Let me first declare my interest. Craig Brown, the columnist who wrote
a satirical ‘cut-out-and-keep A-Z of PR speak’ in Saturday’s Daily
Telegraph, once described me as ‘loopy looking, like one of the
background soldiers in Dad’s Army, his hair a peculiar red like an
Mr Brown, I should record, looks like Dylan Thomas pulled through a
hedge backwards after a bad night. Curiously, his wife only laughed when
she asked me to confirm that this was how I had described her beloved.
Mr Brown and I bring out the best in each other.
Sadly, I thought his Telegraph piece was superficial. He evidently
misspent his youth among Hollywood press agents. And he seemed to have
heard of only four British PROs - CLIFFORD, Max; BELL, Sir Tim; LIZ
Brewer (who may be confused with BREWER, Liz); and MANDELSON, Peter, who
probably wishes to be described as an ex-PRO now that he is in the
Government-in-waiting. It is not yet clear whether Messrs Bell and
Mandelson and Ms Brewer are suing for exemplary damages for being linked
with Mr Clifford. But I thought the sub-editor managed to invest Mr
Brown’s article with some substance when he wrote: ‘Is PR a Good Thing?
Measure its effectiveness by the esteem in which the profession is
held’. Let us leave aside the well-documented fact that journalists vie
with politicians for the wooden spoon in the league table of
professional standing. Let us also ignore that disease which is endemic
among Mr Brown’s tribe - journalistic licence - and its other vices such
as invention, massage, simplification, trivialisation and
Instead, let us recognise that Mr Brown may have a point. Over my 23
years in it, I came to argue that the Government Information Service had
probably been least effective in its internal PR - in winning
understanding, authority and status from both ministers and civil
servants. Labour ministers usually wanted to bring in a friendly
journalist and Tories either a PR pal or their pet administrator. The
fact that none of them knew much about the Government PR game was
usually neither here nor there.
So far as I can see, private sector bosses tend to accumulate PR
companies rather like politicians keep joke books. They use them as and
when they serve their purpose. We shouldn’t grumble. The fees look good
in the balance sheet. But until we devise some proven, scientific
predictor and validator of our effectiveness, shouldn’t we become known
for our plain speaking. We can’t turn water into wine. But we do give
good advice and expect it to be followed.
Mr Brown wouldn’t have much fun with that kind of a profession - unless,
of course, we gave bad advice.