Profile: Colin Farrington, Institute of Public Relations - The man who does PR for PR/New IPR director Colin Farrington prepares to take a scientific approach to PR

With his background in the civil service and latterly the Institute of Revenues, Rating and Valuation (IRRV), which represents the local government finance staff and taxation property valuers, you could be forgiven for suspecting that Colin Farrington is ignorant of PR and perhaps, even, a little dull.

With his background in the civil service and latterly the Institute

of Revenues, Rating and Valuation (IRRV), which represents the local

government finance staff and taxation property valuers, you could be

forgiven for suspecting that Colin Farrington is ignorant of PR and

perhaps, even, a little dull.



In fact, the IPR’s new director has long experience of thinking in PR

terms, even though he has never worked in the industry. He was a private

secretary to two Labour Home Secretaries, during a 16-year career at the

Home Office and understands PR in a political context. He says: ’Concern

for presentation and how a particular policy will be received predates

the current administration.



’You need to be a pretty bad civil servant, at a policy level, not to be

concerned about the impact of presentation and how policy is developed

and how it is sold. It could be argued that Margaret Thatcher’s

downfall, over the two key issues of the poll tax and Europe, was

because of their complete failure to sell policies effectively.’

Farrington knows the critical importance of PR, if not the industry’s

personalities, its jargon, and its detailed methods.



PR practitioners should not be misled by the fact that he has been at

the IRRV for a decade. ’He’s a bon viveur,’ says Jake Arnold-Forster,

editor of the Local Government Chronicle. ’He likes good company, food

and wine, he’s charming and funny, likes gossip and is interested in the

worlds of Westminster and Whitehall and the political machine. But at

the same time, he likes to keep abreast of popular culture. He always

seemed fairly incongruous at the IRRV, which I think was very pleased to

have him as its director, albeit rather surprised.’



Farrington is conscious of his appearance and his age. He is trying to

lose weight, but complains that no matter how many copies of Men’s

Health he buys he doesn’t seem to get any thinner. He isgrateful for his

grand piano, on which he says he takes out his frustrations.



Besides his work at the IRRV, he is an adviser to the Organisation of

Economic Co-operation and Development, and a member of the World Bank’s

Advisory Council on Fiscal Decentralisation.



The institute was clearly attracted by Farrington’s ability to manage

its financial affairs. Under his direction, the IRRV quadrupled its

turnover to around pounds 2.2 million over eight years, and ran

international conferences in Paris, Budapest, Copenhagen and Rome.



He will concentrate on whether the maximum returns are being obtained

from the IPR’s training courses, conferences and seminars, and on

whether the returns can be improved.



Pressed on his thoughts about the IPR, he says: ’I think there obviously

is a desire to improve the public recognition of the institute, both

within the profession itself and with the Government and the media. The

IPR leadership wants people to feel that the first port of call, for

people who want authoritative, objective, serious comment about issues

affecting the PR profession, is the IPR ... that’s something I obviously

want to push forward.’



When asked to describe PR itself, Farrington laughs. ’Is that a trick

question? I’d better look at my IPR handbook,’ he says, before launching

into a sentence about a ’science’ which involves presentation, image

relationships and perceptions. And how is PR perceived by those outside

it?



’People don’t necessarily know it exists, in that they don’t necessarily

have a consciousness of it,’ he says. ’That may not be a bad thing

because the messenger, in some ways, has to have a low profile.’



When PR does attract publicity as a profession, says Farrington, that

publicity tends to be cynical and critical, and focus on the most

extreme examples.



’I am keen that (the public) understand that it is as much a profession

as other professions and therefore has a solid background of education

and experience and is not something that people can just adopt. It’s

important that the whole debate does not focus on spin doctors and the

Absolutely Fabulous end of the market.’



HIGHLIGHTS

1972

Administration trainee, Home Office

1975

Private secretary to the Home Secretary

1986

Head of finance division, Home Office

1988

Institute of Revenues, Rating and Valuation director

1998

IPR director general



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