At a standing room-only conference on Monday, senior Government figures explained the fresh approach to comms after the closure of the COI and suggested agencies needed to widen their offerings to better incorporate digital, planning and measurement.
The wide-ranging plan will see the Government replace the COI's previous set of frameworks of segregated comms disciplines. These are now reduced to just two, covering 'creative services' and 'planning and research', benefiting agencies that provide a wide range of skills in PR, advertising and marketing.
Executive director of government comms Jenny Grey said there was an opportunity to take a 'more holistic view of how comms campaigns could dovetail', adding she was looking for 'media-neutral solutions'. She said the new structure presented an opportunity for PR agencies, as PR is 'more about earned media, when we have less money to spend on advertising space'.
Overall government PR spend has collapsed in recent years. One source with close links to the COI suggested that the governmental PR budget would be around £25m in the coming year - thought to be about half of what it was before the period of austerity.
Grey said that any forthcoming campaigns would be largely centred on promoting economic growth by 'encouraging business to grow and promoting start-ups'. An example is The GREAT Campaign, which encourages inward investment in tourism.
Andrew Robinson, head of corporate at Euro RSCG, who attended Monday's conference, felt PR agencies could benefit from the new system if they were able to take on a high volume of work at low margins.
However, he added: 'PR agencies are not the only players in the game - the winners will be those that can think broadly and come up with big insights.'
Martin Brown, director at Fishburn Hedges, said: 'Will the number and size of contracts available to PR agencies make it worthwhile being on the new frameworks? More worryingly for government, will a small amount of work, spread even more thinly, enable agencies to develop the expertise they need to do the most effective work possible for the taxpayer?'
HOW I SEE IT
Jane Wilson, CEO, CIPR
The procurement process that has been established is a step forward for smaller agencies at a time when there are many more starting up.
I believe this might be an easier route to working with government for them so that it is not just narrowed down to the usual suspects.
Emily Morgan, Director of consumer, The Red Consultancy
PR agencies seem well placed to respond to the Government's strategic approach and key challenges. These include the need to engage and have conversations, to go to where the audience is, to create, integrate social media, develop no-cost partnerships and come up with new ways to reach audiences.
6 Members of the GPS responsible for comms, with more to be recruited*
£65m Combined potential value of roster set-up, split into two frameworks*
200 Number of people who worked at the COI in 2011**
2% Public sector revenues as a proportion of fee income in 2011***
Source: *Government Procurement Service; **COI ***PRCA annual benchmarking survey 2012.