PR industry comes under the cosh and more bad news burying

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By Andy Barr | Head Yeti

April 18, 2013 | 5 min read

The public relations sector has come under scrutiny this week courtesy of the unpaid interns situation. We have always paid our interns and, being honest, I don’t understand how agencies justify not paying them.

Tesco sneaks out some bad news

The news that 10 per cent of the companies snitched up to HMRC have come from the PR sector is disappointing but not that surprising. Our industry is awash with stories about agencies that use unpaid interns on contracts that can be as long as six months.

I do wonder if this is the reason that so many people entering the PR sector seem to come from a similar privileged background - i.e. one where their family has the financial clout to support them doing such a long-term unpaid job.

It will be interesting to see how HMRC take this forward and who will get named and shamed (this is what HMRC is famous for) as part of its investigations.

Speaking of naming and shaming, let’s take a quick look at who tried to sneak out bad news on the day of Thatcher’s funeral.

The first was the DWP and its disappointing unemployment figures. These guys have history as they did the same thing on the day of the last Budget announcement.

Second, and I am still trying to understand if this was a pre-planned announcement date, is Tesco.

The supermarket giant announced its first fall in profits for the last 20 years, alongside a whole raft of bad news including its costly exit from America, its banking arm’s exposure to PPI and that its frozen meat range had taken a hit as a result of the horse-meat scandal.

The good news for Tesco is that the effects of Horse-Gate have now passed and that the write-downs now put them in a good place to grow and fend off the challenges to their market share from the likes of ASDA.

You see, their PR is working. I believe them when they say that they are now well positioned to do better; they are still a phenomenal retail beast.

I remember a conversation I had with an agency that used to represent them nearly 10 years ago and they said they were brilliant to work with but very demanding clients. Apparently the brief back then was simple: “We want national coverage every day – do what you need to in order to achieve this."

Given how much the PR and media sector has moved on I am sure that the brief has now changed, not least because they appear in nationals every day just because of the sheer size of their organisation.

Moving away from doom and gloom, let’s end on a positive. The digger wizards, JCB.

I am not going to try and hide this. I love JCB. I spent a number of years living next to their factory as a kid and watching the “dancing diggers” (Google it) practising their routines and my mum even worked, for a short time, as a PA to one of the Bamfords.

They are a class act in everything they do. They treat their current and former staff brilliantly and so I was delighted to see that they posted record profits despite the challenging economic times.

JCB is a great case study for those starting out in PR about the fact that if you have a solid base on which your business is structured, the positive media coverage comes naturally, something that Tesco should maybe consider as part of its plans for business improvement over the next year.

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