each job vacancy in the Thames Valley than in the country as a whole, and the county's workers enjoy annual pay 24 per cent above the national average. All this adds up to a bright and optimistic outlook throughout the region.

The knock-on effect on PR agencies in the Thames Valley has been positive. The recession may have changed the way our agencies operate and increased the focus on client satisfaction and ROI, but the economic turmoil of the past 18 months does not seem to be having a lasting effect.

PR is emerging from the recession in good shape. We have learned to adapt to different client needs and become more flexible in our approaches. For example, I recently changed my directors' holiday arrangements, letting them take as much holiday as they want as long as they can fit it around clients' requirements. It's about empowering senior staff to be responsible for their own work.

The Thames Valley is renowned as a hotbed of business innovation, and this will continue to drive agencies such as Cirkle, Bottle PR, Proteus and Six Degrees. There are opportunities for those who have adapted over the past year and a half and, working together as we do in the Thames Valley, we can expect to continue to be successful. Certainly the PRCA and the CIPR are important conduits for closer co-operation between agencies and the sharing of best practice to help raise standards across the industry.

Indeed, the collaborative spirit that reigns in our region echoes the way we like to do business here at Cirkle. Our environment is relaxed but we couple this with a strong work ethic. We recently opened our first office in London - in Marylebone station - but we retain the feel of an agency that puts people first. We attract consultants who want to escape the intensity of the city. In two years we've nearly doubled our workforce in line with our growth and we retained 100 per cent of our employees in 2009.

Looking forward, there is a definite feeling that the agencies in the Thames Valley that have not only survived but thrived during the worst recession in living memory are now stronger, leaner and more driven than ever.

It would be wrong to say that the recession was good for us, but it has certainly had a positive impact on some areas of our business, and has not had the disastrous effect that some predicted it might. This points to a healthy and solid future for PR in the Thames Valley.

VIEWS IN BRIEF

- Which regional players have raised their profile in the past year?

John Lewis' High Wycombe branch has notably raised its CSR profile. Most significantly, its decision to offer beds to those stranded in the snow provided it with excellent PR and showed it to be empathic.

- What is the best example of campaigning journalism in your area?

The Bucks Free Press is running a campaign to save vital services at Amersham Hospital. The campaign has sparked huge community spirit and the paper has raised the profile of the hospital in its efforts to save the affected services.

Caroline Kinsey is CEO of Cirkle

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