The transfer of funds and power from UDCs to regional development
agencies will offer rich pickings to those PR agencies which can work
with the public and private sector.
The new Government’s plans to overhaul the country’s urban regeneration
agencies should mean a number of opportunities for PR agencies.
Labour is committed to creating up to ten regional development agencies,
which will bring together the public and private sector to complete a
variety of tasks, including economic regeneration.
During the 1980s, the Thatcher government chose urban development
corporations (UDCs) as the main vehicle for encouraging investment in
economically-blighted areas. The first UDCs to be set up in 1981 were
the London Docklands Development Corporation and the Merseyside
Both had huge operational budgets and soon realised they needed all the
PR and marketing support they could get.
The UDCs drew fierce criticism from local government, because it was
excluded from the planning process and other strategic decision-making
in UDC regions. It was also angered by the huge amounts of cash diverted
to UDCs while local authority budgets came under continued attack.
The remaining UDCs are preparing for March 1998 when they will hand
control to a residuary body operated by the Commission for New Towns,
except for Cardiff Bay which will continue until 1999.
But the demise of the UDC shouldn’t be bad news for PR agencies. In
addition to the opportunities created by the ten new RDAs, other bodies
such as English Partnerships - a quasi-independent body set up by
statute to facilitate urban regeneration schemes - will also be looking
for PR support.
English Partnerships is already outsourcing work, such as the promotion
of development opportunities at the Millenium Festival site.
Sunny Crouch, LDDC’s director of marketing and public affairs envisages
plenty of work after the UDCs close.
Most of the LDDC’s work is now complete, with most of the land now
But major projects which could remain unfinished next March include: a
business park, an international rowing centre and a university.
All these projects will be taken over by Newham council in joint
ventures with English Partnerships and the Thames Gateway group of
councils. Crouch has already started negotiations with the organisations
to ensure cash is available to support future PR activity.
But the experience of some PR agencies suggests that working with these
kinds of organisations has its downside as well. Last week PR Week
highlighted a Public Accounts Committee report into the Plymouth
Development Corporation which contained harsh criticism of its agency
Between April 1994 and January 1996, pounds 1.2 million was paid to
Tamesis in budget and fees. The Public Accounts Committee accused
Tamesis of overcharging by pounds 123,000.
The cash was repaid to the corporation through credit notes well before
the PAC published its findings. Tamesis partner Tony Danaher says the
pounds 123,000 was not overcharged but ’overpaid’ and says the extra
payments were made as a result of the financial mess the Corporation was
in. According to Danaher, many of the problems resulted from the fact
that the PDC’s chief executive wasn’t involved in the appointment of the
’This sort of organisation involves the public sector coming together
with the private sector in an unnatural marriage, so it’s important to
get things right from the beginning - marketing and PR are important to
make sure the marriage works,’ he says.
Chris Matthews, chief executive of The Hogarth Partnership, has had
plenty of experience with clients in the public sector. ’When you’ve got
this type of account you have to keep very detailed records because the
auditors can be sent in at any time,’ he warns.
’Agencies have to be aware that all the commercial details can become
public, particularly when political point scoring is the order of the
The road to winning work can also be pretty rocky. Peter Rae, senior
partner at Hammond Communications, recalls his experience at other
agencies of working for the Industrial Development Board (IDB) for
Northern Ireland, and Trafford Park UDC.
While at Hill and Knowlton, he pitched for the IDB work in 1990 (having
previously worked on the same account for Burson-Marsteller), and he
thought it would be a good idea to meet Richard Needham MP - an economic
affairs minister for Northern Ireland at the time - before the formal
pitch was made. After the meeting, H&K was contacted by civil servants
who complained that the agency had gone behind their backs.
Rae says: ’There was nothing in the invitation to tender to say we
couldn’t do this, and in typical civil servant speak, when the letter of
refusal arrived after our pitch, it said we had lost because we didn’t
understand the problems of Northern Ireland.’
He says: ’I thought we had put together a blinder of a pitch, and we
spent pounds 20,000 in cash and pounds 80,000 worth of management time
Some agencies lose pitches because of basic mistakes too. Clare Shannon,
external affairs manager at the Merseyside Development Corporation,
reveals: ’It’s amazing how some well-known agencies have done themselves
no favours by not understanding how we work.
’Some agencies have promised us the use of a lobbyist, when they should
know that as a government agency we’re not allowed to lobby
With a wealth of new opportunities opening up in this area it remains to
be seen whether other agencies can learn from past mistakes.