UK clients lead industry shift to project work

The UK is at the sharp end of a global trend that sees clients moving from retainers to projects, new research has revealed.

Bigger team: Travelodge has expanded its in-house operation
Bigger team: Travelodge has expanded its in-house operation

Grayling has launched Global PULSE, an annual survey of the worldwide PR industry, which polled more than 1,200 in-house practitioners across the world.

In the UK, 13.2 per cent of those polled said that project work had increased from the previous quarter, compared with just 2.8 per cent who said retained work was growing.

There was a similar trend throughout Western Europe, though the survey revealed stronger project and retainer growth in the region (14.1 per cent and four per cent respectively) and the rest of the world (19.6 per cent and 11.3 per cent).

Porter Novelli director Emily Buckland recognised the shift, noting that every project had become 'a mini pitch' and that agencies could no longer 'rely on client relationships'.

Alongside this move away from agency retainer work, the UK also appears to be at the centre of a trend for firms to invest more heavily in in-house teams. Around 48 per cent of UK respondents said they had seen the size of in-house teams increase, compared with just six per cent that reported a decrease in headcount.

UK Travelodge director of PR and comms Shakila Ahmed said her firm had expanded its in-house team because it provided better value for money (see below). Others argued the trend pointed to UK companies paying more attention to the importance of sustained reputation, over and above creative media handling.

Trevor Morris, former CEO of Chime and visiting professor in PR at the University of Westminster, said: 'People have mistakenly thought this is about recession, but at least in part it is about the fact the UK has a more sophisticated market than almost anywhere in Europe, with a rise in the quality and pay rates of in-house PROs.'

He said the rise in measurable project work marked a move towards clearer charging models that represented an improvement in professionalism.

Another sector struggling for growth in the UK is CSR, in which only 5.7 per cent of industry participants had seen an increase, compared with 11.6 per cent in Western Europe and 17 per cent globally.

Globally, almost 47 per cent said comms was becoming more recognised in company boardrooms, compared with 38.1 per cent in Western Europe and 37.5 per cent in the UK.

Also read: Danny Rogers: No cause for alarm in global PR markets


Shakila Ahmed, Director of PR and comms, UK Travelodge

We have expanded our team because when it comes to in-house, the fact that you are engrossed in your brand means you get better value for money. With project work, you can identify what your key objectives are and put measurables in.

Alison Clarke, CEO, Grayling UK and Ireland

With the increase in project work, we have to get smarter about the way we shape and craft our teams. We are reviewing their size and structure, and I believe nowadays the traditional hierarchical agency team structure is not very appropriate - you don't necessarily need a top-to-bottom team of generalists.


44% saw an increase in spend on social media and digital globally

17% of respondents reported an increase in spend on CSR globally

46.9% saw an increase in the visibility of comms activity at board level globally

25.3% reported a decrease in overall PR spend in the UK

Source: Global PULSE Survey

Survey findings Single market increases in overall PR spend - highest ranking globally


Grayling surveyed 1,252 in-house comms professionals from 51 countries online, from 30 April to 18 May. Of these, 43.9 per cent were managers and 10.9 per cent directors, while 41 per cent of respondents were from companies with more than 1,000 staff. The rating has been developed by combining the increase and decrease figures.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in