OPINION: PR needs a forthright New Year's resolution

And a happy new year to you all! My fervent wish for 2001 is that we have less bad taste. The holiday brought more than enough to last us for the rest of the year, what with Tony Blair's 'Holy Family' Christmas card, Peter Mandelson's seasonal greeting in Brideshead Revisited pose with his dogs, Madonna having her son christened before she got married from a Scottish castle and the Archbishop of Canterbury - God help us - likening asylum seekers to Mary and Joseph on their donkey.

And a happy new year to you all! My fervent wish for 2001 is that we have less bad taste. The holiday brought more than enough to last us for the rest of the year, what with Tony Blair's 'Holy Family' Christmas card, Peter Mandelson's seasonal greeting in Brideshead Revisited pose with his dogs, Madonna having her son christened before she got married from a Scottish castle and the Archbishop of Canterbury - God help us - likening asylum seekers to Mary and Joseph on their donkey.

The Blairs' Christmas card was, quite frankly, revolting. It is bad enough politicians sending pictures of themselves and their kin with their Christmas best wishes, but to pose with baby Leo without their other children - and especially when they have made such an unholy fuss about photos of their infant - is the end. How on earth can the Blairs now claim privacy for their kids when they deliberately use the youngest for publicity purposes?

I sometimes wonder whether they have crackpots for PR advisers in Number 10. Or has arrogance truly taken over? No doubt the Press Complaints Commission knows what to do with Number 10's next complaint about media intrusion into their children's lives.

I will leave Mr Mandelson, Madonna and the Archbishop to their just desserts - which is mockery. Instead, I want to commend political incorrectness to the PR industry for the year ahead. Chris Woodhead, the retiring Chief Inspector of Schools, is a shining example of what it can do for you.

Listeners to the BBC Radio 4 Today programme have come as close as dammit to simultaneously voting him Villain and Hero of the Year. He is the undisputed villain with 29.4 per cent of the votes. But he also came second as hero behind five-times Olympic gold medallist Steve Redgrave with nearly a fifth of the votes (18.5 per cent).

Given that those who hate your guts are much more active and vocal against you than those who agree with you will ever be in your support, you could be forgiven for regarding Mr Woodhead as our first statistically-based national hero and villain of the year in the same year. How he came by this distinction is a matter for conjecture but I like to think that all those scruffy teachers who parade their profession in its worst light before TV cameras at Easter union conferences proclaimed 'Woodhead for Villain' and pulled out a tremendous surge of support for him.

Whatever the truth, Mr Woodhead, who is so politically incorrect as to think that our education results are no advert for the teaching profession, is testimony to the value of speaking your mind. You get noticed. You stir things up. If you keep at it long enough you become an agent for change. Mr Woodhead, hero or villain, should encourage us all to be less mealy-mouthed and more forthright. Let the PR industry put blandness as well as the year 2000 behind it.



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