On Tuesday morning this week I was invited to be interviewed on both BBC Radio 4’s Today programme and Radio 5 Live. In both cases the interviewers were noticeably suspicious of the PR industry, referring to the ‘hidden nature’
of PR and the art of ‘spin’.
And yet, according to research conducted last year by Cardiff University, 20 per cent of stories in the ‘quality media’ were purely or mainly the result of PR, while in 50 to 60 per cent of stories PR played a major role.
Whether senior journalists realise it or not – like it or not – PR is an integral part of the nation’s news agenda.
To prove the point, while I was being interviewed, two stories were already beginning to dominate the day’s agenda: David Cameron’s article in The Guardian, in which he pledged the most dramatic redistribution of political power in living memory; and Virgin Atlantic’s announcement that it had almost doubled its profits, despite the recession.
Both of these stories were carefully planned and managed by adept PR operations.
In Cameron’s case, the timing came at the beginning of a week during which he was determined to lead the agenda once again on the political ethics story. The choice of The Guardian was also astute, as he proactively surged into New Labour’s traditional territory.
And, like Cameron, Sir Richard Branson is a natural PR operator. His team had timed Virgin Atlantic’s glowing results to appear just days after its main rival, British Airways, revealed catastrophic figures. The messages were full of optimism as a further blow in a long-running strategy to seize premium customers from BA.
As I argued on the BBC, not only is good PR advice essential when operating in the media glare, but those who use it strategically gain operational advantage. The alternative, as many bankers have recently discovered, can be reputational disaster.