The PRWeek Top 150: Lord Bell's perspective

I read recently that in 1943, MI6 paid a PR man named Richard Temple £500 per month to polish General de Gaulle's image among the British people - I assume so people would support the Free French and oppose the Vichy Government.

Lord Bell: A profitable industry that deserves more recognition
Lord Bell: A profitable industry that deserves more recognition

Three things struck me. First, how little the work was valued - a mere £6,000 per year to help people escape Nazi tyranny. Second, nobody thought it was unethical or bad practice. Third, no journalists posed as supporters of the war effort to pour abuse on Temple. Importantly, no one condemned the use of PR as a means of communicating.

Although the media's perception of the industry may have changed for the worse since 1943, the financial situation has certainly improved. PRWeek's Top 150 PR Consultancies shows that the industry is making more money than ever before. In fact, I don't think the PR industry has suffered a bad year since 2000.

Personally, I've found the past 12 months very satisfactory. Our business has been transformed by taking it private. People enjoy working here more, our margin is as high as it has ever been and we have already paid back nearly half of the money we borrowed for the MBO. But then I changed my business in order to succeed, not to fail.

I'm seeing growth in the financial and corporate part of the business as activity returns to the markets, and a major increase in the portion of our work that is carried out overseas.

I am concerned at digital's long-term impact on the industry as it is much lower-margin work. But it is also disrupting the pecking order within marcoms. Clients no longer see the divisions that existed before and they are willing to spend more money on PR, particularly as it is better value than advertising.

That doesn't mean we are paid less. We are beginning to charge more because we're beginning to work out how to value it. Clients are also favouring PR because it's full of imagination and more fleet of foot.

The only way to measure an industry's success is if people want to work in it, invest in it and it makes an impact. PR is growing, we are being paid more and we are having more influence over events than ever. It would appear that what was good practice in helping to win the Second World War is still good practice in winning the economic war and the battle for votes, minds and hearts.

Lord Bell is chairman of Bell Pottinger Private

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