NEWS: At last, a sensible plan to get PR in on the ground floor

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.

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.



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