FTI public affairs boss Alex Deane warns against PRCA-APPC merger
The Tory lobbyist and regular Sky News guest is concerned that PR firms will 'ditch their troublesome PA siblings'.
FTI Consulting public affairs chief Alex Deane has warned against the proposed APPC-PRCA merger by suggesting that PRCA members cannot be relied on to stand up for the public affairs industry in times of crisis.
The well-known Conservative lobbyist set out his stall in a 752-word memo to colleagues that has been shared with the ‘campaign for an independent APPC’. In doing so, he becomes the most high-profile public affairs chief yet to wade in on the issue.
In his memo, Deane notes that the public affairs profession is under “relatively frequent criticism” and goes on to express concern that many of the PR firms who make up the PRCA might opt to “ditch their troublesome PA siblings with whom they have little in common” when the going gets tough.
He also speculates that public affairs professionals could further lose out when current director general Francis Ingham is no longer in the PRCA hotseat
Deane is a former adviser to David Cameron during his time as shadow education secretary. In recent years he has become one of the UK lobbying world's most recognisable faces thanks to his frequent appearances on Sky News. Last week, Deane was named as one of 20 lobbyists backing the campaign against the PRCA-APPC merger.
This week the debate continued to rage as supporters of the merger unveiled a cluster of big-name agency supporters as having signed up to a pro-merger letter. The letter stated: “This is a once in a decade opportunity for our industry. By uniting our two organisations, we will do public affairs a great service -on a par with the moment when the industry embraced self-regulation and high ethical standards, and established the APPC twenty-five years ago. The time has come to make a similar leap forward.”
Industry insiders have suggested that APPC’s members are broadly split on the merger with around a quarter dof agencies yet to make their intentions clear either way.
Deane’s memo - the key passages
'The public affairs profession is under relatively frequent criticism. The actions of practitioners are often scrutinised, sometimes by people with an imperfect or limited knowledge of the environment of the work of those practitioners. We are public relations professionals, but not only public relations professionals. Our activity is, we would like to think, tailored, specialised, bespoke and strategic but moreover it is also criticised in a wholly different way to that of the broader PR world.
'Given this periodic hostility to the public affairs industry, it is foreseeable that a time of crisis might come when the interests of large Public Relations organisations diverges from the interests of the public affairs community. Some or many of the PR firms might wish their association to ditch the troublesome PA siblings with whom they have little in common and from whom a good deal of distance is to be desired in difficult circumstances. There would be no risk of the APPC doing so, should it still exist. There is a risk of the PRCA doing so, on the other hand; a risk that is magnified if it is the only representative body for our profession. Indeed, in such a scenario, it might fairly be thought that there would be no more dangerous or damaging criticism of the profession than that which could come from our own industry body.
'The temptation to put too much reliance upon individuals to prevent such things happening should be avoided. One might have every confidence that the current Director General of the PRCA would support the public affairs profession; such a fact cannot mean that the perspective or attitude of a future Director General can be known, let alone relied upon.
'Similarly, it might be said with some force that in the recent Bell Pottinger / Gupta affair the APPC was quiescent whilst the PRCA delivered an appropriate industry body response. This does not negate the broader principle that a specialised body is better placed to represent the Public Affairs industry, nor is past performance a guarantee of the nature of activity in the future – equally it might be argued that the industry benefits from the increased likelihood of the “right” response to a situation emerging from the existence of a plurality of voices, made available by dint of having two bodies rather than one. In such circumstances, it is plainly safer for public affairs practitioners to have a representative association dedicated solely to our interests.
'There may well be some marginal saving in membership fees resulting from a merger, and a streamlining of registers and related declaration processes. This genuine but somewhat de minimis benefit is, in our view, outweighed by the loss of a specialist association specifically representing our industry.'