Chris Whitehouse: APPC bosses are digging their own graves
The vituperative exchanges around the APPC-PRCA merger debate have been truly astounding.
It’s no secret that the relationship between The Whitehouse Consultancy and the management committee of the APPC has, historically, on occasion been more than a tad strained. But, those occasions were increasingly fading into the mists of time as those who prompted them retired from the profession or otherwise backed away from active engagement with the APPC.
The shocking way in which the APPC’s more prominent members have handled the current debate about whether the APPC should merge with the PRCA has, however, caused me to conclude that a line has been crossed. Serving members of the Management Committee have acted in a way that brings the whole profession into disrepute and which simply cannot be condoned, or even ignored.
That one committee member, a former APPC chair no less, should accuse the pro-merger camp of behaving in a “poisonous” manner for promoting their perfectly legitimate view, and challenge their integrity for doing so, beggars belief.
There have been insinuations of duplicity and dishonesty, and even allegations of attempts to facilitate entryism for new member companies in order to influence the arithmetic – insinuations that involved efforts to block an application for membership submitted by the business of a former, much-respected chair of the association, with the argument being deployed that because a view in favour of the merger had been promoted by that individual he should not be permitted to access membership until after the key vote to be held on 8th October.
The vituperative exchanges in person, by telephone and email have been truly astounding, coming as they do from so-called communications professionals whose reputations are built on their self-proclaimed ability to adopt the most effective ways to identify, approach and influence stakeholders.
I’ve observed, aghast, the tone and content of the remarks being made, trying to keep a genuinely open mind on the benefits or otherwise of the merger proposal. Would it, or would it not, enhance the reputation of the profession, increase the resources available, and bring clarity to the representational and advocacy role? That would have been an important discussion, and should have been conducted in a calm, mature, and mutually respectful atmosphere between peers who, ostensibly at least, all wanted the best outcomes for the reputation of the profession as a whole.
But the attacks on individuals, the insinuations about intentions, integrity and professionalism, have, of themselves, now had a substantive effect on the practical end point for this process. It is unthinkable that some of those who have been on the receiving end of this treatment could possibly return to the fold and restore constructive, collegiate, cooperation through the structures of the APPC. Too many bridges have been burned, too many egos have been dented, too many big personalities provoked to ire.
So, given that over 24 APPC member agencies have already publicly backed the merger bid, it is inevitable that, even if the majority vote is against the merger, there will be a voting with feet, or more importantly, with membership fees, as many of those agencies simply decide not to renew their APPC membership. Well, good riddance, some on the Management Committee will perhaps shrug, but such an exodus would hole below the waterline the anti-merger response to the existential threat that the merger poses. That response has been to call for significant increase in expenditure and to appoint what would effectively be a Director to improve the level of service and activity of the APPC.
Even with the level of membership as it currently stands, the members were being softened-up to the fact that fees may need to increase to fund that organisational development. What is now abundantly clear is that income from membership fees will be doing down in proportion to the decline in numbers of members, that the proposed new appointment will not be funded, and that the proposal for this alternative approach will be revealed as a naked Emperor!
In practice, therefore, the way the anti-merger camp has behaved has secured the very outcome they wished to avoid, a major departure of APPC members to the PRCA, a reduction in status, income and effectiveness for the rump of the APPC itself, and the end of an era.
This is not the outcome I would personally have sought, but it is the one that now appears to be inevitable. The question now is whether the APPC should be forced to endure a long, slow, painful and degrading decline into irrelevance, or whether it should just be put by its members out of its misery. That is the decision the membership will take in the poll in October.
Chris Whitehouse is chairman of The Whitehouse Consultancy, which is a member both of the APPC and of the PRCA.