COMMENT: We must not sell ourselves short to Parliament - Public relations is lagging behind the advertising industry when it comes to gaining positive recognition from MPs, says Tom McNally

There is, from time to time, a certain chippiness in the relations between the PR industry and advertising. Not only does advertising have bigger budgets, greater professional recognition and more credible measurement techniques, it also, dare I say it, seems to handle its PR better.

There is, from time to time, a certain chippiness in the relations

between the PR industry and advertising. Not only does advertising have

bigger budgets, greater professional recognition and more credible

measurement techniques, it also, dare I say it, seems to handle its PR

better.



A good example of this occurred on Monday 14 December at the Houses of

Parliament when the ubiquitous Austin Mitchell MP took the chair at the

inaugural meeting of the all-party parliamentary group on

advertising.



With a cross-party clutch of vice-chairs (Graham Brady MP, Nigel Evans

MP and Jane Griffiths MP) giving credibility to a very well attended

meeting of parliamentarians from both Houses, the advertising industry

has, at a stroke, given itself entirely legitimate access to political

decision-makers and influencers.



The Advertising Association is offering secretarial and logistical

support to the all-party group. Which makes one wonder why the PRCA has

not considered a similar initiative. The industry has far wider

interests and expertise than those covered by the debate about lobbying

- important as this is.



The Institute of Public Relations, under its new president Alison Clarke

will be giving increased importance to making sure that the industry

contributes positively to developing a proper regulatory framework for

the practice of PR. At the same time continuous professional development

(CPD) is rightly given priority to underpin the professional credibility

of the PR offer.



Best of all these major initiatives, regulatory and CPD, are being

followed through with close cooperation between the IPR and the PRCA.

There is a chance, therefore, of being able to present to

parliamentarians a united PR industry front, something all too often

lacking in the past.



An all-party group would be able to hear presentations on the

professional issues facing the industry as well as receiving PR

perspectives on European issues, North American experiences and moral

dilemmas such as working for foreign governments with difficult

messages.



The PR perspective of sanctions already facing the advertising industry,

such as a ban on tobacco advertising, could be discussed. From such a

base, and with such a programme there would be a very real chance of

improving Parliamentary understanding of PR.



A couple of weeks ago, in Parliament’s own trade paper, the House

Magazine, I wrote in praise of the PR Week Awards and the array of

talent and professional commitment it represents. But far too few

parliamentarians know about the positive side of the business.



The industry needs to explain itself to an audience whose awareness is

all too often linked to the antics of Max Clifford or stories about

brown paper envelopes. It is important that public relations should not

be seen only in terms of sleaze or sensation-seeking publicists.



An all-party group on public relations could launch a real educational

effort to make sure that legislators understand what public relations is

about and are aware of the views of PR professionals about issues of

importance.



Too often, PR seems to be on the back foot in its relations with

Parliament.



Instead, it should be on a mission to explain. Not for the first time

the advertising industry has taken the lead, but we should not be afraid

to imitate where the idea is a good one.



The need is there, the parliamentary interest is there, and I am sure we

could find a chairman and officers from the large number of MPs who have

earned an honest crust in PR at one time or another.



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