Greenwich Council splashes cash on Olympics PR

You can be forgiven for not subscribing to PR Week, but if you did, you’d find some interesting news about Greenwich Council you won’t read anywhere else. Remember how it cut funding for Blackheath fireworks because it said it needed to save money? Well…

Four weeks ago, PR Week revealed the council had hired a firm called Vero Communications to tout venues such as the Old Royal Naval College and National Maritime Museum to Olympic sponsors.

Curious, really, considering neither the old naval college nor the Maritime Museum are actually anything to do with the council.

Greenwich assistant chief executive, comms and community engagement Katrina Delaney confirmed that the council was using Vero on an ongoing basis. She said: ‘We’re very keen to get as much out of the Olympics as we can.

We have done a fair bit of work ourselves and we’re getting a little bit of support from them.’

Vero senior consultant Sujit Jasani added: ‘They’re trying to meet with a number of sponsors and relevant bodies, to network in the major international sport scene.’

The news that the council has appointed Vero could raise eyebrows, as it coincides with pressure from Conservative ministers for public bodies to reduce their spend on PR agencies. Delaney declined to reveal how much Vero was being paid.

Of course she declined to reveal how much the council was paying this PR firm. It’s only our money, after all.

But at the same time as Greenwich Council was deciding not to commit cash to Blackheath’s much-loved fireworks display - leaving neighbouring Lewisham in the lurch – it was opening its wallet to a second public relations firm, with Flagship Consulting hired to “raise awareness of the borough as a World Heritage Site ahead of London 2012″.

Yup, PR Week again.

Flagship’s three-strong team will be led by regional director Sophy Norris.

Norris said: ‘Our job is to focus on encouraging more people to visit the borough from a domestic point of view.

‘We’re focusing on hidden gems – getting people to do the stuff people from Greenwich do. We’re going to tap into social media to find that out.’

Norris added that the agency wanted to focus on the ‘village atmosphere of Greenwich’. She would not reveal fees. The aim is to generate repeat visits to Greenwich and encourage additional spend through extended stays.

“Village atmosphere of Greenwich?” Doesn’t look like anywhere east of the Plume of Feathers will get any benefit out of this, then. Curiously, the gig’s been won by a team based in Exeter, 200 miles away from London – keep an eye out for them lurking on Facebook and Twitter some time soon.

The cost? With the staffing involved in keeping these PR contracts going, I’m told they are likely to cost in the region of £80,000 each – although this is an estimate provided by someone who knows a bit about how the PR industry works, rather than from the council. If the combined cost of the contracts really is £160,000, then it could have paid for Greenwich’s share of Blackheath fireworks for four years. Or the wages for at least six street sweepers.

UPDATE: 8 NOVEMBER 2010 – It turns out the costs were less than feared, with a Freedom of Information Act request revealing the Vero contract cost £18,000 over a six-month period and the Flagship contract costing the council £2,240 over 12 months, the remainder coming from Greenwich tourist attractions. The Bexley Times reported the Vero contract as costing £12,000.

The council supports a fair bit of advertising for Greenwich already – notably the world heritage site ads seen in West End Tube stations. It’s also tried to market some of the annual events in SE10 as The Greenwich Festivals, so there’s already a lot going on. With cuts on the horizon, is it really wise to be coughing up more cash for PR agencies when local services are under very real threat?

PS: Also from PR Week – news that council communication teams are likely to face cuts of one third over the coming years.

4 comments

  1. Max

    It’s been mandated since the new govt got in for all public bodies to publish the names of companies that they have contracts for over £10k with.

    Knowing contracts as I do these will both fall into this criteria, however, I have searched and neither have been published by Greenwich on these companies.

    The first link is Greenwich’s guidance on this and the second is the website the names should be published on.

    You can also put in a Freedom of Information request on this for the costs.

    Cheers.

    http://www.greenwich.gov.uk/Greenwich/Business/ContractsAndProcurement/ContractRegister.htm

    http://www.londoncontractsregister.co.uk/public_crs/

  2. Darryl

    Thanks Max – hadn’t seen that register before. I fear commercial confidentiality may block an FOI request for the costs (it’s happened before), but enquiries are being made :-)

  3. Max

    Darryl.

    Don’t ask for individual rate cards as they will be ‘commercial-in-confidence’ but they should be able to give anticipated spend, anticipated annual spend, or spend to date.

    Max.

  4. Pingback: Greenwich Council cut fireworks, but kept mayor’s party « 853

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