The ruthless application of common sense

PR people are not known for their business management skills. To the best of my knowledge, Harvard runs no case studies featuring PR businesses. We are traditionally crap at all that stuff. After all, we rise to the top of PR agencies by being good at PR not management. Then we get given an office, with people, clients and a budget. And that’s when the wheels come off. Which is a shame, because running a PR business is mainly about the ruthless application of common sense and is a far simpler thing (intellectually at least) than formulating advice for a client in a crisis or finding a creative way of giving a dull brand some interest and competitive differentiation. It is hard work and emotionally draining, but it is not rocket science.

I have run practices, offices and regions for three of the global PR brands and the offices of two small independent companies in both EMEA and Asia Pacific over the last many years and the wheels have indeed come off once or twice. They probably will again, but if they do it will not be because I made the mistake of thinking this was a complex business model. PR agencies are simple businesses. They have inside them often ‘difficult’ people doing some (occasionally) clever things, but they are simple businesses. So here are my top tips in case you find yourself running one.

David Brain


  1. Complexity happens. Simplicity, you have to strive for. simple is beautiful.

  2. Sadly, the ‘Peter Principle’ – being promoted to your level of incompetence has been a prevalent driver in the PR industry, and highlights how we are a craft-based job, but then become too product focussed rather than business focussed.

    Interested in your 56% of revenues ceiling for staff costs. I have used over the years the 3:1 ration of income to staff cost and found this difficult – your figure seems to concur.

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