Angie Moxham Joins the Debate RE the PRCA “Merger” with the APC
I’ve been in the PR industry since 1989 and have always promoted joined-up comms: telling one brand and campaign story, and doing it through the line, from internal comms, to advertising and, of course, public affairs and lobbying where appropriate and necessary.
As a PR pro, I expect to be regulated by any related bodies outside of the PRCA as a consultancy, and the CIPR as an individual. And beyond, including the ASA.
So I’m scratching my head as to not only the merits of the “merger” of the PRCA of the APPC, but also the process being followed, which it, seems, from a number of reports sitting on the side lines, has been sloppy, rushed, trigger happy, and clearly without proper consultation.
I’ve paid the PRCA hard-earned profits over many years to try to enjoy the benefits of our PR consultancy trade body. I’ve also withdrawn my membership when I’ve felt less comfortable with their service and representation of a profession I care deeply about.
I also speak as someone who has worked with and has huge respect for public affairs professionals. I’ve partnered with some brilliant people on many award-winning campaigns, from video gaming to mobile communications, financial services and the music industry. To be clear, it’s not that I don’t think PA practitioners should join the PRCA – I’ve encouraged many of them to do so down the years – but I just don’t think they should give up their identity and specialist self-regulatory body to do so.
It would be a huge mistake to integrate what is a specialist self-regulatory body into a broad-based trade association for comms and PR. I have always brought in specialist public affairs practitioners when a brief has required engagement with political audiences. And whilst we are all communications professionals who share many of the same skills, the nature of public affairs audiences require an additional skillset and a completely different, more complex set of rules, Code of Conduct and regulatory approach.
Having partnered with APPC members, I recognise the value of the APPC logo on presentations and pitch documents. To me, it has always represented a clear statement of the highest ethics and compliance with a strict self-regulatory Code of Conduct. The logo is meaningful and stands for something and would be completely lost if the APPC disappears.
What’s more, many of the politicians we have engaged over the years have insisted that the PA agency we have worked with is an APPC registered one, because of their clear commitment to the very highest standards of ethical, open and transparent lobbying. Do we really want to be spending the next couple of years explaining to politicians that the APPC has been disbanded for no good reason and educating them about a new so-called PRCA “Public Affairs Board” in its place, which no-one has heard of or understands what it does?
There is something distinct about working at the interface between policy makers, politicians and business interests that has necessitated different regulatory regimes to be developed, not just here in the UK but all over the world. There are reasons why PR and PA have developed differently. Engaging with politicians and policymakers has a serious public interest in that it drives changes in policymaking, legislation, regulation and planning permissions.
In my experience, we’re all conscious of the reputational impact and newsworthiness that any misjudgements or criticism of work might attract including serious ethical considerations. But the Code of Conduct, compliance processes, independent complaints procedures, references in employment contracts, combined with other statutory duties, (in Westminster, Scotland, the EU and other jurisdictions), to deliver this, are far greater for the PA professional. And I certainly don’t buy the Bell Pottinger argument to justify the PRCA’s decision to add additional territories, without any consultation whatsoever. Indeed, the APPC chose not to “mission creep” as one size code cannot and never will fit all countries
I have always liked the phrase ‘clear blue water’ between the lobbied and the lobbyists, with no financial relationship at all. This is critically important. I would worry that subsuming the APPC into the PRCA, with its much broader membership, would simply muddy the waters and potentially over time lead to dilution of ethical standards.
So I encourage all of my colleagues who are members of the APPC to vote against this merger proposal, and to ensure the APPC retains its independence as the ‘gold standard’, self-regulatory body, which the public affairs industry so crucially needs.