Manchester's PR scene: A new creative energy

By Cameron Clarke |

Frank PR

|

manchester article

June 11, 2013 | 6 min read

No longer content to play second fiddle to London, there have been winds of change blowing through Manchester’s PR scene of late as it pushes boundaries and jumps on new opportunities.

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Manchester’s media landscape, where the world’s longest-running soap opera sets its cobbles and the Guardian newspaper laid its foundations, has been through perhaps the most profound period of change in its history in recent years. From the BBC’s landmark decision to move a huge tranche of its television and radio output from London to the mammoth MediaCityUK development in Salford, to the Manchester Evening News’ disappointing retreat from the city centre to exile in Oldham for cost-saving reasons, the effects have been keenly felt by Manchester’s huge collection of public relations firms – and noted by outsiders too.Take for instance the London-based Frank PR, which claims to be the fifth largest PR firm in the UK. At the turn of this year it opened a Manchester offshoot, dubbed Manc Frank, to capitalise on the city’s burgeoning status as a national media hub. “Manchester is an exciting place to be from a media, client and talent perspective and we wanted to be right at the centre where that fuses together,” explains Frank PR founder, Graham Goodkind.Graeme Anthony, who has worked in PR in Manchester since 2006, is the man entrusted with running Manc Frank on a daily basis. He says the Manchester PR scene had been enlivened by an “influx of new blood” in recent times: “Three years ago, the PR scene felt a bit stagnant, content with playing second fiddle to London agencies and not really pushing the boundaries. But it now feels like we’ve got our spark back and a rejuvenated creative energy.”The sentiment is shared by James Crawford, managing director of PR Agency One, another relative newcomer to the Manchester PR scene. “There is a real feeling of change in Manchester,” Crawford says.“There are countless PR start-ups with innovative new offerings, which I feel are now genuinely starting to tackle integrated communications the right way. We see time and time again national clients turning to PR agencies in Manchester because we can offer an international standard of service without the expensive fees associated, which are inflated by the salaries of Sloane Rangers and expensive central London offices.” Sandy Lindsay, managing director of Tangerine and chair of the Public Relations Consultants Association for the north west, definitely detects a mood of optimism in the city: “Over the last few weeks (literally) I’ve been noticing the winds of change blowing through Manchester PR agencies with those who’ve had a really hard time starting to feel the reins easing up and money starting to flow again, which is great news for the sector as a whole.”A victim of the hard times was Staniforth, one of Manchester’s most high-profile PR agencies, which was abruptly closed by its parent company TBWA in November 2012. Two of its staff, Julie Wilson and Rob Brown, responded by setting up the phoenix agency Rule 5 at MediaCityUK at the end of last year. “The arrival of the BBC and continued growth of MediaCityUK has further boosted the city’s reputation as a hub of creative talent and has undoubtedly created new opportunities for north west businesses and PRs alike,” Wilson says.This arrival en masse of national media journalists and editors means Manchester agencies now have more opportunities than ever to secure widespread exposure for their clients, as Smoking Gun managing director Rick Guttridge explains: “The opportunities afforded by BBC Breakfast and 5 Live in particular are immense if you have locally based clients.” And because some of the UK’s most important news and current affairs programmes are now based in the city, coverage goes far. “The outlets are agendasetting, so often one piece of coverage has a positive spin-off for more coverage and the fact so many journalists are clustered together can often produce a viral effect of coverage throughout numerous BBC programmes taking up the one story,” says Andrew Spinoza, a former MEN journalist who set up the SKV consultancy in 1999. “The BBC move to MediaCity has also helped advance the perception that a London postcode isn’t a crucial requirement for quality,” adds Nina Webb, owner of Brazen. “Some of the best creative minds in the UK are here in Manchester and now that the BBC is here, and many others are following, more clients are beginning to realise that and take advantage of it. The Manchester Evening News [MEN] move is different. I like to see a provincial newspaper based in the heart of the community it represents and writes about. Manchester feels strange without the MEN at its heart.”Kevin Feddy worked at the MEN for 23 years and was the paper’s business editor before leaving to start his own eponymous media relations consultancy this year. He says: “Manchester has everything to offer in terms of being a big, cosmopolitan city with bags of entrepreneurial drive, spirit and vision. Clients getting a good service will be working with firms that know the region’s media well, are accessible and keep close to them, and can provide additional services by drawing upon experts in a burgeoning creative and digital sector which does not exist in other regions.” Lee Bloor, managing director of Label PR, agrees that Manchester’s creative reputation is a huge asset: “Manchester is a PR agency’s dream. The creative mood of the city means we’re never short of inspiration and the same can be said for our clients.” Today Manchester PR agencies can boast clients of national and international scale, but that wasn’t always the case, as Citypress managing director Charles Tattersall explains: “Being a national agency which had its HQ anywhere other than London really wasn’t credible 10 years ago but we now operate in London, Birmingham and Edinburgh. Manchester agencies have worked hard to establish that credibility, and hard work, creativity and focus on ‘bang for your buck’ is what has brought national accounts to the city.” Now, clients coming to Manchester will get “world-class thinking and solutions,” says Havas PR boss Brian Beech. “Manchester agencies are more grounded and straight-talking, meaning we have better client relationships and can offer realistic, cost-effective answers to business problems. We benefit from being close to London thanks to strong rail links, yet far away enough to obtain a UK wide perspective on issues.” If there is one thing to be sure of, it is that the city certainly knows how to promote itself. “This is the best city and the best time to be in PR,” insists Jo Leah, managing director at Weber Shandwick. “It’s tough, clients want more, but we are all thriving on the challenge because we’re savvy grafters who never forget to stand in the client’s shoes.”This article was first published in The Drum's Manchester supplement on 7 June.

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