Former APPC chair rails against PRCA merger plan in explosive memo

Written by David Singleton on 9 August 2018 in News

Exclusive: Robbie MacDuff called the merger 'simply a takeover' and claimed that APPC members are being 'short-changed'.

Lobbyists are being decieved by the plans for a merger with the PRCA and the process should be put on hold, a former APPC chair has declared in what will be seen as the most explosive intervention yet in the debate.

Robbie MacDuff set out his concerns in a lengthy memo that was sent to 29 colleagues this week and has since been obtained by PAN. He states that "APPC members have been short-changed, in my view" and predicts that the APPC would become "a tiny voice, even assuming it still had a voice, in the ICCO, the umbrella body for PR associations in 55 countries".

He concludes that the plans should be drastically revised before they are put to a vote and tells colleagues: “The proposed 'merger' in its current form is simply a takeover and should be rejected." 

MacDuff was APPC chair from 2008 to 2010 and is a director at becg, previously known as Remarkable Group. He was previously a partner at Instinctif Partners. He begins his memo by noting that just eight members of the 19-strong management committee voted in favour of the PRCA's proposals at a meeting on 16 July and claims that APPC bosses overlooked a ‘strategy review paper’ that the management committee had commissioned from former deputy chair Emily Wallace. The paper has since been published on the APPC website.

He states: “I believe it was decided that the ‘merger’ proposal would be taken first and anything else would fall.  This is despite the fact that the membership paid for the strategy review, knew about it, participated in it and yet did not know the MC [management committee] was discussing a ‘merger’ proposal with the PRCA…

“A paper that had been promised from a MC working party on this original PRCA paper was not even tabled.  I argued that, under these circumstances, a Memorandum of Understanding should be produced.  It was agreed.  Sadly the one we have seen is nothing more than an apologist paper for the PRCA’s original proposals (although it has been slightly amended since its first draft)."

He goes on to blast the Memorandum of Understanding, which was published this week, as “complacent and wrong” and expresses concern that the APPC’s code of conduct will be not be universally applied after a merger, despite a pledge that the PRCA would stick to the same code.   

“There is an understanding, through the APPC Code Compliance Procedure, the Annual Compliance Returns and the interviewing process for aspirant new APPC members that the APPC Code of Conduct must be embedded into the contracts of employment for all APPC member employees,” he writes.

“However, whilst this is accepted, it is not written into the Code of Conduct itself, nor the Articles of Association, and my understanding is that no discussions have taken place with the PRCA on this key issue of the ‘gold standard’ of the APPC standards, championed by the Institute of Business Ethics. 

“What if PRCA members (who are not currently joint APPC/PRCA members) don’t accept this?  Can the PRCA impose this on them?  Will it be rejected the by PRCA Board and Council?  What guarantees are there?  None that I can see.”

MacDuff also rejects the idea that a merger would allow the industry to finally speak with one voice – one of the key arguments advanced by those backing the merger. He states: “To talk about ‘one voice’ is a nonsense, especially so as the MoU talks about the need to engage with ‘ASPA, CIPR, PAC, NIGR’ – all of whom UKPAC were in more constructive dialogue.  Furthermore APPC has been in very close, collaborative discussions with our sister EU counterparts.  Two voices only (PRCA, APPC) doesn’t create ‘one voice’.”

The former APPC chair ends by arguing that the merger should be opposed until APPC members have had the opportunity to consider Wallace’s strategy review paper, in tandem with revised merger proposals. 

Responding to MacDuff’s memo PRCA director general Francis Ingham said: “f Robbie had asked me any of these questions, I would have set his mind at ease months ago - when these conversations began in earnest. The guarantee that he asks for is there already, because the APPC and PRCA are already as one in embedding our codes into member employees’ contracts. This could have been cleared up by Robbie just calling me. Any public affairs practitioner can do so any time they like on 07796 690 439." 

On MacDuff’s concerns regarding the code of conduct, he added: “Every corporate member of the PRCA and the APPC makes crystal clear to all of their employees that they are contractually bound by our Codes. That is the case, has always been the case, and would be the case in a future merged body."





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