WPP's Michelle Harrison explains its new government and public sector practice

Michelle Harrison, CEO of TNS BMRB and leader of WPP's new government and public sector practice, talked to PRWeek editor-in-chief Steve Barrett about plans for the global venture.

Michelle Harrison
Michelle Harrison

Michelle Harrison, CEO of TNS BMRB and leader of WPP's new government and public sector practice, talked to PRWeek editor-in-chief Steve Barrett about plans for the global venture.

Q: What is WPP’s new government practice?
A: WPP already has effective horizontal structures in place in other discipline areas. The government practice is a horizontal team that helps governments with communications challenges. It is not set up to do the type of work that our public affairs agencies do for corporate clients. A large number of our PR agencies work with governments on public communications.

Q: What services will the practice offer?
A: We’re offering governments a central place where they can access case studies, best practice, and identify the local [WPP] agency best suited to their challenges.

We provide government clients with services including research and strategy, creative, media buying and planning, and PR around issues ranging from road safety to smoking cessation.

Q: What are the big challenges facing governments and the way they communicate?
A: WPP has been working with governments for decades, and they are facing big challenges such as public health – in advanced and developing nations – that require some form of change in behavior, and creativity is very important in that. We’re also using toolkits developed for private sector clients to apply to government situations.

Governments are facing many challenges including issues such as obesity, public health, millennial development goals, childhood disease, and spending taxpayers’ money more effectively to get public outcomes. We want to help them build communications that people want to engage in and use public money as effectively as possible.

Q: How will you work with WPP’s PR and other agencies?
A: We are supporting agencies on bids and will also be producing thought leadership events, conferences, and materials. We will also work with the academic community to contribute to the education of [public] civil servants.

There is already a significant amount of work that has been done, and we’re using this practice to highlight and share what works globally.

Q: Will there be people from the practice based in DC?
A: We will not be putting new infrastructure in place in DC at this time, although we do have a UK team in London called Team Whitehall that supports collaboration with Whitehall clients. In terms of the Affordable Care Act, we already have US agencies working on that.

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