A measure of conflict between the two is implicit in our business of managing their interface. No PRO can serve two masters and it is clients to whom we are contractually bound and professionally committed. Yet, to enter into dispute with part of the media on behalf of any one client, when we must continue to deal profitably with them on behalf of others, is a delicate balancing act.
Its perils were made clear last week by experienced PR man Phil Hall’s comments after his client, Heather Mills, had stormed onto GMTV to berate newspapers. The action was against Hall’s advice and he parted company with Mills with dignity. He was quoted in Media Guardian as saying he opposed her action because ‘I have a good relationship with newspapers and my business depends on feeding that relationship’. He added: ‘I have mates in national newspapers and it didn’t seem right to attack them.’
Plainly, Mills’s strategy had destroyed any equilibrium between client and media relationships. It was courageous of Hall to nail his colours so firmly to the media mast. Many practitioners would have shied away from so openly disowning a client, however erratic, in favour of media friends.
However professionally congenial media relationships may be, most PROs would feel they have a duty to reserve all rights on behalf of a client. They would argue that there will always be occasions when it is their professional duty to strike an adversarial position with elements in the media on behalf of the client whose reputation is being damaged by false or erroneous reporting. This may inv-olve no more than a few frank conversations between PRO and editor.
It may involve the skilled media manager partnering with lawyers to prevent wrongful or invasive publication – or the media manager and/or lawyers seeking printed apologies from publications for defamatory copy.
Whichever course is followed, any victory over the media could be pyrrhic. The aggressively competing agendas of newspapers and those they write about make this inevitable and, in such circumstances, relationships with media ‘mates’ will inevitably be strained. Yet, still, the PRO fighting the good fight for one client must maintain business as usual with the media adversary on behalf of others.
It is an act that demands diplomacy and mutual professional respect. The continuing needs of the client must be paramount. Ironically, prime among those needs is the ability of the PRO to maintain good relations with the media – with whom we must tangle as well as tango.
Ian Monk is founder of Ian Monk Associates and a former executive at the Daily Mail and The Sun