Just why are there so many PR people in London? It’s a question I’ve asked myself since I started in PR and marketing in the late 90s.
Just taking a sample of the PR Week top 150 agencies, 76% are based in London. Traditional media is still important, but it’s not like we’re networking with journalists every day, so proximity to London publishing houses is a lot less important than it used to be.
While London is still the powerhouse of the UK economy, it’s by no means the sole centre. For example, regions like the Thames Valley are extremely popular with big technology firms, Cambridge is known as a tech and science incubator and Bristol is big in financial services. So, being close to clients doesn’t hold as a good enough reason for the industry to be so disproportionately London-based either.
In the last 5-10 years, the advent of faster access and cloud computing mean that it’s technically just as viable to have an agency in, say, Solihull as Soho. So, why is the public relations industry still so London-centric? To me, it’s all about talent.
The first 10 years of my career were in the East Midlands. Being close to friends in my university town and on the doorstep of the Peak District appealed from a work-life balance point of view, and I always disagreed with the notion that London should be the centre of PR universe.
I used to find that I was quite chippy about what I perceived to be London snobbery about the regions (one agency I worked for was in Rutland; “Rutland– where on earth is that?”, I’ve heard more than once.) But there was one issue that I could never get over: it was always hard finding good quality PR people to hire. It was quite common to have to interview 10 or 20 would-be account executives before we found a good one – all the talent migrated to London.
The flipside is that employee retention rates tend to be higher. Fewer jobs and the prospect of having to move towns to get a promotion mean that people are more likely to hang on to a good job when they get one.
So, the question is, will London remain the centre of the public relations industry in the future?
In a word, yes. Well, kind of. For hundreds of years there have been clusters of expertise (think in London of Hatton Garden for jewelry, Savile Row for tailoring or Denmark Street for music), so it’s natural for there to be a PR cluster in a single city.
And frustrating as it is for people who switch jobs every year, a certain amount of movement is important for enhancing skills and knowledge.
However, factors such as improving communications technologies, people having a different focus on work-life balance, the cost of commuting and childcare, and challenging marketing conditions translating to poorer financial visibility, mean that agencies will increasingly be using London as a hub supported by freelancers around the country. Which is great news if you’re based in Rutland.
If you’re looking to work for or with a London PR agency, then why not get in touch.
Fiona: I loved the first issue of aMuse – who is it aimed at?
Sasha: Affluent London women aged between 25 and 45 with a passion for fashion. We were overwhelmed with the response to our launch issue, so it seems there are a lot of these women out there, hungry for a magazine that talks to them.
Fiona: aMuse is a first: a free monthly title. What’s your vision for the title?
Sasha: I would love to see aMuse achieve a distinctive presence in the free magazine market in London. From a reader’s point of view, I want our readers to look forward to the last Monday of the month, not just for payday but because that’s when they’ll be able to pick up their copy of aMuse. I want them to love the magazine and identify with our positive view of London women and our tremendous achievements.
Fiona: What’s aMuse’s social media strategy?
Sasha: We are on Facebook and gathering friends at pace, and the office is filled with enthusiastic tweeters who use Twitter (@amuse_mag) to update our readers on events, new products and any random object of desire that catches their eye. We’re shortly to launch on Pinterest and will have an aMuse magazine app in September.
Fiona: What’s your view on free publications – what is their place in the media landscape and will we see more of them?
Sasha: As a former editor of ES Magazine, and deputy editor of The Times Magazine which are both, effectively, free publications, I absolutely think there’s a place for free publications in the media landscape. Readers now expect the highest quality from their free titles – and they are right to. And of course, where the readers go, the advertisers follow.
Fiona: You’ve been a journalist for 15 years, what’s been your best bit?
Sasha: aMuse is the first launch I’ve worked on and it’s been the most tremendously exciting, rollercoaster ride. It’s been a chance to dream up a magazine from scratch which is full of the stories, people and trends that I love. Definitely the best bit.
Fiona: And your worst?
Sasha: My first job was at Cosmopolitan Magazine and I’m struggling to decide which was the worst bit. Yes, I have it! Dressing up as a nun to run round Hyde Park on the hottest day of the year, having my photo taken for a story about nuns putting small ads in recruitment magazines.
Fiona: What’s been your proudest achievement?
Sasha: I’m deeply proud of aMuse and the team who work on the magazine, who are just so talented and brilliant with great futures. I’m also hugely proud of getting Kate Moss for the most recent cover of Pomp Magazine.
Fiona: And how can PRs best work with you across your three titles?
Sasha: I’m in the lucky position of being able to work with three totally different and very strong brands, so if a story doesn’t work for one of them, it might well work for another. I love hearing about anything new that’s happening in London, preferably via email in the first instance.
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