When Lord Brown was boss of BP he used to write in his annual report that it was not enough for his company to be a fin-ancial success; it must also be seen to be a force for good. I am told that some people who run PR companies think our industry has a responsibility to make its clients adopt the same posture; in other words that PR has some kind of social engineering responsibility. I think our responsibility to our clients is to give them the best service available at a price that reflects both the quality of service and the marketplace. I also think that we should run our companies so that they are a financial success and a force for good. But that is for us to decide, not to impose on our clients.
All of this begs two questions. What is financial success? And what is good? There has always been a divide between those who believe the creation of wealth is the right approach and others who believe redistribution of wealth is the way to run our society. Because neither argument can prevail, except occasionally,most people settle for a bit of both, which has mixed results – and shows mediocre ambition, which results in a mediocracy.
I believe we should strive for the best in all that we do, both commercially and privately. We should not be satisfied unless we have achieved at least above average. For me, make do won’t do. We charge for our time, our ideas and our imaginations. We are paid to add value. Is it all about money? Yes, because our clients spend money with us to get a return. If the prevailing mood is let’s go green, we may recommend a green positioning. If the prevailing mood is everyone must do good, we may propose doing good. But it is about what works. It is the height of arrogance to believe we know how to make a better world. We should be neutral and give a fair wind to anybody who wants to present an argument, but we should be paid for doing it.
Years ago I helped start Charity Projects, which became Comic Relief. I did it with my own money and my own time. Working for the common good. Work done by a not-for-profit organisation is not better per se and is rarely as good as that done by a profit-motivated business.
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with making a profit and it’s about time we all woke up and realised that the profit motive is how every great idea has been brought about. GDP growth is not just good news for the Chancellor but for the whole of the country and it’s about time people, the media and commentators realised that and said so.
If our industry loses sight of what it is there for, then it will fail as an industry and that will cause job losses and reduce wealth creation. The same thing applies to our clients who are in the business of making and selling things. It isn’t easy. Modern technology destroys jobs, but does not destroy wealth. I have never understood how people in our business can support the ideals of politicians who believe in state dependency and have always myself believed it’s up to us to manage our lives and enjoy the true pleasure of self-reliance and individual responsibility.
Lord Bell is chairman of Bell Pottinger Private