Should PR be about instant success or lasting reality?

Oskar Lafontaine, the ex-German finance minister who now resembles John Cleese’s parrot - gone, no more, kaput - is, like Gordon Brown’s third Budget, a classic example of a PR problem which becomes more acute the faster the news business becomes and the more we are invited by the media to jump to instant conclusions as they effortlessly combine reportage with comment. They call it the ’first impressions’ syndrome.

Oskar Lafontaine, the ex-German finance minister who now resembles

John Cleese’s parrot - gone, no more, kaput - is, like Gordon Brown’s

third Budget, a classic example of a PR problem which becomes more acute

the faster the news business becomes and the more we are invited by the

media to jump to instant conclusions as they effortlessly combine

reportage with comment. They call it the ’first impressions’

syndrome.



Mr Lafontaine walked the plank because he was an embarrassment at home

and abroad. And he was an embarrassment not simply because he is an old

tax-and-spend socialist with a mean ’green’ streak and an enthusiast for

a federal European superstate, but because he was refreshingly honest

about it all. He was determined to tax German industry until the pips

squeaked, close down the nuclear industry (even though nuclear energy

provides baseload power for the German economy), and was bent on a

tax-harmonised, integrated Europe to which Britain, in particular, would

contribute billions more in cash.



No wonder the sickly new euro currency perked up when he went. But it

didn’t last because, after we had been told his going was tremendous

news, we learned he had been replaced by a certain Hans Eichel, who

shares Mr Lafontaine’s views on the quiet. We also discovered the German

government had not weakened in its resolve to shrink and, if possible,

eliminate Britain’s Euro-budget rebate. In other words, Mr Eichel will

be less embarrassing as an economic, industrial and Europhile demon, but

he will be a demon nonetheless - and conceivably a more dangerous one

because he doesn’t shout about it.



Then take Mr Brown’s Budget. It was an almost unqualified triumph on the

morrow. ’Everyone’s a winner’, proclaimed the headlines. But within 48

hours, the Daily Telegraph’s judgement - ’skilled, yes; frank, no’ - was

the received wisdom. Indeed, it was being described as a dishonest

Budget because of its omissions and misleading euphemisms. Mr Brown’s

reputation, founded on the moral rectitude of his Scottish Calvinist

upbringing, is beginning to look decidedly tricky.



And so it came to pass that within a couple of days, we had two examples

of where the euphoria of first impressions evaporated damagingly almost

overnight. This presents the PR industry with an awful dilemma. There

are not many clients who can resist the prospect of initially dazzling

presentation. Why should they? But what if it serves only, in Herr

Lafontaine’s case, to hand the Eurosceptics a persuasive argument about

the overriding German domination of the euro and, in Mr Brown’s case, to

undermine the Chancellor’s integrity? What matters more - immediate

impressions or longer term reality? Which does - or should - PR serve?



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