What if TfL's proposals to rein in Uber applied to PR agencies?

Controversial taxi app Uber continues its relentless journey rolling out its service around the globe, writes Martin Loat of Propeller.

What if TfL's proposals on Uber applied to PR agencies, wonders Martin Loat
What if TfL's proposals on Uber applied to PR agencies, wonders Martin Loat
In London, the regulator Transport for London (TfL) is in the final throes of a public consultation on its proposals – published this autumn – to control the explosion of 'private car hire' apps and online services, in the name of quality and safety.

Cynics may feel they have been overly influenced by the licensed taxi (black cab) brigade, marshalled by the well organised black-cab trade body LTDA, which is keen to protect its members' interests.

The consultation does not mention Uber by name, but it is clear who TfL has in its cross-hairs. Indeed, Uber organised a petition against the TfL proposal that so far has 192,000 signatories.

Of course, there are arguments on both sides, but as a PR agency founder, I thought it would be interesting to see what the TfL proposals would look like if applied to PR client and agency relations. 

Would such regulations improve quality and protect clients from dodgy operators or would they slow
down the market and subject it to petty rules that would annoy our clients (more than usual)?

For clients, read passengers; for PR people/agencies, read drivers and their cars. 

For modern, digitally connected PR read Uber; for another, more traditional sort, read black cab. For a PR brief, read a car journey – after all the perfect PR strategy is little more than a road map of how you get from A to B. 

If the TfL proposals to rein in Uber applied to our world, a few things would have to change.
Most controversially, agencies would no longer be allowed to respond immediately to a client request for assistance. 

They would have to wait a certain period of time to give more old-fashioned and less responsive PR agencies time to catch up. 

This actually might come as some relief for hard-pressed PRs who every day have to fend off client requests to "get round here now" with some ideas or copy.

To continue the theme of levelling the playing field between old and new PR outfits as they hustle for business, any clients going online to find a PR agency would be prevented from seeing any agencies based in the near vicinity. Instead, they would be forced to give agencies coming from further afield without a local presence an equal chance of pitching for their business. 

PR freelancers who currently supply their trade to more than one PR agency would be forbidden from doing so, even if clients are not bothered. 

Instead they would have align themselves for the long haul with just one agency (or car) and they would not be able to share jobs with other freelance PRs.

Oh, and they would have to pass an English test. Even if the clients don't really want to hear what they have to say and just want the job done.

The old guard of PR agencies, schooled in gin and tonics and lunches at the club, would welcome one new rule in particular. 

Even though clients would be banned from finding agencies online and hiring them immediately, they would be allowed to wander on the streets and find and appoint experienced PRs, simply by waving their arms at them as the old-school PRs amble by.

And PRs who had the 'knowledge' to know the names and email addresses of every journalist in London would be lauded. 

Those relying on new-fangled look-up tools and online directories to get the clients' message out there would be shunned.

So what's it to be: a technology-led free market where clients grab any PR agency they want, when and where they want, and value and convenience hold sway? 

Or a return to the old school of trained and knowledgeable PR drivers who can be harder to find (especially south of the river) but are guaranteed to have paid their dues and know how to get you from A to B? 

Well, you pays your money and you takes your choice - just don't expect to use a credit card in a black cab. Oh, and be sure to leave a tip too!

Martin Loat is CEO and founder of Propeller Group

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