Huge leap in government PR spend says COI report

The Central Office of Information (COI) spent £41m on PR and news management over the past year - more than 50 per cent up on the previous year.

COI: strong focus on education and health campaigns
COI: strong focus on education and health campaigns

PR fees alone in 2008/09 were £29m, compared with £11.2m in 2007/08 – a jump of almost 160 per cent. The cash was spent by government departments through PR agencies.

COI PR and client director Oliver Hickson said: ‘PR is seen more as a sophisticated discipline by departmental directors of comms and marketing directors. It has moved on a lot, and you can see that in the figures. I think that’s partly because it is seen as more robust, and because evaluation is much more useful.’

But the COI could face a drop in spending in the years ahead. The Conservative Party has suggested that if it wins the next general election, it would make cuts in many departments, singling out comms. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Gordon Brown has admitted Labour would have to cut certain government programmes.

Hickson would not speculate on whether he expected the figures to drop in 2009/10, but he expected the broad spread of marketing to continue.  The growth in spend on new media is expected to accelerate. Two other areas expected to see more investment as the country struggles through the recession are crime and security.

The COI points to education and health being mostly responsible for the  growth in PR spend over the past year, plus the development in regional and digital PR expertise. The COI handled 120 campaigns for Government over the year.

The figures were released in the COI’s annual report this week, which also revealed former chief executive Alan Bishop earned up to £155,000 in 2008/09, and director of news and PR Neil Martinson earned up to £105,000.

The report reflected a significant increase in turnover across the marketing mix – overall COI turnover was £540m, an increase of £163m on the previous year.

Advertising rose from £168m to £232m, while live events jumped to £34m from last year’s £13m.
Chief executive Mark Lund said: ‘The scale of the year’s activity reflects the wide range of communications challenges our clients have faced, tackling behavioural change to reduce the cost to society of obesity, climate change, smoking, skills shortages and community safety, among others.’

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