News of a PR account win rarely generates headlines outside the
trade press, but since PRWeek exclusively reported that the United Grand
Lodge of England was hiring MDA to help change its image there has been
extensive coverage. The Guardian, Independent and London's Evening
Standard carried features, there was a feature and discussion on
Newsnight, interviews on 5 Live and Radio 4's Today and requests from
documentary makers, including approaches from the Everyman strand and
London Weekend. Then again, it is not every day that the freemasons
launch a charm offensive.
MDA managing director Mike Dewar has been pleasantly surprised by the
response. He has been a familiar face on TV as a pundit on military
matters for a decade, popping up whenever news programmes needed a
sensible figure to talk knowledgably. He spent nearly 30 years in the
army, rising to Colonel in the Royal Green Jackets before retiring at
the age of 47 to try something different A spell running a thinktank was
followed by a directorship at a PR consultancy. In 1997, convinced that
communications 'was not rocket science' he set up his own agency,
handling PR, design and a bit of marketing. It also publishes half a
dozen magazines now, including The Officer and the Foreign Office's
in-house journal, Carousel.
Dewar has had his share of challenging PR briefs: a major client is the
Memorial Awareness Board, for funeral directors and memorial masons. And
the agency has done a project for an order of nuns in Yorkshire. 'They
were very well- heeled nuns. We don't do it for love,' he says.
And now this. The Lodge is a strictly men-only affair, comprising the
majority of the country's 300,000 brothers. It donates millions of
pounds to charity and was set up to promote tolerance and
But Dewar is well aware that this is not what immediately springs to
most people's minds. So, what about those handshakes and strange
ceremonies? Dewar sighs. 'You really can't knock them. They mean
enormously well. You could accuse them maybe of taking themselves a bit
seriously at times.'
While it may be disingenuous of Dewar to profess ignorance of many
Masonic rituals, the approach fits with his strategy, which is simple:
push the conspiracy theories to the periphery and concentrate on
freemasonry's place in the community, along with its moral and spiritual
basis. In June 2002 we will see the inaugural Freemasonry in the
Community Week, aimed at promoting openness and generating local and
regional coverage. Before that, next March, MDA is launching a quarterly
glossy magazine for the brethren. In addition to redesigning his
client's website, Dewar will be conducting media training for the United
Grand Lodge. 'I wouldn't let all of them loose, of course,' he says, but
insists some senior members are already comfortable under the
Although the movement has had PR help before, MDA is the first agency to
be directly employed. Despite his navy pinstripe double-breasted suit,
an Oxford education and most of a lifetime spent serving Queen and
country, there is something of the maverick about Dewar.
Although he describes himself as 'conservative with a small c', a friend
says his wife calls him a champagne socialist - probably a rare breed in
Her Majesty's Armed Forces. 'He is forcible and puts his point across,'
the friend continues. 'But he's not your typical, slightly narrow-minded
military type. He listens to the other view. He's not stuffy.'
Turning back the clock to the 1920s, when society was more welcoming
towards the brethren, is impossible. But Dewar is disarmingly sensible
about the whole thing, a calculated attempt by him to communicate the
notion that freemasonry is community work that just happens to have some
odd but harmless rituals attached. He is not a freemason and has never
even been approached to join, he says. But surely his line that
freemasons are 'good, honest contributors to society' who adhere to core
values based on general religious belief will take some selling?
Dewar agrees that's a question to which he has no answer. He is nobody's
fool: interesting though the account undoubtedly is, it will be an
uphill struggle. True, any raising of freemasonry's profile and
demystification (Dewar prefers 'humanisation') of the brotherhood should
be relatively easy to achieve given decades of silence. But different
lodges nationwide have autonomy and may not take particularly kindly to
edicts from 'head office'.
And - whisper it - there must be masons who rather like the idea that
they belong to a secretive clan with sinister connotations.
Remoulding 'the craft' may not have the same appeal. If masons had
wanted to join a slightly shadowy version of the Rotary Club, they would
presumably have been organising cheese and wine evenings years ago.
1987: Colonel, Royal Green Jackets
1990: Deputy director, International Institute for Strategic Studies
1995: Director, Paternoster
1997: Managing director, MDA.