COI roster agencies must still bow to restrictions of Government

We are all measurers now after PR Week’s Best Practice conference.

We are all measurers now after PR Week’s Best Practice

conference.



Well, the COI, at least, is to require all agencies joining its very

first PR roster to have in-house evaluation techniques or to use an

external evaluator. This raises two serious questions: how long will its

roster be since Michael Fairchild, managing director of the Fairchild

Consultancy, told the conference that less than 20 per cent of agencies

actually measure performance; and how long will it remain when the COI,

as it promises, has finished evaluating those on it?



The implication is that those who make it - and continue to pass muster

- will come to be seen as the bees’ knees of PR. Logically, agencies

ought therefore to be knocking the COI’s receptionist down in the rush

in Hercules Road. There must be gold in them thar registers.



There may well be if COI roster registration becomes prestigious. But,

before you throw your caps over the windmill, there is a small matter of

Government rules and conventions within which I worked, as a Government

information officer, for nearly 24 years. If they matter any more - and

I sometimes wonder - PR companies should still have a very limited role

to play in Government communications.



The reason lies in the rules I helped to revise in 1988 after a

comprehensive review of Government practice. These were substantially

re-issued by Tony Blair last July and printed as an annex in the report

on the GIS three months ago. The crucial paragraph reads: ’It has been

the stated policy of successive administrations to rely on the expertise

and experience of the Government’s own advisers and to decline offers

from commercial PR consultants, and I (the Prime Minister) consider it

important that the well-established conventions in this area should also

continue to be observed’.



But, long before that was written, the Government had actually employed

PR consultants on scores of privatisations. The guidance had therefore

to be qualified. What mattered, we argued, was the nature of the task,

not whether a company had PR in its title. But we pointed to propriety

problems over image-building and lobbying in employing PR

consultants.



And the Prime Minister specifically barred their use in place of civil

servants on direct representational work or where bureaucrats would be

improperly employed on opinion-forming or image-building contracts.



If words mean anything, this restrictive regime continues. Departments

and agencies can only employ an external PR consultant - and then only

on tightly controlled and supervised specific tasks - if four other

tests covering value for money and propriety are satisfied. Only

paragons of virtue with a highly developed sense of public service need

apply.



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