FEATURE REVIEW OF THE YEAR: PR in the 21st century - The best of times, the worst of times ... PRWeek looks back at the events of 2000 Rob Gray reports.

Not in living memory was a new year approached with such trepidation as the last. Towards the end of 1999, Millennium Bug scare stories were so rife that, come 1 January when the traffic lights continued to function and aeroplanes didn't drop out of the skies, many were surprised.

Not in living memory was a new year approached with such trepidation as the last. Towards the end of 1999, Millennium Bug scare stories were so rife that, come 1 January when the traffic lights continued to function and aeroplanes didn't drop out of the skies, many were surprised.

But the new year bought no respite for the Millennium Dome, the year's biggest white elephant. It was the target of sustained flak, with each management change, underwhelming sets of visitor figures and request for extra funding greeted with media vitriol. The coverage was in harsh contrast to the critical and public success enjoyed by other major new attractions on the Thames - the Tate Modern and the BA London Eye.

The fuel protests that threatened to bring the whole country to a halt left no one in any doubt as to the power of consumers and the speed at which they can be mobilised to take part in direct action when they feel passionate enough about an issue. In tandem with sporadic anti-capitalist demonstrations this served as a warning to all those concerned with corporate reputation.

The protests over fuel taxes were another chance for the press to air the enduring 'Rip-off Britain' slogan, which also led to car manufacturers cutting prices of new cars in the UK.

Reputation management, particularly in terms of the rising power of consumers and pressure groups who learned to use the internet sometimes with devastating results, was one of the key issues for the industry in 2000, as it continued its slow but steady infiltration of boardrooms.

The other pressing issue was recruitment. A boom in work, partly as a result of new dot.coms whose venture capitalists demanded they spend heavily on PR, led to agencies screaming about a desperate shortage of talent.

A harsh dose of reality in the shape of falling new economy company share prices and folding online enterprises in the spring put an end to months of dot.com mania. But the digital revolution is only just beginning, and the unprecedented speed and quantity of information has become both a headache and a glorious opportunity for PR practitioners.

Consolidation has been rife on the agency side. Hardly a week went by this year without news of the latest agency merger or acquisition.

In the national media, soul-searching over football failure at Euro 2000 was counter-balanced by jingoism at British sporting triumphs at the Sydney Olympics, and the boy wizard Harry Potter and his author JK Rowling continued to cast a spell over editors as magically as they have bewitched book readers of all ages.

Unquestionably,the pop cultural icons have been Posh and Becks. In a social climate where there is an almost morbid fascination with youth and fame, it is apt that the venerable Daily Express and its sister titles should be bought by Richard Desmond, whose media empire has been built on the twin pillars of sex and celebrity.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Let's go back to the start of the year and take another look at the key stories of 2000.



January

Marks & Spencer started the millennium with a search for its first dedicated corporate affairs director in two years, and online bookseller Amazon appointed a new PR director for the UK in the shape of Christina Smedley, former Edelman PR Worldwide head of consumer marketing.

Philip Dewhurst became Shandwick International UK chief executive after leaving his post as Railtrack corporate affairs director in the aftermath of the Paddington rail crash of October 1999. And BAE Systems' communications chief Locksley Ryan announced he was leaving the client side to become a partner at Alan Parker's financial agency Brunswick.

London Underground appointed its first board-level director of communications, Tony Maguire, who came into the job after a stint as British American Tobacco corporate affairs director in New Zealand.

Another significant move was the departure of Joanna Scott from her job as head of communications at the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund after eight months to run food manufacturer Kraft Jacob Suchard's PR for the UK and Ireland. Scott denied the role at the charity had been a 'poisoned chalice'.

Big agency business wins in January included Red Rooster Beauty and Consumer PR landing the remit for Novartis Consumer Health's range of 11 health and therapeutic brands.

January ended with PRWeek publisher Haymarket launching the first daily international e-mail news service for the PR industry, PRWeek WorldWire.



February

February began with the revelation that public affairs consultancy GJW was in talks about a possible acquisition by a series of interested parties including Lighthouse, the holding company that last year bought Financial Dynamics, Charles Barker BSMG and Shandwick.

Chris Lewis, chief executive of hi-tech PR specialist Lewis Communications, announced that he was part of a consortium of venture capitalists that had raised pounds 50m to finance mergers, acquisitions and disposals in high-growth PR sectors.

At the New Millennium Experience Company, the slating of the ill-starred Dome saw the departure of CEO Jennie Page and the redeployment of head of publicity and parliamentary affairs Gez Sagar, to make way for Fiona Cline. The Dome also got some heavyweight agency help from Edelman MD John Mahony and chairman Nigel Whittaker.

London's other millennium landmark, the BA London Eye, had rather a different reception when it opened to universal acclaim.

The high-profile murder trial of doctor Harold Shipman and the scandal of the Royal Bristol Infirmary's high mortality rates meant the medical profession took a pounding to its image. The General Medical Council hired its first director of communications, Andrew Ketteringham, from the Broadcasting Standards Commission.

Hill & Knowlton was upwardly mobile in connecting with the pounds 700,000 global PR account for the WAP Forum - the trade body for companies involved in developing the next generation of mobile phones. But H&K's London office lost three directors. John Tibbs left to join Bell Pottinger as managing director of its sports division; information industries division managing director Giles Fraser departed to start up his own consultancy Brands2Life, and public affairs and corporate policy practice managing director Edward Bickham left for global mining giant Anglo-American.

Countrywide Porter Novelli came out top after a three-way pitch to handle all communications for CropGen, an organisation funded by leading biotech companies with the aim of promoting the virtues of genetically modified crops. At high-profile dot.com lastminute, Citigate Dewe Rogerson was hired on a financial brief ahead of the company's flotation.



March

It was a bad month for big brands. Barclays came under sustained fire as it launched a glossy advertising campaign extolling the benefits of being a 'big' bank at the same time as closing branches all over the country. It was also caught up in the furore over cash machine charges along with the rest of the high street banks.

BMW also had a tough time for a couple of weeks when it announced it was selling its loss-making UK subsidiary Rover to venture capital group Alchemy, putting thousands of jobs at risk.

BA chief executive Bob Ayling resigned, deemed culpable for a botched, costly and poorly communicated rebranding exercise and held accountable for a lacklustre financial performance.

As the race for the first mayor of London heated up, mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone ruffled a few feathers by announcing that he would ban lobbyists from the Greater London Assembly. He backtracked after winning the election.

The Government's medical watchdog, the Commission for Health Improvement, appointed its first director of communications after being set up at the end of 1999. Matt Tee joined from the Department of Trade and Industry, where he had been director of news.

Diageo hired Ian Wright as group corporate communications director from Boots, and airport operator BAA was forced to reorganise its communications function after director of corporate and public affairs Des Wilson announced his retirement.

In the agency world, Edelman director of healthcare Nick May moved to Ogilvy PR Worldwide as new president of European operations, following the departure of Paul Philpotts to Square Mile at the end of 1999.

An internal reshuffle at Countrywide Porter Novelli saw Peter Hehir relinquish his role as CEO for Neil Backwith, formerly the consultancy's strategic development director, while staying on as chairman.

Burson-Marsteller appointed Allan Biggar as the first managing director of its London office in four years, reversing the 1996 move away from country heads to centralised profit and loss.

Biss Lancaster also did a structural U-turn, absorbing second string agency Sandpiper back into the parent company and restructuring along practice lines.

Chime Communications bought Harvard PR and Insight PR for pounds 12m and pounds 5m respectively, and subsidiary Bell Pottinger brought in David Wilson from Pfizer to manage its new airline client, Emirates.

The PRWeek/Media Appointments Salary Survey painted a picture of PR practitioners working long hours, with 74 per cent admitting they suffered from stress.



April

The BBC got a new director of communications, Matthew Bannister, in the wake of a management shakeup by new director-general Greg Dyke. Also in house, Robin Banerji was made head of communications at the Commission for Racial Equality.

It was a year for agencies to pick up talent from the world of politics.

One-time Labour Party PR chief Joy Johnson joined lobbying shop GPC in the newly created role of strategic communications director, and Liberal Democrat press and broadcasting director Jeremy Browne moved to Edelman as an account director in public affairs.

MacLaurin Communications lost out as National Lottery organiser Camelot moved its national consumer PR in-house.

Agencies that picked up big business included Cohn & Wolfe, which won the global PR related to Orange's sponsorship of the Arrows Formula 1 team, and QBO, which embarked on a consumer PR drive for cable company Telewest.

Barclay Stratton was appointed as the Commission for Health Improvement's first PR agency; and Brunswick landed Abbey National.

Freud Communications had to deal head on with the power of the internet to breed crises, when it acted to diffuse rumours spread on the internet about client KFC's use of 'genetically modified' chickens.

PRWeek's annual Top 150 league table of UK PR consultancies found that there were no longer any independents in the top 10 after Edelman slipped down one place from tenth position. Interpublic's International Public Relations, owner of the Shandwick and Weber brands, held on to the top spot.



May

Consolidation in the industry continued as Sir Martin Sorrell's WPP, owner of Ogilvy and Hill and Knowlton, confirmed that it was taking over Young & Rubicam, parent of Burson-Marsteller and Cohn & Wolfe, to form the world's biggest marketing services group.

In London the four main candidates for the job of London mayor campaigned with PR guns blazing. Ken Livingstone's choice of former GMTV news reporter Emma St Giles to run his PR raised eyebrows in some quarters but did not prevent him from fulfilling his ambition of creating a political powerbase in the capital for a second time.

Two beleaguered corporations responded to long-running negative press by shaking up their PR functions. Marks & Spencer ended its four-month search for a new head of communications by hiring American Cheri Lofland, previously Reckitt & Colman head of group communications. Barclays Bank, meanwhile, chose to do away with separate PR functions for its four major business divisions.

BMW stayed in the news after talks with Alchemy fell through, and the Phoenix group, headed by former Rover director John Towers, brought in Ludgate to help with its successful bid to buy Rover.

The saga of who would triumph in the quest to buy GJW reached its conclusion as it emerged that BSMG Worldwide was paying pounds 8m for the public affairs agency, which changed its trading name to GJW-BSMG. BSMG UK's name Charles Barker began to be phased out.

Lord Chadlington's relationship with Shandwick, the company he formed 26 years ago, came to an end as he bowed out as head of parent Interpublic's International PR Group, making way for Weber PR Worldwide chairman and CEO Larry Weber.

Edelman bought the vast majority of staff and assets of Rowland Company's UK, Australian and Asia Pacific operations from Saatchi & Saatchi, rebranding them as PR21. Former Rowland UK chief executive Beverly Kaye became PR21 CEO Europe, reporting to PR21 global president and CEO Gus Weill in the US.

Saatchi kept the Rowland name, now re-styled as Rowland Communications.

In Scotland, Western Isles Council began its search for a PR practitioner to exploit media interest in the region generated by the BBC's use of the previously uninhabited island Taransay for its docu-soap Castaway 2000.

Microsoft had to deal with a crisis when it was among the companies hit by the Lovebug virus, causing havoc to computer systems worldwide after being spread through Microsoft's Outlook e-mail system.



June

The summer started with a brace of royal stories. Prince Charles' press secretary Sandy Henney was forced to resign from her post following a dispute over the copyright of some 18th birthday photographs of Prince William.

The birth of another famous son, Leo Blair, afforded his dad some respite during a summer of Blair-baiting, but the Prime Minister's disastrous speech to the Women's Institute later in the month did not help.

Iceland continued a run of positive press, and tapped into a growing trend for organic food, when it announced it was converting all its own brand vegetables to organic.

One of the most interesting moves of the year was ex-News of the World editor Phil Hall joining Max Clifford.

Rumours abounded that NATO communications chief Jamie Shea was about to cross to consultancy with Burson-Marsteller, but these were soon scotched.

The kings of the UK football realm, Manchester United, set about trying to find a communications director. The job eventually went to The Financial Times sports writer Patrick Harveson in the autumn.

Brunswick was chosen to handle bookmaker William Hill's second attempt at flotation, while Grandfield was given the task of making sure budget airline easyJet's bid for a listing on the London Stock Exchange took off.

Band & Brown paid out a little under pounds 2m to buy Larkspur, and former Ketchum joint managing director Richard Houghton re-emerged as the managing director of Carrot, a new digital sister agency for Firefly.

Countrywide Porter Novelli was one of the big account winners, becoming the lead consumer agency for UK brands including Smirnoff, Baileys and Gordon's.



July

European football's governing body UEFA got its man early in July. Mike Lee joined as director of communications and public affairs from a similar role at the English Premier League.

It was all change at Buckingham Palace as it was revealed that Simon Walker was to join on a two year secondment from BA as communications secretary to the Royal Family to replace Simon Lewis, whose own two year secondment from Centrica was drawing to its close.

Conservative mayoral candidate Steve Norris joined the ranks of politicians in PR when he became a consultant at Citigate Public Affairs.

At The Body Shop, Pleun Van Akkerveeken arrived as head of global PR.

BT made further structural changes to its in-house PR set-up to reflect its split into six business units, and Comic Relief appointed Louise Combes as its head of communications.

PRWeek's league table of hi-tech PR consultancies showed the top 10 agencies earned more than pounds 49.5m - up 30 per cent on the previous year.



August

August saw the Liberal Democrats fill its director of press and broadcasting vacancy with a surprise choice: Elizabeth Peplow, who was Horse & Hound assistant editor.

The media went bananas during a particularly fervent silly season as the Queen Mother celebrated her 100th birthday, and Channel 4 screened the inescapable Big Brother.

PR hit the headlines when chancellor Gordon Brown married Sarah Macaulay.

BA's woes were compounded in July with the crash outside Paris of an Air France Concorde that killed 113 and led to the grounding of its supersonic fleet: the emasculation of the airline's most striking symbol.

The vacancy at the top of the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund's communications was finally filled by two people: Jo Bexley and Victoria Rae, both from UNICEF. Another long-standing search was over when the London Borough of Lewisham appointed Fiona Nicol as head of corporate communications after 18 months' search.

In the wake of Lord Chadlington's departure from Shandwick, deputy CEO Michael Murphy also quit. The growing importance of reputation was underlined when United Utilities group director of communications John Drummond left to set up a new corporate responsibility venture, Corporate Culture.

Lexis saw off competition from three other agencies to get its teeth into the Centura Foods account, embracing brands such as Sharwood's, Paxo and Bisto, while Cohn & Wolfe put Conran Restaurants on its menu.



September

Financial services group Prudential poached Geraldine Davies from Lloyds TSB to become director of corporate communications, and former royal press secretary Sandy Henney joined Thames Water as corporate affairs director.

The Lottery Commission lost face after dithering over the award of the new licence to run the National Lottery, but Russia's president Vladimir Putin came off worse after his handling of the sinking of the Kursk submarine.

During party conference season, another Blair speech made the headlines as he sweated through it, and the Government was accused of being out of touch as the protests over fuel taxes led to fuel shortages.

Towards the end of September Interpublic indicated that it was to carry out the full merger of Shandwick and the Weber Group in January 2001.

IPG will run Weber Shandwick Worldwide as one group and Golin/Harris International as another. Miller Shandwick lost MD Kristen Syltevik, who set up her own hi-tech agency, Hotwire PR.

James Maxwell stepped up from a UK role to become Ketchum Europe managing director, and the Millennium Dome's recently appointed chairman David James brought in financial PR firm Cardew & Company to help on media relations and with advice on corporate PR tactics leading up to the attraction's closure at the end of the year.

The first PRWeek/Countrywide Porter Novelli CEO Survey showed the importance of a good reputation, as every CEO questioned rated reputation as an important asset.

In addition, Golin/Harris Ludgate hired Ceri Evans, who had been campaign director for Steve Norris' London mayoral campaign, as managing director of its 12-strong public affairs division. Evans' appointment came over three months after former Ludgate public affairs managing director Stephen Lock left the agency together with three other directors after a failed management buyout.

PRWeek's first global ranking, compiled in conjunction with sister publications in the US, Hong Kong and Germany, put B-M in top spot with worldwide fee income of dollars 275m.



October

The troubles rolled on for Railtrack, which was only just recovering from the Paddington rail crash when the fatal derailment near Hatfield made it public enemy number one. It was no surprise when Railtrack chief executive Gerald Corbett eventually paid with his job.

There was more bad news for the England football team when manager Kevin Keegan threw in the towel after losing to Germany at Wembley.

The fur also started flying between the BBC and ITV in the war of the nightly news bulletins, as the Beeb announced it was moving the Nine O'Clock news to the 10pm slot vacated by ITN earlier in the year.

Woolworths lured Nicole Lander from retail rival Tesco to fill its head of communications post, and at Bell Pottinger, CEO Chris Satterthwaite was made group MD of parent Chime Communications.

Burson-Marsteller picked up a huge account for venture capital group 3i, replacing long-term incumbent Shandwick, and Cake was hired by Reebok.

Procter & Gamble's Sunny Delight, the most successful UK grocery brand launch of the 1990s, was put up for repitch. This was due to a conflict of interest at agency Ketchum Life, which had won Britvic's carbonated drinks portfolio. The account eventually went to Rowland Communications - the small PR operation retained by Saatchi & Saatchi after most of its PR assets were sold to Edelman earlier in the year and rebranded as PR21.

Firefly was named as agency of the year in the PRWeek awards, and easyJet boss Stelios Haji-Ianniou was voted European communicator of the year.



November

America was the butt of the world's jokes as the 'too close to call' election between Gore and Bush descended into farce. The climate change congress in the Hague was no more conclusive. Singapore Airlines had to deal with its first major crisis after a fatal crash.

Acquisition talks between marketing service giant WPP and financial PR agency Finsbury collapsed, but there appeared to be no shortage of other bidders interested in the company.

Chime Communications paid over pounds 8m for full service agency QBO, whose clients include Royal Mail, the Met Office, Norwich Union, British Gas and Telewest.

There was more consolidation when Incepta paid up to pounds 6.8m in cash and shares to acquire Key Communications. Key will provide a business-to-business and corporate capability that is intended to be complementary to the financial and corporate offering of Incepta's wholly-owned subsidiary Citigate Dewe Rogerson. And BSMG Worldwide snapped up City PR firm Square Mile in a deal believed to be worth up to pounds 10m.

Former Ludgate directors Stephen Lock, Richard Elsen, Sunil Sharma and Iain Anderson launched Cicero Consulting to specialise in public affairs, reputation management, litigation PR and internet campaigns.



December

Ketchum found a replacement for James Maxwell's former post as UK CEO in the shape of San Francisco office head Jon Higgins.

BSMG UK chief executive Nan Williams quit after 15 years with the company.

There was more trouble at the top at Burson-Marsteller, whose London office slashed 14 senior jobs to counter 'top-heaviness'.

Tesco filled its communications director post with former Mail on Sunday industrial and consumer affairs director Chris Leake, and at the Greater London Authority, Charlotte Roew joined as executive communications director from the London Tourist Board.

British Nuclear Fuels ended the year on a low note when it lost its director of public affairs. Colin Duncan had held the top communications role for eight years.

The Red Consultancy picked up the Lucozade Sport account, and Cohn & Wolfe scored a coup by winning a pounds 1m PR brief for Coca-Cola. Cubbit Consulting ended on a high note by being taken on by Kingfisher to help with investor relations.



WHAT WAS THE PR EVENT OF THE YEAR?

Hobsbawm Macaulay Communications chairwoman Julia Hobsbawm

'Bloomsbury's campaign for JK Rowling's Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire achieved the best possible commercial success through extensive news and features coverage across all media. Harry Potter is now the school play of choice as well as being the best PR for children's reading in years.'



Commission for Health Improvement director of communications Matt Tee

'Big Brother. People who hadn't seen a single show knew who they wanted to win and why - and not just those who read the showbiz gossip in The Sun. To achieve that sort of reach takes more than a good programme idea and some brave scheduling - even if some of the participants were a bit unhappy with how they came across.'



BBC News presenter George Alagiah

'The story of the Millennium Dome in Greenwich is a perfect example of what happens when PR and newsworthiness clash. Over the year I have interviewed PY Gerbeau, Lord Falconer and David James among others. All of them made the point that, by comparison to any other entertainment in Europe, the Dome's six million or so visitors made it a successful attraction. But the truth is that the Dome was never going to be judged purely on content or visitor response. Whether correctly or not, it came to be seen as a sort of symbol of new Labour's promises and ambitions. That's what made it newsworthy and no amount of PR was going to change that.'



Esquire editor Peter Howarth

'If I was allowed to do Esquire's PR triumph of the year I'd say it would have to be the revelation of David Beckham's tattoo on his back. Other than that, the whole Harry Potter thing is extraordinary. It crosses age, sex, class - everything. And author JK Rowling's own story is so fascinating. There were about two weeks when you could not open a paper or turn on the radio without hearing about her.'



Diageo group communication director Ian Wright

'The US Presidential Election - the moment to treasure was Florida Supreme Court spokesman Craig Walters making clear to the judges that they would have to make a decision by Thanksgiving or risk the wrath of his Aunt Ethel. We all have an Aunt Ethel. But few of us have the chutzpah to use her when we're spinning.'



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