The spin industry is flagging if our industry insider Frank Flack is right. This will have the industry buzzing very quickly and we’re keen to hear any feedback and amplifications because the doctor of spin need a lot more exposure in Australia.

To listen to the industry things and hunky dory yet persistent rumours surface of retrenchments, losses and problems.

Indeed, it’s probably lucky there are no listed flack companies in Australia as the ASX and ASIC would have their hands even fuller dealing with super optimistic reporting and strange ways of putting spin on results.

Now Crikey works on the assumption that you should never trust a flack so the following could be completely wrong as all of it’s drawn from the stories doing the round of the industry in Sydney and Melbourne. Nevertheless, here is the latest goss:

Hill & Knowlton were first out of the blocks with retrenchments in Sydney and Melbourne and a few senior people being seconded to posts in Asia to keep them out the head count numbers. Since then the Melbourne H&K office has being better thanks to some multi-million projects from John Brumby putting him in the same client category as the Kuwaiti Government, the Church of Scientology, failed bank BCCI and others.

Burson Marsteller has laid off six people in their Melbourne office – probably halving the consulting numbers. The last big lay-offs in BM were due to former CEO, Chris Savage, who got rid of the highly-successful Graham Canning who went on to found one of Australia’s most successful investor relations media agencies. Savage is now fronting the Ogilvy PR team.

Turnbull Porter Novelli has lost a CEO, David Buckingham, and has just settled the DMG dodgy letters case.

Edelmans, after a much trumpeted merger with the Rowland Company Sydney office (full page ads in the Fin) is apparently making less money out of the combined operation than the old Edelmans was.

Gavin Anderson survives on very big fees for a succession of big clients but staff have been besieging other consultancies with CVs. Former GA heavyweight, Nick Stravs, is back in Australia but apparently prefers to open his own shot rather than work with new GA CEO, Ian Smith. (Editor’s disclosure: Smith is a former flatmate of Crikey’s but I haven’t changed a word of what Frank Flack submitted.)

On the positive side two Sydney companies – Quay Connection and Jackson Wells Morris – are both making a fortune, mainly out of contracts with the Howard Government. In the latter case, of course, these contracts are solely due to their competence and experience and have absolutely nothing to with the presence among the principals of two former Howard press secretaries. Although the dreaded Howard Government communications contract team – Petro Georgiou and Tony Nutt – normally shovel most of the billion dollars they have spent to ad agencies they do earmark some for a few PR companies.

As Petro allegedly spoke in the party room against the Prime Miniature’s Tampa policy, Crikey almost regrets having bagged him so much for his not so brilliant record in charge of communications. Well, not really, but any voice against Howard on Tampa has to be given some slack.

For many years the industry did well even in bad times. The combination of recessions and ALP governments always created a boom for instance. But in recent years the nexus seems to have broken and the flacks suffer along with everybody else.

Earlier in the year in the US, industry watcher and gadfly Paul Holmes, was publishing lists of retrenchments by the big companies as the dot com boom went to bust. The European market seems to have held up although the Asian region has never recovered from the last Asian downturn when dozens of expats had to make their way back to higher tax regimes.

It couldn’t happen to nicer people.

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Peter Fray

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