Exclusive: Communications Council set to open up to PR agencies

communications council logoPRIA logoThe Communications Council has opened talks with several of Australia’s biggest public relations agencies with a view to the organisation widening its remit to include PR, Mumbrella can reveal.

If the move takes place, it would raise questions about the position of the Public Relations Institute of Australia, which is currently the main PR industry body.

Mumbrella has learned that around a dozen PR agency bosses met with Communications Council CEO Margaret Zabel on Friday. She presented them with a vision for what the organisation could do for PR agencies including representation and training.

The talks began as a result of criticisms of the PRIA expressed in a Mumbrella video interview with the management of PR agency Mango late last year.

Simone Drewry

Drewry: Impressed

The comments of MD Simone Drewry and managing partner Claire Salvetti about the remit of the PRIA and their criticisms of its Golden Target awards triggered a debate on Mumbrella and led to other agency bosses talking to Drewry about the issues she raised.

Criticisms aimed at the PRIA had been that it was not relevant for consumer agencies. However, at the time, the PRIA rejected the criticisms, with national president Nicolas Turner telling Mumbrella in a statement that the PRIA was still evolving.

If the move takes place, it would mark one of the significant moments for the Communications Council since it was launched in November 2009 from a merger of the Advertising Federation of Australia, the AWARD awards and the Account Planning Group. The Australasian Promotional Marketing Association, APMA, joined up a few months later.

margaret Zabel

Zabel: Vision

Along with Drewry, the guest list for Friday’s meeting included bosses of several of Australia’s best known PR agencies. Those invited included Naomi Parry of Black Communications, Jess Nunns of Undertow Media, Gabriel McDowell of res Publica, Michelle Shepherd of Hot House Media, Stuart Gregor of Liquid Ideas, Julia Everingham of Map & Page, Kat Thomas of One Green Bean, Michelle Hutton of Edelman, Victoria Tulloch of Stellar Concepts, Social Diary boss Tiffany Farringdon and Lex Deasley of Pulse Communications.

Stuart Gregor

Gregor: Big move

Gregor – who worked with Drewry on drawing up the initial list of agency bosses told Mumbrella: ‘We’ve had an initial discussion and it was really worthwhile. I’m confident that something could happen over time.”

The next Communications Council AGM takes place on May 24. Asked whether discussions would be far enough advanced to put something to that meeting, Gregor said: “In an ideal world we will get there. We’ll meet again within the next couple of weeks.”

Asked whether there would still be a rationale for consumer agencies to stay involved in PRIA if the Communications Council does launch a PR arm, Gregor told Mumbrella: “No. It’s a big move. We think the industry is diverse and diversifying and we have to look at the Communications Council’s potential role in that.”

Tulloch told Mumbrella she had been impressed by Zabel’s presentation. Describing PR’s role within the Communications Council as “the missing link”, Tulloch said: “I like the idea of accreditation and what they can offer in the training and development of people in PR.

“One of the biggest issues we face as an industry is that some of the other agencies in the mix don’t really understand PR and this would help address that.”

However, she added: “A cost goes with it, and the next step is to look at that.”

McDowell told Mumbrella “I saw it very much an exploratory meeting. A lot more work still needs to be done on the proposition.

“There does seem to be a gap. The PRIA is not stepping up  to the mark for whatever reason and that’s led to this discussion.”

He acknowledged: “The other thing is that there may well have been this gap has been neglected by the major agencies not investing enough of their time in the PRIA. None of us have really been engaged.

“Before we had this meeting, I’d never met most of these guys before.”

After hearing Zabel’s proposals, Drewry told Mumbrella: “I think it’s a goer. It was really good. Their vision is to ‘champion commercial creativity’ and bring people of all of the creative industries together and that really resonates with me.

“It makes a lot of sense, given the other agencies in their portfolio. They need us as much as we need them. We both need PR to be at the table.”

If PR does come under the Communications Council umbrella, the only significant part of the industry not covered is media agencies, currently represented by the Media Federation which has so far chosen to go its own way.

Update: A spokesman for the Communications Council said:

“We held a meeting with a number of PR agencies to discuss the potential benefits The Communications Council may be able to offer them.

“If those agencies see value in what we can do for them in terms of providing education, advice, events, awards and other member services, we will welcome them.

“However, nothing has been decided and we have nothing more to report at this stage.”

4.45pm update: PRIA president Nicolas Turner issued the following statement:

“The PRIA was aware of the meeting and of the discussions, and while we have some overlapping interests, we operate in different areas.

“Members of the PRIA are constantly working with a wide range of industries and interests – consumer marketing is just one of many. The PRIA has many incredible creative consumer practitioners working in that space, just as it has consultancies and individuals working in the corporate affairs, media relations, social media and crisis and issues management spaces.

“Further, the PRIA has a dedicated program for consultancies, and brings them together with professionals across the spectrum of our practice.

“It is worth noting that many of our consultancy members are also active in the AICD, the AMI and other vertical interest groups (fashion, food, mining and health sector associations). We’ve always collaborated with our sector partners to share knowledge and leverage resources, and will continue to do so. We always welcome conversations with other like-minded industry associations and groups.”



  1. Dave
    7 May 12
    1:56 pm

  2. Only consumer PR? What about other types of PR such as community engagement, stakeholder relations, crisis communications and issues management. The PRIA does nothing for these areas either!

  3. Glenda Hewitt
    7 May 12
    2:03 pm

  4. The communications council should take a close look at the IABC (International Association of Professional Communicators). There are four active branches in Australia (Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney and Canberra) and two in New Zealand. The global nature of the group means big ideas are shared, plus local chapters work actively at professional development and networking.

  5. The Duke of Norfolk
    7 May 12
    2:19 pm

  6. Wouldn’t that be IAPC?

  7. Archie
    7 May 12
    2:53 pm

  8. The ad industry has a lot to teach the PR industry. Some excellent case studies would include the WitcheryMan hoax, the Westpac banana smoothie and perhaps also the Qantas twitter stuff up

    perhaps as a goodwill gesture the Comms Council might like to appoint a PR someone to the Board first, and to broaden it’s remit to the ‘real’ part of PR where the status and money lies – financial and corporate and issues management.

  9. Sarah
    7 May 12
    3:08 pm

  10. Of course the PRIA is yet to respond! It only highlights its absolute lack of engagement in the industry and its lack of backbone.

  11. Barkeep
    7 May 12
    3:40 pm

  12. > The ad industry has a lot to teach the PR industry. Some excellent case studies
    > would include the WitcheryMan hoax, the Westpac banana smoothie and perhaps
    > also the Qantas twitter stuff up

    Which of these was PR-conceived or driven?

  13. Archie
    7 May 12
    4:19 pm

  14. that’s the whole point Barkeep – these epic failures all emanated from advertising and marketing folk with no PR sensibility, so it’s unclear what the ad industry has to teach the PR industry about itself

    although i have to say many ad campaigns seem to spend more time PRing themselves to their own industry than making a consumer impact. NAB break-up campaign, anyone?

  15. Lloyd Grosse
    7 May 12
    4:51 pm

  16. The PRIA is one of the few professional organisations who have fought its right to sanction its members for breaching the Institute’s Code of Ethics to the High Court (and won). Advertisers who breach their code of ethics get what – their advert pulled!

    I agree with Archie about the epic PR failures of the Ad Industry.

    The PRIA is wise to be reluctant to join with advertisers – they have been trying to get us to merge with them for years!

    There is a difference between “earned” space and “paid for” space and the tactics used. Less and less people believe advertisers who shows us how you can clean baked on crap from your cooking surface with one wipe of a product. So there is less funding for it. PR has muscled in on this market because it provides ethical counsel.

    FYI – the “Consumer” category of the Golden Target Awards is THE most hotly contested category – and the big companies face it with the spunky small ones. The Award is about the quality of the campaign. Maybe the fact that big companies are not entering is more a comment on their confidence than the Award.

  17. Eyeroll Extraordinaire
    8 May 12
    11:39 am

  18. “Archie: The ad industry has a lot to teach the PR industry. Some excellent case studies would include the WitcheryMan hoax, the Westpac banana smoothie and perhaps also the Qantas twitter stuff up”.

    Please, the ad industry has a lot to teach PR? If I need help on how to “goodify” something or put a name on a Coke can I’ll let you know.

  19. Felicity
    9 May 12
    8:14 am

  20. Agree with Dave, what about the other PR types? What about the PRs working for SMEs – the biggest employers in Australia?

  21. Maureen
    9 May 12
    3:00 pm

  22. I think Glenda was referring to the IABC – International Association of Business Communicators. They run (in my opionion) the best international conference on communication/PR/digital marketing each year, as well as the international Gold Quill Awards. I’ve been to two conferences (San Francisco and Torronto) and brought back amazing insights and inspiration. The local chapters in Australia are growing too.

  23. B
    10 May 12
    2:34 pm

  24. I’ve looked at the communications council website, and am frankly unable to see any reason why as an indvidual I’d want to join. It all seems to be focuses on agencies — which is hardly relevant to the many PRIA members who work in-house.


  25. Graham
    16 May 12
    8:36 pm

  26. IMHO this should not be restricted to just consumer PR agencies.