Many public relations consultancies based in the Home Counties,
from Kent and Surrey to Berkshire and Oxfordshire - but based just
outside London - would take great exception to hearing themselves
described as ’regional’ businesses. That tag, they might assert
sniffily, belongs to agencies located in Northern Ireland, say, or the
North West or Wales.
We, they might well continue, have national credentials as strong as any
of those agencies based in London W1, SW1 or EC2. And in many cases a
quick look at the client list will give credence to that contention.
The reasons why these agencies with a national outlook have chosen to
base themselves outside the capital vary. For some, particularly those
that are involved in the hi-tech sector, it is to be close to clusters
of clients in the IT belt that has sprung up to the west of the
For others, it is simply a feeling that the advantages of a London
address are outweighed by its disadvantages. ’There is no question that
the quality of life where we are in Henley far surpasses what we would
be able to achieve in London,’ says Marbles director Sue Beard.
London indeed loses its appeal for many communicators with young
And, given the long hours people in the PR business are often expected
to work, many find the prospect of a daily commute unappealing,
preferring to live and work outside the capital. Out-of-town agencies,
and out-of-town in-house departments, consequently have a strong
However, A Plus director Jonathan Simnett believes the skills shortages
that is facing the industry as a whole has been ’exacerbated’ among the
agencies in his area, with too few talented candidates for the large
number of opportunities available. And although Simnett argues that
technology such as ISDN lines and video conferencing can obviate the
need for travel he thinks that for the most part it is still important
for consultancies to be close to their clients.
Richard Harvey, managing director of Edwards Harvey Associates - a
consultancy based in Maidstone, Kent - feels that out-of-town
consultancies do have to work harder to find the right people.
’There’s still a perception that if you’re based outside London, then
you won’t have any interesting accounts,’ says Harvey. ’That may be the
case with very small consultancies but the calibre of clients we service
demand the sort of creative, results-driven programmes which are
rewarding to work on.’
Harvey goes on to say that agencies like his own owe a debt to
Countrywide Porter Novelli ’which long ago proved that exciting PR
programmes are available outside of the capital’.
Among EHA’s recent campaigns has been support for Britain’s oldest
brewer Shepherd Neame in its application for a judicial review of
Chancellor Gordon Brown’s Budget decision to raise beer duty by a penny
a pint from January. EHA helped the brewer deliver its message that the
tax is against the single market objectives of the Treaty of Rome, to
which the UK is a signatory.
All the daily national broadsheets have written about the story, and
there has been plenty of broadcast media coverage as well, including BBC
Radio 4 and 5, Sky News, Business Breakfast and regional television.
’It seems to me that post-recession PR has brought a new era of
financial realism, where clients are much sharper on relating spend on
annual retainers and campaigns to results achieved,’ adds Harvey.
’That’s good news for anyone working outside London because our lower
overheads mean we can offer more competitive fees.’
Lower overheads come mainly from lower office rents. But, unlike in the
regions located some distance from London, the salaries that are on
offer in the Home Counties are comparable to those in the capital.
For some, location has as much to do with convenience of travel across
the UK as with being on the doorstep of clients. For others, the choice
of location is decided by the concentration of actual and potential
clients in a locale.
This was the case for Brighton-based internet specialist Midnight
’Brighton’s well-known as the cyber capital of the UK,’ says Midnight
managing director Caraline Brown. Midnight’s recent assignments have
included the launch of the Arthur C Clarke Foundation’s web site The
History of Communications and devising and supporting the Saturday
Morning Kids’ Club for client Entertainment Online.
An out-of-town situation need not disbar agencies from international
business either. Although it has a London office, Key Communications
runs its international business out of Thame in Oxfordshire. The
managing director of that office, Felicity Reed, argues that clients
inevitably rate agency quality, experience and capability far above
It is a theme taken up by Icas managing director Carl Courtney.
’In our experience clients seek a consultancy that understands their
business, rather than one that is situated in a particular place,’ he
says. ’Proof of this is that we rarely meet our geographically close
competitors in pitches but often find ourselves up against consultancies
with clients in sectors we also operate in.’
In any case, the evidence is that the established consultancies in
southern England are enjoying solid growth at present.
’I haven’t noticed as many new public relations cosultancies springing
up as was the case seven or eight years ago,’ says Peter Prowse
Associates proprietor Peter Prowse. ’But what is happening is that some
of the smaller companies are getting growing in size.’
There are, of course, some sectors of PR activity that are not well
suited to locations outside central London. Lobbying and financial
(specifically City) PR spring readily to mind.
However, with modern communications being what they are, most other
areas of PR can be conducted outside London without problem - and with
improved quality of life for the practitioners.
In many cases, consultancies based in pleasant out-of-town settings are
proving highly attractive to London-based, city-weary clients who enjoy
being able to escape the frenetic metropolis for brainstorming sessions
in Brighton or Henley, Epsom or wherever - the change of scene helping
to get their creative juices flowing.
Truly there is a lot to be said for business life outside London.
CASE STUDY: DIY SCHOOL IS IN A CLASS OF ITS OWN
Many parents go through agonies of the mind wondering which secondary
schools will offer their children a good education. The fact that demand
for top-performing schools far exceeds the number of places they have
available further complicates matters.
Such was the situation facing a group of parents living in and around
Epsom, Surrey. Their solution was to set about launching the first ever
grant-maintained school to be started from scratch.
Locally-based agency JBA Public Relations was appointed to handle PR for
the year leading to the opening of the school, named Blenheim High
School. Beginning work in September 1996, JBA’s brief was to ’meet
enrolment requirements’ - that is, make sure that the planned intake of
120 pupils was filled - and to position Blenheim as the first-choice
school in the area.
Blenheim faced competition from three other grant-maintained schools in
the area: the co-ed Epsom and Ewell High School, boys’ school Glyn ADT
and girls’ school Rosebery. With many affluent families living in its
Surrey catchment, Blenheim was also in competition against schools from
the independent sector.
’What JBA was doing was to sell a dream. When they began there was a
heap of old, neglected buildings still occupied by someone else,’ says
Blenheim head teacher Victoria Musgrave.
Although JBA achieved coverage in some national media, the focus of the
campaign was directed at the local press and radio stations with a view
to building up awareness among four groups: parents of potential pupils,
the children themselves, feeder schools and key influencers.
The three main local newspapers in the area - the Epsom Guardian, Epsom
and Banstead Informer and Epsom and Ewell Herald - together with radio
stations BBC Southern Counties and Radio Mercury were drip fed stories
during the course of the year so that hardly a month went by without
Blenheim making the news.
Musgrave was made available for interviews and photo opportunities - so
effectively, she says, that strangers started to think that they knew
The school filled its first year intake of 120 places, and found
interest to be so strong that it is considering increasing next year’s
intake to as high as 180 places.
CASE STUDY: ICAS HELPS OSRAM PASS ITS SCREEN TEST
The film company behind current release The Borrowers, starring John
Goodman and Jim Broadbent, approached light source manufacturer Osram
for technical advice on creating a larger than life light bulb to
feature in a key chase sequence in the movie. The film makers returned
the favour by giving Osram on-screen product placement.
Osram’s Hemel Hempstead-based PR agency Icas saw the communications
potential in further association with the movie - a family adventure
tale of small people using live action and animation techniques that is
Polygram’s first foray into a market historically dominated by Disney -
and set about working with its client to develop a national integrated
As Osram has recently signed a three-year contract to supply a full
range of domestic lamps to 142 Bhs stores around the country Icas felt
it would make the ideal retail partner for the promotion. Icas, together
with Osram’s design company BBA Active, worked on developing the
in-store promotion - an unusual role for a PR agency but one in which it
As part of the promotion Bhs stores are carrying special packs of Osram
incandescent lamps and point of sale branding highlighting a Borrowers
competition with prizes including a family holiday to Hollywood and
hundreds of movie tickets. Regional billboard and radio advertising and
a series of local newspaper competitions up and down the country are
being used to support the promotion.
Trade press and professional lighting specifiers were invited to preview
screenings of the movie and a hospitality event decorated with thousands
of mobiles of Borrowers characters.
’Icas has had an involvement in Osram’s culture from R&D production
through to purchase to maximise the PR opportunities across the
company,’ says Osram communications manager Mike Swaddling.
CASE STUDY: PROVING THAT SMALL FIRMS ARE THE BUSINESS
Business Link is a Government-backed national network of advisory
centres for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). For the period
after it opened in March 1996, Business Link Surrey retained Peter
Prowse Associates to raise awareness of its existence and role among
SMEs in the county.
Faced with a budget of just pounds 24,000, PPA sought to highlight
Business Link Surrey’s three core services: information, advice and
training. There were also three distinct elements to the communications
programme: regular media relations initiatives, case studies explaining
the help a Business Link can give and a sponsorship with Surrey’s main
local radio station.
The latter saw PPA work with County Sound Radio to develop a weekly
sponsored business information slot called Business Bites which ran
during the morning news bulletin on the AM and FM stations. After a
pre-recorded introduction, Business Bites consisted of 60 seconds of
business advice on subjects such as exporting and benchmarking and
provided an 0345 phone number for further information.
To get maximum mileage from the Business Bites material, the PPA team
rewrote and extended it to provide local newspaper advice columns - Tips
for Growth and Extra Business News - supplied to the county’s two
largest newspaper groups, Surrey Advertiser Group and Trinity
PPA negotiated with editors to run the columns as editorial on either a
weekly or fortnightly basis. Business Link Surrey was credited and again
the 0345 number was included, as was the name of a Business Link
Case study material showing how the organisation had helped local
businesses was prepared and used in the media relations campaign.
Research carried out by Harris Research among Surrey businesses after
the 10-month campaign found prompted awareness of 65 per cent, five per
cent more than Business Link Surrey’s target. The DTI was so impressed
that it decided to use Business Bites in the national media.
’Peter Prowse Associates has been key to establishing a professional
image for Business Link Surrey that has fed through into sales leads and
early credibility within the county,’ says Business Link Surrey chief
executive Ermine Evans.
There were 171 mentions of Business Link Surrey in local, trade and
national media, and the organisation received 12,500 enquiries in its
first year of operation - 3,500 ahead of target.