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