Public relations firms/Australia

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Public relations is big business in Australia, turning over more than $1 billion a year and employing between 11 and 14,000 people (ABS Census 1996). The Australian public relations sector includes hundreds of small locally-owned firms, as well as the branches of large international firms.

As with the public relations industry worldwide, there is a revolving door between PR firms and political parties [1], and between PR firms and the media. [2] There are now twice as many PR professionals as journalists working in Australia.


Early players

The first major PR consultancy in Australia, Eric White and Associates, was established in 1947. Founder Eric White had previously worked as a press secretary to Sir Robert Menzies, and his agency received a large number of contracts from the Liberal Party. In January 1974 Eric White and Associates was bought by international PR firm Hill and Knowlton though it continued to trade under the EWA name until the mid-1980's.

In 1989 it was revealed that Eric White and Associates had been acting as a cover for Australian spies in Asia. The Bangkok branch of the firm was opened solely as a cover for intelligence-gathering by ASIS, and the arrangement continued into the time of the Whitlam government. The revelation angered the Indonesian government at the time, which had been using Hill & Knowlton as an "adviser on the international dissemination of economic promotional material". (Michael Byrnes, "Our Own less-than-perfect spies", Australian Financial Review, August 31 1989) Interestingly, Hill & Knowlton had itself played a similar role for the CIA in Asia. [3]

Another early player - IPR - was founded by Laurie Kerr (who had previously worked with Eric White) and Noel Turnbull (ex-Victorian Labor Opposition staffer). IPR was acquired by the international PR giant Weber Shandwick.

Dotcom Downturn

The dotcom boom pumped a lot of money into PR, and its demise caused a few shake-ups in the industry, with Weber Shandwick and Hill & Knowlton closing down their Melbourne branches.

Industry composition

Australian PR, like most of the world, is a female-intensive profession. A 2006 PhD study by former journalist and PR practitioner Greg Smith [4] showed the profession was 74 per cent female. The study also outlined the reasons for this trend. This included the perception the profession was "fuzzy", and that young males preferred subjects such as marketing and advertising, which were easier to measure in terms of results.

Case studies

For an industry that specialises in creating positive impressions, PR has a surprisingly persistent image problem. The Public Relations Institute of Australia 'binds' all its members to a code of ethics requiring that they “shall not knowingly disseminate false or misleading information”, but this principle is frequently broken:

  • In 1999 a small public relations firm called Hooper Communications ran bogus resident campaigns on behalf of its client Westfield, a shopping centre company chaired by founder Frank Lowy.
  • In 2001 PRIA member Turnbull Porter Novelli conducted a fake grass-roots campaign against a client’s rival company, writing more than 50 letters to politicians and the media under assumed names.
  • In 2002 another PRIA member, international firm Burson-Marsteller, created a front group called the Healthy Weight Taskforce to promote a drug manufactured by one of its clients’ products. When exposed on Media Watch [5] the firm denied that it had been deceptive, although the taskforce’s press release made no mention of its connection with the drug company. On a visit to Australia in 1998 Burson Marsteller's founder-chairman Harold Burson had told the Australian, "I'm totally opposed to front organisations that do not disclose where their funding comes from and to my knowledge - we're a big company - we have never started or organised a group where the funding sponsorship was unknown." (Paul McIntyre, "First doctor of spin", The Australian, March 25 1999)
  • In 2005 Graham Cassidy of Cato Counsel was caught calling 702 talkback radio to rave about the Cross City Motorway – his firm’s client. On air Cassidy identified himself as “Syd”, and said that he worked “in the trades business”. [6]

Large firms

These firms are all listed as employing 15 or more staff in Australia on either their own websites or on the website of the Public Relations Institute of Australia:

International PR firms with a presence in Australia

Large Australian PR firms

Smaller Australian PR firms

Some of the smaller local firms include:

Sourcewatch Resources

Mark Communications Suite 102, 490 Crown Street Surry Hills, NSW, 2010 Australia Principal of the agency is Ro Markson Mark Communications is owned by The Photon Group Clients include; Westpac, Nestle, Fonterra, Godfreys, Jenny Craig,Talent2, E Entertainment, Sky News and Sky Business, Australian Womens Weekly, Mark Communications has 18 consultants. The General Manager is Kirsten Hodgon.



  • Michael Byrnes, "Our Own less-than-perfect spies", Australian Financial Review, August 31 1989.
  • Paul McIntyre, "First doctor of spin", The Australian, March 25 1999

External links