Prime Research’s Richard Bagnall offers five pieces of PR career advice

Richard Bagnall, CEO of Prime Research, claims that he fell into working in PR more by luck than by design, although he had for a long time thought that it might be a career that would suit him, he says: “I’ve always been an open and outgoing kind of guy and that, in conjunction with the image of PR in the late 1980s, made it one of the sectors I was interested in joining. I just didn’t know how to go about it.”

Being “open and outgoing” aren’t, however, the qualities you imagine are important for someone who devotes so much of his time to the issue of measurement (Bagnall is chair of AMEC’s social media measurement group). He describes how he became interested in this subject back in the mid-1990s: “I was feeling stuck in a rut in an in-house PR role and was yearning for a new challenge. I met Mark Westaby, who had the original idea behind Metrica, and was excited by the opportunity. PR measurement was an emerging discipline and where it did exist it wasn’t being done very well. It was either spurious or over-complex and often both. Mark and I could see the opportunity to create a measurement business that was simple to understand, but not simplistic, that was based on proven marketing measurement techniques and that could really help to prove the value of PR’s work. I set about building the business from there and Metrica’s success and ultimate sale to the Gorkana Group is now history.”

In terms of social media measurement, Bagnall says that he got involved through working with global client Dell in 2005. “Dell was probably the very first organisation to suffer from a social media crisis – before the term social media was even commonplace. Back in 2005, Facebook was still a new company only open to college kids and Twitter hadn’t launched either. It was exciting to be involved in Dell’s global HQ helping the company work out how to respond to the crisis, how to organise and structure and how to work out what content mattered – or not – and why. I knew from then that digital and social media had the power to make and break reputations and that monitoring and measuring it would be crucial.”

Bagnall’s career hasn’t always been plain sailing. Things took a turn for the worse in 1994, after he left a job he loved, at Hollis, where he had worked for three years on the PR industry’s bible of the time, The Hollis Press & PR Annual. Bagnall was offered a job with Rowland Worldwide, one of the world’s largest agencies, owned by Saatchi and Saatchi. 

Bagnall describes what happened next: “The company had recently been formed out of a merger of three leading PR agencies – Granard, Kingsway and Rowland – all of which were now being merged to form one super business. As the cultures clashed and different management styles became evident, there was a lot of politics and internal fighting, which coupled with the ousting of Maurice and Charles from the holding company, made it a particularly difficult time to be there. Clients left us and staff numbers were repeatedly cut. Eventually I was one of the casualties. To this day, I remember the feeling as I packed my desk with just a few moments notice and a small redundancy cheque in my back pocket – all I could count on in this big ugly world was myself. It taught me a very valuable lesson in life.”

Bagnall says there are five key lessons his career has taught him, which he lists:

1. No one owes you a living (learnt from selling ads on commission only). Businesses only care about results, not effort. Work hard all of the time and constantly strive for results.

2. Develop your network (learnt at Hollis Directories). Being well connected throughout the media and of course PR itself is vital. You’d be amazed what those connections will do for you when you need a favour. Also that it’s possible to run a very successful business with good grace, humility and kindness.

3. Sometimes life is unfair (from Rowland Worldwide). When life knocks you down, deal with it and get straight back up. Being made redundant by Rowland removed its stigma for me such that since then I’ve never viewed it as a negative since for anyone who has applied to me for a job.

4. The sum is always greater than the parts (from Metrica days). Build a team of smart, motivated and well-rewarded people and make sure you listen to their opinions. Very rarely does one person have all of the answers. Focus your people on a common goal. It is possible to do great work while still having fun. And as leaders realise that you’re not a leader because of your job title. You have to constantly earn a team’s respect. You do this by not just leading the way, but by always being prepared to set an example, join in, work hard and help out when times are difficult

5. Integrating businesses with different cultures, heritage and management styles is challenging (from Gorkana days). But also change is part of any great business, learn to adapt and accept it.

Bagnall wishes to end his interview with some final thoughts on measurement. He says: “Don’t fear PR measurement, embrace it. We live in the age of accountability now and it’s crucial that PR can prove its value in a credible and meaningful manner. Do this by focussing on SMART objectives. Think measurement at the planning stage of your campaigns not as an afterthought once a campaign is over.”


Richard Bagnall is CEO of global media monitoring and measurement agency PRIME Research UK. Prior to joining PRIME Richard was MD and one of the owners of Metrica which he sold to Gorkana in 2009 where he worked for a further four years. Richard is on the CIPR social media panel, chairs AMEC’s social media measurement group and is a member of the UK Government’s Cabinet Office Evaluation Council. You can find Richard on Twitter @richardbagnall

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