The extraordinary thing about being in public relations at the moment is
that we seem to be at the centre of everything. Hardly a day goes by
without someone declaring: ‘I can’t get my message across’, or ‘it’s a
problem of presentation’, or ‘it’s been a public relations
Apart from Tony Blair’s deal with BT, the Labour Party Conference seems
to have focused entirely on Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell and
their various antics with the media and arguments about whether they are
really running the Labour Party.
Shell apparently lost the Brent Spar saga because of Greenpeace’s
superior media relations skills. Privatisation has become a dirty word
because no one is communicating its success, only a lot of blather about
stock options, top pay and customer cruelty.
Technology and the extraordinary competitiveness between newspapers
means a ‘good story’ has more impact than millions of pounds spent on
advertising. Nearly all the media run the same stories each day. The
headlines get bigger, the language more colourful and the intrusion
Even Derek Lewis has hired a public relations adviser in his battle with
Michael Howard. In the last 12 months the reputations of the monarchy,
the government, members of Parliament, the bosses of privatised
industries and the European Unionhave all been battered into submission
at the collective whim of editors and journalists. The only dinner party
conversation worth having in the last two weeks has been ‘who is going
to get Max Hastings’ job?’ - as though the editorship of the Daily
Telegraph was as important as the appointment of a new Prime Minister.
Public relations people now advise Presidents, Prime Ministers, Leaders
of the Opposition, captains of industry, the Queen and her Princes, the
Pope - just about every leading person or institution in society. Film
stars, sportsmen and women, protest and pressure groups, religious and
secular groups, interests small and large, private and public, schools,
lawyers, judges, priests, vicars, bishops and comedians - all of them
reach out for the ‘loathed’ public relations gurus.
Why on earth has all this happened? Why the media does what it does I
can only speculate, but I suspect mischief-making, money and power may
be on the agenda. Why public relations advisers have become so
influential I can answer. We have become the ‘thin red line’ that stands
between going about your public or private life in harmony and
reasonable privacy, or being humiliated, battered, scandalised,
misrepresented and finally disgraced. People say we get the press we
deserve. If I may twist the meaning of that cliche, I think it’s only
true if we hire the public relations adviser we need.
Sir Bernard Ingham is on holiday