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
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
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
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
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
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