Don’t get too excited about Bellamy Hayden’s PR offering

Bellamy Hayden is about to embark on a well-trodden path and launch a PR unit. If history is anything to go by, they’re going to fail, or at least not succeed very much.  

I’d love to be told otherwise, but if I were to try to list genuinely successful PR agencies that sit within a bigger communications agency, then I’d not need both hands.

In Bellamy Hayden’s case, it’s launching something called Chatterbox.

If their spin is to be believed (and who could blame them if they’re overstating the case – they are in PR now, after all) as well as serving existing agency clients, they’ll be chasing new business.

But it never seems to work. Can you think of any PR agencies that sit within a parent ad agency culture but also succeed and develop a brand in their own right?

Yes, apart from DDB’s Mango. Any more? Anyone? No? Anyone?

I think the problem is that the culture and rhythm of an ad agency is different to that of a PR agency. If you’ve got a small team with a few desks within a group of, say, 40 advertising types, they’re going to feel like part of the parent company. They’ll struggle to develop their own culture.

Look at what happened with M&C Saatchi’s attempt – Open Dialogue. Those who were nearby will tell you that to develop as they felt it needed, the principals had to walk out of the door to create what is now Access PR. The clients soon followed.

I’ve also often been surprised by the cluelessness about PR from many comms agency bosses. Some at least know how little they know. But others, more worryingly, think they know all about PR when they clearly don’t.

The PR agencies that work within agency groups do so because they have their own identities – I’m sure that One Green Bean wouldn’t have been such a success if it was a subset, rather than a sister agency of Host.

And that’s why Frank PR is being smart to keep its distance from other Photon agencies – even if it does share a floor (although not a front door, they stress) with Naked Communications.

That’s not to blame Bellamy Hayden for trying. In tough times it’s good to have new revenue streams. Although it does make it a little harder to claim to be a communications-neutral strategy agency when you can offer execution in the PR channel. Mind you, Naked has got away with having an events arm for years, so even that’s not unprecedented.

But PR arms of established comms agencies just never seems to work.


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