Politicians read newspapers and are aware that their voters do,
too. A public affairs campaign that fails to take account of PR is
flawed, and this is driving a move into media relations.
Taking PR into account may mean deciding that coverage is unnecessary,
or even undesirable. But when coverage is needed, lobbyists cannot
afford to sniff at their PR cousins.
GPC last month added media relations to its offering, urging clients to
use the agency for political PR. If clients can get media relations from
GPC, managing director Peter Bingle reasoned, they will not need to go
to PR companies as well. The client will have just one agency to deal
with, and GPC will prosper by providing a wider service.
Bingle has therefore brought in Australian PRO Andy Head to offer GPC’s
clients the new service. Head used to spin in Sydney for Peter Collins,
the opposition leader in the New South Wales parliament.
The lobbying industry’s expansion into PR could also be connected with
the reluctance of politicians to be seen associating with lobbyists. Max
Clifford, the publicist involved in the end of a range of political
careers, from David Mellor to Jeffrey Archer, says that, since a number
of high-profile scandals in recent years, ’a politician would rather be
swayed by a Daily Mail piece, and the knowledge that millions are
reading it, than be seen having a coffee with a commercial
GPC is joining the game late. APCO offered media relations from its
inception five years ago and now runs press offices for Boeing and the
Restaurant Association. Six of its 25 consultants work in media
relations, and APCO is looking to increase this. Chairman Simon Milton
says: ’We’ve always believed in an integrated approach.’
However, Nigel Clarke, finance director of rival GJW, maintains that
lobbying and PR require different skills, and says that when lobbying or
PR firms establish departments to do the other, the results are often
poor. ’Outcome is what matters. The best people in an area may not be at
the same company,’ he says.
GJW works with PR agencies on shared clients, and in 1997 bought half of
Media Strategy, the agency set up by erstwhile Tory media chief Charles
In setting up Media Strategy, Lewington surmised that in a
media-conscious age, lobbying would increasingly need a PR element.
Other firms spotted opportunities years ago.
Westminster Strategy began lobbying and media relations in the 1980s,
and now employs former Labour party PROs and BBC personnel.
Its founder is former political writer Michael Burrell.
WS associate director Jane Cooper says the Government’s dedication to
opinion polls has changed the way lobbyists work. ’Policy makers are
influenced by public opinion, just as they are by lobbying,’ she
The Citigate group is in the rare position of being able to compose
account teams from across its business units. If a client needs
lobbyists and PROs for a project, they can be taken from its
Westminster, Public Affairs, Dewe Rogerson and other divisions.
Citigate Public Affairs’ managing director Warwick Smith dismisses the
idea that this Government is more media-sensitive than others.
His view is backed up by GPC’s Head, whose comments stop short of
implying that new Labour’s media-consciousness is used by lobbyists as
an excuse for not turning to PR earlier. But he stresses that Downing
Street’s concerns are not unique to the UK.
’Government obsession with the media is happening all over the world,
with Clinton in the US, politicians in Australia or Blair in London. It
is too strong to say you lose clients if you don’t have a media service,
but if you want to progress, you need one.’
This was the logic used last October by Lawson Lucas Mendelsohn - a pure
lobbying firm since 1997 - when it hired Olly Grender, a former
communications director for Shelter and the Liberal Democrats.
Grender points to the Dangerous Dogs Act in the early-1990s - snap
legislation to ban certain species of dog in the wake of a child-mauling
and a tabloid frenzy - as evidence that lobbies have long since used the
media to drum up support for campaigns.
Media work and lobbying go hand in hand at NICE, the National Institute
for Clinical Excellence, the new body which decides which drugs should
be licensed. Coverage of life-saving potential, coupled with selective
lobbying of the right people in Government, can be the ideal way to
ensure that a client’s new drug succeeds.
Lobbyists entering media relations tend to have better relationships
with political correspondents than do straight PROs; some were political
writers and frequent the same bars and restaurants as their former
Lewington says political reporters are increasingly used by Government
and lobbyists alike because they are more likely to achieve front page
coverage than health, transport or education writers. ’The lobby sets
the agenda which others follow,’ he argues.
In short, lobbying firms which do not offer media relations will get