Anthony Hilton: Power shifts to in-house PR roles

There has been considerable comment in recent months about the number of senior journalists taking up senior positions in PR agencies.

Anthony Hilton
Anthony Hilton

There has been rather less comment about the number of senior people leaving agencies to move in-house. Yet, in financial PR in particular, there have been a series of significant departures - people you assumed would be with agencies for the duration, opting instead for life inside the big corporation.

Rob Bailhache, who moved to HSBC last month from Financial Dynamics - having before that been a notable financial journalist - is the latest and seems to confirm there is indeed a trend.

This could be significant.

If the best practitioners see a more interesting and challenging future working in-house rather than in agencies, it has interesting implications for both camps.

The reason for the shift seems to be that the corporate job has got bigger. There have always been isolated cases of companies where the importance of PR was fully appreciated and the person holding it exerted considerable influence. But these were relatively rare and tended to be in companies where there was an unusually close relationship between the company boss and the PR - Lord King and David Burnside at British Airways famously spring to mind.

Today, however, many more of the biggest companies - those in the FTSE 100 - have realised that comms, both in strategic dimensions and effective execution, should be a board responsibility.

The simplistic pursuit of shareholder value has been discredited by the financial crash, forcing companies to rediscover their wider responsibilities to a range of stakeholders, including politicians and public.

I suspect, however, that a board with its back against the wall would seek the services of every adviser possible - in-house and external - so agencies should continue to have a role in times of high stress. But in less extreme circumstances - in the formulation and execution of everyday strategy - it is much harder to see what the agency has to offer; what skills it has that the in-house team does not already cover.

Anthony Hilton is City commentator on London's Evening Standard

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