Analysis: Economic - Keeping up to date on currency thinking/When it comes to deciding on the communications strategy surrounding the introduction of the euro, the PR industry appears to be as divided as the politicians themselves

One could be forgiven for thinking that Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Charlie Whelan et al have performed a passable version of the hokey cokey when it comes to the Government’s position on European Monetary Union.

One could be forgiven for thinking that Tony Blair, Gordon Brown,

Charlie Whelan et al have performed a passable version of the hokey

cokey when it comes to the Government’s position on European Monetary

Union.



The apparent indecision and contradictions sent jitters through the

City, supplied ammunition to Labour’s political opponents and was grist

for the satirists.



The Chancellor’s clarification of policy - that the UK’s participation

in EMU had been ruled out in the lifetime of this Parliament allayed

Eurosceptic concerns that the Government was going to rush into currency

union. But Brown has given the clearest indication yet that the UK will

eventually accept the euro.



As each day goes by it becomes ever clearer how momentous the advent of

EMU will be, whether the British people elect to join or not. In or out,

there will be major ramifications for UK business and consumers -

everyone will feel the impact.



The communications task will be immense, especially if the decision goes

in favour of EMU and sterling is supplanted by the euro. With this in

mind a number of consultants are already working at developing expertise

in EMU-related communications issues with a view to selling this to

clients.



Shandwick director of international marketing Ian Rumgay has been

developing an EMU ’package’ with an international perspective that he is

marketing to clients such as retailers. ’It’s the biggest communications

job in Europe since World War Two, if not ever,’ says Rumgay. ’It’s

wholesale change. And even if the UK doesn’t come in it will still be

affected.



’With decimalisation there were lots of accusations of rounding up

prices and profiteering. All this may occur again, but on a larger scale

- for the first time this will be cross-border and you will be able to

compare like with like. People will want to know why the same product

costs more in London than in Paris, or vice versa.’



Rumgay believes the issue of EMU has gone beyond the public affairs

arena and now needs to be addressed in business-to-business, consumer

and corporate PR terms. Although he doesn’t think there is an ’ostrich

mentality’ at work he argues there is a lack of preparedness among those

outside the financial sector.



There is certainly a sentiment among many consultancies that the

inconclusiveness as to when or even if the UK will take part in EMU

makes formulating advice on the subject at this juncture in time pretty

pointless.



’It’s probably too early,’ argues Citigate Communications deputy

managing director Jonathan Clare.



’The uncertainties are so great that it’s difficult for a company to

know what the position might be.’



’Anyone who claims expertise in EMU at this stage is pulling off a

marketing stunt,’ says one senior financial PR man. While a public

affairs head at another large consultancy says his company has decided

that it will not as yet look at developing specific EMU issues

expertise, but adds: ’There are going to be the Shandwicks and Hill and

Knowltons of this world, who have former Treasury ministers working for

them, who will probably be there.’



At Financial Dynamics, where a team is working on an EMU-related brief

for one client in particular, the issue is said to be ’a top priority’

for many other clients as well. And personal finance specialist Lansons

claims the issue is unavoidable because it is already affecting

investors in areas such as Government bonds - where interest rates will

come together under EMU.



Plainly such factors have to be dealt with in any communications with

investors, who are showing concern over the impact EMU is already having

on yields for certain kinds of investments. Such concerns will only be

heightened as the first wave of EMU draws closer. And should the UK

indeed enter in the second wave, that interest will snowball into a

clamour for information as the great majority of adults in this country

demand to know what the introduction of the euro will mean specifically

in relation to their savings, pension funds, mortgages and the like.



Burson-Marsteller claims it has already acquired significant expertise

in EMU and draws a parallel between this and environmental issues, in

that it sees the former becoming as important an area of specialisation

as the latter at the consultancy.



’In a relatively short time a lot of people have woken up to the fact

that it will happen,’ says B-M senior associate Nick South. ’A lot of

companies see it as a platform to give views; to use the intense media

interest in EMU to their advantage.’



South believes it is essential for business to play a key part in

explaining the benefits of EMU in the coming years. It is a view

endorsed by Stephen Lock, managing director of public affairs at Ludgate

Communications.



’It’s important that to ensure the success of the referendum you have to

take the shock out of the idea of change,’ says Lock. ’You have to start

the education process long before people have to decide on it. This has

been very successful in France and Germany.’



It is in some way fitting that, like the Conservative party, the

Government and the public at large, the PR consultancy sector should be

split over EMU. Perhaps the PRCA should hold a referendum to set policy

for the industry.



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