Election Build-Up: PR offers a cautious welcome to Labour - With victory in its sights the Labour Party has promised to develop a ’stakeholder society’ with a change of emphasis that can benefit both PR consultancies and in-house departmen

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 the prospect?

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

the prospect?

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

and Cardiff.

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.

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