Modern manners: a balancing act

It’s not every Saturday evening that you get an apology from an alleged mass murderer.

Even on a south London bus. So here's to 'Mad' Frankie Fraser – the evident gent that he is, who met my 'excuse me mate, can I get by' with a quiet 'yeah, sorry guv'. And before any of Frankie's associates get on my case, no, I am not taking the rise.

What made this encounter all the more poignant was that I'd spent the previous ten minutes bemoaning the manners of three other passengers, stuffing their faces with Happy Meals. Not the act itself; more the lack of regard for the discomfort of those near them. No mutual respect, you see, unlike Mr Fraser.

Debates about modern manners are highly relevant for communications professionals.

It would be fibbing to say I've never been rude in the course of external affairs, but such occasions are rare and often prompted by rudeness itself. A classic case is the assumption that, as a think-tank that has influenced government, you share its approaches to
media handling.

But ill manners are not necessarily direct in nature. It can be mighty frustrating to have someone always pressing for a quick response with a claim to be 'on deadline', when the most recent issue of the magazine has just been put to bed.

As indicated, I do occasionally jump the gun myself. I recently had a pop at one of the best journalists in the sector for not covering a major bit of news, but my behavioural lapse was followed by, if not quite self-loathing, then certainly remorse. And staff on the main weeklies can rest assured that the bark is much worse than the bite – and hoarsening with age.

If it's not apparent already, I'm not of the school of thought that believes PR can be merely taught from a manual. Experience suggests that rigid codes of practice can leave journalists weeping into their laptops – or worse still, misinterpreting your words. It is far more fruitful to leave scope for an ongoing creative partnership, built on mutual respect.

Even so, like all good long-term relationships, there will always be the odd slanging match. It would be rude not to.

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