NEWS: 1996 Mad cows, fat cats and blue Pepsi

Takeovers, beef scares, international football and a bright blue Concorde all helped to keep the PR industry on its toes in 1996. Kate Nicholas looks back

Takeovers, beef scares, international football and a bright blue

Concorde all helped to keep the PR industry on its toes in 1996. Kate

Nicholas looks back


US marketing and communications giant Omnicom embarks on a PR

acquisition spree starting with the purchase of Ketchum’s PR and

advertising network in a deal believed to be worth over pounds 32

million, followed by the purchase of a 20 per cent stake in hi-tech

consultancy A Plus at the end of March. This, together with the

acquisition of internal communications outfit Smythe Dorward Lambert

later in the year, plus Abbott Mead Vickers’ purchase of Fishburn Hedges

at the beginning of the year indicated a growing interest among ad

agencies in adding value with PR acquisitions.

The BBC backs out of its controversial deal to give video news release

company Medialink exclusive access to BBC news crews and feedlines for

the production and distribution of VNRs, following complaints from its

editorial staff and Opposition politicians about a perceived threat to

editorial integrity and independence. In an unrelated move, Corporate

Television News, the joint venture between ITN and Burson-Marsteller,

also announces that it is abandoning the production of VNRs.

The cost of press cuttings rises following a clampdown on copyright fees

by national newspaper publishers. The Newspaper Licensing Authority,

backed by all national newspaper groups apart from News International,

enforces a two pence levy on all press cut copies, the aim being to

generate an estimated pounds 8 million revenue. As the debate hots up,

Quentin Bell, chairman of the PRCA, accuses the NLA of adopting

‘immature and unnecessary bully boy tactics’.

Jane Atkinson, founding partner of Atkinson Courage, rockets into the

media limelight when she is hired by the Princess of Wales as media

adviser for a fee of pounds 35,000. Much is made by the press of the two

women’s mutual interests in fitness and alternative therapies, although

representatives from the PR industry voice their concern about whether

Diana will be willing to accept strategic advice.

Shareholders agree to accept Granada’s pounds 3.8 billion bid for hotel

group Forte, bringing to an end one of the most dramatic financial PR

campaigns of recent years. While Granada’s Citigate team congratulated

themselves, Brunswick’s spirited defence of Forte won praise from the



A survey of PR agencies, media buyers, advertising agencies and design

houses conducted by accountants Binder Hamlyn finds that more than one

third of UK marketing services employees receive profit related pay,

compared to 18 per cent of those employed in general business - a bonus

that turns bittersweet later on in the year the Budget includes the

axing of tax relief on PRP.

The Takeover Panel gives its sternest warning yet to financial public

relations consultancies over the leaking of information during contested

takeover bids, prompting renewed calls for City PR firms to be

regulated. The move follows several high profile incidents, including

the Takeover Panel’s rebuke in December of Financial Dynamics for

leaking information while defending Amec against a hostile takeover from

Kvaerner. The City and Financial Group of the IPR seizes the initiative

over the debate and meets with representatives from the Stock Exchange

and Securities and Investment Board to discuss measures to curb leaks of

price-sensitive information and other irregularities.

A furious lobbying battle ensues in the Lords in the run up to the

debate over broadcasting rights to top sporting events. Politicians from

all parties battle to strengthen terrestrial TV’s rights to major

sporting events, opposed by a heavyweight team including sports

governing bodies and satellite broadcaster BSkyB which, as a member of

the European Broadcasting Union, recently acquired rights to the

Olympics, as well as securing rights to the Ryder Cup, overseas cricket

Tests, live Premiership football and rugby league’s new Super League.

Burson-Marsteller re-styles itself as a ‘perception management’

consultancy. Ferry de Bakker, president and CEO of B-M Europe, says that

public relations is too limited a term to describe what the agency now

does and, on the basis that research among clients showed that ‘PR is

not well respected’. The consultancy also plans to restructure istelf


Lynne Franks ends up with egg on its face, when British Telecom

apologises to Buckingham Palace for a ‘tasteless and inappropriate’

press release distributed by the PR agency. The release - which promoted

BT’s EasyReach pager as ‘the most discreet way of conducting an affair

without anyone finding out’, citing royal adulterers who have been

caught out by traditional telecoms - apparently by-passed BT’s normal

clearance procedures.


Former city editor of the Sunday Times Jeff Randall, returns to the

title as number three to editor John Witherow after just six months as

deputy chairman of Financial Dynamics on a reputed salary of pounds

250,000. Randall said that joining FD was ‘not a bad decision’ but that

he missed journalism.

The handling of golf pro Nick Faldo’s extra marital affair emerges as

one of the worst examples of sports PR last year, according to a survey

of 250 national newspaper hacks compiled by sports PR specialists

Collard and Company. The Rugby Football Union’s reaction to Will

Carling’s outburst that they were all ‘old farts’ also receives the

thumbs down in the report, however 42 per cent of journalists did say

that PR had played a major role in recent stories - a rise of 12 per

cent from 1994.

In the wake of a witch hunt meted out to the likes of British Gas chief

executive Cedric Brown, an exclusive PR Week/NOP poll reveals that 92

per cent of people believe that ‘company chairmen should be more

publicly accountable when there are problems involving their company’.

The survey also revealed that in a crisis situation 61 per cent of

people expect the company’s top executive to be the person to appear in

the media to explain the situation, and nearly half the sample said that

they felt that senior company executives do not do a good job of

representing their company when things go wrong.

Former Paragon managing director Gordon Knight threatens to take legal

action against the agency that he helped to found and then left on 16

February this year. Knight’s quarrel with chairman Julia Thorn centres

on the alleged termination of continued payment of salaries and benefits

that Knight can claim during the remaining nine months of his official

notice period as long as he does not secure alternative employment.

Agency staff emerge as better paid, younger and more optimistic than

their predecessors, in the 1996 PR Week/Media Appointments salary survey

with account managers calling the shots in the salary stakes due to the

domino effect of recessionary cut backs. In-house staff, on the other

hand, still seem to be suffering from post-recession blues. The in-house

PR officer cuts a particularly sorry figure with a backward slide in

terms of salary rises and cutbacks in holiday allowance leaving many

feeling downright exploited. Sexism and ageism prove to be rampant, with

women continuing to hit a glass ceiling in agencies, and the average age

of agency bosses dropping by 10 years.

The Meat and Livestock Commission turns to Lowe Bell Communications for

PR advice on the crisis over BSE, just days before the Government

reveals new evidence linking the deaths of ten young people to bovine

spongiform encephalopathy or ‘mad cow disease’, sparking a public panic

it was ill prepared to handle. McDonald’s takes swift action in banning

British beef in an overnight clear shelf operation, claiming the high

ground in the ongoing debate.


Freud Communications changes the script for Pepsi in the most high

profile - and expensive - consumer campaign of the year. The agency’s 60

staff pitch in to fly hundreds of journalists, Andre Agassi and Cindy

Crawford into Gatwick to unveil a new TV campaign featuring the new look

blue Pepsi can. Stunts such as painting a Concorde blue and convincing

the Daily Mirror to print on blue paper cost the soft drinks

manufacturer pounds 6 million.

Lorraine Langham, the former head of communications for the London

Borough of Camden, has the dubious privilege of being appointed to the

post sold as‘the toughest PR job imaginable’. Langham beat an initial

list of 100 to land the pounds 60,000 job of assistant chief executive

(PR and communications) for the beleaguered council whose ad read: ‘PR

jobs don’t come much tougher than this one. Our relations with the media

could hardly be worse, what with scandals and accusations of

inefficiency to contend with’. At the same time, the creation of new

unitary authorities on 1 April, turn local government PR departments on

their heads, with outgoing local councils axing their PR staff, and new

unitary authorities relying on PR to explain the implications of the

reorganisation to the public.

An exclusive by PR Week revealing that Russian president Boris Yeltsin

has drafted in Tory PR guru Sir Tim Bell and his agency Lowe Bell

Consultants to restore his tattered image in time for June’s

presidential elections, is picked up by the Financial Times and the

Russian media.

Law Society PR chief Sue Stapely defects from the feud ridden body to

take up a directorship at Fishburn Hedges. Stapely becomes the latest in

a number of senior figures to leave the organisation amid the well

publicised discord which hit the society following last summer’s

election of Martin Mears as president. Mears and Stapely’s relationship

appears to have hit crisis levels in January following the well

publicised fall-out from a Mail on Sunday article about Mears’ personal

life. At a Law Society council meeting Mears attacked Stapely for

circulating the article among routine press cuttings. Mears subsequently

criticised director of corporate and regional affairs AndrewLockely for

releasing a memo to the press from Stapely, in which she responded to

his criticisms.

Prince Edward’s girlfriend Sophie Rhys-Jones returns to PR agency life

in a blaze of publicity as a consultant to Hollander Public Relations -

a London firm set to launch in June - for the modest salary of pounds

20,000, less than half the figure of pounds 50,000 reported by the


The 1996 PR Week Top 150 Consultancies league table reveals that for the

second year running, the Top 150 agencies increased their overall fee

income by 15 per cent - from pounds 254 million in 1994 to pounds 292

million in 1995.

The overall rise in fee income pushed the entry level up by nearly

pounds 100,000 on last year to over pounds 350,000.

A five per cent drop in fee income did little to shake Shandwick’s hold

on the number one spot, while Lowe Bell Communications showed steady

growth as the second largest agency in the UK. Countrywide moved into

the number three position for the first time with a 32 per cent growth

in fee income, Financial Dynamics showed a dramatic 50 per cent increase

and Charles Barker reappeared in the top ten for the first time in its

present form. The league table was, however, far from top heavy - the

top ten agencies market share continued to slip, with the most

consistent rate of growth being among medium size agencies with incomes

of between pounds 1 million and pounds 2 million.


The European Commission’s agriculture wing brings to an end the two-year

Olive Oil saga, when it finally announced the long suffering agencies to

have made it through an elongated pitch process - which involved a

recall for tender last October - to handle its pounds 24 million

promotional campaign. The lucky agencies include Grayling in the UK and

Ireland, Information et Enterprise in France, CBO in Italy and Madrid

based Tactics for Spain and Portugal, with Greece, Denmark, the

Netherlands and Belgium handled by the Euromix network through its

German branch Syntax.

In one of the most bizarre signings of the year, Covent Garden-based hi

tech agency Lewis, appoints Jim Bowen, host of the TV game show Bullseye

as its ‘press spokesman’.

Fishburn Hedges cuts a swathe through the IPR annual Awards beating 175

other entries to win not only the IPR Sword of Excellence for its

campaign on behalf of the Solicitors Family Law Association: ‘Divorce: A

fair deal for families’, but also coming out tops in the internal

communications category for its work with United Friendly.

As Quentin Bell hands over chairmanship of the PRCA to Jackie Elliott,

the body passes a raft of tough new quality standards designed to weed

out under performing members and to boost the trade body’s status. As a

result of the measures, which Bell spent a year developing, new members

will in future have to employ a minimum of five staff, have an annual

income of pounds 200,000, be able to prove their ability to plan, manage

and evaluate campaigns and donate one per cent of their fee income to


Shandwick beats off Hill and Knowlton and Matrix to be appointed by the

South African High Commission to provide PR support for the UK visit of

President Mandela together with more than 80 of the country’s business

leaders in mid-July 1996.


Euro 96, the world’s third biggest sporting event, kicks off, with 6,000

accredited journalists and photographers descending on six stadiums

across the UK. Euro 96 media relations manager Alec McGivan and his four

strong team worked for 18 months setting up eight media centres for one

of the biggest sponsorship opportunities of the year.

Heathrow celebrates its 50th anniversary in style. A visit by the Queen

coincides with a six-part BBC series, entitled Airport, a poster design

competition organised by BBC’s Blue Peter programme and an edition of

Songs of Praise broadcast from the airport.

Countrywide, the UK’s third biggest PR consultancy, announces that it is

to adopt the name of its US sister firm, becoming Countrywide Porter

Novelli from September. Communications International - the umbrella

brand for Omnicom’s generalist PR interests which has a combined income

of around pounds 90 million - becomes Porter Novelli International under

the joint chairmanship of Countrywide chairman Peter Hehir and Bob

Druckenmiller of Porter Novelli. The move - which Hehir stresses is not

a merger - is intended to improve recognition of the group as an

international brand.

Lobbyist Ian Greer and former Government minister Neil Hamilton revive

their ill-fated libel action against the Guardian following a vote in

the Commons in favour of a change to the law on defamation. Members of

Parliament voted by a majority of 63 to amend the Defamation Bill in

order to close a loophole in the Bill of Rights of 1689 - a loophole

which previously prevented Greer and Hamilton pursuing a libel case

against the Guardian regarding allegations that Hamilton accepted a

payment of pounds 2,000 from Harrods chairman Mohamed Al Fayed to ask

questions on his behalf.

In what could be dubbed ‘The Year of the Internet’ Text 100 tops the PR

Week hi-tech league table with over pounds 4.6 million of hi-tech fee

income, closely followed by A Plus in second place and Shandwick in



Cause related marketing initiatives such as the Cadbury’s Strollerthon

emerge as valued communications tool in a Business in the Community

Survey. Seventy per cent of marketing directors questioned say that CRMs

will grow in importance over the next two years.

Observer editor Will Hutton, Shandwick’s Peter Gummer and BAA’s Des

Wilson are among the speakers at the ‘Hard Edge of Commercial PR’

conference on 8 July. Gummer tells delegates at the PR Week conference

that they must adapt to the coming electronic age or die.

Former PRCA Chairman Quentin Bell and Dairy Council national marketing

manager Peter Crowe also launch a controversial new plan to establish a

standard industry measure for media evaluation at the conference. An

industry working party set up by Norwich Union group corporate affairs

manager Raymond Wilson aims to establish a recognised ‘basic unit of

measurement’ for media planning and evaluation based on the proportion

of target audience reached.

Countrywide scoops four out of the 11 PRCA Awards for Outstanding

Consultancy Practice. Meanwhile Politics International and Ian Greer

Associates emerge as the biggest losers of last year in terms of numbers

of clients according to the Association of Professional Political

Consultants second annual register.

Jane Atkinson resigns as Princess of Wales’ media adviser amid a flurry

of media activity following clashes between the two women over the

handling of the Princess’s much maligned appearance in a hospital

operating theatre and her decision to cut her links with around 100


Euro RSCG International Communications, continues to dominate the owned

groups and French and German rankings in the 1996 PR Week Top European

Consultancies Survey. Fleishman-Hillard emerges as the fastest growing

group in Europe and Entente International hold on to the lead in the

Networks ranking, while the best performing network, Worldcom, grows its

European fees by 64 per cent.


Alison Canning resigns as chief executive of Burson-Marsteller UK in

advance of the introduction of the consultancy’s new practice-led

management structure. The new structure, due to take effect in Europe in

October, does away with the role of UK chief executive leaving Canning,

widely regarded as one of the brightest prospects of her generation,

without a job.

It’s official. The long boozy PR lunch is long gone. A report,

commissioned by Boots, finds that public relations and marketing

executives take less time for lunch than accountants, lawyers, local

government, bankers, manufacturing and retail employees laying to rest

the myth of PR G&T brigade.

Jane Atkinson, speaks exclusively to PR Week about her much publicised

resignation from the post of media adviser to the Princess of Wales and

the pressures of working for her Royal client. Atkinson admits that

despite her high hopes for the role,Diana, rather than expecting her

adviser to advise, expected her to do as she was told. Relegated to the

role of press officer, while herself the subject of unwanted media

attention, Atkinson says she eventually resigned to save her business

(rather than her marriage, as widely speculated by the tabloids).

The 1996 PR Week In-House Survey shows that some of the harsh lessons

meted out by the media on the unwary last year may have pushed

communications further up the board room agenda, but the pockets of

newly communications-aware CEOs are not any deeper. Twenty per cent of

respondents to the survey report a drop in their in-house budgets, 14

per cent trod water, while the 42 per cent who did report increases

didn’t show spectacular growth in their budgets.

Mark Borkowski PR is forced to tone down its irreverent PR ‘Mission

impossible’ style campaign for Carlsberg-Tetley’s controversial new

alcoholic gel drink Thickhead as storm clouds gather over the booming

alcopops market,

Clare Short raises temperatures in the Labour party - and prompts a

Panorama expose - by suggesting that spin doctors are increasingly

involved in making or formulating party policy. But while hotly debated

in labour ranks, a PR Week/NOP poll shows that rather than being

perceived as bogeymen, spin doctors are a breed that few people have

even heard of. Journalists replying to PR Week’s Big Question admit that

while some spin doctors might be a little heavy-handed there is little

danger of them influencing central policy.


PR Week reports a groundbreaking move by the Scout Association to

introduce a proficiency badge in public relations. The badge,

represented by a mobile phone, will be awarded to enterprising

youngsters capable of obtaining coverage for a Scout event in the local

media by writing a press release or article. Scout Association press

officer David Barker admits that: ‘We are trying to rid ourselves of our

stereotypical image of dib-dob-dobbing and ging-gang-goolying around the

fire with our woggles.’

Max Clifford makes the news yet again, this time at the side of Mandy

Allwood, aspiring mother of eight and potential tabloid beneficiary.

This meal ticket, however, soon turns sour for Clifford and tragic for

Allwood as she loses all eight children. Max is quoted in the

Independent as saying: ‘I guess it is a sign of the times that the first

person she contacted was her gynaecologist and the second was her PR


IPR president Rosemary Brook accuses the PR Industry of being

‘shamefully and conspicuously unresponsive’ to the EU proposals on

cross-border PR campaigns and calls for greater involvement from the UK

PR industry in shaping the final version of the EU’s Green Paper on

‘Commercial Communications in the Internal Market’.


Ian Greer and Neil Hamilton’s libel climb down over the ‘cash for

questions’ affair puts the lobbying industry under the media spotlight

once again, prompting heated debates on industry sleaze. Greer - who

hires crisis media specialist John Stonborough to handle the barrage -

and Hamilton continue to vigorously protest their innocence despite

further allegations from the Guardian. Ian Greer steps down as head of

IGA and his firm begins to disintegrate with a mass exodus of senior

staff as he tries to negotiate a deal with Adele Biss, co-founder of PR

firm Biss Lancaster and former chairman of the British Tourist

Authority. Eventually Greer agrees to wind up his business, making his

staff redundant, half of whom are hired by the new company AS Biss and

Company which opens for business at the beginning of November at IGA’s

offices in Catherine Place.

In the meantime the Association of Professional Political Consultants

considers steps to strengthen its ethical safeguards.

Following the initiative launched by Quentin Bell and Peter Crowe at the

Hard Edge of Commercial PR conference in July, media evaluators take

their first steps towards consensus with the agreement to establish a

joint industry body to develop a standard unit of measurement - the

Public Relations Point.

PR Week reports that lobbying firm GJW is working for the Libyan

government - through a separate company GJW International, set up in

June - in a bid to protect upwards of pounds 180 million of British

exports to Libya from the threat of tougher sanctions.

In an interview with PR Week Shandwick chairman Peter Gummer, the newly

enobled Lord Chadlington of Dean, talks of his plans for an active role

in the Lords and defends his role in the Tories’ ‘demon eyes’ campaign

which led to a political storm when his peerage was announced.

The Body Shop International and McDonald’s carry off a bundle of

trophies between them at the 1996 PR Week Awards which attracts a record

550 entries. The Body Shop picks up not only Best International Campaign

but also the coveted Campaign of the Year Gold Award for its campaign on

behalf of the late Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni People, in addition to

the In-House Department of the Year Award. The McDonald’s team also pick

up three awards. As well as Best Crisis Management for its response to

this year’s BSE scare, head of communications Mike Love wins the title

of PR Professional of the Year and the Craft Award for Best Internal

Publication goes to McNews. Consultancy of the Year goes to the Red



Jane Atkinson provides the next instalment of the long running saga of

her employment by quitting Atkinson Courage Communications, the agency

she formed with Robin Courage 18 months earlier, to join Lowe Bell

Consultants. Atkinson, becomes the third member of Diana’s staff to be

hired by Lowe Bell, joining ranks with Diana’s former private secretary

Patrick Jephson and his secretary Nicky Cockell.

PR Week’s 1996 Agency Report takes the lid off the internal workings of

agencies and their relationship with clients for the first time, proving

that size really isn’t everything when it comes to quality of service.

The Agency Report, a companion survey to the PR Week Top 150

consultancies league table, gives star ratings to 36 agencies with

incomes over pounds 1 million, taking into account investment in staff,

technology and quality control systems, as well as a client survey

undertaken by an independent research company. Best performances are by

no means limited to the bigger consultancies, or to the London crowd.

High marks go to Countrywide Porter Novelli, Fleishman-Hillard, Cameron

Choat and Partners and Lexis, while regionally based agencies like Brahm

PR and Beattie Media also shine alongside larger players like Biss

Lancaster and Financial Dynamics.

Plagued by the tyranny of teenagers, Calderdale Borough Council - the

local authority responsible for The Ridings secondary school - hires

Green PR and Marketing, prompting speculation of a rich new vein of PR

business as schools continue to hit the headlines.

Mary Rice sues her employer for wrongful dismissal after being suspended

from her job as head of public communication at the Medical Research

Council after she told the Sunday Times that she opposed a decision by

the council’s Neurochemical Pathology Unit to accept a pounds 147,000

donation from British American Tobacco.

The MRC claims that ‘the central issue is one of confidence and trust

between employer and employee... she stated her own personal opinion and

made no attempt to explain the MRC perspective. This act made her

position as the council’s head of public communication untenable.’

Slow burn communication reaction to a fire in the Channel Tunnel nearly

derailed Eurotunnel’s crisis management despite the rehearsal of a bi

national emergency plan only ten days before the incident. Eurotunnel

president Patrick Ponsolle’s initial description of the fire as ‘an

unpleasant incident’ is adjusted to ‘ a serious incident’ within hours.

However, Keith Harper, the Guardian’s transport correspondent calls for

the PR team to be sacked, complaining of insufficient phone lines,

sparse briefings for special correspondents and the lack of access to

top spokespeople like co-chairman Robert Malpas.


Citigate Communications announces a reverse takeover deal in which it

plans to merge with listed sales promotion and publishing company

Incepta Group. The deal which values Citigate at around pounds 28

million - 30 per cent of which is derived from PR - is set to make

millionaires of Citigate chief executive David Wright and soon-to-retire

non-executive chairman Alastair Campbell-Harris. Several other members

of the Citigate board - who between them hold 35 per cent of the equity

- will see their stakes valued at over pounds 500,000. While Wright had

made no secret of his desire to transform Citigate into a publicly

listed company, the deal did come sooner than both he and the industry

had expected.

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