FOCUS: WALES - Creating a new PR climate in Cymru/Cardiff is cosmopolitan and inward investment is on the increase. Wales has certainly made great strides in updating its image. Karen Dempsey reports

Slag heaps, coal mines, male voice choirs and sheep. This is the image of Wales that has been perpetuated by the media for decades and that Welsh PR gurus have been fighting to bring up-to-date.

Slag heaps, coal mines, male voice choirs and sheep. This is the

image of Wales that has been perpetuated by the media for decades and

that Welsh PR gurus have been fighting to bring up-to-date.

Work by the Wales Tourist Board and the Welsh Development Agency over

the last decade has taken the Welsh economy into the 21st century and

has created a buoyancy and optimism in the country - especially in its

capital city Cardiff.

’Wales is booming and the Welsh economy has seen massive inward

investment thanks to the WTB and the WDA,’ enthuses Mike Smith, chairman

of the IPR Wales Group. ’They have successfully turned around what was a

dinosaur of an old industrial economy built on the iron and coal

industry and transformed it into a hi-tech industry. And Welsh PR is

reaping the benefits of this fast-developing situation.’

Most of those beneficiaries are concentrated in Cardiff. Around 98 per

cent of PR agencies are based there, ranging from a series of

one-man-bands to the four biggest players. The biggest home-grown

agencies are Quadrant and Golley Slater, while the newest English

arrivals are Lowe Bell Good Relations and Harrison Cowley.

The arrival of English agencies has been the source of tension in the

past as there has been a traditional rivalry between Cardiff-based and

Bristol-based offices. Leedex, which set up an annexe office in Cardiff

from its headquarters in Bristol, found that the ’absentee landlord’

scenario did not work and had to withdraw.

Mark Riggott, financial director at Leedex in Bristol, says: ’The office

didn’t make money and the impression we got was that you had to have a

presence in Wales using Welsh people to do business with their


Quadrant’s senior partner Bill Jenkins qualifies this: ’Companies have

tried to do it by remote control but Cardiff is recognised as a strong

enough media centre without having to deal with a consultancy from the

other side of the bridge. For the contacts and knowledge you need to be

on the spot.’

When Lowe Bell Good Relations set up its Cardiff office in 1989 it

appointed Cardiffian Noreen Bray, who had worked for 13 years on news

and current affairs for the BBC, to run it. ’The company needed someone

who understood the people, the language element and the politics,’ she

says, pointing out that the benefit of having Lowe Bell in Cardiff was

that it was not just a satellite but gave clients an access point to the

whole Lowe Bell group.

Another English network, Harrison Cowley, had never really done any

business in Wales before it set up in Cardiff in 1989 but has managed to

establish itself since.

Director Melanie Faithfull says: ’You can’t march in with very English

views. You have to understand what the country is about and respond to

the needs of the marketplace and the clients.’

But in responding to the market, Faithfull sees her main task not as

stealing business from rival agencies but in creating a larger


The Cardiff Bay Development Corporation has gone some way towards

developing that market. A quango set up in 1987 to put Cardiff on the

international map, the CBDC has been working on a series of industrial

and commercial regeneration initiatives and has helped to attract many

new companies to the area.

Now that the infrastructure is in place, property developers are setting

up and Harrison Cowley has been winning business from new clients such

as hotel group TBI and house builder St David.

’There are clients which have never had a consultancy before so you have

to educate them about PR before you win the business and enlarge the

cake for everyone,’ says Faithfull.

Quadrant’s Jenkins agrees that the PR cake is growing. ’With all the

inward development in Cardiff, companies are setting up their

headquarters here for the first time and we are in a strong position to

deal with the new set-ups. It gives PR companies the chance to sell in

the notion that PR belongs in the boardroom as a management function

rather than an add-on service.’

The arrival of private sector clients has opened up a new source of

income for PR consultancies, but the market has traditionally been

reliant on public sector business.

Jonathan Smith, managing director of Golley Slater, the

longest-established consultancy in Cardiff, is not as optimistic about

the current state of the market. While he recognises that the public

sector has done ground-breaking work in attracting inward investment, he

still feels that the market is not big enough, particularly as public

sector business is declining.

Smith says: ’We are not crawling over each other to pinch each other’s

business but I’d be more upbeat if I thought that there was more private

sector business in Wales as it is a public driven economy.’

One of the biggest public sector accounts in Wales is the CBDC, worth

around pounds 150,000 in annual fees to Quadrant, which has held the

account since 1989. As CBDC has a small in-house team - consisting

mainly of public affairs manager Frank Leavers - and a multifaceted

communications programme, it has always outsourced its PR.

This compares with other public bodies which have such strong in-house

teams that they only call in external agencies for special projects.

Marc Evans, who runs a ten-strong press and PR team for the Wales

Tourist Board, does most PR work in-house and stresses that his team

functions like a commercial agency. He employs local agencies for

short-term projects but generally relies on building up good

relationships with local, national and overseas journalists to help find

a place for Wales in world tourism.

The Welsh Development Agency also handles most of its PR in-house with a

team of nine, headed by media and communications director Bet


It has retained agencies around the world and Lowe Bell in London

provides support with the national press and public affairs. Davies

prefers to use an agency in London ’because for a public organisation

with an international profile it is bizarre that the media should have

to be referred to an agency just two streets away from us’.

With public sector work on the wane, agencies are looking for new areas

of growth and to expand their skills.

Lobbying is an area that is likely to grow, particularly now that the

Welsh Assembly could become a reality. Quadrant has already made

in-roads into this area by setting up Wales and Westminster

Communications, a joint venture with Westminster Communications, and has

public affairs offices in London, Edinburgh and Brussels.

Jenkins says: ’Up until now it has not made a huge contribution to our

income but it has enabled us to provide PR programmes from the strength

of a good political and public affairs understanding.’

In the meantime, PR in Cardiff is cashing in on two events that it hopes

will banish the image of sheep and coal mines for good. The European

summit is being held in Cardiff next year and the city plays host to the

Rugby World Cup in 1999.

’These events will give Cardiff dramatic media exposure,’ says Hugh

Jones, PR manager for destination marketing organisation Cardiff


’And we have to make sure that these opportunities are exploited for the

long-term prosperity of Cardiff. After all, who’d ever heard of

Maastricht before?’


One of Cardiff’s main exports to the UK’s PR industry is freshly-trained

PR people.

Boasting the only postgraduate diploma in public and media relations in

the UK, Cardiff University takes 30 students a year and aims to give

them enough practical experience to be properly prepared for a PR


’After you’ve done the course you’ll hit the deck running in your new

office. Nothing will be thrown at you which you cannot handle,’ says

course director Mike Smith, who carries with him more than 30 years

experience in PR. He set up Golley Slater in 1969 and is currently

chairman of the IPR Wales Group.

Lasting one year, the IPR-accredited course includes teaching by the

Cardiff Business School and Centre for Journalism Studies. The syllabus

covers all areas of PR but also aims to give practical experience of

real situations such as handling crises, issues management, new product

launches and achieving business objectives.

The practical element involves students spending one day a week at a PR

company, culminating in a three-week placement at Easter. Major

PRagencies which have offered their support include Hill and Knowlton,

Shandwick, Burson-Marsteller and Cohn and Wolfe.

Smith’s strategy has been to establish links with the leading London

consultancies and this seems to have paid off. He estimates that 80 per

cent of students have jobs in PR within two months, and the rest by the

end of the year.

He says that the key is instilling in students a practical sense of what

it involves to work in a PR company. ’To be an effective PR

practitioner, it doesn’t matter what you want to do,’ says Smith. ’Most

important is to find out what is acceptable to your target audience

whether it is a client, journalist or supplier. You have to know inside

out and backwards where they’re coming from.’

Students enthuse about the course and the practical experience it has

given them. Louise Plank has just finished her placement organising the

BAFTA-Cymru awards. She recalls: ’I had to collate the database,

organise photocalls and host the media at the event. I loved every

minute, but I would not have been ready without the course.’


On the evening of Thursday 15 February 1996 when the Sea Empress ran

aground and spilled 120,000 tonnes of oil over the south-west Wales

coastline, this could have signalled disaster for the tourism


The national media showed images of beaches and wildlife blackened and

damaged by oil. The Pembrokeshire phones - which at that time of the

year were usually buzzing with bookings - stopped ringing.

The Wales Tourist Board had to act quickly before the incident embedded

itself too deeply in the minds of potential holidaymakers and, in

collaboration with Regester and Larkin, it drew up a strategy to launch

the ’Welsh Tourism Fights Back’ reassurance campaign.

The campaign reinforced the message that the beaches would be clean by

the summer and a helpline was set up to give basic information to

holidaymakers and monitor their attitude. ’We had to tread a careful

line not to make exaggerated promises to the public but to give

reassurances on the basis of truth,’ explains Marc Evans, the WTB’s

communications manager.

The campaign focused on drawing media interest to the clean-up operation

and to areas that had not been affected by the oil spillage. And it

organised a large number of press visits by UK and international


Once the beaches were clean, phase two of the campaign involved a higher

profile strategy to bring visitors and media back. The WTB committed

pounds 40,000 towards the campaign and transferred the lead role to

regional tourist company Tourism South and West Wales. It hired

Cardiff-based consultancy Golley Slater to do promotional PR for the

1996 and 1997 seasons.

Local media were co-operative, and the Western Mail ran a series of

positive stories about tourism in the affected areas. And by liaising

with the environmental group Friends of the Earth, the WTB managed to

help tone down reports of the damage to wildlife by pointing out that it

was as interesting to observe devastated areas during their recovery as

when they were in a healthy state.

As a result, business across all sectors last summer was down just five

to ten per cent on average compared with Cardiff Business School’s

initial estimate which suggested that tourism income would be down

almost 13 per cent (pounds 20.64 million out of a projected total of

pounds 160 million).

Evans says: ’The recovery of south west Wales is a classic example of

how PR can turn what could have been a disaster into a relatively good

news story especially when there was not enough money in the budget to

do large-scale advertising.’


When the Welsh Development Agency started negotiating with Korean

company LG over a deal worth pounds 1.7 billion and 6000 jobs to Newport

in Wales - the UK’s biggest inward investment - the WDA’s PR department

was given a key role in securing the business by keeping the whole deal

under wraps.

Bet Davies, the WDA’s media and communications director, was charged

with arranging private, highly confidential visits from senior figures

at LG. She could not tell colleagues outside her department and the

whole thing was handled by a circle of six.

Wales was competing for the business against other European locations

including Ireland and Scotland, so external activity involved continuing

to raise the profile of Wales in Korea. This included a visit by WDA

chairman David Rowe-Beddoe to Korea, which gave the opportunity for

press conferences and seminars to push Wales as the preferred


Internally, Davies set a new departmental interior strapline ’Making the

Difference’ and made sure that her staff paid attention to every detail

when the Koreans came to Wales.

Disaster struck when press speculation about the deal threatened to ruin

negotiations and could have damaged the whole relationship. ’Trust is

important in the Korean culture and as they thought we had leaked the

story they broke all communications for two weeks.’ recalls Davies. But

WDA’s personal relationship through its office in Seoul managed to bring

them back into the frame and the deal was signed on 12 July 1996.

Since then, the WDA has supported LG in handling the British media.

It also produces the LG newsletter to keep all parties up to date with

the progress of the project.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in