UK gov't PR czar warns departments: stick to roster

LONDON: Government departments would be "very unwise" to award work worth £100,000 (about $152,000) or more to PR agencies that are not on its new communications roster, the incoming executive director for government communications has told PRWeek UK.

LONDON: Government departments would be “very unwise” to award work worth £100,000 (about $152,000) or more to PR agencies that are not on its new communications roster, the incoming executive director for government communications has told PRWeek UK.

Alex Aiken was speaking at a Cabinet Office briefing last Friday about the creative solutions framework for government PR briefs worth more than £100,000, which replaced the old Central Office of Information set-up.

PRWeek UK reported three weeks ago that at least one department was seeking to bypass the agencies selected for the framework: Engine Group, Munro & Forster, Consolidated, SKV Communications, Unity, and Syndicate Communications.

In addition to Aiken's warning, Sean Larkins, head of government communications policy and capability, claimed departments skipping the roster would not get the necessary Cabinet Office budgetary sign-off required for spending more than £100,000.

Aiken also commented on complaints from unsuccessful agencies that the selection process was overly price-focused, emphasizing that 60% of markets awarded related to quality.

“There were long and serious discussions, and the people making decisions were drawn from a variety of places and had between seven and 25 years of experience in government communications,” he said. “They came to their conclusions based on what was put before them.”

However, Aiken acknowledged that the UK government was “absolutely aware of the need to save money” and pointed to current communications spending of £300 million (about $455 million) – down from £1 billion ($1.5 billion) in 2009 and 2010 – as a “yardstick for the future.”

The PR roster is part of the wider two-year creative solutions framework, which includes creative, digital, and direct marketing services. The previous line-up of more than 400 agencies across this spectrum was reduced to 27, with the aim of saving £3 million ($4.5 million) a year. Of these, 14 agencies are small and medium enterprises.

It is expected that the next framework, which covers media strategy and planning, will launch by late spring.

PR work worth less than £100,000 is tendered through the Agile Route to Market roster, which was set last year and includes around 60 agencies.

This article originally appeared on the website of PRWeek UK, the sister publication of PRWeek at Haymarket Media.

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