Archive | Consultancy RSS feed for this section

PR consultancy – backwards and forwards

17 Jan

Hobsbawm I've updated my selective listing of UK PR consultancies, based primarily on those that are Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA) members.

It's been a chore as it's a couple of years since I created the list.

But the changes have been remarkable; what lessons can we learn from this?

  • The PRCA is a trade association, not a professional body. Its previous policy of restricting membership to larger consultancy businesses has been reversed, as this was leading to an ever smaller membership. Associate memberships have been scrapped, so all are now full members.
  • Most of the new members are smaller marcoms and promotional agencies who avoid the use of the 'c word' (consultancy) on their websites. Among some of these new recruits are celebrity and consumer agencies such as Borkowski who have previously shunned professional memberships. 
  • Some large, well-known consultancies (eg Edelman, Brunswick) choose not to be members of the PRCA.
  • Consolidation continues (EHPR has just been absorbed into Trimedia), but the sector remains dynamic (there are very low barriers to entry). So while the sector shrinks at one end, it expands at the other.
  • There's very little common ground between the promotional agencies and the consultancies specialising in corporate, financial, political or healthcare work. The PRCA began by splitting away from the then Institute of Public Relations (now CIPR). There's a case for the PRCA itself splitting into specialist trade associations – but there remains a more compelling case for it to merge back into the CIPR to provide a stronger single voice for the UK PR sector. 

  What will happen in 2009? I predict a scramble for the life rafts:

  • Consolidation will continue – not just because of a lack of capital, but mainly because of a lack of management expertise in the sector (human capital). But fragmentation will also continue as consultants seek to specialise, more mid-career practitioners offer themselves as consultants, and the lessons of small is beautiful are re-learned. 
  • There will continue to be a shift from advertising to 'below the line' promotional techniques such as public relations. But those seeking to win these marketing budgets will have to demonstrate rigorous methodologies for evaluating outcomes.
  • Everyone is looking for growth sectors and services. The public sector now looks more attractive than the private sector – and I note how one consultancy focuses on public sector and not-for-profit clients. I also note how one award-winning local government PR team is now a PRCA consultancy in a reversal of how public-private partnerships usually work.
  • In terms of services, social media appears promising. But how to make a professional service out of what Clay Shirky describes as mass amateurisation

Photo: Julia Hobsbawm by Learn4Life on Flickr 


13 Nov

John Harris has written an extended feature on Matthew Freud’s connections to the worlds of politics, media and celebrity. It reads rather like an appendix to Miller and Dinan’s A Century of Spin: the author can’t quite pin his subject down, but clearly senses there’s something wrong in someone having this much influence.

Having a famous great-grandfather, being the son of well-known MP and broadcaster, having Rupert Murdoch as father-in-law must confer advantages. I suspect it encouraged him to take risks, because you can see Freud’s progress as an entrepreneurial success story – how someone who did not go to university built a business and became connected to the most powerful people in the country. He’s earned the money he’s spending on private jets and lavish parties, though John Harris sees him as the Great Gatsby of our age.

How to be bad

19 Aug

As reported in Management Today, entrepreneur Guy Kingston is so fed up with ‘dodgy PR agents’ he’s trying to find Britain’s worst public relations agent.

He lists 9 signs of a bad PR agent – a reasonable list of bad practice indicators.

What’s unsaid is that a good PR consultant (note how I prefer to use the c word) will choose to develop long-term business relationships with the best clients. The problem here, as so often, probably comes down to expectation management. Short-term publicity does not always equate to long-term reputation, which is why payment by results is usually such a bad choice (it ensures the focus is only on tomorrow’s headines whether good, bad or ugly). Seven PR agents in just over a year does suggest a focus on the short-term.

Yet this stunt’s clearly gained him some publicity. Either he’s going alone and shows he’s learnt the rules of the game or – quite possibly – this was dreamed up by his latest ‘scumbag masquerading as a PR agent.’ If so, it’s a textbook example of how to turn around a difficult client. Trebles all round!

Kafka on PR

3 Oct

It’s Peter Kafka, and it’s The Top Ten Lies PR Agencies Tell Their Clients.

Advice for PR graduates

22 May

Take note: Harold Burson gives his advice on ‘how to get on in a consultancy career’. In summary:

  • Networking is the most important activity you can undertake
  • Team working is essential
  • Never cease working to become a better writer and more effective speaker
  • Develop as broad a knowledge base as possible

I feel that our course directly addresses the first three points, but I worry about the last one. As Burson points out, wide reading used to be the evidence of an enquiring mind. Now, with wikipedia just a click away, everyone can gain a little learning with little effort. So why bother with the hard work?

That said, there’s more than ever before for young people to know. An ability to select what to focus on (ignoring the rest) is another important skill in business.

Second wind

17 Nov

We’re two months into the university teaching year and I sense a declining enthusiasm among new students in line with the diminishing hours of daylight.

I recall a similar pattern when I worked in consultancy. Everyone became energised by pursuing and winning new business; all enjoyed the early weeks of a new client relationship. Only the true professionals could kick on after that and continue to generate enthusiasm, ideas and activity (in time for the six month review).

So here’s the challenge. Focus on your assessments, but don’t forget to plan further ahead by lining up work experience and developing your practice examples. And remember the deadline for articles for Behind the Spin is just one month away.

Behind the Spin? Ahead, I’d say

8 Nov

People are working away on articles for the print publication, Behind the Spin. So it was only a matter of time that someone would go ‘open source’ and turn it into a public discussion.

That someone is Stephen. One moment ago he was a PR student; now he’s a PR consultant – but one smart enough to know that he still has more to learn (don’t we all). Please add to the debate (I won’t, because I get to edit the article before publication).

Do it yourself!

27 Oct

Lost the ability to think for yourself? Guy Clapperton’s article in the Guardian’s Business sense supplement covers IT consultants and management consultants as well as PR consultants. But the question’s a good one: how dependent should a business be on its outside advisers?

Metaphysical marketing

26 Oct

Crayon is launched today in Second Life – and the blog chatter from Neville and the other partners has been getting the word out.

But what is it? And what will they do? How will truthful and transparent public relations take place through assumed virtual identities? Neville’s words must have been deliberately metaphysical (‘beyond the physical realm’). Intriguing…

That old chestnut

19 Oct

In-house or consultancy? It’s an age-old discussion that particularly interests public relations students and those beginning their PR careers. (There’s a chicken-and-egg quality to some discussions about which is best for gaining experience and advancing a career.)

Paull tackled this question recently at the excellent Forward blog. Now Anon has made a contribution at Profile Extra (‘I personally prefer the creativity, variety and high level environment of consultancy’ he/she writes). Why remain anonymous when your comments are this anodyne?

I’m inviting contributions to Behind the Spin magazine which is taking a look at the public relations consultancy business in the next issue. Anonymous contributions will not be published.