In defence of the APPC

I was completely stunned by the announcement last week that the APPC Management Committee would be recommending the APPC is subsumed into the PRCA.

The industry needs to think through the implications of losing the APPC, argues Emily Wallace
The industry needs to think through the implications of losing the APPC, argues Emily Wallace

Stunned, because I have just spent two months conducting a review of the APPC, I’ve spoken to members from 35 member companies, I explored in depth what members think about the APPC and want to see from the APPC in the future, and submitted a substantial report setting out their views to the APPC Management Committee.

I presented my review at the annual APPC Strategy Day, it provoked a really good discussion of those there about how the APPC can do more for members, a sub-committee was set up which met and produced a well-thought-through plan for how the APPC can better respond to members’ needs, enhance its voice, and professionalise and modernise its communications.

It is a shame that some of the key proponents of the PRCA merger chose not to attend the strategy day, chose not to develop or discuss the plan for a better APPC, and decided instead to railroad through the takeover proposition from the PRCA.

Having spoken to a number of members of the Management Committee I understand that just eight members of the 19-strong committee voted in favour of the PRCA's proposals, with five members present voting against, two abstaining and the rest of the Management Committee not given a chance to vote, even if they wanted to by proxy (at least one member would have voted against the proposal if given a chance to vote).

That the Management Committee decided to recommend a merger to APPC members, and then present it as though this was a majority view feels at best a misrepresentation and at worse, underhand. 

It was certainly not the substantial and convincing majority that was suggested in the press notice.

This is not how the APPC has traditionally operated, this is not how a democratic, member-led body should make critical decisions.

This concerns me.

This is the most important decision that the APPC will make in its lifetime. It should be done properly.

I feel very strongly that there should be a sensible and proper debate amongst the membership about the future of the APPC.

Members should feel included in the discussion and be empowered to come to their own view.

They should be sent the PRCA proposition, my review and the plan for a better APPC.

The industry needs to think through the implications of losing the APPC, and if we are to say goodbye it should be done in full knowledge of what we lose:

  • The PRCA is a trade association and industry champion for the whole PR sector. The APPC is an independent, self-regulatory body and a specialist and focused voice for public affairs practitioners. Without the APPC there would be no dedicated independent body focused on promoting ethical standards in the UK public affairs sector.

  • Members join the APPC to make a clear statement about their commitment to high ethical standards, whereas members join the PRCA for a wide variety of reasons. Similarly, if an agency chooses not to join the PRCA then it is not a comment on their commitment or otherwise to transparency and ethics.

  • The APPC has an independent complaints process, which ensures members are not adjudicating on each other. The PRCA doesn’t.

  • The APPC is 100% member led and governed and self-determining, with clear democratic structures. The Chair of the PRCA public affairs group is one of the 120+ members on the PRCA council and has no place on the PRCA Board of Management.

  • The APPC has championed the need to ensure clear blue water between the lobbied and lobbyists. The PRCA members include organisations run by politicians and with politicians on their boards. Lord McNally is a Fellow of the PRCA.

Maybe there are some in our industry that are happy to see the demise of the APPC, happy to see a weakened self-regulatory regime, but without an independent self-regulatory body, we surely make the likelihood of further statutory regulation more likely.

The PRCA and the APPC have different roles, and they provide different services and value to members.
I believe the industry needs both strong self-regulation and strong representation.

I believe this is best served through an improved, independent APPC and a more effective PRCA.

Two separate organisations will better protect the public affairs sector from reputational challenges, and whatever else gets thrown at us.

Emily Wallace is a former vice chair of the APPC and former chair of the PRCA PA Group

The APPC declined to comment when contacted by PRWeek.

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