It’s time PROs answered to the consequences of their actions

Is there anything you have done professionally as a PRO which makes you blush with shame? If not, you have either led a sheltered life or been lucky. Since confession is good for the soul, I must admit it. I am haunted by the 1970s.

Is there anything you have done professionally as a PRO which makes

you blush with shame? If not, you have either led a sheltered life or

been lucky. Since confession is good for the soul, I must admit it. I am

haunted by the 1970s.



For the latter half of that blasted decade I was responsible for the

promotion of energy conservation. Indeed, I became known as ’Mr Save It’

- the Department of Energy official who tried very which way to persuade

the public to save energy. It all began during the miners’ strike of

early 1974 with the ’SoS’ - Switch off Something - campaign under a

different Government as the Ayrabs, as Lord Carrington described them,

increased the price of oil and gas twenty-fold.



I shudder when I think of Patrick Jenkin, one of the most decent

ministers I ever worked for, first advising everybody to ’brush your

teeth in the dark’ and then being found by the media to have his house

ablaze with light. But what brings a blush to my cheeks are the

arguments used in support of saving energy. We said that we must use

energy with the utmost care and efficiency because fossil fuels - coal,

oil and gas - were running out. Indeed, we forecast that the North Sea

would be dry by now. And look at it - still oozing black gold from every

orifice.



We didn’t invent this argument. We advanced it on the considered advice

of an impressive array of experts. But, looking back, it did nothing for

the credibility of experts - or Government, ministers and PROs.



I am reminded of this embarrassing episode in my career by the news this

week that, thanks to a new emphasis on the teaching of the 3Rs,

educational standards among 11-year-olds have taken a great leap

forward. This prompted one education correspondent to condemn the

teaching establishment years ago for being wrong on five counts - for

abandoning traditional methods of teaching, stopping teachers standing

up in front of the class to teach, claiming that phonics - showing how

sounds are written - were inefficient, condemning learning by rote and

replacing academic rigour with play and ’discovery learning’.



How many PROs in education, forced to defend this bankrupt fashion in

teaching, are blushing today? These two examples of a hopelessly wrong

consensus lead me to one conclusion: just as we could do with a

journalistic Which? that tells us which medium gives us the most

accurate news and forecasts, so public relations would benefit from a

continuing independent analysis of the validity of our arguments and

what really happened compared with our dire prognostications. The threat

of ridicule could exercise a powerful restraint over loose minds and

tongues. And don’t say it can’t be done. The advertising industry has

the Advertising Standards Authority.



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