ANALYSIS: Consultancy Management - PR agencies harness power of specialists. With more pressure from both clients and the media to deliver, and increased competition from other disciplines, more PR agencies are examining new ways of working

PR consultants have traditionally been nervous of moving to jobs, such as managing agency staff, which take them away from clients. Being attached to a client, and therefore to a stream of revenue, is a consultant’s security.

PR consultants have traditionally been nervous of moving to jobs,

such as managing agency staff, which take them away from clients. Being

attached to a client, and therefore to a stream of revenue, is a

consultant’s security.

But it appears that leading consultancies in consumer PR are aware that

they face increasing scrutiny from clients. Not only are agencies

introducing evaluation techniques to rival those of the advertising

world but they are also attempting to structure themselves along similar

lines to provide better service.

Some agencies are beginning to recognise the value of employing

consultants whose main responsibility is not to manage a client

relationship. Lexis Public Relations - named in December as one of the

UK’s top 100 fastest growing companies by the Sunday Times - has

announced a restructuring in which six staff, led by board director

Tricia Beaumont, are to give up day-to-day management of client

relationships to form a creative and media department dedicated to media

relations, sponsorship and sales promotion.

Members of the creative team, which range in seniority from board

director to junior account executive level staff, will be used by

account handling teams and have regular contact with clients, unlike

most advertising agency creatives. Account administration, organising

presentations and pitches for new business, writing client reports, and

managing clients will be left to the 36 remaining staff, who will be

divided into six separate client handling groups.

’We don’t have the luxury of having a completely separate creative

department, but the market is moving towards greater specialism,’ says

chief executive Bill Jones.

Lexis managing director Hugh Birley says: ’There is a realisation that

PR people are generalists who are attempting to do everything. The media

environment is becoming more sophisticated and we can’t expect a

generalist to be really expert in media, sponsorship and sales


Birley says Lexis’ restructuring and formation of a specialist creative

and media team is a reaction to the success of specialists such as brand

and celebrity-focused agencies like Freud Communications and Mark

Borkowski Press and PR: ’They each have a de facto specialisation but we

are a traditional agency working in consumer, business-to-business and

corporate areas.

We are more exposed to growing specialism so we need to keep our offer


Other agencies have formed specialist teams who do not manage client

relationships. Two years ago the Quentin Bell Organisation established a

media relations team to handle its consumer accounts. It also has a

dedicated media promotions team.

Trevor Morris, managing director of QBO, says that in addition to

editorial and advertising, promotions are featuring increasingly in the

media and PR people need to understand this area. He says QBO’s decision

to establish specialist teams was driven not so much by the threat from

the likes of Borkowski but by the increasing ability of advertising and

sales promotion agencies to offer PR skills.

QBO’s reasons for setting up a dedicated media relations team are


Morris says: ’There’s an awful lot of terrible copy coming out of PR

agencies but using specialists helps.’

He argues that ex-journalists are better employed writing press

releases, devising media strategies and story angles and liaising with

the media than orchestrating marketing, planning or client

presentations. This also leaves more room for the marketers to focus on

what they’re good at.

Agencies with established reputations for media specialism are not being

left behind. The recent restructuring of Lynne Franks PR, which resulted

in a name change to Life PR, saw the agency establish a media division

called Exposure. This dedicated team, headed by director Francesca Lee,

focuses on winning targeted and relevant media coverage for clients.

Life PR director Claudia Marten says: ’Exposure allows us to be

specialised in dealing with particular subjects. While we all deal with

the fashion press it was difficult for us to provide specialists with

knowledge of youth or women’s issues.’

Marten argues that the move towards establishing specialist media teams

is driven by the changing nature of media itself: ’The massive media

explosion means that more experience is required to put a brand at the

forefront of the consumer mind.’

Creating specialists also allows personnel more suited to client

handling and marketing to focus on their own strengths. However,

cultural changes within agencies inevitably bring teething problems.

Morris says: ’The change took four or five months to get used to.

Clients were delighted but it was a big internal issue.’ Managers

accustomed to appointing key staff in an all-encompassing role had to

think again and staff have to get used to not being as involved with

some clients as they may have been in the past.

Birley, however, is prepared to allow time for his creative and media

team to pay dividends: ’In six months we expect creative and media will

be ahead of the rest of us in their thinking and will add value.’

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