The Liberal Opposition has been busy in
recent weeks scanning the new Victorian Government public relations
agency panel list for signs of bias. But the big story was actually
what it says about the state of the Victorian industry.

Some 31
companies made the list – divided into large, medium and specialist –
and the balance and range of firms is about what you would expect from
a fair, well-run process run by a competent professional like Andrew
Hockley. (The author declares an interest having been a colleague of
Andrew’s, working on the Telstra account with him. The author is also
an NED of a firm on the advertising and marketing panel list).

There
are some excellent firms in the PR list with Clifton Consulting, The
Reputation Group, Scaffidi-Hugh-Jones, Fenton Communications and Rob
Masters’s outfit probably being among the best of them.

But
what’s really interesting is the definition of “large” consultancies.
All of the consultancies listed would employ in Victoria somewhere
between a handful and dozen consultants each. This is a far cry from
the 100-plus IPR once had and the 40 to 50+ the major multinationals
all once had. The mediums seem to be mainly two to three people
operations with some of the specialists being one-person shops. Rob
Masters, as the Melbourne affiliate of Jackson Wells Morris, would
probably be among the very few to fit what would have once be regarded
as medium-sized, along with Gavin Anderson, if their national numbers
were taken into account.

Missing from the list are big
international names such as Burson Marsteller, Hill & Knowlton and
Shandwick although most of them have either closed or dramatically
down-sized their Melbourne offices. Most surprising is the absence of
Melbourne’s biggest and most successful agency, Royce.

So what’s
happening to consultancies? They’re getting smaller and more
specialised as companies – and governments – employ more in-house
people either on salaries or on contracts.

Consultancies also
find it hard to compete with the salaries (plus benefits) corporates
are offering. Indeed, in the foreseeable future a major corporate
affairs head may well be the first PR person in Australia to have a
million dollar plus salary.