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Working with agencies: does location matter anymore?

By Michelle Turner, Account Director

Within the UK there’s been a north-south divide for as long as any of us can remember, but within the PR world, there’s been a London vs rest-of-the-UK divide for quite some time too!

There’s been an ongoing argument between agencies based in London and those based in other regions as to which are best equipped to meet the needs of their clients. It was once believed (and still is by some) that London PR agencies were best appointed to achieve national coverage due to their proximity to the journalists and news outlets based in the capital.

It was also the case that a lot of big firms were headquartered in London and so being local to them benefitted London-based agencies in terms of face-to-face relationships and eased any logistical challenges around meeting arrangements.

Regional agencies obviously challenged these misconceptions, and increasingly more organisations and media are moving away from the capital. Nevertheless, how have these perspectives shifted since lockdown now almost everyone is working remotely?

Does location even really matter anymore?

Technology has brought us closer to each other

When the Prime Minister asked everyone to avoid non-essential contact and work from home where they can, it was relatively simple for all of us at No Brainer. We’re used to working from laptops, working remotely or from our clients offices. All we need to do our jobs is a laptop, an internet connection and a phone – particularly as all our systems are cloud-based, it was quite an easy transition for us all. The biggest problem we faced was trying to make our WFH set-up more Instagram-worthy than our colleagues!

We make use of technology across many of our client teams already – utilising tools such as Google Drive, Trello, Hootsuite and WhatsApp to collaboratively share and review information. However, the impact of Covid-19 has made us take this one step further – you could even call it a silver lining – in that it has encouraged us to take the time to look at new ways of communicating and the role technology can play in this.

Apps such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Hangouts are in their element as they help facilitate meetings with our colleagues and clients. We’re holding face-to-face meetings with our clients across the UK without leaving the comfort of our homes. OK, so we can’t shake hands or hug each other (we are huggers at No Brainer), but we can still start and end a meeting with a big smile and a little wave.

As a human race – and particularly within PR – we thrive on personal connections, putting faces to names, and getting to know the personalities behind the business. This sudden change to our daily working environment has possibly brought us even closer to our client’s worlds. Meeting their kids on video-calls, comparing our at-home set ups, and chatting about isolation struggles has really shed more light into our client’s day-to-day lives outside of work. And that’s really strengthened the bond we have with them.

Using technology and meeting virtually has also saved us a bit of time travelling to and from meetings. Having that extra time usually spent travelling means we can place more focus on activities that yield results for our clients such as pitching to media outlets or crafting content.

Good communication outperforms location

We’ve always believed that strong communication and agency fit are far more important than proximity. Our clients are based across the UK from the north-east all the way down to London. They haven’t selected us as their PR agency of choice based on how close we are to them, but how well we understand their business needs and our bespoke approach to each client rather than a one-size-fits-all model.

On the other hand, we understand that businesses see the benefit of being in such close proximity to their agency and working within the same geographic region. Some of our clients are even based on the same business park as us, but that doesn’t mean we’re in contact with them any more or any less than our Midlands or London-based clients.

If your business and its products and services are not location-specific then the location of your agency shouldn’t be an issue – whether you’re 150 miles down the M6 or a quick walk down the corridor, if your agency can communicate effectively and consistently; align on your business goals and deliver results then it doesn’t matter if they’re based in Lands End, John O’Groats or anywhere in between.

Relationships know no bounds

Relationships and building genuine connections have never been more important than they are now. Just think about how you’ve realised who your true friends are in recent times and how keeping in regular contact with them prevents you all from feeling like you’re missing out. The same can be said for professional relationships – we’re still only a video call, WhatsApp message or email away from any of our clients and we’re still maintaining that rapport and connection we had with them in a pre-coronavirus world.

A lot of this is down to personality – you need to have a good character fit with your agency, and it goes both ways. If you’re going to be working closely with each other you need to make sure you get along. In my opinion, this is where Northern agencies have an advantage – as we’re intrinsically more friendly and easy-to-get-along with. Don’t believe me? Then have a read of this! And we’ll be the same after Coronavirus, just like we were before.

The same goes for our relationships with press. We may not be on the doorstep of The Telegraph or the Daily Express and so can’t go out for lunch with them every month, but relationships know no bounds – we’re still perfectly capable of sending a quick message or picking up the phone to talk to those journalists, just like our London counterparts are doing now that they’re not able to see them in person.

Agencies don’t have to be based in London to be connected to the national media – case in point, we’ve continued to land national coverage in a range of publications, all achieved whilst working from our bedrooms / living room / cupboard under the stairs, and wearing slippers!

Making your money work harder

As a general rule of thumb, London agencies tend to be more expensive – wages are higher in the capital, as is office space and other overheads, which is reflected in their monthly retainer fees.

With generally lower salaries and much smaller overheads, regional agencies tend to provide a more cost-effective solution to organisations looking for external support – still delivering great results but at a lower overall cost to similar London agencies, something a lot of firms are being mindful of in the current situation and as part of their budget-setting and forward-planning.

So, does location really matter?

This crisis goes to show that technology was already breaking the boundaries and misconceptions surrounding the benefits of London agencies over the rest of the UK, and the unexpected communication advantages Coronavirus has brought with it have only amplified this.

In a post-social distancing world, I think we’ll find that a lot of businesses will continue to turn to technology for those daily, weekly and monthly meetings – it’s better for the environment and makes better use of both time and money.

In times when businesses across the UK are looking at ways in which they can reduce their costs, regional agencies have clear advantages over those based in London.

It’s time to push location-based preconceptions aside, turn on the webcam and work with an agency and people who get you, no matter how near or far they’re based.

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While we continue to fly the flag for the North, the No Brainer team come from up and down the country, from Portsmouth and North Wales to Peterborough and Yorkshire. Learn more about the team here.

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