Editorial: Floating PR forum opens new doors

Last week the PR industry’s newest event highlighted one of its oldest problems - awareness of the profession’s worth outside its own ranks.

Last week the PR industry’s newest event highlighted one of its

oldest problems - awareness of the profession’s worth outside its own


The keynote speaker at the inaugural Communication Directors’ Forum was

that arch-enemy of PR and all things corporate, John Pilger. It was a

vintage performance and it got delegates talking and remained a

favourite topic of conversation until the end of the conference. But

Pilger failed to inspire or start a genuine debate on the role of PR. He

made little effort to understand his audience and PR was dismissed as

part of a general conspiracy to muffle the free press.

This was a backward looking speech, in contrast to the newest trends and

issues covered elsewhere in the conference. What the event cried out for

was a heavyweight speaker proposing a new definition of PR. This

definition could have acted as a paradigm against which to test other

definitions put forward during the rest of the forum.

To their credit the organisers tried to broaden the range of speakers

beyond the usual sweep of PR conference stalwarts to include experts who

could shed light on issues such as branding and change management.

The premise of the conference was that companies are recognising the

importance of PR in communicating change, in marketing the brand to

internal audiences and thus strengthening it, and in safeguarding and

promoting a company’s reputation as a corporate citizen.

But there were perhaps too few speakers from PR backgrounds themselves

to reinforce that message convincingly. Out of some 27 listed in the

catalogue, under half worked in PR or lobbying. As a networking

opportunity and a talking shop the event was self-evidently a success,

with an impressive list of delegates from blue-chip companies


But the unusual venue - on board the Norwegian Dream in the Channel -

highlighted a potential ivory tower problem. The conference would have

been the ideal forum to hear from those involved in the most daunting PR

tasks of the last year - healthcare agency Ruder Finn on the worldwide

launch of Viagra, British Airways on managing the high profile cabin

crew strike last year, Sainsbury’s on its communication strategy now

that it has lost pole position amongst the supermarkets.

To be fair, a conference alone cannot tackle years of misunderstanding

and distrust about the value of PR. But without such high profile case

studies, the industry loses the chance to prove through hard evidence,

to the likes of John Pilger, that his attitudes to PR are as outdated as

that other ship, the Ark.

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