After 18 years of Tory rule, a Labour victory in this year’s
general election is a real possibility. So how does the PR industry view
On the whole, attitudes appear upbeat.
’If Labour means greater access to European business, more investment in
the public sector and increased spending on construction and other
infrastructure, then that must be good for us,’ says Harrison Cowley
chief executive David Heal.
In common with many business leaders, Heal remains wary of Labour’s
intentions concerning taxation. However, he views the party’s proposals
for devolution in Scotland and Wales in a positive light, believing they
will offer ’opportunity’ for the Harrison Cowley operations in Edinburgh
Labour’s avowed commitment to redressing the disproportionate amount of
investment in London and the Home Counties and putting in place strong
regional government may well benefit those agencies with a significant
presence outside the M25.
’Regardless of the expected change of government, I anticipate a
continuation of cautious optimism,’ says Dennis Kelly, managing director
of Leeds-based consultancy Brahm. ’What PR consultancies do not want to
see is a minority government of any persuasion or a hung parliament.
This would be the worst possible outcome, inevitably resulting in
instability in the marketplace.’
Cohn and Wolfe joint managing director Martin Thomas thinks there will
be some inevitable instability in the City in the aftermath of a Labour
victory but expects this to be short-term.
Although fears have been expressed in some quarters that consumer
companies will adopt a ’wait and see’ approach, cutting marketing
budgets until Labour’s policies have been clarified, Thomas points to an
increase in budgets for 1997, arguing that consumer companies appear at
ease with the prospect of a change.
Thomas also wonders if Labour’s enthusiasm for new technology could
’kick start the consumer IT revolution’ with obvious benefits for PR
A planned clamp-down on tobacco advertising should also create more
opportunity for PR.
The prospect of a Labour government has encouraged several PR
consultancies to undertake detailed analysis of its implications. Last
year Burson-Marsteller published a report titled Doing Business with
Blair. The document examined the potential impact on industry of a
Labour administration, and one of the areas it looked at was the
so-called ’politics of partnership’.
This places emphasis on corporate responsibility in areas such as the
environment, local community and investment in jobs and training. Allied
to this is the development of what Blair has termed a ’stakeholder
society’, where corporations take pains to communicate with and involve
their employees and consumers.
’I think there will be a profound difference,’ says B-M associate
director Phil Cole. ’The way decisions are made will be different, more
devolved to a local level. Businesses will be obliged to take on
communications with a wider group of stakeholders and customers and
address consumer interests more widely’.
IPR president Simon Lewis believes the shift in emphasis presents the PR
industry with a big opportunity.’The IPR and others could play a role in
helping to set the terms for the debate on how companies communicate
with their stakeholders,’ he says.
So one might expect a rise in internal communications activity and other
corporate awareness programmes.
Clearly a change in government would have implications for professional
lobbyists. Some expect Labour to take a hard look at regulations in
light of some of the recent ’sleaze’ scandals. The consensus is,
however, that most Labour MPs are amenable to appropriate lobbying, and
that there would be a welter of activity as new policies are developed.
Inevitably, a Labour victory would favour those lobbyists with
connections to the party.
’Lobbying firms who invested in well-respected Labour advisers will be
at a premium,’ says Public Policy Unit managing director Charles
’Labour will be wary of outsiders who’ve had nothing to do with them for
years suddenly becoming friendly.’
GJW director Tony Page, a former political adviser, adds: ’If there is a
change of government, new ministers are not going to take kindly to
companies campaigning against policies that have just received the
approval of the electorate.’
Gordon Brown’s courting of the Square Mile has done much to allay nerves
in the City and few expect wholesale changes to financial PR. Labour is
considering the creation of a single City regulatory body and a merger
of the OFT and MMC, but the mood is that merger and acquisition work
will not be disrupted as a result.
Indeed, should Labour prove itself more pro-Europe than the Tories it
could spark more cross-border links and deals. ’I think the financial PR
side of our business will have a strong future if we get closer to the
heart of Europe,’ says Ludgate public affairs managing director Stephen
The message from the PR industry seems to be a cautious welcome for
Labour - now it’s down to the electorate.