Opinion: PR should let its hair down once in a while

Watching Mark Borkowski hammer a spoon up his nose last week, it occurred to me that this industry does sometimes take itself too seriously.

Borkowski's showmanship has never been in doubt, hence his emergence as a serious rival to Max Clifford as premier soundbite merchant on PR and star of the Edinburgh Fringe. But a private viewing in the City last week gave me the chance to see his funny and thought-provoking romp through the history of PR. Son of Barnum: A Stunt Too Far draws a timeline from the legendary PT Barnum's ability to 'bamboozle' (a term he invented) the press, via the great American publicist Jim Moran, to the father of PR, Edward Bearnaise, and ultimately Borkowski's colourful career.

The disappearing spoon trick was taught to Borkowski by performer Jim Rose - whose CV included hanging bricks from his nipples - and whose career he launched by provoking the moral outrage of 'Scotland's Mary Whitehouse', Moira Knox. Similarly he also created a cult following for anarchic circus performers Archaos by 'informing on them' and getting the health and safety executive to ban their trademark chainsaw juggling.

Okay, staging the world's biggest custard-pie fight in the Millennium Dome or fabricating tap-dancing dogs isn't PR as most of us know it. And to be fair, despite representing a very respectable roster of corporate brands, Borkowski describes himself as a publicist, 'not a PR guru'.

But in retrospect this seems rather a shame given Borkowski's obvious and exuberant love of what he does. While PR people often seem apologetic about their profession, he, and the audience, revelled in the sheer audacity of these 'publicity stunts'.

This unbridled celebration of creativity reminded me of when, in my mid-20s, I worked at the PR subsidiary of advertising agency TBWA Holmes Knight Ritchie. While we beavered away in the basement trying to convince the agency and the client we were serious contenders, upstairs, contemporaries such as Trevor Beattie were having the time of their life playing around with ideas.

Of course there are serious issues that PR needs to address; the need to balance accountability with issues management, to prove return on investment and dispel the ghost of spin, to name but a few. But the creativity in this industry easily equals, and often rivals, that of advertising. So in between the fire fighting, it would do the industry good to loosen up occasionally and admit that PR can also be fun.

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