APPC-PRCA merger: Here are the final pitches for both sides of the debate

As ballot papers are sent out to APPC members today (14 September), PRWeek has summarised the final pitches from both sides of the APPC-PRCA merger debate.

One of the most divisive issues to grip the public affairs industry in recent times comes to a head today.

Ballot papers for a proposed merger between the APPC and PRCA are being sent out to APPC members, who have until 4 October to cast their vote.

The result will be revealed at the APPC’s AGM on 8 October in what promises to be a heated meeting.

A handful of industry leaders for and against the merger have stated their voting intentions, but neither faction has a clear idea of how the vote will go at this stage. 

PRWeek has summarised the final pitches for the pro-merger and anti-merger factions.

PRO-MERGER

Vote for a strong, united voice

An APPC-PRCA merger would create the strongest possible voice for our industry, one that unites around effective self-regulation and higher ethical standards.

Merger would combine the best of the APPC with the best of the PRCA, creating an independent, autonomous, and effective body that can regulate public affairs and speak up for it, drawing on the legacy of the APPC’s good work.

1. Vote for more ethical public affairs. A new, unified body would widen the number of companies adhering to the APPC’s code of conduct (which will form the basis of the new code). Post-merger there will be 1,800 public affairs practitioners, 3,000 clients, and 130 organisations captured by our combined code. There will be less of a hiding place for those trying to dodge transparency and breach ethical standards. 

2. Vote for a stronger voice and member-led organisation. A unified body will make us stronger as we look to the future and help us address new challenges, not least from the possibility of a newly elected reforming Labour Government. The chair of the new Public Affairs Board – who will be elected by the members – will become the default voice of the industry, helping to avoid any conflicting messages.

3. Vote for more resources, reduced cost and regulatory burden. Access to the PRCA’s 30+ team and £3.7m resources will give the new industry body considerably enhanced capacity. This will allow us to deliver significant new activity in training and professional development, as well as research into the future of the industry, which the APPC membership wants. No member will pay more because of merger. By creating one merged register, we will reduce the burden in completing quarterly returns. 

The merger has considerable support from across the APPC, from the largest companies through to smaller, dedicated public affairs agencies, as well as support from PRCA public affairs members who are clear: this is a merger of equals.

The APPC has been a beacon of our industry for a quarter of a century. But the environment in which we operate is changing rapidly. We must change with it. A merger is the right decision at the right time and with the right partner, offering our members the strongest possible representation and compliance with an enhanced code and widened register.

George McGregor
APPC Deputy Chair
Interel Group managing partner

ANTI-MERGER

In defence of an independent APPC

Public affairs businesses, jobs and the reputation of the sector as a whole are far better protected with an independent APPC. This was the majority view of consultants at the recent discussion and vote, which my agency held on the issue.

I was surprised by the level of loyalty shown by even the newest entrants to our industry, and they are not alone in backing the case for an independent APPC. So why have agencies large and small united in their opposition to the merger?

1. Vote against watering down. The APPC is a self-regulatory organisation, set up and led by public affairs practitioners to regulate the conduct of public affairs. The PRCA is a trade association, set up to promote the public relations sector. The two are very different and by allowing ourselves to become only a small subgroup of a much larger organisation representing public relations, we dilute our own impact and, contrary to having "a single voice", we have no effective voice.

2. Vote against a veto. The APPC already represents the ‘gold standard’ benchmark that others look to emulate. Our most important duty is to continue to be the guardians of our Code of Conduct. Currently, the APPC management committee is able to debate in detail proposed amendments to the code and vote on changes to strengthen it. There are serious concerns that after a merger, the APPC would have only one representative on the PRCA’s board, whose interests are far broader than public affairs and would have the power to veto any proposals to strengthen the code in future.

3. Vote for another way. Why are we trying to fix something that isn’t broken? Whilst we can probably all agree there is room for improvement, the APPC management committee has already received a proposal for an even better APPC. This proposal was warmly welcomed by the management committee and outlined plans to enhance the value to members in a number of areas. This includes a more substantial training programme; building the membership base and ensuring more people are covered by the ‘gold standard’; and revenue-generating annual events for all members.

This is not a vote between a merger and the APPC as it currently is. This is a vote between a merger and an even better APPC. I would love to see what an enhanced APPC can do before we make any irreversible decisions that future generations of public affairs practitioners may regret.

Emma Petela
APPC Vice Chair
GK strategy director

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