Has recession equalled regression for North East PR?

I've always been a serious believer in collaboration and all it can achieve. As chair for the Chartered Institute of Public Relations North East (CIPR NE) I championed collaboration and since then have never deviated from the belief that by working together we can do bigger and better things here in the region and attract the type of contracts to benefit us all.

But I now fear recession has led to regression.

When I was cutting my teeth as an account executive, it was boom time for the full service agencies - and it was also the hey day of the 'hands off' approach, when you didn't let a client near another competitor, you certainly never referred work on and lavish corporate hospitality ruled.

As time went on, gradually agencies started to work more together and if they couldn't take a contract on, recommended others who would reciprocate. We helped each other out. Agency boundaries blurred, there was more thought about what type of business we wanted and how together we could get it. Through a team effort we built a solid, burgeoning PR and marketing industry doing great work that stole big brands away from the bright lights of London and the more established regions.

But now I wonder whether a dwindling supply of contracts has seen us take a backwards step. This past month, I've seen examples of PRs counter-briefing, dubious social media ethics and I was asked directly why on earth I wouldn't consider targeting a competitor's client list. Maybe I'm naive but if that's how you have to secure business, I feel sad. Word-of-mouth and referrals are what do it for me.

Thankfully, there are a few shining examples stopping me getting completely old and cynical. Take Stephen Waddington, co-author of Brand Anarchy and newly appointed digital & social media director for Ketchum. Stephen and his business partner founded, grew and sold the highly successful agency, Speed Communications. His dedication to the company never stopped him sharing expertise or ideas and CIPR members in this region have certainly benefited from the Twitter chats instigated by him, to provide just one illustration.

Ross Wigham at Northumberland County Council is also worthy of a mention. His blog http://adaywithoutoj.com is full of interesting comm's issues and Ross is not scared of sharing what works (and doesn't) for him and his organisation. If only others were so generous with their expertise.

As someone who has always given time as an industry volunteer and to help others, this is an issue that bothers and perplexes me in equal measure. Do people agree that - as long as it has a steady hand on the tiller - every company has a responsibility to look much wider and take the bigger view? Or I am wrong and the way forward is 'eyes down, look in'.

As ever, keen to hear what you think. Perhaps there's no right or easy answer but let's open the debate.