Lobbying firm to leave APPC if merger vote fails after 'toxic' debate

Political lobbying firm The Whitehouse Consultancy will walk away from the APPC if a proposed merger with the PRCA fails to get over the line.

The agency’s founder and chair, Chris Whitehouse (pictured), told PRWeek his business will not renew its APPC membership irrespective of the result and has also slammed the debate and "dirty tactics" surrounding the merger as "poisonous, toxic, vituperative".

PRCA-APPC merger Q&A: process 'a mess' but 'this is in the best interests of our industry'

The Whitehouse Consultancy is the first public affairs agency that has threatened to pull out of the self-regulatory body since a merger with the PRCA was first made public in July.

"I can see no way from where we are today that The Whitehouse Consultancy will renew its membership of the APPC for another year – why would we," Whitehouse said.

"What we look for in an association is two things. The first is the policing of a code of practice and the second is a public register in which we can publish our clients.

"We are also members of the PRCA and we now have a joint code and they have a public register. From our point of view, even in the best-case scenario, there’s nothing that we get from the APPC membership now that we don’t get from the PRCA."

As the two bodies play a similar role, Whitehouse says the duplication of cost and process has become a burden on public affairs agencies and is calling for a single self-regulatory body in the form of a merged APPC and PRCA.

He also believes the APPC could lose other pro-merger members if the proposed tie-up falls flat.

"I can’t speak for any other agency, but I certainly know from the body language and the tone of comments from some of the other business principals who were in the room [last Tuesday night] that they’ve clearly made their minds up on this issue and will be voting for the merger," he said.

"If you vote for the merger and it doesn’t succeed, I can’t see why would want to stay in the APPC, particularly after all of the vituperative comments that have been made about [the pro-merger faction]."

‘Poisonous, toxic, vituperative’

Whitehouse was a vocal critic of the "vituperative" merger debate and APPC’s governance at the APPC-PRCA merger Q&A last week.

Following that debate, PRWeek asked Whitehouse to provide examples of the "toxic" comments he had referred to and if he was aware of any underhanded tactics from either side.

"One former [APPC] chair who has got a seat for life on the management committee referred to the behaviour of the other former chair who takes a pro-merger view as being ‘poisonous’," Whitehouse said.

"I also saw a former [APPC] chair trying to block the membership application of a business that is run by another former chair on the basis that that individual had already said he was ‘pro-merger’ and his membership should be blocked until after the vote.

"This former chair also questioned the motives of APPC officers who were going to interview him as part of the application process. It’s quite unbelievable behaviour – poisonous, toxic, vituperative. I have never seen it quite this bad."

The veteran lobbyist believes it will be virtually impossible for the APPC to repair the damage caused by the rift between the opposing factions once the dust settles.

"Humpty dumpty has fallen off the wall and I cannot see any way that he can be put back together by all of the king’s horses and all the king’s men," Whitehouse added.

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