It now seems clear that the craft of spin doctoring has come of age. The
BBC’s Panorama is to examine the game and the Boy Scouts, as they were
called when I wore my woggle in the 16th Calder Valley, have introduced
a proficiency badge in public relations.
I can tell you now, without having seen the television programme, that
the badge will prove to be the more significant development. Indeed, I
wish to congratulate all those connected with the PR profession who have
pulled off this stunning PR coup in persuading the Scout movement to
recognise our importance. The nation can only benefit.
I personally have serious doubts about the Scouts’ choice of ‘that
quintessential PR accessory’, as the Daily Telegraph described the
mobile telephone, to depict our profession. Everyone, even rat catchers,
now has one. But it could have been worse, such as a Hooray Henry, a
nubile young lady or a glass of Bollinger. Let us not quibble. It is the
substance of the qualifications rather than the insignia which will
bring lasting value to Britain.
The curriculum is designed to provide a steady flow of honorary press
officers, who have been equipped with the basics of the job, for the
building blocks of society such as cricket clubs, Round Tables and Young
Farmers’ Clubs, not to mention local branches of political parties. It
ill behoves the media to snigger at the PR badge when they - press,
radio and TV - can only benefit from having young lads who know their
local media and how to write a press notice, which means knowing how to
recognise a story, and how to ‘place’ it in a publication.
It is a positive bonus that Scouts are to be taught how to publicise and
organise events. And my cup ran over when I discovered that they are
also to learn how to make a presentation. If only we could make it
compulsory for future business leaders to have qualified for the Scouts’
PR badge, life for us journalists and PR chappies would be far less
boring and frustrating. How many tycoons have we known who assume that
they are God’s gift to communication and treat their media audiences
with the sniffy condescension normally reserved for their roses’
horsemuck? Some presentation!
The Scouts are clearly determined to turn out youngsters who have some
proficiency in the civic arts. In the process, I hope they teach one
lesson which current political spin doctors have manifestly not learned.
In a democratic society, it is counter-productive to attack the media
for their opinions and news judgement. It puts their backs up. Facts are
sacred - and should be corrected - but comment is free.
Sir Bernard Ingham writes for the Daily Express