Editorial: A dramatic year in public relations

Most would agree that the most prominent PR success of 1997 was Labour’s tightly managed general election campaign. But it hasn’t all been plain sailing for the new Government, either in policy or communication terms.

Most would agree that the most prominent PR success of 1997 was

Labour’s tightly managed general election campaign. But it hasn’t all

been plain sailing for the new Government, either in policy or

communication terms.



The Government Information Service, deemed not to be up to the cut and

thrust of political spin doctoring, lost many of its most experienced

hands, leading to accusations that the Government was attempting to

politicise the civil service communications function. Meanwhile, the

political spin doctors themselves became media targets after finding, to

their surprise, that party political PR gambits do not always translate

well into Government.



Chancellor Gordon Brown’s spokesman Charlie Whelan found his seat

uncomfortably hot after some ill-advised background briefings - which

led to a wholesale review of the rules for Government spokesmen.



But Labour’s PR gurus did help the Royal family through its biggest PR

crisis in decades after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. As a

result, the Palace seems to have finally got the message about the need

to modernise its PR operation.



In business, the pace of globalisation continued, with mergers between

mighty rivals across all sectors - from telecoms to pharmaceuticals,

food and drink, and even accountancy. This trend vindicated the strategy

of the big PR groups to gear up for handling more multinational

business.



And this week sees news of another such move as Kellogg centralises its

European PR with Hill and Knowlton.



With bigger PR budgets around, recruitment has proved tougher than

ever.



Meanwhile another sign of the times was in the number of agency deals

that were concluded or mooted this year. Independents which went under

the hammer in 1997 included Fleishman-Hillard, Charles Barker, Buchanan

and Handel. Expect more soon.



Among the most active players this year on the acquisitions front were

WPP and Omnicom. But the prize for the most innovative deal must go to

WPP’s Martin Sorrell for his inspired October purchase of 30 per cent of

Chime, which in turn snapped up ad agency HHCL as first predicted here

back in March.



Finally this year we should congratulate a PR consultancy for its

business acumen. Lexis PR not only emerged from this year’s Top 150

survey as the fastest growing agency over the last five years but this

week appeared in the Sunday Times list of the top 100 best performing

unquoted companies across all sectors. The survey identified six ’growth

types’ and cited Lexis as a prime example of companies which are ’people

champions’. It’s a motto every aspiring consultancy should adopt.



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