Category Archives: Agency

Seven years of blogging about PR in Manchester and beyond – the best of 2006-2012

The Artisan blog was the first Manchester PR blog as far as I know.

Certainly I cannot think of another that is still going from 2006.

It has around 650 posts to date and covers a myriad of subjects, especially those relating to Manchester PR agencies, technology and of course PR itself.

It is better written now than it was when I started although I have picked out some of the best from 2006-2012.  (The most interesting 2112-2013 entries can be found here.

Let’s begin:

Sometimes I have found myself explaining or defending PR agencies such as with this thread.

Yes PR agencies can give poor service, but this is not indicative of the industry.  There are bad apples in every profession.

Sometimes I am doing the opposite such as this piece on a Manchester PR agency promoting payment by results.

Many posts are on the industry and the issues raised such as this post that highlights the weaknesses of citizenship journalism at a time when it was being lauded.

Tips pieces feature occasionally and these from myself How to pitch to bloggers and these from specialists are still very useful today: Judi Goodwin’s How to unleash your writing power! and Bill Doherty on negotiation tips.

Good PR case studies such as “Who parked their tank on my lawn?”  also feature occasionally. 

Some are sillier than others such as Dog advertising, which was this blog’s most popular page for ages, that was inspired by Puppy Doms (a Jamie Clouting favourite).

Some brilliant PR stories are global in reach such as this: “Keyboards dirtier than toilets.”  My Israeli cousin in Jerusalem picked up on this!

A few Artisan PR pieces were also featured in the blog such as this piece in The Guardian for a Manchester headhunter

Sometimes human interest stories including this one about Belsen featured.

I hope you have got something out the Artisan blog, feel free to leave comments and keep following.

The fracturing of the PR scene means more choice for clients

PR scene

If you make a Google search for PR agencies in Manchester, or variants on the theme, you will find a myriad of suppliers.  The same results could be replicated for PR agencies in the North West and across the UK.  It all means more choice for businesses looking to raise their visibility and boost their marketing efforts in these austere times.

The recession has had a major effect on the PR landscape with more PR freelancers, micro agencies and smaller agencies to chose from than just three or four years ago.

The bigger agencies remain, some smaller, some bigger, and will continue to be part of the PR scene.

However those breaking off from agency life, perhaps through choice, perhaps through redundancy, can offer highly polished professional PR skills (in most cases) at a rate that can attract new consumers of PR as well as more experienced businesses looking for cost effective and highly personal PR.

If anything, clients, more than ever before, are spoiled for choice and can select the PR agency with the blend of skills, experience and interpersonal chemistry (I hope that does not sound pompous) to meet their needs.

It is still a task to chose the best agency for a business’ needs – this might help in selecting a PR supplier – but there has never been a better time to find a PR agency.

Do you want a seasoned video professional for your agency at a subsidised rate? – DMEX placements

DMEX is a wonderful opportunity for digital and marketing agencies to profit from the knowledge and skills of seasoned video professionals.

Heavily sponsored by NW Vision and Media, the placement initiative gives host agencies the benefit of learning how to harness video, in live projects, for only £30 a day owing to the above subsidy.

So, if you think you could benefit from a 20-day placement please call Phil Birchenall on 0161 446 2991 /

If you want to know how it works in practice please read James Bristow’s account of how he helped PR agency MC2:

Tell us about your first project with MC2?
MC2 was working on a big event called RAW 2010 at the Lowry Theatre. (A sample of the quality of video).

Business leaders from across the North West were coming to network.  The agency wanted the whole event filming for its website to act as a record of the day.

The idea was for Raw 2010 to be set up around the country, based on the success of the North West experience.

So a little pressure you could say, but I am used to that situation.

MC2’s brief was for a montage piece of the day that showcased the energy of the event.

The White Room had made sure there was a good match in skills and outlook between the agency and me so I knew the demands of the job and it knew what I could deliver.

My role that day was all encompassing. I produced the project: sourcing equipment, directing the camera crew and looking after post-production.

Everyone, including the client, was really impressed with everything that happened on the day.”

Have you worked with MC2 since your placement?
“Yes indeed, there was another event in the evening for a company called Investors who are attached to MC2.

So I spent another week after that producing the video for Investors.  I have a lot more work in conjunction with MC2 on this relationship during April and May.

In addition I have a shoot for Raw this April.

MC2 was also kind enough to introduce me to Pro Manchester and I have done a shoot for it as well.”

Had MC2 done anything like this project before?

“It had dipped their toe in but not taken it further. So it was up to me to jump into the deep end and swim, which I did.”

Would you say that MC2 has opened up another avenue of work as a result of your placement with them?
“Yes, now MC2 sees the value of online videos.

The platform is changing and it needs to exploit online to its full potential: MC2 realises that video is an excellent way of reaching an audience online.

I think my work has changed the way the agency views video as a great selling tool.”

Interview by Ezra Rushen of The White Room

Phil Birchenall gives a low down on the Creative Industry sector in Manchester and the NW (Audio Boo interview)

Phil Birchenall

Phil Birchenall is the projects director at The White Room, a consultancy or I should say agency that is at the centre of running programs to support the creative media industry sector in Manchester and the North West.

I have known Phil since he was a stalwart at the Creative Industries Development Service, where he started work in 2003.  His support and friendship was much valued by me and others, and many creative media professionals will no doubt know Phil through his work.

I asked (for my first Audio Boo interview – did I tell you I have an iPhone Rob?) about how the creative sector is faring in the region and what support is in place:


Phil Birchenall interview on creative media in the North West.

(You might have to sign on to Audio Boo –  takes a minute, but I don’t think you do (My voice doesn’t sound as recorded, but Phil’s is spot on) ).

The state of the North West PR sector report

How-Do published this week a report of  the state of the North West PR industry in collaboration with Business Link and the Chartered Institute of Public Relations.

It had some interesting facts:

In 2005 the North West PR industry contributed £3.4 billion to national economic activity and £1.1 to corporate profits.  I like the last fact.  I was also impressed with the fact that each practitioner contributed £135,417 to their agency / organisation.  I like this fact also.

But what about now?  How has the downturn affected such stats?  Are we going to be in demand?  Where is the shelter from the storm?  Please give me some inside tips.

Well, it was left to “veteran” PR professional Dave Sanders to give us some words of advice, which he did:

“No matter how large or small, all forward thinking businesses now recognise the importance of managing their reputations through effective communication – which is what public relations is all about.

So, it’s up to the PR industry to respond by becoming even more efficient, cost effective and creative to help their employers and clients to ride out the current storm.”

Dave really said very little.  Well he said a fair amount but nothing really new.  He praised the CIPR and their awards.  Not sure that was wise after the Koan debacle at the last one that How-Do covered.

Then we had some glowing testimonials about Business Link.  I like Business Link, and I have a good opinion of their work.  I like How-Do.  I like them a lot and their portal has been a very welcome addition.  I don’t know Dave Sanders.

But what I really wanted was some foresight.  Someone to say, this is how I think it will be in these worrying times and this is what you should do, not general advice that we all know.  I also wanted to know if the PR sector is contracting.  A comparison between 2005 and 2008.  It could be nobody has a clear idea.  I just thought the key question, “Will I have plenty of work in 2009 and the year after?” was not addressed and that was what I really want to know.

Stop it – no to signing in to leave comments

I have been wallowing in the misery that is PRs writing about the recession.  Well, actually it is how to come through it from Rainier PR and another from one of their agency staff, Stephen Waddington.

I wanted to leave comments and found I had to sign in.  I couldn’t be bothered.  I have migrated to a new ISP and in the process my stored passwords were wiped.  I could look them up, but I really can’t steal myself to do this on a Sunday morning.

Lazy? Yes.  But why do some blogs and websites still insist on signing in?  If it takes any longer than necessary to leave a comment or it does not have a track back, you are going to lose the interaction that makes any blog or website vital.

Crunch time for Manchester PR agencies?

Manchester PR agencies have been recruiting and getting fat on impressive account wins for some time.  That’s alright.

It seemed that the MEN media section and other Manchester / North West / trade publications have had little trouble finding positive stories.  But now that we are all going to be Okies and live in Hoovervilles (if recent front page editorials from the nationals are anything to judge by), how will this affect the city’s PR outfits?

The  Drum magazine quoting Plimsoll, an industry analyst, paints a bad picture of the industry as a whole.  Findings for 1,000 UK agencies surveyed include:

  • 30% of workforce could have to go
  • 75% of agencies need to reduce headcount
  • 116 agencies need to consolidate immediately or their survival is in question
  • 20% of agencies are running at a loss

I spoke to an  PR supplier the industry on Friday and these figures are being reflected in bahaviour.  So much so that agencies are cutting back on £200 extras that would not have been questioned before.


There is a good side though.  There is hope.

Firstly, until something happens it is not 100% definite that it is going to happen.  It sounds like tautology I know.  The slow down could be brief, shallow; cheaper oil and lower interest rates could work.   I am not sure I believe this, but….

Secondly The Drum carried out a poll that found, after digital, PR was viewed as the marketing discipline most suited to survive in a recession.

Thirdly, as Bron Earnes of Hasilmann Taylor (not Manchester based, but I will accept her viewpoint)  says agencies working to 20% margins that closely revue spending and forecasts should survive.  A conclusion could be that the industry might be better placed after a down turn because good agencies, which are keen, will survive.  It could mean a better service to clients and a better perception of the industry.

Fourthly, as Charles Tattersall of Manchester PR agency Citypress says established players and smaller agencies with lower cost bases and fees could also do well.    Some agencies will do well and adapt.

It could be an opportunity for some.  Indeed while the PR supplier said that while some agencies were making redundancies, there was some that were just full on with their expansion.

Payment by results PR: sounds great but take a closer look

One PR agency has been making great waves about their payment by results PR, but if you look closer it is not all it seems. It has been featured in Crain’s and How-Do. As far as I am concerned and many other PRs it is just a publicity stunt.

On the face of it payment by results PR seems like a good idea, why should clients not pay on the return? But delve a little deeper and not all is at seems.

Firstly it is a guarantee, not payment on results. It is not a smaller fee with a target driven bonus. There is still the retainer or project fee, the same as anywhere else. If targets are not met you get your money back.

I believe this will store up trouble for any agency that uses this strategy. It will not do too much for the clients because:

  • Agencies should be delivering anyway. If they do not they will lose the clients.
  • Unlike advertising you cannot guarantee coverage. If a publication (s) is / are not interested in your story you cannot make them have it. We could get a lot of pushy PRs and some irritated journalists as a result.
  • There are going to be arguments or disagreements between clients and agencies about what is a “result” unless very specifically defined.
  • Will agencies simply hit certain targets (even if they prove less effective than first anticipated) and ignore opportunities not initially discussed because the target must be met? Agencies should be working out what is effective as the campaign progresses and adapt accordingly.

As Tom Cheesewright, a former PR account director in London, says in his letter to Crain’s on their article simply totting up coverage is a one dimensional way to measure achievement. Tom argues if you are working with key influencers to support or champion your campaign how does that tie in with payment by results?

I have got clients in broadcast media and this contact can be developed and coverage achieved long after I have stopped working with the client. How do you measure that and within what time frame? One of my clients is a physical training instructor and he trains a journalist, a contact that I initiated. It has resulted in some good coverage and an on-going relationship. A payment by results model would have to be very flexible to incorporate such a scenario.

There is a need for agencies to be accountable. There are agencies that do not deliver. This is an issue as in any other profession.

If a client is choosing an agency it is more important to (and this is not exhaustive):

  • Use recommendations and use testimonials to find out if they are the right agency
  • See if you can work with the personnel you will be working with if that agency is selected. Ensure the people pitching are the people delivering.
  • Have a reporting structure and regular meeting to discuss how a campaign is progressing
  • Open two way communication to discuss expectations, goals and issues
  • Look at the enthusiasm of your agency, do they really want to work with you?
  • Are the agency’s clients similar to your profile? Go to an agency that handles BP and Mark’s and they are not likely to be interested in your business if you are a small company, but they might like your money.

For an agency to use such a model ads another layer of admin. Time and effort that could be re-invested in getting on with the job. It might be that this time is included in the time allocated to the client.

One agency has been making much mileage of this, they say: “We are very excited to be innovating the regional market, by becoming the only local PR agency to be putting our money where our mouth is and take away the risk associated with PR.”

Well the standard of English does not fill you with hope. Like a couple of other agencies that have been telling everyone else in the sector how rubbish they are or how they are so much better, it does make you vulnerable if it does not come off. If you say that you had better deliver.

I expect some clients will go for “payment by results PR.” It might be a really successful tactic but it will have a cost.

Good Agency, which is poor; featuring Olivia Newton John

One inappropriately named PR agency (in this case) called The Good Agency annoyed the editorial team at How-Do with their epic release on Olivia Newton John saving a one day old cat in China.

As you might know How-Do is the North West portal for the creative industries.  So you might wonder what the relevance of Olivia Newton John and a cat on the Great Wall of China is to How-Do: none.

How-Do decided to name and shame the London agency for poor targeting.   The press release is fully of hyperbole including Olivia’s sleepless nights tending for said kitten called Magic.  This dross was accompanied by an e-mail clogging mega pixel image.

It is worth anybody’s time who needs a laugh (link above).

I could not find the Good Agency’s website because of a search of PR agencies there are a few that have good in their text, so they do not have a clue on online PR / marketing either.

Manchester PR agencies: Wharton says it how he sees it

Simon Wharton of online search marketing agency PushON is not one to shy away from offering strident, and often perceptive, statements on online marketing.

In this issue of NW Business Insider Simon makes no exception with his view on the common lack of understanding of the Internet amongst many PR and marketing agencies:

“Traditional PR and marketing needs a kick up the backside – a lot of it is hugely dated. PR and marketing agencies don’t understand the Internet.”

“A lot of Manchester PR agencies are absolute rubbish – saying you’re a full-service agency is just words.”

Sharon Nash of Simpson Burgess Nash and Mike Ryan of Idaho, who I pitched to get featured, are less controversial in their comments but no less interesting can be seen in the November issue.