From the editor ... experience outweighs size in this market

UK unemployment hit an 11-year high this week and, more worryingly for the PR industry, some of those laying off jobs are traditionally big spenders on comms, such as Virgin Media and GlaxoSmithKline.

Danny Rogers
Danny Rogers

Most so-called ‘experts’ are predicting two million unemployed by Christmas and the doom-sayers foresee three million out of work within 18 months.

It is hard to see how PR will not be affected and there are rumours of in-house teams and bigger PR agencies already reducing headcount, in addition to the ubiquitous recruitment freezes.

No surprise there, you may say – this is another cyclical recession. Last year it was ‘hire’ and now it’s ‘fire’. But it may not be as straightforward as that.

Indeed, there may be a longer-term underlying shift towards smaller, media-neutral consultancies and freelance or pluralist working.

In other words the bigger agencies and in-house teams may find it hard to up-skill again when, or if, the market comes back in 2009.

Over recent years I have noticed the emergence of a number of leaner consultancies – for example Open Road, TLG or Influence – whose model is a few experienced consultants from different fields, but which seem to be appearing alongside major agencies on pitch lists, and occasionally winning surprising chunks of business.

Such consultants hail from well-known agencies, in-house jobs at major brands or from disciplines such as digital marketing or politics. Some may have been forced from their previous jobs. Others have chosen a new direction. Most seem to be doing very well.

Talk to their clients and they argue such collectives bring fresh perspectives to their business challenges, and that they get a more personal service from senior consultants.

Moreover these consultancies tend to be flexible, low-cost businesses. No bad thing in the current environment.

So maybe bigger teams and bigger agencies should be making a bigger effort towards retaining their talent, or they could be facing longer-term decline.

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