Leeds High Street

London has long held the title of the PR capital of Europe. I started my own career in London working for Harvard PR and the Chime Group for more than five years many moons ago. I love the capital and the bright lights and I enjoyed working down there and picking up the experience.

There is a lot going for the capital, it is home to the headquarters of some of the world’s biggest agencies working with the country’s biggest brands. However, according to some London’s time at the top may now be coming to an end. In a recent article for PR Week, Brendon Craigie wrote that “London is finished” citing Brexit and changes in business strategy as key reasons why.

“London isn’t the UK, and the UK isn’t Europe – so why have so many pan-European PR decisions been made from London?” he asks.

It’s clear from the various nationalist political divisions in this country that people are fed up with the London/Westminster centric methods of decision making that have defined the UK for the last couple of decades. This is not only relevant to politics, but in all industries including creative and our beautiful industry public relations.

I want to make this clear I don’t want the UK to split up – I am a Brit first and foremost. I believe in the United Kingdom, I love Scotland, Wales and Ireland. I am part Irish so I should do. I think we are all stronger together – I also voted “Remain” but when I realised we had lost I accepted it and moved on and didn’t become a “remoaner”. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.

I have been growing my agency, Prohibition, alongside my team, in the Leeds area for almost a decade. I live in Harrogate and have always seen the value of working in the bigger city for both attracting great talent and brilliant clients from a range of vibrant and varied industries. Yorkshire is a huge region and there is plenty of business to go around. However, if London’s reign is slowly coming to an end, is it time for one of the Northern cities to stake their claim and Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester to gain recognition as communications capitals in the wider industry?

I love Leeds, but I love Manchester too for that matter, and I have worked up here for more than twenty years so let me state the case for my local city.

Why Leeds?

Leeds has a local economy worth £69 billion and a workforce of over 1.4 million people. Within the Northern Powerhouse it is the largest contributor to UK GDP. It is already home to some of the best PR agencies in the country (coughs including us) who are churning out award-winning campaigns and achieving amazing results for their clients. However, I really think it could be more – in years to come it could be a globally recognised hub for Public Relations and the creative sector. Below I have outlined why Leeds is a Northern PR powerhouse and why it’s the perfect city in which to work and grow a business. I should know – I have been battling through it as an Entrepreneur since 2012.

 

Leeds is a hotspot for the PR industry.

Leeds city region has strengths in a range of sectors including healthcare, digital technologies, advanced manufacturing, education, and finance. These are sectors that have not been greatly affected, and some have even thrived, in the pandemic. As a result, in Leeds, there is a host of potential clients right here on our doorstep in Yorkshire.

 

It’s now possible to work from anywhere.

Why work from London when technology allows us to work from anywhere now? Living in London is inaccessible for many due to skyrocketing rents and house prices. It is the reason I moved out of Chiswick and into Harrogate – I loved London, but for the monthly rent of our one-bedroom flat we could buy a four-bedroom semi-detached home and the same goes for salaries and business rates.  Money is a major cause of stress and can have a massive effect on people’s well-being. Now that the technology and infrastructure is in place, and its more acceptable to have meetings online following Covid19, there is really no reason to simply expect people to move to the Capital to find work in PR. Up North, there is less pollution (I think that could be arguable but you get my point), more green spaces and, maybe I’m a little biased, but people are a little friendlier making it a lovely place to live and work. Also, without the need to spend the majority of their income on pints (joking), housing, people can do afford to do more with their free time in Yorkshire.

 

It arguably provides a greater quality of life.

Not only does Leeds provide a greater quality of life to employees with regards to their disposable income but also in terms of their work-life balance. If someone said they were going home at 5:30pm at a PR agency in London they might be met with a shocked expression. When I lived down South, we would regularly work beyond seven. Now I don’t know if the 8am-8pm culture of London PR work has fallen out of favour as people generally care more about their mental health and wellbeing but in the North, we do try to have a flexible work life balance and that’s not because we wear flat caps and have whippets.

In normal times there’s a lot for people to do in Yorkshire with their free time.  There’s a bustling nightlife, restaurants, music and arts scene meaning there’s not a lot you can do in London that you can’t also do in Leeds and the wider Yorkshire region. This improved quality of life is great for business as happy employees are more likely to stay long term and are hopefully then be a little more productive. I would argue this is proven with many employees in PR up north spending longer on average in one agency than they do in the south.

 

Leeds has great transport links.

Leeds has an impressive transport hub and it’s continuing to be developed. If I did need to meet a client in London, I could be there in just a 2-hour train journey. I have done that journey many times especially when I worked on BT and Sony. With HS2 continuing to receive investment this could soon be even faster – I will leave it up to you if you think that is worth the investment. Personally, I would take this occasional commute from Leeds over daily rush-hour commutes on the tube any day although some days I do actually miss it. Yes, you read that right.

 

It’s almost where the media are.

While London has previously been thought of as the media capital of the UK, many of the country’s largest outlets are finally moving up North. Most notably, the BBC moved to Manchester and Channel 4 moved their national headquarters to Leeds, and it’s likely that others will follow suit to save money. I think with PR and journalism being so closely linked it makes sense for PR to move up North alongside the media. However, London does have the majority of the media so it wins the battle on this one.

 

It’s where talented PR people are.

Leeds is extremely popular with PR students because of the host of universities offering a huge array of communications courses (I’m sure its popularity has nothing to do with the cost of a pint at all wither). This includes two world-renowned business schools, one of which I learnt at and then became a lecturer at on the BA (Hons) Public Relations course.

The city’s educational facilities not only give businesses direct access to an annual talent pipeline of 38,000 graduates but it also means the city is at the forefront of cutting-edge research in communications.

Ultimately, London may soon no longer be the centre of the PR universe as the media and business continues to change. Manchester has the BBC, and Leeds has Channel 4, and I think there are a number of reasons why the North is a great place in which to run a business and it can be a great place in which to live and work. As Leeds continues to grow and develop it could go on to become an internationally recognised PR hotspot. Well here’s to hoping anyway…

About Chris Norton

Chris Norton is the founder of Prohibition and an award winning communications consultant with more than twenty years’ experience. He was a lecturer at Leeds Beckett University and has had a varied PR career having worked both in-house and in a number of large consultancies. He is an Integrated PR and social media blogger and writes on a wide variety of blogs across a huge amount of topics from digital marketing, social media marketing right through to technology and crisis management.