ANALYSIS: REGIONAL NETWORKS - Networking benefits from the local touch. Biss Lancaster has acquired Leedex and merged the agency with its GTPR brand to create a rival to the existing handful of regional networks

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.

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

at Grayling).

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

London-based agency.

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

multi-local campaigns.

’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.

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