GUIDE TO CAREERS IN PUBLIC RELATIONS: Consultancies - Seeking a home for your abilities. Whether you are tempted by the glamour of big consumer brands or the pull of working for a worthwhile cause, an agency out there will be perfect for you


The consultancy side of the PR industry is incredibly varied, from giant

agencies that have divisions covering every type of client, to small

specialists who know everything there is to know about a particular


As the consultancy roles portrayed here show, every PR company has its

own distinct personality and culture. You may be suited to working in a

big company that's part of an international marketing group, or you

might prefer to work in a more intimate, specialist consultancy.

Many graduates are tempted into PR by what is seen as the more

'glamorous' side of the industry, working for consultancies that act for

big consumer brands, or have clients in the entertainment, fashion and

beauty industries.

But there's much more to PR than that, and whatever you're really

interested in - whether it's doing work for charities and environmental

groups, or getting to know everything there is to know about the mobile

telecommunications sector - there's a consultancy out there that will be

perfect for you.

The biggest consultancies in the UK have hundreds of employees, but they

are divided into different departments, so it won't necessarily feel

overwhelming to work there. According to the results of the annual

PRWeek league tables, the top 150 consultancies in 2000 varied from

Weber Shandwick UK, a full-service agency with more than 400 staff, to

Leader Communications, a Warwickshire-based firm employing just 15


The combined income in fees from clients for the Top 10 biggest

consultancies in the UK was almost pounds 225m in 2000 - that's almost

40 per cent of total consultancy billings. And there are an awful lot of

people in this part of the industry as well: the top 150 consultancies

had more than 8,000 employees last year, and this is set to rise.

There's no getting away from the fact that most consultancies are based

in London, but the larger ones have offices all round the country, and

there are hundreds of independents across the UK. Many of these don't

just work with local media, but carry out national and international

campaigns just as the London firms do.

Logically, however, financial agencies tend to be based at the UK's

financial centre, the City of London. Public affairs companies in

England are mostly near Westminster, but there are also strong public

affairs consultancies in Belfast and, since devolution, in Edinburgh and

Cardiff to target the Scottish and Welsh assemblies.

And remember, the UK isn't your only option after you've found your feet

in the industry. With the internet shrinking the world, consultancies

are carrying out more and more campaigns in several countries at once

for the same client, and have clients all over the world. There's lots

of opportunity for working abroad, whether permanently, on secondment,

or even in a job swap.

So wherever you want to work, whatever industry sector takes your fancy,

there's sure to be a PR consultancy that will suit you down to the



Hill & Knowlton is a classic full-service agency working across all

types of clients and offering the range of PR disciplines from consumer

to healthcare to public affairs. Graduates join a scheme which sees them

spend three months in a series of different divisions. The company is

one of the biggest agencies in the UK with more than 400 staff and fee

income of almost pounds 30m in 2000 (Source: PRWeek Top 150).

Rebecca Earp became an account executive in summer 2000, having joined

the graduate trainee scheme in September 1999 after a degree in PR at

Leeds Metropolitan University. She works in the consumer healthcare

division, on clients such as Clearasil and Optrex Fresh Eyes. As part of

a partnership between Optrex and cosmetics brand Ruby & Millie, Earp has

been organising press days and one-on-one interviews with journalists.

Her team launched the first Boots Opticians Lasik clinic in Regent

Street at the end of 2000, and are rolling out more in 2001.

'It's a big company,' Earp says, 'but it's split into different

divisions that are each the size of a small company, so you don't feel


The youth and consumer staff tend to be wearing trainers, while the

public affairs lot are always in suits. It's a very busy office but

people are generally quite calm.'

The office aims to be a creative place to work. The H&K building is

famous for having a sculpture of a blue cow outside it, and there is

artwork all around the building.

Earp spends time on media relations, building relationships with

journalists and selling in stories. She also researches new business,

and runs clients' press offices, helped by H&K's range of training



Brighton-based Midnight Communications is a new media and hi-tech

consultancy with clients ranging from software supplier Adobe, to SDL

which specialises in the globalisation of websites. Other examples of

hi-tech agencies include Chime Online, which boasts fee income of more

than pounds 11m and Gnash Communications, which was the fastest-growing

agency in 2000 (Source: PRWeek Top 150).

Hi-tech agencies rode the boom in 1999 and early 2000, with fee

income from the Top 10 in 1999 almost reaching pounds 50m. Despite the

subsequent crash in fortunes, PR fee income did not necessarily

follow suit.

Companies in difficulties need crisis management PR, and agencies like

Midnight were protected, as they did not take shares in lieu of


Midnight board director Vicki Hughes explains that the agency maximises

on new media opportunities. 'We are still involved with issuing press

releases, selling in features and case histories etc. But we can also

offer advice on websites before they go live.' Crisis management, event

management and advising on design issues are also part of the agency's


Hughes joined Midnight in 1999 after spells at Countrywide Porter

Novelli and Golley Slater, and was promoted to the board in 2000. The

firm has grown from seven staff to almost 40, but still retains its

'lively and energetic' atmosphere.

Hughes' day includes new business meetings and client liaison. 'I also

ensure that the team is aware of priorities and deadlines - it's more

about directing campaigns than implementing them,' she says.


Public affairs specialists such as AS Biss, Westminster Strategy and

APCO - to name but a few - offer political information, strategic advice

and implementation to clients wanting to influence and change government

policy and its ramifications for their businesses.

While PROs in this sector are not necessarily meeting MPs on a daily

basis, they are often researching their backgrounds and interests as

part of drawing up briefings for clients. Or, as in the case of Kate

Ellis, AS Biss consultant, they may be role-playing an MP to prepare a

client for a meeting with a Select Committee.

Ellis, whose clients include Cadbury Schweppes and Camelot, joined the

agency, fresh from Cambridge three years ago. While she is sometimes

involved with press relations for her clients, much of what she does is

about managing relationships with government.

'There can be all sorts of issues. Many of our clients want to have

ongoing relationships with MPs. Sometimes we might be campaigning if

legislation is going to affect a client's business. We might organise

one-to-one meetings or events. It's important to have a really good

understanding of Parliament and its audiences.'

A graduate trainee would be expected to monitor Hansard and, throughout

the day, keep up to date with all relevant press releases and

information from government departments to pass on to others in the

agency as well as to clients.

AS Biss's graduate training programme combines internal training from

the agency's founders with eternal courses on finance and public



Financial PROs can expect to be involved in everything from mergers and

acquisitions campaigns, to offering high-end strategic advice to listed

companies to ensure that the right messages get through to shareholders,

to promoting new product launches for financial services companies.

Top financial PR consultancies include Brunswick, Financial Dynamics,

Citigate Dewe Rogerson and Finsbury, as well as more generalist agencies

which have a financial arm.

Contrary to popular belief, such firms are not completely dominated by

City grey hairs. Citigate account manager Richard Stephenson joined in

1998 from a post-graduate course in PR at Cardiff Journalism School,

after graduating in politics and international relations.

Initially he researched the background for press releases before

drafting them, put together fact files for the media, and helped to

organise media relations programmes for product launches. 'Now there are

two or three accounts where I am involved on the strategic and planning

side,' he explains.

'But from the day I started I was given the freedom and guidance

necessary to prove my worth.' Part of the financial services team,

Stephenson has seen it grow from nine staff when he joined Citigate to

its present 30, and has been actively involved in recruitment. Within

it, client account teams average three to five consultants depending on

the precise needs of the client.

When Stephenson joined there was no formal training scheme. However,

summer 2001 sees Citigate implementing its first graduate training


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