OPINION: A PR counter-hysteria unit is required

What is the overriding problem PROs have to cope with these days? Scepticism or even cynicism about PR? Irrational clients who expect you to perform miracles for them without their keeping you informed? Inadequate fees? Lack of talent? An incontinent government? Or what? All these may cause difficulties, cheese-paring or flying by the seat of your pants. But is any of them an overriding problem? I doubt it. Instead, PR's overriding problem can be summed up in one word: hysteria. Media hysteria, government hysteria, public hysteria. There's a lot of it about.

Of course, I recognise that it is a double-edged sword. Popular hysteria can work for PROs, depending on which side they are on. If you are representing environmentalists, the current food hysteria can be powerfully harnessed in support of your cause. Celebrity hysteria, which the new ownership of the Express group of newspapers will do nothing to calm, can also help you to make an earth-shaking event out of the opening of a new B&Q if you hire the Beckhams or the Douglas-Zeta-Joneses (complete with babies). Hysteria has its uses.

But just as civil service press officers may have to work for a government of a different complexion tomorrow - though not in the year 2000 - PROs may find themselves looking at the wrong end of hysteria's gun barrel.

So they would be wiser to behave with a certain restraint. Those who don't are costing us the earth. Just think of the hysteria that has converted BSE beef into a multi-billion pound disaster - after centuries of scrapie in mutton and no conclusive evidence of any link between BSE and CJD which has so far affected fewer than 100 in a nation of 60 million people. After all, at least ten people die in road accidents each day.

This brings me effortlessly to the hysteria which 'Two Jags' Prescott, with his animus against anything privatised, has stoked up among unthinking editors over one rail crash from a broken rail. The result is the utter disruption of rail travel and a consequent increase in the death toll on the roads. It is one thing to have a hysterical media but it is entirely another matter to have a hysterical minister and a hysterical media reinforcing each other's hysteria. Britain's railways could do with a good, professional PR hosing down.

Food hysteria is sabotaging necessary experiments with GM crops. Why hysterical juries even refuse to convict self-confessed environmental vandals wrecking them. And no doubt the failure of The Hague global warming summit (which was never going to succeed) will bring an even more hysterical demand for us to harness the so-called renewable resources - winds, waves, tides, sun and hydro - even though they are not an alternative to fossil fuels, are grossly uneconomic and usually vandalise the countryside. I conclude that what Britain - nay, the world - needs this day is a rapid reaction PR counter-hysteria unit.





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