Interview with UK "Communicate" magazine about our year of growth
Molly James of corporate comms trade magazine Communicate interviewed me recently about PRN outperforming the sector in 2020. The full article is on the site.
"How does the PR Network as a virtual agency differ from other traditional agencies? Can you explain a bit about the business model and how it works internationally?"
I set PRN up as virtual-by-design in 2005 with my business partner and friend, George Blizzard. We don’t have a traditional employee delivery model, or a central office. We build bespoke teams of independent partners who have the best experience for the brief in terms of experience, skills and location. Our clients include Hydro Wind Energy, Purplebricks, Soundcloud, Snapchat, Toyota and Western Digital.
Today we employ 8 staff in the UK and work with 250 associate partners all over the world, directed by our client service directors Eileen Boydell and Katy Campbell, who manage client budgets, plan team resources and ensure programme success. Our partners include freelancers as well as boutique agencies, as some of our clients have hired us to run global hubs with a variety of in-market solutions.
PRN also provides services to PR agencies, plugging gaps in strategic territories where they need to support key clients but don’t have boots on the ground. We have associate partners from Indonesia to Saudi to the Ukraine, to demonstrate the reach!
"The PR Network has seen incredible growth of 14% YOY, what do you think contributed to this success?"
Since 2018 we’ve had a clear focus on building our international proposition, rather than selling PR services in the UK, which is a very crowded market full of amazing agencies! This strategy really paid off during Covid. 75% of clients work with us in more than one market (our biggest account is 18 countries), so it means that when we win a client, we usually win multiple ‘accounts’ at once, through one sale.
With our model, clients can hire one agency and deal with a single point of contact via the PRN Hub, yet the programme is executed by local in-market experts. We’ve worked with US firms wanting to go into Europe from day one, but we’ve scaled the service to cover all continents and major business centres. We often launch a client in one or two countries and more markets come on board over time once we’ve proven ourselves. This organic growth has a significant net effect in terms of our total fee income, but it’s manageable from a resource perspective due to our hub-and-spoke model.
Also in terms of Covid, our exposure to the fortunes of any one sector was limited because we’re sector-agnostic. Our heartland is tech-enabled disruptor brands, but that stood in our favour as tech held its value. Thanks to the rich breadth of skills and experience within the network, we can potentially work with companies in most industries and in many countries, creating a large market opportunity.
To drive international sales and build on our reputation as a credible partner for international PR, in January this year we promoted our MD James Read to Chief Revenue Officer.
"As a business leader with over a decade of experience working virtually, what advice would you give to creative teams now adapting to a long-term remote working model?"
Mix it up. While we’ve always been virtual, we love getting the team together f2f. Work out which aspects of work are best done in the same room (e.g. ideation, or problem solving). It’s about why teams need to be in the same room - not when, or for how long.
Don’t have a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Give people space to work in the way that suits them and offer as much flexibility as you can in terms of working hours & workplace. This is especially important for people who are neuro-diverse, but everyone works in a unique way.
Invest in the best tech for communication and collaboration. We’ve recently promoted Russ Read-Barrow to Operations Director at PRN, and part of his role is building the right tech stack to give us a strong virtual infrastructure to support our global account teams.
"How do you see the business model for PR changing post-pandemic?"
This was the rationale for George and I setting the agency up as virtual; we were getting approached by big brands such as Sony and 3 from day one, and we knew we’d limit our ambitions if we could only service clients with a small number of permanent employees who could come to a central office every day. What was unheard of in 2005, and unusual even before the pandemic, is now accepted wisdom.
"What has been your biggest achievement at the PR Network over the past 16 years?"
Without a doubt, designing a flexible job share arrangement with George. In terms of a business marriage, surely 16 years is a record! We’ve been able to build a successful new model agency and work with some incredible clients. We’ve also offered exciting work opportunities to senior PR pros who also wanted more flexibility, allowing them to continue their careers instead of leaving the industry, so that feels good. However, most importantly, we’ve been able to work flexibly around our children. The success of PRN proves it’s possible to work part time without compromising your family, and we’re really proud of that.