Danny Rogers: Ignorance of TUPE law will no longer wash

Last week's proposed transfer of eight staff, under TUPE regulations, from Lexis PR to The Red Consultancy is causing much industry consternation.

Danny Rogers: Ignorance of TUPE law will no longer wash
Danny Rogers: Ignorance of TUPE law will no longer wash

Coming as the result of Boots' decision to shift its £1.2m PR account from Lexis to Red, many in the agency world are recognising they are vulnerable to the same upheaval.

Although the TUPE provisions have now been around for five years - and have been examined regularly by PRWeek - this is the first time that a major case has hit the UK PR industry.

The law is more prevalent in the advertising and media industries, where fees are higher and often dozens of staff have shifted agency as a result of account moves.

Until recently few PR accounts were worth more than a million pounds per annum, so it has been relatively rare for consultancies to employ many staff who principally work on one client (TUPE applies only when a staff member spends more than 50 per cent of his/her time on an account).

But it could become a growing problem. Blue chip clients are increasingly consolidating their outsourced comms into single shops. And the Boots precedent raises staff awareness of this powerful employment law.

On the one hand, it is quite right that PR agency workers are protected from the vagaries of account moves. They may well be doing sterling work for a client, only to find that their job security is threatened because a client marketing director fancies a 'freshen up' in thinking, or there may be agency consolidation at a global level.

On the other hand, it is tough for agency bosses: those who have won a pitch may already have the capacity and expertise to take on the new work without the additional cost base of new, unknown staff; and those who have lost may be dismayed at shedding staff who were hired and nurtured at considerable effort and expense.

It certainly looks undesirable for the client. Usually the reason for shifting an account is because they were unhappy with the existing team in the first place.

Clients will be more wary of taking on PR consultancies if they are 'stuck' with those consultants regardless of how they perform.

In reality complex negotiations ensue, resulting in a minority of the team being transferred across to the new agency.

But it nevertheless remains a disruptive process for all involved - and one for which there is now little excuse for ignorance.

News analysis: PR industry gets a TUPE wake-Up call in light of Lexis story.

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