OPINION: Privatised utilities offer the worst job in PR

Who has the lousiest job in PR? I only ask because I’ve been studying the 26 winners of PR Week’s awards. At one stage during Nato’s Kosovo campaign, it looked as if Jamie Shea might qualify for the title. Instead, he became European Communicator of the Year, which suggests that his Brussels berth isn’t all that impossible. My sympathies normally go to local authority PROs, since they all too often have to put up with political tin gods who have little concept of the need for taxpayer-funded publicity to be impartial and unpolemical. But then Ben Wilson won the Young Achiever of the Year Award with Brighton and Hove Council.

Who has the lousiest job in PR? I only ask because I’ve been

studying the 26 winners of PR Week’s awards. At one stage during Nato’s

Kosovo campaign, it looked as if Jamie Shea might qualify for the title.

Instead, he became European Communicator of the Year, which suggests

that his Brussels berth isn’t all that impossible. My sympathies

normally go to local authority PROs, since they all too often have to

put up with political tin gods who have little concept of the need for

taxpayer-funded publicity to be impartial and unpolemical. But then Ben

Wilson won the Young Achiever of the Year Award with Brighton and Hove

Council.



The Government Information and Communication Service and child minders

have much in common, since ministers and little kids need just about the

same amount of attention, if only to prevent them from hurting

themselves.



The GICS has taken a severe battering from a Government which manifestly

does not understand the limits within which its members must work. But

then the COI ran off with the Best Crisis Management Award, coping with

Swampy and assorted moles and tree dwellers swarming in the way of new

bypasses.



But I reckon there is one class of PRO whose struggle against adversity

deserves recognition. They are those who work for privatised utilities,

especially as John Prescott thinks he can boss them around as if they

were still nationalised. Why doesn’t somebody tell him to buzz off, or

words to that effect? They are, after all, already second-guessed by

regulators who never hesitate to jump on a popular bandwagon.



The water companies are vilified, even though their investment programme

is probably Europe’s largest environmental improvement project - and the

quality of UK drinking water is only a few percentage points short of

100 per cent purity. Railtrack is treated by ministers, press and public

alike as if it were the devil incarnate, cutting safety to boost

profits.



This ignores inconvenient facts, such as Railtrack’s massive investment

to make up for nationalised neglect, the fact that rail travel is just

about the safest way of getting about, and that it’s not Railtrack which

keeps going through red lights - it’s other rail companies’ drivers.



But the real killer is the sheer, ignorant prejudice against Railtrack’s

profits. Like the water companies, Railtrack needs to be profitable to

continue investing. Outrage over its pounds 1-million-a-day profits is

meaningless emotion without relating them to turnover and capital

employed. Privatised utilities are very big businesses. They are also

where you currently find the lousiest jobs in PR, since the PROs don’t,

to make matters worse, seem to have many sensible communicators among

top managers to work with.



In your charitable moments, spare a thought for our brethren toiling in

these sour vineyards.



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