COVID-19 boosts start-ups in the PR industry with more than 50 agency launches captured in new 'COVID-19 PR Agency Startup report'.


“When things do not go your way” reasoned optimist and author Roy T. Bennett, “remember that every challenge, every adversity, contains within it the seeds of opportunity and growth.”

Downturns offer the brave the opportunity to disrupt their industry’s status quo; to recalibrate what success looks like; to operate nimbly, unfettered by bureaucracy or group think. 

The flipside to financial uncertainties rendered by redundancies and furloughs are the opportunities of a buoyant marketplace of talented individuals looking for new job opportunities.

This is no more true than within the public relations industry. The PRCA 2020 Census data gathered in March 2020 showed that the public relations industry was on course for another year of growth, contributing £15.7 billion per annum to the economy per annum and employing a workforce of 97,300 before COVID-19 struck.

COVID-19 had an immediate and dramatic impact on the public relations agency market. The first lockdown from March to July 2020 led to a contraction by as much as 10% according to data from the PRCA. The professional body also stated that 60% of respondents had furloughed staff and half of firms expected to make redundancies.

From this adversity came opportunity. More than 50 new PR agencies have been founded in the UK during the COVID-19 pandemic according to a report published today by Wadds Inc.

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.

Start-ups recorded in the study are focused on one of three areas of innovation: 

  1. services 
  2. business model  
  3. specialism

New agency propositions are focused on data, creativity and lead generation. Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG), fintech and healthcare are popular markets.

The report profiles eight start-up PR agencies including Happy Yolk and Hard Numbers. 

Happy Yolk

Alissa Khan-Whelan and Chris Godfrey, two of the three founders of Happy Yolk were guests on my podcast, the Influencer Marketing Lab, in February. During our conversation we covered items including

  • The absurdity of vanity metrics
  • Instagram egg, Eugene, and its spotlight on mental health
  • What makes Happy Yolk different as an agency 
  • How to professionalise the influencer marketing industry

The COVID-19 PR Agency Startup report quotes Alissa’s vision for Happy Yolk Agency: “We create big ideas that spark joy and get the world talking.” 

The Happy Yolk team comprises four full-time staff: each creative, each with a specific suite of skills. This allows for big-agency delivery, bolstered by a cohort of specialist freelancers.

Almost all of Happy Yolk’s work has taken place during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The changing world has allowed us to take advantage of new opportunities and to be creative, from setting up social media products that unlock the power of earned for small businesses, to true product innovations for the likes of Too Good To Go” said Alissa.

Happy Yolk is backed by agencies Blurred and Tin Man. They co-share office space in Clerkenwell, London.

HardNumbers COVID-19 PR Agency Startup report

Hard Numbers

Darryl Sparey and Paul Stollery launched performance-driven marketing and communications consultancy Hard Numbers in May 2020. It helps business-to-business clients build their reputation and drive sales.

The agency is rapidly collecting a strong set of its own hard numbers. A year in it is signing a new client every month and winning three-quarters of the work that it pitches.

The agency name and proposition create a self-selecting audience. Clients seek out Hard Numbers because it offers a different approach to other agencies.

Paul is quoted within the report saying: “PR agencies build creative campaigns to earn media attention but overlook the opportunity for sales.”

Hard Numbers aims to bridge that gap between PR and sales. “Lots of activity that happens in an agency isn’t related to an outcome. Ultimately, you are doing PR to sell stuff to people,” said Darryl.

Stephen Waddington HardNumbers COVID-19 PR Agency Startup report

Stephen waddington

Managing Partner 

Wadds Inc.

The COVID-19 PR Agency Startup 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.

Where to read the COVID-19 PR Agency Startup report

The 40-page COVID-19 PR Agency Startup report is available in an electronic format and Adobe PDF. A print edition is also available. Information about new agency launches was collated from PRovoke, PRWeek and social media. It was cross referenced with legal company registrations and agencies’ own websites. The database is limited to agencies that were formally incorporated in the UK between  
1 January 2020 to 31 March 2021.

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Scott Guthrie is a professional adviser within the influencer marketing industry. He is an event speaker, university guest lecturer, media commentator on influencer marketing and active blogger. He works with brands, agencies and platforms to achieve meaningful results from influencer marketing. That tells you something about him but it's not giving you a lot of detail, is it? So, read more here.

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