Working with Stephen Waddington on the COVID-19 UK PR agency startup report

Over the last 3 months I have been working alongside Stephen Waddington at Wadds Inc. to develop a dataset of all of the agencies that started since the January 2020. The aim was to find what the driving motivations behind these COVID-19 agency startups are, to spot any trends, and to understand the specialisms that are becoming popular in PR.

As a newbie in the industry, this project has been an eye-opener for the developments within the industry and has enabled me to look into the future of PR. Not only have I been conducting industry research, I’ve also been introduced to so many agency founders and industry leaders. It was lovely to speak to the eight agencies we interviewed for the report: Second Mountain Communications, BB Partners, Little Mesters, Hard Numbers, Inpulsus, Look After, Happy Yolk and CommsRebel.

Below is an overview of the report with a link at the end to the pdf.

COVID-19 UK Public Relations Agency Startup Report

More than fifty new PR agencies have been founded in the UK during the COVID-19 pandemic according to a report published today by Wadds Inc. It provides insights into the market and clear direction and inspiration for anyone thinking of starting their own agency. 

The COVID-19 PR Agency Startup report explores why such a large number of agencies have been started in such a relatively short period of time. It includes a list of startup agencies and characterises them by proposition location, funding and the date they were founded. 

The lockdown created new routines and space for practitioners to think about their career and life. Alongside redundancy and furlough this is the primary driver for new agency startups. The report found that two-fifths of agency startups were founded during the first lockdown between February and July.

The UK agency market is saturated with more than 4,500 agencies according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). New agencies launching into such a crowded market need a strong proposition.

Startups recorded in the study are focused on one of three areas of innovation: services, business model or specialism. New agency propositions are focused on data, creativity and lead generation. Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG), fintech and healthcare are popular markets.

The majority of agency founders have funded their new businesses from savings or lifestyle changes. Alternative approaches include raising funds from family and friends or seeking investment from a complimentary agency partner to help cover overheads.

The report finds that COVID-19 has leveled-up competition for startup agencies. Founders have been able to create content and meet people in a way that wasn’t previously possible. Video calls mean that everyone presents the same in credential and new business meetings.

Everyone interviewed celebrated the support that their launch and new agency has received from the industry. It is a vibrant and supportive community. The UK is a great place to start a public relations business.

“The report is dedicated to anyone who has founded an agency during the COVID-19 pandemic. It celebrates your work. It’s also intended as a source of inspiration for anyone considering setting up their own agency,” said Stephen Waddington, Managing Partner, Wadds Inc.

“The COVID-19 UK public relations agency startup report is an inspiring read. It’s hard not to feel optimistic about the future of our industry after reading the findings. The PR industry has adapted remarkably well to the pandemic and the explosion of new agencies is testament to the strength of our practice,” said Francis Ingham, Director General, PRCA.

“This is a fascinating, innovative piece of research into the life of any agency from start up. I hope, like the famous TV series Seven Up!, we will get the chance to follow their stories as they grow and evolve,” said Mandy Pearse, President, CIPR. 

The report found that two-thirds of the startups were located in London reflecting the location of their previous employers or personal circumstances. This is despite the fact that the pandemic has shown that there is no need for creative or professional services to be based in London. It may be that we’ll start to see a shift as a second order effect of the pandemic.

The report includes eight startup PR agency profiles: Second Mountain Communications, BB Partners, Little Mesters, Hard Numbers, Inpulsus, Look After, Happy Yolk and CommsRebel.

The 40-page report is available in an electronic format and Adobe PDF. A print edition is also available.

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Print version – please contact stephen.waddington@wadds.co.uk