Pearls of wisdom and humour at Top 50 PR Agencies gathering

Nick Jaspan's picture

ThepowerofPROur two guest speakers from Weber Shandwick and the BIG Partnership shared plenty of insight, expertise and above all a healthy dose of common sense and humour, at last night's inaugural gathering of the North's leading comms professionals following the earlier publication of the Prolific North Top 50 PR Agencies.

Photography was kindly provided by Jon Parker Lee of

The informal event hosted by Barclays Bank and ably compered by Dan Nolan of theEword, the sponsor of the Top 50 PR Agencies initiative, attracted a number of leading PR folk from the ranking who came to network and hear some thoughts about trends in the comms industry globally and some home-spun truths about running a successful agency, long-term.

Dan Nolan Dan Nolan

Dan Nolan explained why theEword had lent its name and support to the initiative focusing primarily on the ever closer relationship between SEO and content and their mutual objectives.

Richard Walker of Mustard Research briefly ran through the methodology his research agency employed to create the Top 50 PR ranking and supported Dan Nolan's belief that PR agencies  are increasingly seeking out ways to generate fresh and original content for their clients and the role that research can play in supporting this.

Richard Faulkner of Barclays advised the gathering that Barclays had first established a dedicated TMT (Technology Media and Telecoms) unit in Soho Square 28 years ago so their interest in the sector wasn't new. He added that his growing team concentrated solely on working with companies in the TMT sector across the North of which PR agencies were a growing and important component.

Jon McLeod Jon McLeod

The first of the afternoon's two guest speakers, Jon McLeod of Weber Shandwick, advised the audience that in his opinion there were three key challenges facing PR companies: talent, digital specialisation and regulation. However he added,  these issues had to be placed in the context of how these challenges would be met in the face of their most important duties – how to ensure clients embrace strategic communications and how they defend and enhance their reputations.

In a development which clearly warmed the cockles of the gathered PRs' hearts, he ran through some research that his agency had recently undertaken whereby they interviewed a number of global marketing directors of which two key conclusions were firstly that CEOs are increasingly becoming enthusiastic adopters of social media and secondly, and most encouragingly, that in the view of these global marketers, the role of PR is steadily climbing up the ladder in terms of their armoury of marketing platforms.

Alex Barr Alex Barr

Alex Barr, the co-founder of the £7.5m turnover PR agency the BIG Partnership, kicked off his talk with images of previous Glaswegian visitors (football anyone?) and the fact that he'd married a Rochdale woman who insisted on cooking and buying food he couldn't recognise.

In a somewhat unusual twist, he then projected an image of a person who clearly was the protégée for the Mad Men series and informed the largely bemused audience that the person concerned was David Ogilvy, the legendary creative genius of US advertising and hugely successful author. Barr believes Ogilvy's book 'Confessions of an Advertising Man' is still as fresh and relevant today as it was when it was published in 1963 and said his advice and guidance applied across the whole comms industry, not just to advertising.

Selecting one principle that he and his partner have elected to follow at BIG, he said they have interpreted Ogilvy's core recruitment philosophy of choosing “gentlemen with brains” as seeking out “bright folk we choose to work with” adding, also known as a 'no arse-holes policy'...

He then went on to add that although talent in his staff is of course crucial, he felt that all too often, talent for talent's sake is given too much importance. In Barr's opinion, hard work and application count for as much as 'talent'.

PRs minglingThe event finished off with an animated presentation of the Juice Academy which is run by Tangerine PR. The Juice Academy offers 16 to 18 year olds apprenticeships in social media who don't wish to go into higher education. Early 'alumni' have already gone on to secure jobs with BJL and Smoking Gun among others said Lucy Adams of the Academy.