By Arun Sudhaman
LONDON: BAE Systems, the defence giant that has been dogged by controversy in recent years, is reviewing its PR account as part of a plan to better demonstrate its value to the UK public.
An RFP document was issued to select agencies last week, detailing a wide-ranging £200,000 retainer that aims to improve public support for the activities of Britain’s biggest defence company. The account is currently handled by Euro RSCG London PR, formerly known as Biss Lancaster.
BAE Systems head of external communications Kate Watcham told the Holmes Report that the company wants to promote the value of specific capabilities: engineering, technology, manufacturing, innovation and skills. The retained agency will oversee media relations, consultancy and research – and will also be called on to support BAE Systems’ international PR requirements.
Last year, BAE Systems agreed to pay £286 million in criminal fines to settle lengthy US and UK corruption probes into the company. At the time, BAE chairman Dick Oliver said that the settlement allowed the firm to “draw a very heavy line” under activities which took place before 2002.
However, Watcham said the current review was not related to these issues, instead focusing on the corporate and consumer components handled by Euro RSCG London PR. The review follows the arrival of Mark Phillips as director of communications for programmes and support last year.
“It is good governance for us to review after three years,” she said. The process does not affect the status of the company’s retained financial PR agency, FD.
More recently, it was reported that BAE had lost out on the £500 million Army contract to upgrade the Warrior armoured vehicle. Last year, the company’s bid for a £2 billion Army project to build armoured reconnaissance vehicles was also unsuccessful.
Amid declining defence budgets, the company’s Detica national security unit – coupled with its engineering, technology and intelligence operations – are likely to prove increasingly important.
In addition to Euro, four agencies have been shortlised and will pitch later this month, before an appointment is made in June.
BAE Systems employs approximately 100,000 people worldwide, including 40,000 in the UK. Its 2009 sales exceeded £22.4 billion, making it the world’s second largest defence company. It is also the UK’s largest manufacturing employer.