This year’s survey of in-house PR departments (see page 13) reveals a
complex picture of life in UK plc. On the one hand, PR budgets appear to
have remained largely static, but the scope of public relations activity
appears to be on the increase.
Organisations are clearly placing greater emphasis on their reputations.
And not before time. Given the dismal record of large corporations like
British Gas, Yorkshire Water, Shell and Cunard over the last 18 months,
it would take an unusually short sighted company not to see which way
the wind is blowing in the world of corporate affairs.
But it seems that at the same time they are becoming much more canny at
how they go about their public relations. ‘More bang for the buck’ is
the motto, and who can blame them? This in turn will bring greater
pressure for proper evaluation of PR activity - a trend which is vital
to the discipline’s future development, and should be welcomed by anyone
who takes public relations seriously.
For the in-house PR person, meanwhile, the holy grail remains board
directorship. This week Chris Hopson has achieved exactly that with his
elevation to the Granada Media Group board. In doing so he joins a very
select band of in house practitioners to reach the top of major plcs.
He deserves it, but unfortunately, as any headhunter will tell you,
there is a dearth of PR practitioners who can genuinely aspire to join
him in the premier league. There is no reason why PR people should not
become main board directors. But such positions are not theirs by right.
Only the best will get there, and that is no bad thing - either for the
reputation of the public relations profession or for the companies
However, it is easy to become overly obsessed with this goal. The key
requirement is that public relations should be at least represented at
the highest level, where it can affect business decision making.
So perhaps the most significant finding of the PR Week in-house survey
is that the top PR people in more than half of the organisations
surveyed now have a direct line to senior management. More than half (58
per cent) report either to the chairman or chief executive or to the
The really encouraging signal from this year’s survey is that public
relations is becoming integrated into the company culture, to the point
where it is becoming as much a part of strategic business planning as
finance or marketing.