PROFILE: MIKE DEWAR, MDA - Dewar's freemason work wins headlines - His intriguing account win has got MDA boss Mike Dewar a deluge of press

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

understanding.



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

spotlight.



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.



HIGHLIGHTS

1987: Colonel, Royal Green Jackets

1990: Deputy director, International Institute for Strategic Studies

1995: Director, Paternoster

1997: Managing director, MDA.



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