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Are London and New York still the dominant worldwide hubs of PR?

20th March 2013

Of the largest PR agencies in the world, nearly all have their headquarters in New York. So why does this city dominate the global PR stage? Arthur Yann, vice president, public relations at Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), says that one reason is opportunity.

He explains why he ended up working there: “In 1986, having graduated college with a journalism degree, I was anxious to return home and start my career in public relations. There were a few public relations firms operating locally, but advertised openings at these firms were few and far between, and progress toward securing a paying job in my chosen profession was painfully slow.

“By contrast, many of the top 100 public relations firms in the country at that time (and to this day) were based in New York – or, at a minimum, have a New York office. I made plans to spend a week in New York with a friend, set up a series of interviews and two weeks later, started my first job at a boutique agency on Fifth Avenue.

Historical media

“At that time, hard-copy press kits were still in vogue, word processors were just beginning to catch on (if you could fit one on your desk) and a fax machine with thermographic paper was your only choice for getting press materials across country on the same day. You could, however, get your press materials to The New York Times, The Today Show, Style with Elsa Klensch or the AP newswire within an hour … or a half-hour, if needed, just by specifying a ‘rush job’ with your messenger service."

Today’s digital media means it is less vital to be close to key media producers, but agencies have yet to move out of New York. One reason is because of the other businesses located there. Yann explains: “There is a concentration of major global firms and brands. New York remains home to 42 corporations listed on the Fortune 500, making prospecting and networking geographically convenient and advantageous.”

And because New York is a buzzing city, it attracts talent, as Yann says: “The same things that draw tourists from the world over to New York – world-class cultural attractions, Broadway entertainment and dining – make it a sought-after destination for young professionals and a rich source of diverse local talent.”

Why London rules

London is also a centre of media, business and culture, which explains why it has such worldwide PR force. IT follows of course that there are more PR jobs in London than anywhere else in the UK. One way that the UK is different from other countries is the style of its media. Tom Leatherbarrow, head of B2B at agency Willoughby PR says: “The UK, and by definition London, is a world leader for PR because the PR community is reacting to the UK media, which is the most aggressive media in the world. Purely in terms of business stories, any reading of Frankfurter Allegemeine Zeitung or the New York Times or Le Monde would highlight the fact that the UK national press is far less reverential to its business leaders; much less reliant on company generated reporting information and much more willing to rock the boat, by going over the heads of management teams to other sources, such as institutional shareholders. Witness last year’s shareholder spring stories.

“As a result, PR in the UK has had to become much more fleet-footed, proactive and strategic in its response to the media.”

PRCA director general Francis Ingham, agrees that strong British media is one reason why the UK does so well at PR, but he adds that our country has other advantages: “The UK is rightly viewed a centre of PR excellence, something which is due to the UK’s world-beating media heritage. This has also been aided by the geographical location of the UK, which enables us to deal with both the US and the East in a working day..“

However, Ingham concludes, that us Brits need to stay sharp if we are too keep our position as worldwide PR leaders: “Globalisation is becoming incredibly important and no UK agency can risk resting on its laurels when it comes to building links to global PR networks.”

Written by Daney Parker

Global Reputation Forum

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