IN-HOUSE PRIVATE SECTOR
Private sector PR is concerned with the promotion of products and
commercial services. The scope of the private sector is vast, taking
everything from consumer PR, to corporate and financial. It also
includes healthcare PR, which requires practitioners to operate within a
set of restrictions due to the products it promotes.
Private sector PR can help consumers navigate their way through
advertising clutter by reinforcing brand messages and establishing
loyalty through third-party endorsement. In the past, PR was seen as
little more than an extension of an organisation's marketing
Nowadays private sector PR is considered a discipline in its own right,
often at the core of a company's corporate strategy. At Virgin, for
example, brand development and corporate affairs director Will Whitehorn
acts as custodian of the Virgin name, working on advertising campaigns,
and developing a communications strategy for new products.
The centre stage place often given to PR is largely due to industry-wide
initiatives to measure and evaluate the value of PR campaigns. Yet the
degree to which PROs work with marketing teams still depends upon each
At Schering Health Care, for example, practitioners work hand-in-hand
with marketing colleagues on product launches, while at Mulberry,
international PR manager Vanessa Lunt works autonomously, holding the
budget for fashion shows and charity events.
The in-house private sector PRO may find his role overlapping with that
of an agency PRO, especially on consumer campaigns. While the two roles
are often similar, the main benefit of in-house PR over consultancy is
that practitioners gain a much deeper understanding of the issues
affecting an organisation since they are living and breathing them every
day. Unlike agency PROs, who work across several accounts, in-house PROs
have the luxury of focusing on one company. As Lunt says: 'Compared to
an agency, you can really get your teeth stuck into the job and you
experience a broad spectrum of PR, from social PR, product PR to event
Her sentiment is echoed by Matt Peacock, director of corporate
communications at AOL. 'Working in-house, you have to understand that
you are part of the business. Every other discipline in the company is
numbers-driven, with targets and objectives. The AOL communications team
uses media evaluation much more than most dot.coms.'
The size of an in-house department can vary from a single individual in
a small company to a substantial team in a plc. At AOL, for example,
there is a press team of 11. At Volvo the communications function is
split between PR and events, with three in each group. The events team
deals with sponsorship and non-product events, such as The London Boat
Show and the Volvo Ocean Race, while the PR team is in charge of product
launches, press events and new initiatives.
Private sector PROs are generally better paid than their public sector
counterparts. However from a graduate's perspective, it can be difficult
to find an organisation which operates a graduate training scheme. Some
graduates like Niki Cousins, Abbey National assistant media relations
executive, were lucky in securing a place on one. However in the
majority of cases either an agency or a public sector organisation
offers the easiest route into private sector PR. It is beneficial,
however, for PROs who start in public sector to experience the private
sector at some point in their careers, and vice versa.
Many public sector PROs say they feel proud to be working for a good
cause. This feeling is shared by some private sector PROs, particularly
those who work in the healthcare field, where products can help save
consumers' lives. Therese Wulff, Schering Health Care head of public
relations, says: 'We have a great loyalty to the consumer and we do
think we are working for a good cause.'
Community partnerships and initiatives are becoming increasingly common
in other private sector PR fields, with organisations recognising the
value of developing a reputation for being a good corporate citizen.
At the end of the day consumers have a choice and PR in the private
sector is about understanding consumers in order to stay one step ahead
of the game. As AOL's Peacock says: 'Forget the old cliche you have to
be a people person to be good at PR. You have to be consumer person. If
you can develop the mindset of the consumer and know what he or she
wants, then you are like gold dust to the industry.'
MEDIA COMPANY: SMG
Scottish media giant SMG has interests in publishing, cinema, radio, TV
and advertising. The company recently split its TV operation into five
brands - Scottish TV, Grampian, S2, Ginger TV and SMG TV.
Claire MacLellan is press officer for Glasgow-based Scottish TV and S2,
Scotland's version of ITV2. She is part of a marketing team of 11, but
works autonomously. Responsible for news, current affairs, sports and
light-entertainment, her shows include Take The High Road, Scottish
Passport, Scotland Today and The Glory Game, which traces the Celtic
influence on football.
MacLellan's role is split between proactive and reactive PR. On the
proactive side, she arranges interviews with newsreaders, actors and the
producers of new shows. She also organises photocalls, distributes press
packs, manages the Scottish TV and S2 web sites, and keeps the database
of press contacts up-to-date.
She has learnt always to plan photocalls to prevent clashes with major
news events. 'I am at the mercy of journalists' news agendas,' she
'On the day of the Lockerbie verdict, I was way down on their schedule.
You always have to think the way the newspapers do.'
Other tips include giving short quotes to journalists, since long quotes
usually get subbed beyond recognition, and putting in holding calls to
let journalists know their enquiry has not been forgotten. MacLellan
also acts as the first point of contact for negative media enquires. She
says she always tries to elicit a response from the appropriate person
at Scottish TV or S2.
Working for a media company is MacLellan's first job in PR. She
describes the job as very interesting, but hard work, particularly since
she is on call every other weekend.
FMCG: CADBURY SCHWEPPES
Communications at Cadbury Schweppes is carried out by a corporate
communications team, an external affairs team, and an internal affairs
team. Corporate communications is shared between the three-strong PR
team and an investor relations team of three.
Dora McCabe is Cadbury Schweppes head of group PR. The bulk of her work
is geared towards the financial calendar. She and her team brief City
editors on annual reports, AGMs, regular trading updates and
The team is also active in three other areas - incident management,
community PR and corporate reputation.
The team also provides a normal press office service for the media.
In the area of community affairs, the PR team works closely with the
community affairs department to explore any PR issues which may come out
of their work.
McCabe thinks graduates interested in her sector must understand the
world of finance and the workings of the City. 'It is essential to speak
the same language as journalists and to have a firm grasp of company
strategy,' she says.
She adds that PROs working for large fmcg companies also need to
understand the issues which have an impact on the way a company is run.
'There is a move towards increased social responsibility, particularly
in the area of the environment,' she points out.
Gill Twyman was working as a freelance PRO when Transco, her largest
client, invited her to come in-house. She agreed and now shares the role
of external affairs manager with Graham Franklin. Franklin takes care of
the operations side of the business, including metering and connections,
while Twyman looks after safety and pipeline-related information. The
team is supported by a communications assistant. While Twyman and
Franklin focus on the national picture, a team of regional press
officers operates in each of Transco's 12 local distribution zones. The
PROs work closely with local councils on forthcoming street works and
deal with media enquiries.
Transco is an unusual utility company in that it has a near-monopoly in
the marketplace. Its customers are the 60 'shippers' which rent space in
its gas pipes. They include Beacon Gas and British Gas Trading.
End-users are not actively targeted, but are still an important
In some ways Transco resembles a public sector organisation, since
competition is less of an issue. The message it sells to stakeholders,
who include employees, ministers and the media, is safety.
'Safety is our top priority,' says Twyman. 'We never miss an opportunity
to promote this message to our stakeholders.'
Twyman says the working environment at the Transco press team is very
friendly and it was this which tempted her to work in-house. 'The team
is very supportive and knowledgable and the work is extremely
interesting,' she says.
New graduates are not normally recruited, but there are exceptions.
Twyman tells of a recent success story; a graduate who joined the
Transco communications team and worked his way up to become a regional
Vanessa Lunt joined Mulberry on a graduate training scheme, working
first on the shop floor, before moving into the marketing
When Mulberry's PR function was brought in-house, Lunt was given the
role of PR assistant. She is now its international PR manager, helped by
an assistant and a steady stream of interns.
One of her key responsibilities is managing Mulberry's European PR
operation, which involves setting objectives and targets for overseas
agencies. As the company rolls out into the US this year, she will be
responsible for hiring and managing several more agencies.
In the UK, Lunt holds the budget for fashion shows, such as London
Fashion Week, and charity events including the Berkeley Dress Show and
the Mulberry Classic at Hurlingham. In addition, she is responsible for
publishing Mulberry's Look Book and its financial results.
While she admits fashion PR has its perks, it is not the champagne
lifestyle portrayed in the media. 'Yes, you get a clothing allowance and
go to parties, but it's very hard work,' she claims. 'You are
co-ordinating that event, planning everything, right down to the towels
in the toilets.'
Lunt adds that, unlike other in-house practitioners, she cannot fall
back on trusted companies for areas such as catering. 'People in the
fashion industry expect to be dazzled. You always have to be looking for
the latest venue or restaurant for your event.' Graduates interested in
fashion PR must have a real interest in fabrics and cuts in order to
speak knowledgeably to journalists, according to Lunt.
FINANCIAL SERVICES: ABBEY NATIONAL
Niki Cousins joined retail bank Abbey National as part of its corporate
affairs management trainee scheme two years ago. Now an assistant media
relations executive, Cousins works for the business-to-business and
corporate division of the PR department.
The press team, which consists of 15 staff, also has a
business-to-consumer and a retail division. Cousins' main responsibility
is the Abbey National subsidiary First National Finance, for which she
provides a consultancy role. Her job involves writing press releases for
her 'client', pushing positive stories, educating the marketing
department about PR, and managing less favourable stories in the
Cousins says that before she joined the Abbey National press team she
did not realise there was a sales side to public relations, believing it
was all to do with media relations.
'I thought there would be a lot of long lunches with high-powered
journalists,' she admits. 'I didn't realise it would involve so much
hard work or that I would be constantly re-prioritising a list of 20
Cousins says her working environment is very fast-moving, especially
since Abbey National has been in merger talks. 'You have to always keep
an eye on the bigger picture, keeping up with regulations and your
Since I'm dealing with business-to-business, I will read a lot of
obscure trade publications, as well as the nationals and the financial