The industry is waiting to see whether Bozell Sawyer Miller’s
purchase of Charles Barker will introduce some of the US group’s more
The acquisition of Charles Barker by US PR group Bozell Sawyer Miller
speaks volumes for the rebuilding of the British agency’s brand name and
reputation. BSM chairman and CEO Harris Diamond went so far as to
confess he willingly paid a ’premium’ price, valuing Charles Barker at
over pounds 10.5 million.
But regard for Charles Barker’s resurgent achievements should not be
allowed to obscure what its newly adoptive parent brings to the
As well as its ad agency links - including Delaney Fletcher Bozell in
the UK - the US firm has an unusual structure covering what are by
British standards some uncommon areas of expertise.
BSM is split into five operating units. One of these, Bozell PR, is a
straightforward public relations and marketing agency. The other four
are of greater interest.
Sawyer Miller Consulting specialises in strategic work, Bozell/Eskew in
’advocacy advertising’, KRC Research in issues campaign research and
planning, and Strategic Alliances Group in grassroots mobilisation
The growth of strategic consulting is a well covered trend, with the
larger international owned groups and a mini-wave of boutique agencies
set up by experienced practitioners - such as David Wynne-Morgan’s WMC
Communications and Alison Canning’s First and 42nd - all vying to tap
into remunerative, high-level advisory briefs.
However, BMC’s other areas of activity are arguably less well-known in
the UK. ’They certainly have some things we don’t have here,’ says
Charles Barker chief executive Tim Sutton. Charles Barker, says Sutton,
will examine these areas of expertise and consider whether they would be
effective if applied to the UK. This begs a number of questions.
What precisely do these areas of specialisation entail? Are they new at
all? And might agencies over here, perhaps led by Charles Barker, alter
their structure to take on board the BSM model?
Advocacy advertising is the use of tactical advertising with an issues
message to support a lobbying-style campaign. This sort of advertising
is relatively common in the US - even on TV, complete with toll-free
numbers - and is a lucrative area for Bozell/Eskew which does about
dollars 70-80 million worth a year.
’It takes quite difficult issues and runs advertising to support PR,
rather than the other way round,’ adds Sutton.
However, lobbying specialists taking charge of advertising for issues
campaigns is by no means exceptional in the US. Grey Advertising owned
public affairs company APCO Associates, for example, although without a
separate advocacy advertising arm, operates in the same way.
In the UK, there has been a long tradition of financial PR companies
handling client’s tactical advertising. But with the odd exception, such
as Burson-Marsteller’s Marsteller Advertising, there have been fewer
instances of PR controlling advertising for issues-related
There may indeed be scope for this to develop in the UK but there is one
major hindrance to its growth - lack of access to TV. The Independent
Television Commission’s code on advertising bans politically-related
Industry opinion is divided on grassroots mobilisation - a technique
whereby agencies encourage and support local community groups to push
their own message.
’The US method is much more to mobilise the public and alter
opinion ... but these services don’t travel,’ says Public Policy Unit
managing director Charles Miller.
Alison Canning, a former UK chief executive of B-M before she set up
First and 42nd, thinks that grassroots expertise has been available on
these shores for some time. B-M, for one, has this capability. ’It’s the
same thing carved up in another way,’ she says.
Lowe Bell Political received plaudits (among them PR Week Campaign of
the Year, 1995) for its work to halt Post Office privatisation which
featured a substantial grassroots dimension by supporting local
campaigning. Last week’s massive show of support for fox hunting in Hyde
Park was also organised on a local basis. But PRCA chairman and Manning
Selvage and Lee chief executive Jackie Elliot believes there has
hitherto been little grassroots activity in the UK on the scale that is
seen on the other side of the Atlantic.
’Because of the much more constrained size of the UK market and media
you can’t localise issues to the extent you can in the US,’ says
’There might be a backlash against a London firm sending in its
grassroots hit squad to handle a local community issue. But if it were
properly managed there’s no reason why we couldn’t see more of it.’
On the matter of campaign planning, the consensus is that a number of UK
agencies - notably Countrywide Porter-Novelli and the Quentin Bell
Organisation - have already embraced the in-depth research ethic that
characterises the creation of major advertising campaigns.
Where BSM differs, says Harris, is that KRC works predominantly on
qualitative and quantitative research on public affairs issues - most of
it carried out proactively at the behest of BSM rather than in response
to client requests.
On the face of it it seems highly unlikely that Charles Barker will be
restructured in BSM’s image. At the same time, however, the agency will
surely try out some of the techniques mastered by its American
Whether in the fullness of time other agencies in the UK look to set up
specialist teams devoted to grassroots mobilisation, advertising
advocacy and the like is an intriguing prospect.