OPINION: Emphasising the PR in prejudice

I was asked the other day what I thought of a well-known investment bank. It was a casual enquiry, tossed in at the end of a conversation about something else entirely, with someone I know well in a big financial PR consultancy.

So, without malice aforethought, I gave a quick thumbnail of what I thought of the firm, of its relationships with this particular representative of the media, and how it stacked up against its peers.

Next day, I got a call from another big wheel in a similar consultancy who asked me up front – without any preamble – what I thought of that same investment bank. The day after that I got a third call, and then another, and by the end of the week there had been five. Indeed, it seemed that the only prominent PR consultancy that had failed to express any interest in what I thought about the bank, and its PR, was the firm that had it as a client.

Clearly the bank had let it be known that the account was up for grabs. I suspected as much on the first phone call and was certain by the second.

My difficulty was a moral one: should I give the same answers to each of the five inquiring PR firms so they all took from me the same perception of the strengths and weaknesses of the firm to weave into their pitches – and thereby conceivably bored the backside off the potential client by all saying the same thing? Or should I mix it up, embellish and exaggerate, indulge my prejudices and let the facts go hang – on the basis that this is much more true to the way journalists behave?

The merit of doing this was that each consultancy would get from me a different view of what problems the bank faced. This would make the pitches much more varied and interesting and give the bank some real choice, which might even be thought to be doing the potential client a favour.

Perhaps it would be more honest to say that there was a certain appeal in labelling the bank with every sin known to the financial community – the more so because they are already paranoid about press coverage – and bring a teeth-grating arrogance to most of their dealings.

So I did indeed embellish a bit – well quite a lot – and now await with fascination to see who gets the account, so I can judge which of the calumnies really hit home.

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