Opinion: Leader - PRCA must win back big firms' support

The threatened resignation of Weber Shandwick, the UK's largest PR firm, from the membership of the PRCA, and word that the UK arm of Edelman is actively considering a similar move, is a major blow to the body, and one that it could do without as its new director-general joins.

Patrick Barrow, the ex-T-Mobile PR chief who replaces outgoing D-G Flora Hamilton next week, should bring a valuable in-house perspective to the trade body, and is at least frank about the challenges facing the organisation.

He acknowledges, for example, that in the relentless drive for new members, the PRCA may have taken its eye off the ball when it came to retaining existing members through the demonstration to them of the value the body creates. He accepts the PRCA has a battle to win support, above all from the full-service global networks.

These agencies, the Weber Shandwicks and their ilk, have historically provided the PRCA with its financial lifeblood and wider credibility, but their grumble has reached a fresh peak: new business service PReview suits the smaller agencies more than the larger ones, and yet the larger the firm, the higher the subs.

In its defence, the PRCA points to its groundbreaking Consultancy Management Standard - a method for ensuring top-notch management in an industry not noted for it. But, say the large agencies, the systems and processes in place at quoted company subsidiaries are easily the equal of anything the PRCA came up with.

If you are used to reporting against the standards of Wall Street, the CMS is small beer by comparison.

This, of course, is unfair. The CMS was intended to help smaller owner-managed firms to raise the bar on management quality in a way that would create a more level playing field for fairer competition. And yet this is just the problem - because if the PRCA devotes the majority of its attention and resources to a project of questionable value to the larger industry players, it cannot be surprised if they wind down their involvement.

Barrow's main task is to win back their support.

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