EDITORIAL: Timing is key in current climate

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.

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