FOCUS: HOME COUNTIES - Catching pitches from a home base/Agencies in the Home Counties can offer the advantages of a close proximity to London, but without the costly overheads

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.

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

city.



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

families.



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

appeal.



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

Communications.



’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

location.



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

her.



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

marketing campaign.



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

engaged readily.



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

Newspapers.



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

adviser.



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.



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