For all the indications in recent weeks of the enhanced status and
bulging pay packets of in-house PR practitioners, this week’s lead story
about Bristol-Myers Squibb emphasises just how precarious PR’s newfound
Chris Davies, BMS’s director of government and public affairs and Fiona
Stratford, its public affairs manager, are not just the casualties of a
cost-cutting exercise which has claimed victims right across Europe but
also of the tendency to see PR as an optional extra, something you can
indulge in when the business is doing well and drop when conditions are
less favourable. The truth is that good public relations is even more
vital when a company is going through bad times.
The problem is that even though PR is developing into a more
professional discipline, many companies still think of it as something
any manager should be able to do. And the industry has itself at least
partly to blame for that perception. Are we not constantly told that PR
and corporate reputation are a major part of any chief executive’s job.
So how can we complain when they decide they might as well do the job
The extraordinary growth of the in-house sector has been noted here
before, as has its consequence for the consultancy business in the shift
from retainers to more ad hoc projects. The question is just how secure
those gains will be when the next downturn comes. Last time the
consultancies took the brunt, but the next recession may well hit the
in-house sector much harder.