Financial PR people are not known for their ability to join forces
on issues of industry-wide importance. Although some of the more
established and vocal financial PR practitioners have clubbed together
to form one of the IPR’s most active groups, only 10 per cent of PRCA
members are agencies which practise financial PR.
Despite a long-standing threat from the City to impose regulation on PR
agencies operating within its walls, no successful attempt has been made
to avert that threat by creating a system of self-regulation. Even now,
when the City seems likely to use the stick it has brandished at
agencies for so long, the industry is utterly divided over how to
A poll in June of IPR City and financial group members revealed an even
split over whether to argue for tighter controls by the Financial
Services Authority (FSA), the City regulator. Some members were still
The FSA is consulting on proposals to fine agencies for abusing
privileged information or issuing misleading information. The fines
would apply to agencies dealing with six London financial markets and
would bring PR in line with other City advisers, such as brokers and
The IPR City and financial group’s leadership wants support from its
members for specific wording in FSA rules to make their application to
PR professionals explicit.
City PR people have long been divided over whether self-regulation is
preferable to coming under the authority of a watchdog, or whether the
rather vague controls on their work provided by bodies like the Stock
Exchange and the Takeover Panel are sufficient.
Those in favour of tighter regulation argue that because there is no
register of financial PR agencies, the industry is open to cowboys. They
believe that introducing a compulsory code of practice on a par with the
codes followed by lawyers or bankers will mean that when sensitive
information is leaked to the press, the finger will not automatically be
pointed at the PR adviser.
Those against tighter rules argue that any code would be widely ignored,
because it is often the client, with the backing of their legal
advisers, which asks agencies to leak information. They argue that any
rule book would be regularly ignored and would simply provide surface
gloss, a poor substitute for real responsibility.
The IPR has until October to put its case to the FSA. Unless its members
can agree a common line, the FSA may introduce rules nobody is happy
If IPR representatives cannot argue either that professional standards
are high and do not need regulating, or that the industry is not afraid
to accept tighter controls, PR’s image will suffer further.