CAMPAIGNS: JUDGE AND JURY - MI5 lifts the cloak to reveal a dagger-free operation

Amid this week’s latest spies-on-the-run allegations,MI5’s drive to become more accountable is a step in the right direction, dispelling the myths surrounding the service, says Bronwen Andrews, head of PR, Saatchi and Saatchi.

Amid this week’s latest spies-on-the-run allegations,MI5’s drive to

become more accountable is a step in the right direction, dispelling the

myths surrounding the service, says Bronwen Andrews, head of PR, Saatchi

and Saatchi.



The myths surrounding MI5 are such a strong feature of its profile that

dispelling them requires a strategy worthy of the most experienced

spymaster.The publication of a glossy brochure and the launch of an MI5

web site is a significant move. By attempting to sweep away the secrecy

surrounding its operations, the Security Service stands a chance of

clearing up a few misconceptions.



As a PR initiative, the idea of creating a spirit of openness is a step

in the right direction. An open and honest approach is a powerful

communications tool. The move can also be seen as a strategic one in

terms of intelligence gathering and even recruitment, as it normalises

the image of the spymasters, which in turn will help to attract people

with greater experience of life into the organisation. MI5 has taken a

bold step out of the shadows of the past 90 years. However, moving into

the limelight has its own problems.



If your organisation is held in suspicion by the public, in many ways

refuting all allegations at once reminds people of just how many there

have been. By answering a list of the most damaging allegations in one

fell swoop (including assassination attempts, overthrowing governments

and surveillance of pressure groups), MI5 risks making that complete

dossier of allegations topical again.



Analysis of the Daily Mail’s coverage is telling: it reported MI5’s

statements accurately, but in the form of a catalogue, listing the

organisation’s most high profile myths-from illegal telephone tapping to

the unauthorised surveillance of the Royal family. Coverage across the

other national press was also largely accurate yet the headlines focused

on the still high number of files held on people and organisations.

Setting the facts straight thus prompted renewed concern.



A less ambiguous communication strategy is the Home Office’s use of Jack

Straw to present the campaign. Having been the target of MI5

investigation in the past, he provides a credible case history as the

man to whom the service is now answerable. Also powerful is the

information given in the brochure and the web site on the service’s

resourcing and staffing - helping to build a realistic picture of the

organisation and debunking the James Bond image once and for all.



Openness is a continuous and long-term process, not a one off event.



It remains to be seen whether MI5 can sustain the campaign in the

context of a resurgence in conspiracy theories as we approach the

anniversary of Princess Diana’s death - and this week’s ’Spies on the

Run’ stories.



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