EDITORIAL: Bolland's actions damage industry

The behaviour of former Prince Charles PR adviser Mark Bolland will strike fear into the hearts of wary PR clients everywhere. The News of the World splash last Sunday - 'Is Charles Bisexual?' - was based entirely on comments Bolland made when recounting a conversation he had had with Sir Michael Peat, in which the Prince's private secretary appeared to cast doubt on the heir to the throne's sexuality.

Leave aside for a moment the tawdriness of this sort of coverage, as well as the fact that the allegations surrounding Prince Charles are still subject to a High Court injunction. Consider the implications for other senior figures in business, politics and public life who might doubt the ability of PR to build their reputations. It is difficult enough for PROs to earn the confidence of senior management - so as to be allowed into the strategic heart of the business - without the most high-profile of their number undermining confidence in his peers in this way.

Getting this sceptical group to take professional communications advice seriously is made all the tougher by Bolland breaking ranks in such dramatic fashion. It is obvious that phone calls such as the one he described from Peat are exactly the sort of exchange one imagines would be covered by the principle of client confidentiality. His behaviour in making these details public must be condemned in the strongest possible terms.

In his defence, Bolland points out that the conversation in question was with Peat, not Charles, the implication being that since it was the Prince who was his client, he has done nothing wrong. He even claims that last weekend's coverage was 'not unhelpful' to the Palace. Really?

For the monarchy, there will be knock-on effects from this media frenzy that outlast the particular furore. But for those in PR who have ever had to convince a client to divulge as much as possible about their particular field of endeavour, the battle just got a whole lot harder.

There have been calls this week from the IPR for Bolland - deputy private secretary at St James's Palace from 1996 until 2002 - to be stripped of his PR Professional of the Year Award, which he received from the PRWeek Awards judges in October 2001. While well-intentioned, such calls are essentially meaningless.

As was explained to the IPR before it made public its request, the award to Bolland was not for a lifetime's achievement in PR. It was specifically in recognition of his work in smoothing Camilla Parker-Bowles's entry into public life, at a time when her role was highly contentious. That work remains of great quality and should be recognised as such.

Of course, were the judges to sit down now to discuss the next PR Professional of the Year, Bolland's name would not appear on the list.

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