Burson-Marsteller to assess public's perception of the insurance industry.

The image of the insurance industry and its lobbying groups is set to come under the scrutiny of one of the world's largest public relations firms.

Head of media and political affairs at the ABI, Alan Leaman, said that the ABI has appointed Burson-Marsteller to examine the public's perception of the industry. "This is a general review of perceptions of the general insurance industry," Leaman said. "Since there's so much going on in this industry we though it was a good time."

But one high-level source claimed the ABI has retained Burson-Marsteller to assess its own reputation. "The ABI is concerned that it is viewed by some as a provisional wing of the Treasury," the source said. Leaman denied that Burson-Marsteller would be looking at the ABI's image.

Since former lifetime civil servant Mary Francis took over as director general of the ABI, the organisation has taken on many civil servants. The idea is that ABI civil servants would be best placed to understand how policy-enforcing civil servants work and, therefore, help improve lobbying. But senior industry figures have criticised the ABI for getting too close to government.

Burson-Marsteller specialises in the aviation, transportation, tourism, energy, healthcare and technology sectors, not financial services. However, Burson-Marsteller's leadership in the UK should be well known to Leaman, a former press adviser to ex-Liberal Democrats leader Lord Ashdown. Both chief executive Allan Biggar and new business manager Andrew Wigley are former Liberal Democrat staffers while chairman of Burson-Marsteller Europe, Lord Watson, sits in the House of Lords as a Liberal Democrat peer.

The image of the insurance industry has become a matter of concern to those who are worried about recruiting talented staff. "Consumers see insurance as a grudge purchase and when they do have to claim they are rarely delighted by the experience," said one insurance executive. "Potential recruits see an industry disliked by the public and full of dark-suited, boring men."