EDITORIAL: Do not lose PR in the new 'Big Tent'

The debate on the shape of the PR industry bodies took an interesting new twist this week, with the PRCA's agreement to join the IPA inspired 'Big Tent' federation of marketing services trade associations.

The idea of an umbrella forum for consultants in the marketing services field has been in the pipeline for some time now, but the decision is likely to cause some furrowed brows among the great and the good at the IPR, still smarting from the PRCA's rejection of its own recent advances.

In the current climate - with slimmed down budgets, and an increased demand for cost effective integrated marketing solutions - there is a certain practical rationale for consultants to pool their expertise in terms of client relationship management. In this context, the IPA's strong links with ISBA will give the PRCA a place at the table when the IPA debates issue such as payment by results with the country's most powerful advertisers.

It will also give the PRCA access to work being undertaken on issues relating to procurement both by the IPA and ISBA's procurement director group, at a time when agencies increasingly find themselves negotiating with procurement departments over hourly rates, fees and measurement metrics.

However, by aligning itself with the advertising and sales promotions associations, the PRCA is in danger of nailing its colours rather too firmly to the marcoms mast for the liking of those working in areas such as financial PR, investor relations, public affairs, healthcare or internal comms.

While consultancies can undoubtedly learn from each other, the PRCA must ensure that it continues to underline the distinctive nature of PR, and maximises its existing links with other bodies such as the CBI, Investor Relations Society and its ongoing debates with the FSA, in order to be perceived as representative of other areas of its constituency.

The advertising industry is in long-term decline and PR on the ascendancy.

While the PRCA can gain consultancy management insight, the IPA and others within the 'Big Tent' can also gain from PRCA members' ability to access clients at chief executive rather than marketing director level - a fact that all parties would do well to remember.

This thought obviously slipped through the net at the IPA Effectiveness Awards earlier this week. Despite the IPA's much trumpeted expansion of its awards to cover related marketing services - which led to the lauding of the PR element of BMP DDB's silver award-winning Marmite campaign - in the opening presentation public relations was grouped together with events somewhere below 'sales promotion' and 'sponsorship'. A sobering thought.

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