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The rush of PR start-ups

7th January 2015


There seems be a trend of agency start ups in PR at the moment. A number of senior PR people who have taken the plunge and set up on their own over ther past couple of months. But if you are be keen to start up on your own, is now the best time to do it? Newly independent digital media consultant Paul Sutton believes it is, as he points out that in its 2014 Digital PR Report, the PRCA says that digital PR budgets are expected to continue to grow during the next 12 months.

Sutton explains that the report also highlights how the nature of agency comms is changing: “Work is becoming more project-focused, shifting from retainers to campaign-led activity in many cases. Add to this that 80 per cent of those surveyed in the report believe the future of community management is in-house, and it’s a threat to many traditional PR agencies which are structured to rely on a steady, retained income.”

Sutton says there is a “huge opportunity” for those prepared to embrace a new way of working: “I’ve now set up as an independent consultant because I firmly believe there’s a significant opening for knowledgeable and skilled communicators to establish themselves as true experts in their niche. Because of the way the industry is moving, I feel there’s never been a better time to offer expert advice in partnership with other creative agencies and in-house teams.”

If you decide to take the plunge and set up an agency, Rich Leigh, founder and director of PR agency Rich Leigh & Company, shares the best advice that he was once given, which is that the decisions you make now will dictate whether you run an agency you’ll be passionate about in ten years, or you run an agency that simply pays your employees’ wages every month. Leigh adds, “From that, the main thing I took was to specialise. To work out what you enjoy and build from there – and although this narrows your potential client pool, it doesn’t mean you’ll be tiny, or can’t branch out later on.”

“I enjoy personal PR – helping interesting, inspirational and talented people get the attention they deserve – and I love creative campaigns and brands whose products or services I believe deserve attention, so they’ve become my focus. It sounds so easy (and God I sound worthy), but already, I’ve had potential clients get in touch that don’t fit my intentions, but have money. If we’d won them and I’d employed to service them, I’d have already started down that well-worn path of giving brands that have little of importance to add the platform to do so, and it’s difficult to turn around the further down that path you go.”

“So, at this incredibly early stage, I’d say stick to what you enjoy and your team will build around that. That said; let’s see how long this principled stand lasts, shall we?”

Eight pieces of advice before you start up

From Cairbre Sugrue, founder and principal of Sugrue Communications:

1. Have a plan. It sounds obvious, but be rigorous about your objectives, aspirations and strategy. It may be that you have to throw a lot of it out of the window and follow a different path after six months, but at least start with a clear idea of why you’re doing it and what you want to achieve. The best way to do that is to get professional advisors on board, such as an accountant, as well as friends and family who’ll be prepared to be constructive critics.

2. Accept your strengths and weaknesses. Take a thorough, cold-light-of-day look at what you’re good at and where you might need help. Remain objective and you will gain a clear view of the essence of your offering, leading you to the next step of considering how to bridge any gaps.

3. Why you? It is a very crowded space, but there are plenty of opportunities for enterprising consultants. However, you do need to be able to clearly articulate why prospective clients should buy from you rather than your many competitors.

4. Seek advice. You will encounter many self-proclaimed experts willing to offer bounteous advice. Though it may seem overwhelming at times, much wisdom can be gained from people who have set up their own business, not necessarily your sector or industry. Be smart in filtering it: take the best bits, but don’t just select the stuff you want to hear.

5. Be focused. Time management takes on a whole new dimension when you’re working for yourself. It is tempting to take just one more meeting with a potential prospect, but is it really a client you can help? Do you have expertise in that field? Is it someone you want to work for? If you know what you want to sell and who you want to sell it to, you can be programmatic in how you approach sectors and companies. Be as thorough as you can with your research and start in industries you have a natural inclination and passion for, because that will be important when you come to sell yourself.

6. Get out there. Attend networking events, conferences, participate in online communities and put out your point of view via digital channels. Whether you are a natural networker or not you must get involved and make it count. The goal should always be to create direct conversations with individuals, who you can follow-up with, because we all know that clients are more likely to buy from people they know rather than complete strangers.

7. Use your friends, your friends’ friends and your friends’ friends’ friends. Our start-up experience has restored our faith in human beings, if I ever needed convincing! The number of friends who have helped us has been amazing. This ranges from an introduction to a first class accountancy firm willing to invest their time to go through our business plan with us, to valuable connections with various business prospects. Your personal network really wants you to be successful and in the nicest possible way you should use that to your advantage.

8. Above all – BE POSITIVE! Believe in yourself and what you’re selling. If you can’t convince yourself, why should others believe you? That requires boundless positivity, which even for the most “glass half full” folks can be tiring. Especially in the start-up phase you’ve got to be able to roll with the punches and develop a thick skin – whatever happens you’ve got to get back in the ring and carry on.



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