Why the government’s suggestion that firms should list their foreign staff has big implications for PR

PR is one of those industries which embraces diversity and breadth of skill. It is also a sector with people at its heart. I can well imagine, therefore, the sharp intake of breath across our industry and many others, at the government’s suggestion that we might need to publish a list of our foreign employees.

We have survived other attempts to chip away at our sector through the years. There has been the introduction of lobbying registration, numerous press scams and changes to press regulation. However, none of these has the potential to be as deeply personal and frightening as the thought that someone might question our employment decisions, with all the knock-on effects for the individuals concerned. Whilst the back-tracking has indicated we might only be required to publish the number of foreign nationals we employ rather than full details, it is still a chilling move.

We’re based in Edinburgh and manage international PR for some of our clients, as part of a global network of agencies. We are proud of our employees and their skills – we really do employ the best people for the job. We also embrace our international colleagues, who make up a more than a sixth of our workforce. They bring us additional language, culture and international PR skills and also make for some good rivalry in the office sweepstakes during international matches and competitions! We like our international culture and believe we are stronger for it.

Edinburgh is a city which has welcomed the world into its life. We have famous festivals which bring worldwide culture right to our doorstep. Nearly two in every ten of our residents are non-UK nationals and many of these will be studying at our world-class universities, working in our international tourism businesses and generally bringing an eclectic and exciting vibe to our environment. It is part of what makes the city such a thriving and exciting place to live and work.

If the implications are correct, the government is going to “encourage” us to actively employ UK staff over those from abroad. However, I cannot begin to imagine that for our business there are more talented and ideally profiled people out there than my international colleagues. Find me a UK-match for a native-speaking German who can write technical features for a B2B client in Frankfurt, or a North American who can understand the culture of a Midwest automotive business, or a brilliant media-savvy, copywriting Aussie.  I don’t believe these people exist and I would be saddened to think we had to turn away similarly highly skilled people just because they were born in the wrong place.

Learning the true depth of our country’s xenophobia has been frightening enough over recent months, but to extend this into our workforce is Orwellian Big Brother gone wrong. As an industry we need to embrace breadth, depth, intelligence and insight. If that means employing more international staff, then I would not hesitate to do it.

Article written by Angela Casey, managing director of PR agency Pagoda Porter Novelli