You can't top local knowledge

A London-based team working with regional offices is an ideal combination for delivering results

There’s never a truer saying than ‘people do business with people’, particularly in PR. This is perhaps even more pertinent at a local level when it’s definitely who you know that opens doors, in the first instance. All over the UK, there are highly talented PR professionals delivering a top-class service to their clients, but you can’t beat local knowledge for really adding value to a client’s business. With the best will in the world, sometimes you need to be there to know what’s actually going on and how you can make a difference.

In spite of increasing globalisation, online media and social marketing make it even more possible to hone down messages to very local levels. Even though people are communicating with friends on a worldwide, real-time basis, understanding local communities and having local knowledge are still absolutely essential to making communications relevant and effective.

For example, an NHS organisation in the Midlands came to us recently looking for specialist communications support. It needed a consultancy that understood the sector and could conduct the work with that knowledge and confidence, but it also needed a team that knew the local area well. This is a perfect example of how having that local knowledge combined with specialist expertise can be absolutely essential to the success of a communications campaign. 

Local relevance

Over the many years I’ve been working in PR, one of the most common complaints from journalist colleagues is that they rec­eive media releases that are simply irrelevant because they have nothing to do with their patch. If you live outside South Yorkshire, for example, and are basing your decision-making on a media database, you might think a Rotherham paper would be interested in a story about something in Sheffield – given they’re so close ­together – but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Having said that, an organisation wanting top-class PR will also want the reassurance that, when it has something of national importance going on, or when it needs highly specialised advice, it can trust its agency to provide that too.

So regional organisations face a real challenge when it comes to choosing a PR agency. On the one hand they want an agency that understands their local community and business issues, but on the other they need one with the clout to get national, int­ernational or specialist coverage if needed.

And given that times have never been tougher, businesses are increasingly going to want to make sure the money they spend on PR is well spent so, where they can benefit from the lower rates and localised service offered by a regional agency, that will be very attractive, but not if it’s at the expense of national or specialist knowledge.

It’s vital that we get the message across that PR is an investment rather than a cost. Effective communications are never more important than in these difficult economic circumstances, where the businesses that will survive are those whose ­external and internal communications are developed to support their business strategies.

Get to the heart

What this comes down to is that to demonstrate real value for money and form lasting and significant partnerships, any agency must get to the heart of what its clients’ businesses are all about. If a client needs a loc­al agency service, that’s what it should get. If it requires national or specialist reach, it needs an agency that can deliver that too.

Increasingly, clients’ needs change and any consultancy has to be ready to meet these needs.  Providing this level of flexibility shows you are ready to move as your client’s business does. This is particularly pertinent in the regions where small and medium-sized business needs may change overnight. So being part of your client’s team is absolutely vital.

To deliver effective PR, you have to get under the skin of your clients, understanding their business strategy and ethos and getting to know all the key individuals to find out what makes them tick and how best to draw on their strengths and experience to maximise the value of the PR opportunities. That’s why we’ve developed our ‘best teams’ approach, which allows all our clients to benefit from our local and regional on-the-ground intelligence, coupled with the ­opportunity to bring in specialist expertise when it’s needed.

A recent example of the success of our best teams approach is the work we’re doing for John Lewis on its new stores opening programme. We’ve been able to direct the work from our London off­ice, making it easy to have regular face-to-face meetings with the client team, while actually working on the store openings using teams from our regional network of seven offices. Three stores – Cambridge, Liverpool and Leicester – have already been opened and we’re currently gearing up for the opening of the flagship Cardiff store later this year.

The regionalised approach seems to be one for which an increasing number of org­anisations are looking.

The Central ­Office of Information, for example, has, for the first time, divided its PR framework into nations and regions, and many of our own national clients have come to us specifically because they recognise the benefits of having an agency that offers the combination of a London-based team working with colleagues through the regions.

Now, more than ever, clients are looking for strategic and specialist communications input, combined with flexibility and value for money, and that’s something I ­believe can be delivered most effectively through the kind of network we offer.

Case Study

The Dignity at Work partnership, Europe’s largest anti-bullying in the workplace project, is co-funded by the trade union Unite (Amicus section) and the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. The project aims to encourage employee representatives and employers to build cultures in which respect for individuals is regarded as an essential part of the conduct of all those who work in the organisation.

Freshwater organised a series of 13 regional seminars to stimulate debate on the issue among business owners, trade union representatives, employment law specialists and HR professionals.

Using our UK-wide network of offices, we delivered an event management programme – from Glasgow to Southampton, Cardiff andNorwich – that was well-attended by all the key target audiences. The events were co-ordinated centrally by the client contact team but managed and attended on the day by the local Freshwater offices.

The programme of seminars was also supported by a strategic media relations plan that gained national, regional and trade coverage across print, radio and television.

As a result, organisations including Coca-Cola and the Axa Group signed up to the Dignity at Work partnership, adopting a zero tolerance approach to bullying and ensuring employees are protected in the workplace.

Kath Harding is head of Freshwater’s regional network

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