My former No 10 colleague, John Wybrew, last week informed us in answer
to this journal’s Big Question: ‘The management of a company’s external
relations and related communications have become central to the
management of the enterprise’. This is news to me.
They were certainly not central to the management of Shell, where John
was before he went to British Gas. Otherwise it would have had fewer
problems with dumping the redundant Brent Spar oil production platform
at the bottom of the ocean. And British Gas has for years been a
disaster area for external relations and communications. No doubt both
companies have recognised the error of their ways. Let’s hope Mr Wybrew
is now right, although I will believe it when I see it.
I have my doubts about whether we even deserve to become central to
management when I hear eminent PR persons suggesting that our craft
should be the conscience of an organisation. That sounds counter-
productively condescending, not to say pious. It also seems to belie the
reputation for common sense which we should prize.
Yet I do see grounds for hope. Take, for example, the pounds 20 million
donation by Wafiq Said, the Saudi Arabian businessman, to found an
international business school in Oxford. I have got to know the discreet
Mr Said over recent weeks, helping him to prepare for his very first
press conference to announce his gift.
In the course of our discussions, it became crystal clear that Mr Said
subscribes to the criticism that most MBA courses provide too narrow an
education. He fervently believes that graduates should be equipped for
the real world where they will have to cope, for example, with the
impact of regulation, the economic and social implications of
technological change, environmental issues and the political process.
You can imagine how much I perked up when I heard his advocacy of a
broader approach. After all, I have consistently argued that the PR
industry will find all organisations hard going - except when they land
in a crisis - until business schools pay far more attention to the
socio-political environment in which companies operate.You may find it
richly ironic that the Anglophile Mr Said holds these views when he did
not even bother to graduate from Cambridge; had never before last week
faced journalists across a press conference; and has almost entirely
neglected to correct media fantasies woven around his rather
constructive role in life.
But let us not look a gift horse in the mouth. His concept of the Oxford
business school represents a real opportunity for PR to get in on the
ground floor of a broader education for international businessmen - and
to make Mr Wybrew’s claim really come true.