Biss Lancaster’s announcement last week that it had acquired Leedex
PR raises the question of whether there is room for another regional
agency group in the UK.
Opinions differ as to how much growth opportunity regional networks
offer and whether the industry dynamic is towards or away from the kind
of localism they embody.
Among the established regional networks, few other than Harrison Cowley
derive a significant proportion of their income from clients which use
more than one regional office. Only ten per cent of Grayling’s and
McCann-Weber’s nationally represented clients use more than one regional
office. For Harrison Cowley, the figure is 15 per cent (although this
represents 40 per cent of revenue as opposed to less than ten per cent
But while Biss Lancaster managing director Isabel Greenwood admits only
ten to 15 per cent of the current roster of client’s work involves more
than one office, she hopes to increase the figure to 25 to 30 per cent
in the coming years.
Greenwood explains that the Leedex purchase was made for two
First, to increase the scale of the existing regional operation. Biss
Lancaster will merge the Leedex operation into its existing regional
agency GTPR. Leedex has offices in Manchester, London and Bristol. GTPR
has offices in Manchester, Leeds and Edinburgh.
But the second, and more important, reason is that Greenwood sees a
growth in regional business coming from the retail sector. GTPR already
works for MFI and Bass pubs and Greenwood sees more opportunity
’The single most important factor is retail. For decades retailers have
relied on national strategy. Now they are realising that having a local
presence in local media can help drive footfall and favorability - it’s
about adding a dimension to their brand at a local level,’ she says.
’Look at how the work banks are doing at a national level is being
filtered down to the local market with local sponsorships and their
becoming part of local communities.’
There is some support for Greenwood’s view from other agencies which see
regional growth being fuelled by both the impact of new local media (the
growth of cable TV and more new radio licences mean increasing numbers
of local radio and TV channels) and the change on regional cultures
being brought about through devolution.
Nigel Kennedy, managing director of Grayling Group, which has eight UK
offices, says: ’At Grayling, we are increasingly finding that clients
need things to happen in other parts of the UK and this is sometimes
handled better by people that are local.
’There is only so much you can do from the centre with regard to local
profile-raising opportunities. You need to be plugged in locally,’ he
Harrison Cowley, with 90 staff outside London, is the biggest regional
network. Associate director Alan Twigg says his agency’s 25 to 30 per
cent year-on-year growth for the last three years proves there is an
increasing market for what might be called ’multi-local PR’ - a series
of co-ordinated local campaigns run for a single national client by an
agency with a regional network.
’The call for it is coming from retail clients, financial services -
anyone who has branch networks,’ he says.
The advantage is in the local contact and local knowledge the networks
bring - something Twigg says cannot be reliably replicated by a
Alison Baldwin, consumer PR head at Camelot, says the work Harrison
Cowley does for them is valuable in supporting their national
’Because of the nature of the National Lottery, there is a need for
activity on the ground at short notice, such as when a jackpot winner
holds a press conference where they live,’ she says. ’It is becoming
more important to have regional PR because people want news that affects
them,’ she adds.
But Neil Backwith, group strategic development director at Countrywide
Porter Novelli, a national agency with six offices including London and
its headquarters in Banbury, believes the benefit of regional agencies
is that they can bring in national business from clients based outside
London, rather than the fact that they can work in concert on
’Most agencies outside London are just national agencies which happen to
be based elsewhere,’ he says. ’Having agencies across the country makes
it easier to get national clients based in that part of the
Claire Oliver, deputy group managing director at McCann-Weber, which has
five UK offices but does not use them like a network, is also sceptical
about the future of regional networks and, with new technologies like
e-mail, questions the importance of an agency being on the spot.
’Locality is not much of an issue anymore - you need the right skills
and tools, but you do not necessarily need to be right there,’ she
But she adds that political developments may have made an exception of
Scotland, as clients increasingly want to work with local agencies.
However, Harrison Cowley’s growth in recent years, both in fee income
and reputation, shows there is money to be made in multi-local work. If
Biss Lancaster is to mine the same seam, its challenge will be to
present itself as a credible alternative.