Enron sparks accountants' PR push

Accountants are to mount a PR offensive to counter accusations of corruption and sloppy practice within the profession.

The sector has been damaged by media coverage of the involvement of auditor Andersen in the collapse of US energy giant Enron.

The Institute of Chartered Accountants is to bolster its external PR support with a specific brief to help revive the profession's tainted reputation.

Following a pitch that is believed to have involved three agencies, Hill & Knowlton has been appointed to handle the 12-month campaign.

H&K has worked for the institute on a range of campaigns and projects since 1992. But according to H&K corporate and PA head Andrew Pharoah, 'this is a considerable increase in the work we do for the institute.'

In a brief sent out to agencies the ICA said: 'Any corporate failure is now almost instantaneously followed by knee-jerk media reaction seeking to blame the auditors.

'The institute is seeking to mount a campaign to counter this negative publicity, promote the constructive role played by the auditor and secure better understanding of the function and scope of an audit within the wider business process.'

The H&K account team includes deputy chairman Andrew Laurence and reports to ICA communications director Brian Bannister.

Bannister said: 'The first priority is to increase the level of understanding about auditors. The second stage is to build the profile. The Enron story will run and run and it's important we show that the way things are done in the US is different from the UK.'

H&K will also monitor attempts to regulate the profession. After the Enron scandal, City watchdog the Financial Services Authority is considering new regulations on auditors. These include a five-year ban on lead auditors joining boards of firms whose books they have regulated, and changing the lead auditor every three years instead of every seven.

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