OPINION: Lobbying - Lobbying in the media age needs the PR touch/GPC is the latest public affairs agency to add media relations to its offering, highlighting the important role played by PR in a successful lobbying campaign

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.

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

lobbyist’.



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

Lewington.



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

says.



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

colleagues.



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

left behind.



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