We take a tour of PR agencies around the country to find out why they are now thriving, and how much difference the pandemic has made to their business. We also hear from London-based agencies about why it is important to think beyond the capital.
There is more job satisfaction
Mike Maynard, managing director of integrated agency Napier Partnership in Chichester: “The switch to WFH has blurred the difference between regional and London agencies. Remote work means you can live in Chichester and work for a London agency, visiting the office a couple of times per week. But there is still a huge difference in culture between agencies that grew up in London and those that developed away from the capital. Regional agencies offer a better approach to the hard-charging attitude in London that is built around an assumption that high staff turnover is inevitable. Regional agencies offer a more rounded approach to benefits that enable a better work-life balance and job satisfaction that lead to better campaigns. You can base the employees out of London, but you can’t take London out of agencies’ culture.“
They bring the office to the talent
Gavin Loader founder of agency Truss PR with offices in London and Bristol: “I ran a PR agency without an office for 10-years. I believed that we could attract and recruit great people if we fitted our business around their lifestyles and home location.
“Ultimately though, as we grew, we opened hubs in London and Bristol. That helped to build an office culture, but still be near to our team’s preferred place of working (and living).
“The office is still an important platform to build a business culture, but driven by more home working demands, perhaps PR agencies are bringing the office to the talent rather than the talent to the office.”
Rural areas are good for employee mental health
Catherine Linch, managing director of PR and marketing agency Pinstone in Leominster: “I’ve long been an advocate of professional businesses - PR and otherwise - being based outside of city locations. The mental health benefits of being surrounded by the countryside and connecting to local communities are massive benefits. For us, in rural Herefordshire, the talent pool has traditionally come from ‘growing our own’ and recruiting from graduate level. Your agency could be just the opportunity that young people are looking for to get their first rung on the career ladder that’s local to home and family. And for those joining agencies with a growth mindset, they’re not stemming their career ambitions. Rural communities are typically castigated for hosting retired populations or being dormant outside of holiday seasons. But dynamic businesses can help to reverse the trends and where others follow suit - and bolstered by the post-Covid trend to reject city dwelling - the talent pool with inevitably grow and rural areas will thrive.”
They are experts on their region
Jessica Pardoe, account manager at agency Source PR in Chester: “I think once upon a time London agencies used to dominate the PR scene, but that’s just not the case anymore. We’re based in Chester and service both national and regional clients, but for those that are based in the North West - I believe they find it useful to work with PRs who live in and know the area. Plus, I imagine brands are wising up to paying London premiums, when they can get good services elsewhere. I’ve always been an advocate of working with the smaller regional agency, as we become an extension of our client’s team here at Source and the working relationship is often better. We know the regional media and the climate in the area - it’s a no brainer nowadays I think.”
Running costs are cheaper
Georgia Gadsby, co-founder and head of PR at agency Unearth PR in Plymouth: “I launched Unearth PR in the middle of the UK’s second lockdown and, whilst we were working remotely, I considered both city and regional locations for our office. I looked at satellite spaces in London, as I thought this could work well for occasional client meetings, but eventually settled on a bigger space in Plymouth, Devon.
“Choosing an office outside of London was one of the best decisions we made for the business. We’ve been able to attract local clients in the South West, but still have an increase in leads from all over the UK. A huge majority of our clients are still London based and even prefer to have meetings virtually instead of in the office.
“Having Unearth PR located in Plymouth has saved us hundreds of pounds a month on expensive London rents, and even allowed us to have a larger space for the team to utilise.”
Clients are less London-centric
Chris Norton, founder of agency, Prohibition PR in Leeds: “The pandemic has both helped and hindered regional agencies when it comes to their success. Before, being a regional agency meant we were often overlooked for pitches in the South. But now, more and more brands and businesses are more open to working with providers from further afield, especially if it means they get a great service, at a great price. “
They offer a boutique service
Jacqueline Mariani, managing director of agency jmm PR in Kettering: “Regional PR agencies have a number of perks, including being extremely cost-effective, especially compared to London-based agencies. jmm PR is conveniently located in the East Midlands, with transport links to major cities in the UK. Our office is only an hour from Central London by train and an hour’s drive from Birmingham and Luton airport.
“The Covid-19 pandemic accelerated remote working, which has helped regional PR agencies to thrive with virtual meetings now the norm. It doesn’t matter where the client is based, we work with companies all over the UK and can work closely with you even if there are many miles between us.
“If you are looking to work with a PR agency, widening your search outside of London will increase your chances of finding a boutique agency that suits your business to a tee in addition to being better value for money, making your marketing spend go much further.”
It matches the trend to get away from London
Martyn Gettings, head of PR at PR agency Tank in Nottingham: "The rise of hybrid working means that regional agencies are now as well-positioned as ever to attract the best talent from London. Being able to split time between working at home and the office means being local is no longer a prerequisite to joining an agency outside of the capital and we can now spread our net wider to find the best people.
"Nottingham is growing so quickly as a city with a number of rapidly expanding agencies, so a cheaper cost of living and more affordable property prices make moving away from London an increasingly attractive option, whilst still benefiting from all of the perks that come with city life.
"We're also seeing similar trends with clients, as major tech businesses look away from London agencies for a more personal and cost effective approach, as well as some which are physically relocating their headquarters to Midlands locations."
We must burst the London bubble
Lucy Mart, managing partner at communications consultancy PrettyGreen, in London: “Our industry needs to focus on getting PR brains out of the London bubble and driving inclusivity by increasing the opportunity for talent who don’t want to live in London. Agencies and clients benefit from having employees based outside of London as it brings welcome diversity of thought and perspective. It also means clients can have teams based in close vicinity to their offices as well as regional creative and media hubs.
“We used the pandemic as an opportunity to review our ways of working through our Less Ordinary lens and moved to a Work From Anywhere policy which means whilst we still have a London base, we also now allow PrettyGreen employees to work in the location that suits the individual, their clients and their team best. We have transparent salary benchmarking across the agency irrespective of an employee’s location and we’ve updated our operational systems and recruitment processes to support remote working. As a result, we now have teams based regionally cross the country and also have teams working from other countries - both of agency and client businesses are reaping the benefits of increased flexibility.”
Laura Sibley, managing director, consumer at PR agency Brands2Life in London: “It is a breath of fresh air seeing the continual growth for regional agencies to flourish with opportunities for all to step into PR around the country. 20 years ago, I moved to London (from Chesterfield in Derbyshire) to get my career off the ground in PR - there were fewer regional agencies then. It is really exciting for PR - especially those on their first steps of their career or those wanting to choose to work from where they want.
With many brands operating outside of London, they all have such passion for their local communities and understanding for their audience base all over the country - agencies that are going to do the best job for them have to show such understanding too. It helps if they have staff from all around the country with different backgrounds and local appreciation.”
Post-pandemic, life is getting back to normal in PR and the fact that regional agencies are now doing so well is great news for our industry as a whole.
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