The reputation of PR took another pasting this week courtesy of
Stephen Byers' 'spin doctor' (and former lobbyist) Jo Moore. As widely
reported, Moore sent an e-mail to her colleagues on the afternoon of 11
September, suggesting it was 'a good day to get anything out we want to
bury'. As the twin towers fell, her department put out a release about
unpopular reforms of councillors' expenses.
The resulting revulsion was understandable. Timing such announcements to
minimise coverage is the bread and butter of political PR- and no doubt
some corporate affairs directors have been relieved when profit warnings
have been placed downpage in recent weeks. But there are times so
momentous that they require exceptional handling - this was undoubtedly
one of them.
This insensitive opportunism has appalled even Moore's peers. And
although the decision regarding the winding up of Railtrack had been
waiting in the sidings for more than a month, the fact that probably the
biggest corporate story of 2001 was pushed into the 'other news' slot by
the initial attacks on Afghanistan, only serves to underline the
impression of callous government news management.
Moore's dogged, if rather gauche, devotion to duty goes beyond that of
most working in public relations. But there is a lesson for all PROs -
extraordinary times require extraordinary responses.
It is not enough to roll out tired old techniques. There is an
opportunity here - but it is to prove that this is a mature industry,
sophisticated enough to recognise the line between the commercially
desirable and the acceptable, and appreciative of the hair-trigger
nature of current public opinion.