We live in interestingly messy times. We have just had the
dangerous novelty of Afghans trying to hijack their way to asylum, with
the subsequent support of brainless do-gooders, and the Tory leader
knowing during Prime Minister’s Questions when Labour’s head of the
Welsh Assembly had resigned before Labour’s very own Prime Minister, who
was accordingly ’humiliated’ in the Commons. The Lords blocked repeal of
S28, opposing the promotion of homosexuality, while the Commons reduced
the age of homosexual consent to 16.
As if that wasn’t messy enough, the Government sought to elevate the
importance of marriage in sex education while moving to give homosexual
partners the same employment rights, apart from pensions, as married
And if anybody knows who is in overall charge of Tory economic policy or
what it is, then please tell me. This does not speak highly for
political PR. Indeed, one wonders whether anybody these days thinks
anything through before they speak or act. Consistency and coherence
certainly do not seem to be priorities. But nothing came quite as
messily as the Great Millennium Dome management fiasco. And here
commercial, as distinct from Government PR, had a decisive hand in the
still simmering brew.
No one can argue that the Dome has been a commercial, organisational,
presentational or PR success. Against that background, some sackings
were perhaps inevitable, given the amount of private money invested in
the project. But the manner in which Jennie Page was replaced raises so
many questions that the PR industry, concerned with building and
protecting reputation, would by now have instituted a public inquiry if
it were remotely concerned with its own reputation.
Let us leave aside the interesting juxtaposition between the hype over
P-Y Gerbeau, the new Gallic boss with the transatlantic persona, and Bob
Ayling, chairman of the Dome’s board, reporting a pounds 60 million
third-quarter loss for British Airways. How come we got the impression
that M. Gerbeau was the saviour of Disneyland Paris, had ’worked across
the entire range of management functions relevant to a world-class
visitor attraction’ and ’headed a team of six directors managing a team
of up to 2,000’ when the truth is much more prosaic? It seems that M.
Gerbeau, on a mere pounds 35,000, just ran parking, ticketing, the
attractions and customer relations at Disneyland Paris.
Only M. Gerbeau can confound the suspicion that he has been grossly
But whatever he does at the Dome he cannot kill the unfortunate
impression that PROs are in the business of fantasy rather than fact if
it serves some obscure short-term purpose. Why, after M. Gerbeau’s
arrival at the Dome, should anybody believe another word we say?