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What the founder of a specialist PR accelerator says about finding the best PR agencies in 2022

"It is because brands are all looking for different things that the potential for new agencies is so huge."

For brands looking to appoint a PR agency, the one problem they won't face is having a shortage of options to choose from.

The PRCA, the largest network of PR and communications professionals, has 30,000 practitioners across 66 countries.

But with the lines between PR, SEO and digital marketing more blurred than ever, the number is in reality considerably more.

The result is that it's a hefty challenge to choose between agencies who, on the face of it and the evidence of a pitch, could do a job.

So perhaps the responsibilty falls more to the agency to stand out. Manchester-based PR Agency One has more of an interest than most in understanding what it takes to rise above the parapet.

Its founder and managing director, James Crawford, has teamed up with Stephen Waddington, the former president of the CIPR, to launch an accelerator programme designed exclusively for PR agencies.

It will support new agency start-ups with capital, marketing and sales support and back office resources - while providing the insight that will help new agencies to flourish in a hyper-competitive environment.

The new venture, named One Accelerator, seemed an excellent place to get some up-to-date knowledge about how PR agencies can break through in 2022, so we spoke to co-founder James Crawford.

James Crawford, MD of PR Agency One and co-founder of One Accelerator

So James, how can a PR agency be innovative in 2022?

The key to innovation with new PR agencies is to develop a unique offering. This might sound obvious but within the first One Accelerator cohort we will work with founders to help shape their proposition and way of doing things differently, or better than before.

During lockdown, the industry has seen hundreds of small agencies launch, some out of necessity and others because technology has become a catalyst.

My favourite example of a new and innovative PR agency is an organisation in Wales called Lynn PR, which launched with behavioural science at its core. Within around 12 months they hit £2m turnover. We’ve also seen the birth of fully remote agencies and agencies cleverly using technology to increase efficiencies or performance.

PR will always adapt to ‘business need’ no matter what that is, because at this industry’s heart is advocacy, be that from journalists, influencers, bloggers, or stakeholders.

Advocacy is the cornerstone of everything: reputation, brand and even SEO.

It is also worth adding that innovation isn’t everything. There is still room for just another consumer or B2B PR agency. Sometimes you don’t need to innovate, you just need to be shit-hot at your job. Just do it better than everyone else. If via One Accelerator I can find the best practitioner, someone who is in the top 10th percentile of their peers but perhaps just isn’t an entrepreneur and is concerned about risk, or back-office systems, or hiring, then we can step in here too.

Brands want organisational impact, not Facebook impressions

What are brands looking for in a PR agency?

Brands have complex needs and no two briefs are the same. It is safe to say that brands are looking for some kind of organisational impact. They don’t care about the mountain of press coverage, or 10 trillion impressions on Facebook. They don’t really want their search engine visibility to go through the roof either. What they really want is commercial impact.

Has that crisis been handled well so a company can avoid being cancelled and continue to sell widgets to consumers? Or has the agency helped establish a new consumer product category, allowing for further NPD to be launched?

It is because brands are all looking for different things that the potential for new agencies is so huge.

What’s an instant turn-off, both for brands at pitch stage and for an investor looking to find a PR agency?

People.

The answer has to be people. Attitude is everything and if clients don’t buy into the team then that can be a turn off. One of my old bosses said that clients often get the agency that they deserve and, while that sounds harsh, especially if a client is lumbered with an underperforming agency, I think it is generally true.

That is why “out-there” creative PR agencies can exist alongside the super corporate consultancies. Ideas shops alongside strategists. The turn-off happens when you don’t find the people you are looking for. One would hope that this kind of mismatch would be weeded out at a chemistry meeting, before things got to pitch, but stranger things have happened at sea.

It is the same for investors looking for an agency. With One Accelerator we don’t want people to think of us as investors, instead we’d like to be business partners. We are looking for people we can back and people we can work with on a day-to-day basis. Perhaps we are not looking for people like us, perhaps we want people who bring different skills and ways of thinking. But at the heart of what we are looking for is humanity, attitude and ability. Add that to an emerging business idea and we can work with that.

For more information on how to apply to join the first One Accelerator cohort, visit https://oneaccelerator.co.uk/