NEWS: TIM BELL: It should be no surprise that PR advisers are so influential

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 failure/triumph’.

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

failure/triumph’.



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

deeper.



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



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