Editorial: PR industry’s year in the spotlight

1998 will probably go down in PR history as the ’Year of Red Tape’.

1998 will probably go down in PR history as the ’Year of Red

Tape’.



As communications professionals moved ever closer to the centre of

policy making, industry bodies tackled head-on the thorny issue of self

regulation.



With several high profile appointments, including the Queen’s own spin

doctor, the PR industry found itself the subject of an unprecedented

level of media and Government scrutiny. Even the seemingly innocuous

area of corporate hospitality was examined by the Law Commission.



The introduction of the PRCA’s consultancy management standard at the

beginning of the year signalled a stricter focus on accountability

within the industry, as did the IPR’s City and Financial Group’s

attempts to negotiate with the new Financial Services Authority on the

regulation of financial PR.



The public affairs sector saw a flurry of activity under the watchful

gaze of Lord Neill. With the increased focus on standards in public

life, the IPR reviewed its code of conduct on members holding public

office; the PRCA tackled issues raised by the new Scottish Parliament

and Welsh Assembly. And, as Millbank wooed lobbyists in advance of the

party conference, the APPC revised its code to allow lobbyists’ clients

to sponsor political events.



But it wasn’t until the ’cash for access’ scandal in July that all three

parties surprised the industry by agreeing to work together. Amid the

media frenzy created by Drapergate, the APPC came out in support of a

single code of conduct, and is due to be called to give evidence

together with the PRCA and IPR to Lord Neill’s committee on standards in

public life early next year.



This new spirit of co-operation was probably the other defining factor

of 1998. In addition to the detente in the public affairs arena, the

IPR, PRCA, the Association of Media Evaluation Companies and the Public

Relations Standards Forum also agreed to pool their resources under the

banner of PR Week’s Proof campaign and are now working together on best

practice guidelines for the industry.



It is not before time. The ’cash for access’ scandal has raised eyebrows

at the highest levels, and there is a danger that not only lobbyists but

also financial PRs may in future be subject to draconian

regulations.



The PR industry has always been notoriously bad at its own

communications.



This united front is essential if it is to put its house in order and

successfully put its own case forward. At the same time, with a

potential recession looming, all attention needs to be focused on

proving the industry’s self-discipline and its worth as a profession.



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