Columnists, I believe, should give their employers as well as their
readers the benefit of their candid advice. So, I feel impelled to
counsel this newspaper on four ways to improve its famous PR Week UK
Awards, to which the editor kindly invited me last week.
First, avoid deafening the audience at the outset. I never quite
recovered from the opening tattoo. Second, never employ comperes who use
four letter words. It lowers the tone of the trade, which is already low
enough. Third, if you must employ a comic for the occasion, ensure that
those with their faculties still more or less intact after the opening
drums can understand him. If this makes it necessary to provide
subtitles or simultaneous translation, then so be it. And finally - this
is substance not presentation - I believe the PR industry should
urgently join with PR Week UK in a move to fill a gap in the awards
This idea did not come to me in an idle moment after I had given up
trying to make head or tail of the comic. It has been germinating in my
brain for some time.
Indeed, I have long argued for a Which? report on newspapers which tell
us what is the best - i.e. most accurate - buy. I now feel impelled to
canvass such an extra PR Week UK award because of two items in recent press
and broadcasting coverage. The first was the trailing of Mr Blair's
speech on the environment.
He was widely forecast to tell the 'Greens' to cut the dogma and join
the human race. Then we were told that the Phillips report on the
handling of BSE would name 30 'guilty' Conservative ex-ministers and
What happened in practice was somewhat different. Mr Blair did not
lecture the 'Greens' and produced a mouse of an environment policy. Lord
Phillips delivered a carefully balanced critique that, to the distress
of the Sun, did not throw a scapegoat to the media wolves. The initial
trailing of these events was no accident. Government briefers sought to
portray Mr Blair as getting tough with environmentalists and to lay all
the blame for BSE at the door of the Tories. In doing so, they misled
the press reporters and broadcasters.
Had there been a PR Week UK award for the 'Best Buy in British Journalism',
that kind of servile reporting would only win penalty points. The
award's long overdue introduction would deal a serious blow to
spindoctoring, put a premium on reliable PROs and tighten up journalism
so that journalists really did become seekers after truth, beauty and
light instead of props for their editors' or proprietors'
In this way, PR Week UK would strike a formidable blow for honesty and
probity in public life and might eventually come to be hailed as the
saviour of Mr Blair and British journalism. It would also do the PR
industry a power of good.