The PR Show: What's it like launching an agency in lockdown?

Recessions are a great time to launch an 'agile' comms agency as big, established players struggle to change quickly. Those were some key messages in PRWeek’s latest podcast, featuring founders of four consultancies launched during the COVID-19 crisis.

New agency bosses (L-R): Mike Robb, Kamiqua Pearce, Darryl Sparey and Gemma Moroney
New agency bosses (L-R): Mike Robb, Kamiqua Pearce, Darryl Sparey and Gemma Moroney

The latest edition of the PR Show features Gemma Moroney of Shook; Kamiqua Pearce of Coldr; Mike Robb of Bold White Space; and Darryl Sparey of Hard Numbers – click on a link to the full podcast at the bottom of the article.

The four guests discussed the challenges of launching during these difficult times.

"The hardest bit is not so much the hiring but embedding of the culture… when you've never been together physically," said Sparey.

Not meeting clients in the flesh was also a challenge – Moroney said her agency has only met one client in person.

But they agreed that starting from scratch presented an opportunity to reassess the agency model.

"For a new agency, brands have been much more brave, they've been quicker to make decisions," Moroney said. "They're looking for agile agencies, so actually I think all of those things have been a real benefit for us."

Pearce took a similar stance: "We're all offering more blended offers because we understand it never has been PR in isolation or just media relations. And I think the more clients we speak to, particularly senior clients... they are looking for something different and comms can play more of a role than just getting specific numbers and pieces of coverage."

Pearce said this is something "the industry has talked about for a long time" but "hasn't necessarily innovated or moved on as much as we could have, both from a technical point of view and how we service clients".

Sparey criticised the lack of innovation among the majority of newcomers. "Most of the new agencies that have started out basically get a group of young people in a shared office space in central London and sell their time to companies for a mark-up."

He added: "A crisis is a terrible opportunity to waste, and if agencies don't use this as an opportunity to really reassess their businesses and their business models then they're missing an opportunity.

"Recessions are actually a great time to launch a business. Yes, new business might be slightly harder to find and you've got to scrap harder to win it, but you're starting from zero base, you're unencumbered by any legacy technology or people or processes which may exist in more established businesses."

Robb stated: "I just don't think that large agencies can change quick enough, and that's for lots of reasons; everything from structure and culture to systems and technology – or lack of it, in many cases.

"That's a massive opportunity for new businesses starting from the beginning and being able to do that all the best possible way we can from the ground up."

The four also discussed flexible working, how they describe their agencies – including whether they use the term "PR" – and where they see their businesses in three years.

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