Public sector cake needs dividing fairly

If anyone ever doubted the importance of public sector PR, it is worth having a look at the CIPR’s study, ‘PR Today: the economic significance of public relations.'

The report has a few surprises, not least that the industry employs quite so many people. The 47,800  PROs identified by the Centre for Economic and Business Research went well beyond previous, more modest estimates that were closer to 30,000. 

Moreover, around 14,100 of these people work in-house, employed by organisations in the public and not-for-profit sectors. The Government's emphasis on PR through 'Best Value' initiatives and council ratings has streamlined the public sector and that, combined with final-salary pensions no doubt, has made it a more desirable career option for PROs.

And it isn't just in-house teams that are benefiting. According to the CIPR findings, revenues from the public, health and charity sectors amount to around a third of UK PR consultancy turnover. That's about £430m – a considerable slice of today's overall PR business.

Corporates may spend the most on public relations in terms of budget (the average standing at £1.7m per organisation) but it is expenditure by the public and not-for profit sectors that has grown the fastest over the past five years – by almost 200 per cent.

So all in all this is a very sizeable part of the PR market and central and local government buyers in particular wield a lot of power. Which is why the whole business of procurement and tendering needs to be entirely fair. This may not always be the case.

The justification – a desire to promote racial and gender equality in terms of outsourcing – is valid. But as one PR consultant pointed out to me recently, when it comes to public sector tenders, if you tick all the gender and minority boxes, you know your application is going to the top of the pile.

Don't get me wrong, diversity – or our lack of diversity – is a huge issue for this industry. As this surveys shows, in-house departments have a fair ethnic minority representation, but 95.6 per cent of consultancy staff say they are white. And in general the industry lags behind the national demographic trend – something that, unless fixed, is likely to severely hamper PR's ability to communicate with its national audience.

However, as this survey shows, there's a lot of business at stake, and no one, especially not consultants from ethnic minorities, want an overtly PC system that prizes demographics more than talent.
kate.nicholas@haynet.com

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