Civil war over the proposed APPC merger will leave it in tatters, whatever the outcome

If gold standard public affairs and PR are about delivering excellence in communication with key stakeholders, the recent row about the proposed APPC-PRCA merger is a case study in how such dialogue should definitely not be handled.

The APPC has been fatally damaged by its internal dispute, argues Chris Whitehouse
The APPC has been fatally damaged by its internal dispute, argues Chris Whitehouse

When a former chair of the APPC describes the pro-merger campaign, which is backed by the current chair and several former chairs, as being "poisonous", it’s clear that trust has gone and that mutual respect has been abandoned.

In public, the messaging may have been more measured, but behind the scenes the row is raging, the remarks are vituperative and the insults are flying.

That self-proclaimed communications professionals behave in such a way leaves me incredulous (as it would their clients, if they became aware of it), since the behaviour destroys the very consensus the creation of which is a pre-requisite of carrying the membership through a difficult decision and uniting it again on the other side.

That as a prominent member and agency owner such as myself knew nothing of the proposed merger until a few weeks ago – following the 16 July APPC Management Committee meeting which precipitated the opening artillery salvos between the two camps – speaks volumes about that Committee’s communications with the Association’s own members, whom they now tell they have been discussing such a merger for four years.

Why were members treated as the proverbial mushrooms in consideration of a matter that should have been entirely within their purview?

This row is not the sort after which all those involved will be able to cosy up to each other once again, and to work collectively for the common good of the profession.

The attacks have been too personal for that.

When a former chair of the APPC describes the pro-merger campaign as being "poisonous", it’s clear that trust has gone and that mutual respect has been abandoned.

Chris Whitehouse

On the contrary, it is now highly unlikely that many of those in the pro-merger camp will renew their APPC membership.

Indeed, that they were willing to propose the end of the APPC even before the insults started flying suggests that now they will have little truck with accepting any olive branch even if one were to be proffered.

So, it now matters little whether the campaign against the merger actually wins the majority of the membership poll on 8 October; the fact is that sufficient numbers of members will walk away with the PRCA proposals so that the APPC membership income plunges and is insufficient to continue to fund even the current level of its works, never mind the ambitious plans for a full-time director and more proactive promotion of the sector that had been proposed as an alternative route to merger.

I tried to keep an open mind, to consider the arguments for and against merger on their own merits, but I now conclude that it matters not what I personally think any longer.

Sadly, the APPC’s day is over.

Chris Whitehouse is the founder of The Whitehouse Consultancy, which is a member both of the APPC and of the PRCA

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