OPINION: Self-righteous public affairs industry has shot itself in the foot

CIPR president Lionel Zetter says the industry has only itself to blame for the impending inquiry into lobbying.

OPINION: Self-righteous public affairs industry has shot itself in the foot
OPINION: Self-righteous public affairs industry has shot itself in the foot

To borrow a phrase from the world of football, this has been a year of two halves. The PR industry has sailed onwards with strong growth, bigger fees and higher salaries. The public affairs industry, on the other hand, is ­under intense scrutiny and some pressure.

When I took over as president of the CIPR, I said membership would be a priority. This focus has worked. We have increased membership and should have 9,500 members by the end of the year.

Also this year, we introduced the President’s Panel, consisting of 200 senior-level communicators. The panel’s function is to provide regular feedback on the PR profession, the institute’s work, and topical issues.

In the Chinese sense of the word, this has been an interesting year for public affairs. The change of premiership and consequent wide-ranging cabinet reshuffle increased interest in politics and strengthened the public affairs industry. The ‘election that never was’ in November put a dampener on all things political, however, and it is likely that the Government will try to make next year as uneventful as possible.

The public affairs industry has also shot itself in the foot by entering into an entirely unnecessary ‘more ethical than thou’ debate.

This has given the press carte blanche to scrutinise the activities of all public affairs firms and practitioners.

Unsurprisingly, a few consultancies have been found to have fallen short of the letter, if not the spirit, of the industry’s self-imposed codes.

This in turn has led the Public Administration Select Committee to launch an inquiry into lobbying – something everybody says they welcome, but in reality almost nobody does.

The CIPR’s position regarding the inquiry is that ­lobbying plays an important role in the political ­process; that it is in the ­interests of the public affairs profession and of Parliament for self-regulation to work; and that the current system of multiple self-regulation is broadly ­effective.

However, should Parliament decide to formalise the current self-regulation system and charge one body with this responsibility, the CIPR is well placed to perform this function.

While I stand down as CIPR president on 31 December, I look forward to ­continuing to represent the CIPR on this issue and to ­being called to give oral evidence before the select ­committee.

At the end of the year, I will also leave Dods, giving me the chance to follow up my book on political campaigning with a larger tome on political lobbying – and then to practise what I preach by returning to ­consultancy.

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