It is not size that matters - it is the service you provide, says Julia Willoughby, managing director of Willoughby Public Relations and CIPR Professional of the Year...
In 1992, when I set up Willoughby Public Relations, people joked I should call the consultancy Brave PR. The country was in a minirecession and I had left a managing director designate position with a global network consultancy, along with flash car, good salary and benefits.
So why the move? Worldwide consultancies are not always all they are cracked up to be.
A month earlier, I had been invited to London, along with other offices, to outline our future technology requirements and had told directors that the Birmingham office was at the horse and cart stage in technology as we had no computers.
When I handed in my notice, a Saatchi director called to see if the lack of technology was the final straw.
It was not. As I moved towards managing director, I felt restricted.
London controlled the finances, salary rises needed to be sanctioned, if the group suffered, so did investment in the office and, however much we increased the revenue, next year?s target was significantly higher.
It was demoralising for me and the team.
Starting WPR was exciting and rewarding. It was heartwarming to get a chance to work on projects from contacts, keen to give me a go.
The fact that I shared a desk, phone and worked excessive hours in the early days, was more than compensated by the satisfaction of developing the business.
Within six months, I secured a major project from Typhoo Tea and saw off a leading London consultancy to work on Kellogg Company of Great Britain?s child portfolio. By collecting brand-leading business, I was able to attract ambitious executives eager to be part of a new venture.
Only last week someone described the region?s public relations industry being dominated by a few sizeable consultancies followed by a myriad of one and two- man banders.
Anyone working in consultancy in the 80s and 90s will tell you it was the same then.
It is not that size matters, as they say, it is the service you provide. Results-driven has always been our motto and with an expanding team of 26, it still is.
What is fairly unique about Willoughby Public Relations is that we have grown to be a leading agency. There are a number of reasons why.
First, we thought big. Willoughby Public Relations is a national consultancy that happens to be based in the centre of the country.
We offer excellent public relations support, provide value for money and are passionate about what we do.
This is reflected in our business success, the high level of client retention and our award achievements. We picked up gold for best consumer and silver for best business campaigns at the CIPR Pride Awards in January.
Attracting and retaining high- calibre people is essential.
Susan Maguire joined the consultancy once my contract ties had finished and has, like the other four division heads and their teams, moved forward the consultancy.
As we expanded, we looked at other professionals, such as law firms, to replicate our specialist divisions.
Within our first three years, we gained quality, training and professional accreditations that provided a sound foundation for growth and increased team spirit.
When we were small we would have claimed small is best, because we made our own decisions and employed only the most talented, experienced executives working in specialist areas.
As a sizeable independent consultancy, the same is still true today. It is only better because we have the resources to handle bigger accounts and help each other. I am a team player and enjoy having the inspiration, enthusiasm and support of others around. A team working well together achieves so much and we share the successes of our colleagues.
There is tremendous satisfaction watching people develop and I believe we have the variety and depth of expertise to offer trainees the best start and career prospects. On that note, we currently have two graduate positions to fill.
For the camp that still thinks small is best, our Nottingham office has just opened up, so that fresh start-up, feel-good factor is with us too.
To assess how public relations has changed within the region, it is best to step out of the industry and look at the wider picture.
Companies and organisations are more aware of the benefits of profile-raising and coordinated communication programmes.
There is much more understanding of how effective public relations will impact business, how it can be used to support change, improve internal and trade relations.
For example, one of the first projects I worked on was the office move of a top Midlands law firm.
They had never used public relations support before and I felt half my task was getting them on board and trusting what I was doing.
Today all the law firms in the city seem to build in public relations as an essential marketing service. With greater appreciation of the value of good communication, the public relations sector will continue to grow and prosper.