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Scotland's PR market

By The Drum, Administrator

May 18, 2006 | 12 min read

Legendary Hungarian newspaper editor, Joseph Pulitzer once said: “Publicity, publicity, publicity is the greatest moral factor and force in our public life.” Publicity, in this day and age has become an essential aspect of our society. So many companies crave attention, while at the same time society demands knowledge, and through the use of publicity that hunger for information can be fed.

Despite the growing concern about work ‘going south’ from Scotland, the number of people working in the PR industry in this country has grown over the past few years.

Since the formation of the Scottish Parliament back in 2004, the number of public relations agencies has continued to grow at an unprecedented rate due to the Scottish Executive’s use of agencies for its continual stream of news, campaigning and events taking place.

Work in the public sector makes up for around half of the PR work in Scotland - which has the largest number of PR agencies in the UK - outside of London.

“PR is about ensuring that reputations are maintained” says PR consultant John Brown. “If reputations are damaged then it’s about trying to rebuild that. It’s about relationships with different communities and stakeholders and you’ve got to have different tools to try and evaluate how effective you are in trying to achieve that.”

According to a survey conducted by the Chartered Institute of PR in November 2005, approximately 48,000 people are employed in PR throughout the UK, in an industry that the survey estimated was worth £6.5billion. Of that sum, the industry contributes £3.4billion to the national economy and £1.1billion to corporate profits.

London holds 46 per cent of employment in the PR field, while Scotland has 9 per cent of the UK’s PR employment, meaning that Scotland is the second largest PR community in the UK, making up 8 per cent of the national workforce.

On Scotland’s success in the PR industry, Ian Dommett, managing director of Golley Slater in Scotland, says: “I believe Scotland is doing well for a number of reasons. It provides a self-contained media environment but also a wide range of companies who are looking to perform and promote themselves specifically in their home market. I think it would be fair to say that Scotland is a 'devolved' economic and PR environment.”

Robyn Glynne-Percy of Profile Plus expands on the reasons for Scotland’s current booming marketplace: “I believe that it is down to a combination of factors: buoyant economy; focus and financial support for companies in sectors such as tourism, IT and biotechnology provides a positive spin-off for agencies that work in these sectors, such as PR; the special characteristics of the Scottish media mean that PR agencies outside Scotland are unlikely to be as successful in their approach to these media; lastly – the devolved parliament and the concept of ‘a separate nation’ mean that many UK-wide businesses have a separate PR agency, and separate budget to work within Scotland.”

Fifth Ring’s Kelly Kilmer agrees that the specialist expertise of certain Scottish companies also attracts clients who needed specialist services and knowledge: “As an agency working in Aberdeen (Europe’s energy capital), I believe that the service we offer to the energy industry is a specialist PR offering. To understand the nature and complexities of the industry takes time, and keeping abreast of industry trends and issues is core to what we do. By the very geography of the city and the activity of the North Sea, we are advantaged to be serving the world’s largest industry here on our doorstep; could this be done in London? I doubt it. This specialist service has enabled us to open offices in Dubai and Houston. This is quite a unique offering, as clients know that we can serve their public relations interests across all the energy regions.”

A closer network within the PR community was another reason cited for making agencies looking at north of the border as an attractive option, with companies constantly in communication with one another. This helps establish links in marketing and PR and introduces more potential clients to agencies who can meet their needs.

Despite this, concerns about more and more clients looking south for agencies still linger. Yet if this is the case, why do Scottish agencies continue to attract so many talented employees?

Angela Casey, managing director of Porter Novelli, agrees that Scotland attracts many young professionals, saying that: “For many younger people, the opportunities within the Scottish agencies are greater because, on the whole, we are smaller and therefore young talent reaches the coalface faster than in a larger, more structured agency. Size also means that individuals need to pick up a wide range of skills and demonstrate breadth as well as depth. It is quite challenging, which is something on which younger talent thrives.”

Ian Reekie, managing director of Freshwater Scotland, argues that a great deal of the attraction of working in Scotland is the lifestyle that staff were able to lead. “Claire Murray, account director in our Edinburgh office is a classic example,” says Reekie. “Claire is Scottish and worked in London, but was attracted back here by the quality of life and the vibrancy of the PR sector up here. In our Cardiff HQ, we have a couple of people there who have both worked for London agencies. In my experience, people in London seem very 'angry' with life in the capital- it's no wonder many would prefer to work in Scotland,” said Reekie.

With the average wage of Scottish PR workers currently at around £36,017 as opposed to £46,200 across the rest of the UK, the lower cost of living in Scotland is certainly an important factor in attracting talent from outside of the country.

Working in Scotland does offer attractions for talented professionals but why do bring clients employ Scottish PR agencies as opposed to London agency or agencies from elsewhere in the UK?

Ilya Scott of Real-PR believes that this is due to Scotland having a “distinct media market” which attracts many UK clients requiring specific Scottish PR expertise.

Scott also says that she thinks Scotland is an attractive proposition “as a test market which offers PR opportunities.”

Mary-Jo Devlin of Emjay PR has a different point-of-view as to why Scottish agencies may be attractive. “From experience and having pitched against a number of English agencies, the Scots are better at straight talking,” she says. “Clients don’t want some smart-assed PR in a sharp suit, blinding them with made-up words and pie charts. They want directness. It’s what they pay for. That and, of course, results.”

While the lifestyle may be better in Scotland, the PR agencies themselves are the main factor in attracting talent to work in this country, and while they may have the same basic functions, each agency will in some respect offer its employees something unique.

When asked what Scottish agencies can offer talent for around the world, Jeremy Hamilton, executive director of Harrison Cowley Scotland, spoke assuredly. “Scottish agencies offer opportunity, freedom to develop campaigns in their own design, opportunity to shape the market and to make a real, positive impact that is noticed, rather than simply churned out,” he says.

One concern that PR agencies in Scotland have is the possible cost cutting by the Scottish Executive which many agencies believe may result in a centralised roster being created, which may exclude agencies that depend on public sector work from quangos and the Executive itself.

“I think that the PR sector is skewed very heavily towards the public sector,” says Brown, of the importance of work from the Executive to the Scottish PR market. “Whether they are in-house posts in public bodies or in the voluntary services or non-government sectors and consultancies, about half the posts are dependant on contracts from the public sector. There has been a particular growth in PR jobs in the last 10 years, especially since the setting up of the Scottish Parliament.”

He continues: “Most of the quangos, but not all of them have PRs. Now that hasn’t always been the case. When I started in local government in the 1970s, there was probably a handful of councils that had PRs. In 35 years, that’s moved from two or three councils having PRs, - Glasgow being one of the first in Scotland - to every single council in Scotland having a PR team. Things have changed. All of the quangos like the SQA has PRs too. VistScotland have PRs. Every quango in Scotland has got PRs and I think that’s right that they have recognised the need for strong, good communications advice to deal with the different issues that they have got to deal with.”

At this stage, centralisation is still only a fear, but if it were to become reality, a centralised account is something that Jenifer Sturton of CIPR hopes will continue to “reflect the diversity of PR companies across Scotland.”

Stirton believes that the Executive has played a key role in the promotion of the industry and that any possible centralisation would hopefully include smaller agencies. “I work with a small team and sometimes that means we have to be a bit more creative,” she says. “Smaller agencies will also have to be more creative about things in order to survive...that might also be true of some of the larger companies as well.”

Ian Caldwell, managing director of Pagoda PR, agrees that work from the Executive was important to Scotland’s PR boom. "The public sector in Scotland is a big source of PR work,” he says. “But at Scottish Executive level PR is still the junior partner when it comes to agency spend. We need to continue to show that PR is more cost effective at getting messages across - especially on issues that involve behaviour change."

Angela Casey feels that the Executive should ensure that their ‘roster’ was diverse in its selection of agencies, but did not feel that public sector work necessarily would come from a centralised field.

“The Executive does have a roster of agencies, but not all public sector work has to be channelled through that roster,” she says. “This is good as it maintains a diversity of choice for the public sector. The roster should be larger though, to ensure a wider range of talent where Executive agencies have to choose from the list and it should include companies of all sizes and approach.”

Meanwhile, agencies not dependent on work from the public sector feel that they will not be affected if the Executive was to centralise its PR work.

With agencies such as Clayton Graham, Citigate Smarts, Barkers and Clayton Graham offering integrated services, many clients have been attracted by the range of services available to them.

Lorna Burt, director of Burt Greener Communications believes that smaller agencies can benefit from the public sector contracts and grow. “It would be good to see smaller companies that specialise in different fields secure some of this work, and given that the roster is reviewed every few years we would, as a growing and ambitious Scottish independent, aim to secure such an opportunity,” she says. “Saying that, Burt Greener has progressed quickly and successfully without a place on the roster, through commercial contracts but also with a growing list of local authority and public sector agency clients.”

However, Devlin believes that Scottish agencies will not be able to thrive by offering PR alone in the future.

“Because of a number of factors including declining newspaper sales and the internet, agencies won’t be able to survive forever simply offering a PR service,” she says. “Expect more in the way of integration with other marketing related agencies.”

Kelly Patterson of Clayton Graham explains that, from a client point of view, integrated agencies make sense.

“As long as they truly can offer all the services that they advertise,” she clarifies. “Integrated agencies need to have skilled PR practitioners, but they also need to have an understanding of where and how their speciality fits in to the marketing mix as a whole. PR as an industry is evolving.”

“Integrated agencies can offer unbiased advise on how to split the marketing budget. The trend seems to be toward integration offering both economies of scale and creative answers to marketing objectives.”

Frank McCallum of McCallum Media Monitor press cutting agency says that he feels that there are a wide variety of clients from the Executive who have used PR to good effect.

“We see campaigns against such things as smoking and speeding from the Executive,” he says. “There are all sorts of PR being used...but when you look at papers and magazines you can easily see a lot of PR stories. When you think that you have done everything you must then go on and do something else. I think that at times it is not fully utilised and that there might be other means that could be developed in using PR.”

While Scottish PR is currently enjoying its time in the sun, there are still problems that it must face up to. Potential clients continuing to look down south; the possibility of the Executive ‘cost-cutting’ its PR budget, as well as the struggle for PR to be seen as an industry in its own right.

But for once Scotland has a positive attitude towards the future, and the current state of the industry seems to be both healthy and continuing to thrive.

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