With George Osborne’s latest budget announcement expected on Wednesday, there are a lot of rumours flying around, one of which will be a reduction or removal of Entrepreneur’s Relief, and there has been a lot of rhetoric about the Government’s Northern Powerhouse initiative. The initiative is looking at devolution and how Westminster is going to shift some of the power from London to the regions, which made me think about our role up here and whether this would ever trickle down into our beloved industry of public relations. Sure, we might get a faster HS2 line connecting us better and making our journey to the capital 30 minutes quicker, but will PR companies in the north ever finally be able to take on the established bigger boys in London.
I hear the same crap, year in year out, about the north having more and more creative degrees and PR graduates but just 15 years ago when I left University, it was pretty much an unspoken rule that if you wanted to get the best experience, you needed to move to London. In 2015, do people still feel if you are a serious PR business you need a fixed London base?
I moved back from West London in late 2003, I had a good time down there, and the truth is I went there to better my career – I mapped my own career out. I was young free and single and I followed the hallowed ground of London and the bright lights because I wanted to work for an International PR agency that could give me good quality experience in the sector. I had already worked in-house as an internal communications specialist on a nuclear power station for more than a year, and I wanted to work in a successful thriving agency.
However, in the modern era with the emersion of more mobile technology and the use of more and more free conferencing tools like Skype, do we still really need to have some kind of office in the capital to do business? Or is that model now broken in 2015/16? Do you still need to operate there because that is where the big fish are and a large client expects to visit your London office – or are things in business now really changing? Is George on to something? Are we going to see a change in the north/south divide, because I think that would be great. A more balanced UK would be better for everyone living everywhere as far as I can tell.
I founded and now run an integrated PR agency in Leeds, we are lucky enough to have a number of national high street brands as clients and we also have some local clients but we certainly don’t command the huge fees that some of the London agencies do, but does that matter? We do award-winning outstanding work and so do many of my PR friends around the region. Our cost base is obviously lower and Leeds has quite a lot of PR companies up here and some are excellent. Prolific North lists the top 50 PR agencies in the north every year, and it receives data on more than 200. Here is the top 50 and mine even manages to get a mention: http://www.prolificnorth.co.uk/2015/07/the-prolific-north-top-50-pr-agencies-2015/
However, although Leeds has a strong creative sector we are all proud of, I still don’t believe as a city or a region we are leading the country in the way we really could if we worked together. As much as it pains me to say it, I think Manchester has some excellent agencies but even together, can us northern upstarts ever really challenge the bigger budgets and experience of the London consultancies? I hope so, I want us to. Manchester now has the benefit of having more agencies, more digital brains and most importantly the BBC. I think this is a great opportunity for all of us northern agencies. Has the BBC started a trend? As media gets increasingly hyper local are we going to see more and more media companies moving from the bright lights of London to join us up here in the north the due to the lower costs?
So what do you think, will we ever be a northern powerhouse of PR?