There is no denying that this year has been a big one for the
Midlands-the most powerful leaders in the world converged on Birmingham
for the G8 summit in May and the same month saw the attention of Europe
focused on the city again for the Eurovision Song Contest.
Understandably, those who work in the PR industry in the Midlands are
keen to point out the work the industry is doing both promoting itself
and the region. Although there is justifiable regional pride, Mark
Triggs, director of Key Communications based in Birmingham, points out:
’In terms of who is doing the most creative campaigns or the best work
for their clients, I’m sure there is no difference between those working
in Edinburgh to those in Bournemouth or anywhere in between.’
A survey, carried about by Staffordshire-based PR consultancy Brookes
and Vernons among journalists, revealed that in response to the question
of the location of a PR company, most said: ’It’s not as important as
the quality of the work.’
Bronwen Eames, managing director Brookes and Vernons says: ’Recent
account wins have included national clients needing a consultancy with
relevant experience. They prefer an agency which is conveniently located
However, for clients based in the Midlands, an important component of
that quality of service is a knowledge of the region and an
understanding of the issues which drive its economy and affect its
Gordon Brown, head of marketing, Midlands, for the world’s largest
accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) is adamant that this was an
important factor in the recent appointment of Key Communications as its
retained PR consultancy.
’Although PWC is a global brand, my target audience is the East and West
Midlands, so as far as I was concerned I wanted someone who was embedded
in the geography. There are certain nuances in the business community
which quite frankly aren’t important as far as London is concerned, it
just misses totally.
’As a consequence of that we wanted to make sure the messages being put
out are relevant to our regional business community. So we had to have a
PR agency which worked here, which lived here and which understood the
nuances of what we were talking about.’
Sam Warnock, head of PR at the Birmingham Marketing Partnership,
He says: ’I don’t think you can do better than call in a regional
consultancy if it’s a regional message you’re trying to put out. The
strengths with the London consultancies are in dealing with the national
press, but once you start getting into the region, very few London-based
PR consultancies have the strength or knowledge.’
Warnock has the dual challenge of selling Birmingham’s attractions as an
international conference and exhibition destination. Recently, as part
of the national campaign for the reform of England’s archaic licensing
laws, which are particularly well enforced in Birmingham, Warnock has
been involved in getting the Birmingham licensing justices and local MPs
’We’re trying to make Birmingham more of a 24-hour city. When we’re
bringing in five million-plus visitors every year for conferences and
exhibitions, a lot of them from Europe, they’re used to European
licensing laws where you can go out at ten o’clock at night and come
back at three in the morning,’ he says.
On a national level, the Birmingham Marketing Partnership is currently
involved in persuading the Government to invest in helping bring the
International Textile Machinery Association exhibition to Birmingham’s
recently-extended National Exhibition Centre. The selling point is not
only the immediate commercial benefits for the Midlands, but also the
fact that rather than spending more money on helping UK companies to
exhibit in Europe, less money is spent if the exhibition is held
Not only is it important to target the regional audience, but Brown says
there are other issues in terms of representing the Midlands on the
national and international stage.
’The Midlands is very much the home of manufacturing, so we look at the
state of manufacturing: about the way the economy is going, how
manufacturing is changing and how that will impinge not only on the
regional economy but also on the national economy.
’Then we can take this forward from a national perspective. We actually
represent, for instance, the automotive industry which is firmly based
in the Midlands. We have one of our international centres of excellence
for the automotive industry in Birmingham itself. So that means we are
the spokesman of the UK, and even parts of Europe, for automotive
issues. That emanates from the geography.’
For whatever reason clients choose Midlands-based agencies, it seems
there is no shortage of work for them, and even with the threat of
recession looming, there is still business to be picked up. Ask PR
people in the region whether or not the recession is causing concern,
and the response is pragmatic.
Dianne Page, director of Birmingham-based Barkers PR, says: ’Things will
happen next year, certain clients are going to have a tough time, and
then they will be cutting their budgets. We’ve got to be prepared
Barkers has now employed its own in-house new business manager, and Page
says he is going ’hell for leather’ in targeting new prospects. She also
says that in these times, it makes sense to target companies where PR is
an essential part of the marketing mix.
On the other side of the coin are hi-tech specialists such as Citigate
Technology, based in Northampton. With the IT industry less
geographically entrenched, managing director Julie Clay and her clients
have different concerns. In the last recession, Clay points out that the
IT sector was less hard hit than many others, and although there is the
fallout of the crisis in the Far East, she is not overly concerned.
She says: ’At the moment a lot of our work comes through
recommendations. IT people also tend to move around quite a lot, so if
you’ve got a good relationship with them, they tend to take you with
them. PR is still quite young within the IT industry, and I think there
is still a lot of work out there to be picked up.
’There’s a lot of opportunity to educate, getting involved on the
strategy side and bringing it around to issues rather than
While most people believe there is still a lot of work to be won - and
this opinion is backed up with many agencies’ numerous recent account
wins and upcoming pitches - the problem turns to recruitment.
Karen-Anne Bernie, managing director of Wyatt International raises this
issue, saying that along with most of the country, she is having trouble
recruiting staff with several years’ experience. Consequently, says
Bernie, ’We are finding that younger individuals end up in senior PR
positions due to the sheer lack of people available, and they soon find
they are not really up to the demands of the post.’
She also highlights the problem of over-inflated salaries, saying it is
not unusual for people with one or two years’ experience to be asking
for salaries of pounds 20,000 to pounds 25,000 and a car.
And many say that as the current problem of staffing levels stems from
the last recession, there could be even greater problems in five years’
But many comment on the air of confidence in the region. Mark Triggs
says: ’I don’t know if it’s Midlands specific, but I think there’s a
great air of confidence in this region. When you think what might happen
with our strong engineering sector you would think we would be all doom
’It’s not just in marketing and PR terms, but in terms of progressive
thinking, in moving forward. Birmingham is really reinventing itself in
a way that other cities aren’t - physically and perceptually as
REDEVELOPMENT: A KEY ROLE IN HAMMERSON’S BULL RING PLANS
Birmingham may not have a reputation as one of England’s most attractive
cities, but, as its residents are being informed, ’It’s time for a
And with the new Brindleyplace development and regenerated canal-side,
change is already underway.
However, the first sight greeting a visitor who arrives in Birmingham
via the A38 is the Bull Ring-a rundown concrete shopping centre.
Opened in 1964, the Bull Ring was once a source of pride for the city as
the world’s first multi-level city-centre shopping mall. Now it has
become an infamous landmark, and a seriously a dilapidated one at
For years plans have been afoot to redevelop the area, but all have
fallen through until Hammerson UK Properties stepped in.
With extensive experience of international and UK property development,
such as shopping centres in Brent Cross, London and Reading, it bought
the Bull Ring site in 1996, planning to rejuvenate it as an attractive
shopping centre and market area.
Since acquiring the site, Hammerson began a campaign to get the
redevelopment underway. In October 1997, Key Communications was
appointed to work alongside Hammerson, targeting the media and the
public, and presenting the case for redevelopment to the council.
Key Communications’ strategy has been to get in touch with as many
interested parties as possible. This includes the Institute of Directors
and the CBI; the editors of publications such as the Evening Mail and
the Birmingham Post; the British Council for Shopping Centres, the
British Retail Consortium, local retailers and lettings agents. The
message is that it’s not just about shopping, but part of the urban
regeneration programme and will have a positive impact on the region’s
The site is such a strong symbol of the city that many people have
strong feelings about what should happen to it. If Hammerson is to win
the ’hearts and minds’ of the public it is crucial it puts across the
message that it can be trusted to develop the area sensitively, in a way
which reflects Birmingham’s spirit, and not just another chrome and
marble shopping mall.
The result has been hostile headlines turned to positive ones and a wide
level of support from Birmingham’s business community. Now that
Hammerson has won detailed planning permission as well as a road closure
permit, it looks as if the time for change has finally arrived.
PRCA: CONSULTANCIES JOIN FORCES TO RAISE PR AWARENESS
Until 1995, when Bryan Holden, chairman of Warwickshire-based Leader
Communications took over as chairman of the Midlands region PRCA group,
local members tended to view each other as potential competitors.
However, over the past three years, the 11 member agencies including
Paskett PR, and the Birmingham offices of Harrison Cowley and Grayling
have pulled together for mutual benefit.
To avoid losing work to other players in the marketing mix, the group
has overcome old rivalries and pulled together to raise awareness of the
PRCA and the role of PR in business success.
’We would all much rather pitch against each other to companies who are
serious about using a PR specialist, than compete with an advertising
agency or design consultancy,’ says Bronwen Eames, managing director of
Brookes and Vernons PR in Uttoxeter.
In June this year, to promote the PRCA and explode a few myths about the
PR industry, group members put together an eight-page supplement for the
Birmingham Post. This included articles about corporate reputation and a
feature entitled ’Why Go South for Quality PR?’ by Powell Cooper Drew
director, John Cooper. In addition, the group edited published material
written by members’ lead executives over the past two years, to create a
comprehensive pocket-sized brochure. Topics include ’Evaluation - The
Benefits’ and ’Crisis-What Crisis’.
By using these tactics to set out the professional standards membership
of the PRCA entails, such as commitments to ISO 9000 and Investors in
People, the group is starting to see a real growth in business from
Midlands-based companies.The group is also benefitting from a shift away
from the attitude that ’London is best’, experienced by all service
industries in the area.
For the future, the Midlands group is setting up a range of
presentations for marketing and management professional groups. These
include a range of business seminars with the Institute of Marketing and
the Institute of Directors. Eames says : ’These are the people we really
need to talk with, to make the business community aware of exactly what
is available to them.’ From the New Year, the lead executives from
member agencies, will be making presentations about the whole menu of
initiatives that the PRCA’s London headquarters have put in place over
the past 18 months.
In addition, Holden reports that ’activities since the summer, have
resulted in two major PR consultancies in the area joining the PRCA over
the next couple of weeks.
’We’ve got a spirit of getting things done and making things