Guest Blog: The biggest kid in the infants?


A year or two ago, Business Cornwall was good enough to run a story on The John Knowles Company’s 25th anniversary. The article mentioned, in passing, that we were “firmly established as the largest marketing and PR agency in Cornwall”.

The piece also named one of our larger clients, so – as such things do in the age of Google Alerts – it quickly came to the attention of their General Manager in the UK. In a flash, he was on the ‘phone…

Crying with laughter.

The largest agency in Cornwall?” he convulsed. “That’s like being the biggest kid in the infants!

We took it with a chuckle, but it was a sharp reminder nonetheless. Proud as we are of being based in Cornwall, being defined in those terms quickly starts to seem very strange to business contacts looking in from elsewhere.

We do 95% of our business out of county. 60% outside the UK. In that context, saying we’re “big for Cornwall” made us look smaller than we are.

The effect is all the greater if there’s a gap between a perception of Cornwall as a remote backwater and the reality of a vibrant, distinctive place, with a depth of business – and particularly creative – talent.

With the Cornwall Business Awards now just a few days away, that conversation has been on my mind quite a bit recently.

I simply adore the awards evening. The whole room has a tangible sense of shared purpose, of pride in Cornwall and delight in each others’ achievements, and I don’t know whether people who have always worked here fully understand quite how unique that is.

But there’s an inherent danger in the mantle “Best in Cornwall”. A temptation to keep measuring yourself in those terms.

It’s only natural to enjoy the feeling of being a big player in a world that ends at the Tamar… even the Goss Moor… but if you’re content to be defined that way – if you set too much store by it – that limits your ambitions.

The truth is, winning a Cornwall Business Award – even being nominated – comes with an implicit challenge – and it’s the same for Hub Award winners, leading local companies, and even people just attending the Awards. Actually, for all of us who do business here.

The challenge is this:

Be proud of your achievements, and those of your local colleagues. Appreciate, recognise and enjoy the support and esteem you have locally. Acknowledge that Cornwall is an extremely special environment, a unique place to work, and that it contributes to your success.

But understand that this is the beginning and not the end.

Take strength, inspiration and support from the Cornish business community, but don’t be limited to it. Make Cornwall your launchpad. Your springboard. Your seed bed – whatever metaphor works for you, frankly – just get out there and be brilliant.

Let’s not aim to only be the Best in Cornwall. Let’s be The Best, and take Cornwall with us.

The more companies that get that (and, to be fair, plenty of the Award winners do), the quicker we’ll narrow that perception gap – and help the world to see why Cornwall really is a special place to do business.

Because, actually, being “the biggest kid in the infants” is great.

It’s the perfect starting point for Big School.

David McGuire is creative director at The John Knowles Company – Cornwall’s largest… Oh, Ok. A national B2B marketing and PR agency that happens to be based in Falmouth.

He also writes the blog David versus Planet Earth, about copywriting, public relations and anything else that crops up.


  1. You only need to search a company’s accounts and check out their offices to see how big they are…Delusions are a funny things…They can either power you through to sucess or be your absolute nemisis.
    It’s not rocket science, but like rockets: You can either be flying to the moon or wiping out a city….should I stop or continue ?.. :0)
    In promoting business, self perception and managed public perception needs to be balanced with reality, this promotes trust.
    I guess that is where the genius of a PR company like John Knowles comes into play.

  2. Whenquoting the size of a business in Cornwall I used to get grief from one blog reader making a political point because I used the term ‘biggest in England’ and rather Cornwall!

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