1998 will probably go down in PR history as the ’Year of Red
As communications professionals moved ever closer to the centre of
policy making, industry bodies tackled head-on the thorny issue of self
With several high profile appointments, including the Queen’s own spin
doctor, the PR industry found itself the subject of an unprecedented
level of media and Government scrutiny. Even the seemingly innocuous
area of corporate hospitality was examined by the Law Commission.
The introduction of the PRCA’s consultancy management standard at the
beginning of the year signalled a stricter focus on accountability
within the industry, as did the IPR’s City and Financial Group’s
attempts to negotiate with the new Financial Services Authority on the
regulation of financial PR.
The public affairs sector saw a flurry of activity under the watchful
gaze of Lord Neill. With the increased focus on standards in public
life, the IPR reviewed its code of conduct on members holding public
office; the PRCA tackled issues raised by the new Scottish Parliament
and Welsh Assembly. And, as Millbank wooed lobbyists in advance of the
party conference, the APPC revised its code to allow lobbyists’ clients
to sponsor political events.
But it wasn’t until the ’cash for access’ scandal in July that all three
parties surprised the industry by agreeing to work together. Amid the
media frenzy created by Drapergate, the APPC came out in support of a
single code of conduct, and is due to be called to give evidence
together with the PRCA and IPR to Lord Neill’s committee on standards in
public life early next year.
This new spirit of co-operation was probably the other defining factor
of 1998. In addition to the detente in the public affairs arena, the
IPR, PRCA, the Association of Media Evaluation Companies and the Public
Relations Standards Forum also agreed to pool their resources under the
banner of PR Week’s Proof campaign and are now working together on best
practice guidelines for the industry.
It is not before time. The ’cash for access’ scandal has raised eyebrows
at the highest levels, and there is a danger that not only lobbyists but
also financial PRs may in future be subject to draconian
The PR industry has always been notoriously bad at its own
This united front is essential if it is to put its house in order and
successfully put its own case forward. At the same time, with a
potential recession looming, all attention needs to be focused on
proving the industry’s self-discipline and its worth as a profession.