Absolutely off the record
I feel rather naughty writing to you. A taboo is being broken. Everyone knows that there is an “us” and “them” and you are definitely not one of “us.” By which I mean you are not in public relations, the “us” to which I belong. There is no precedent for debating with a journalist about the nature of the media/PR relationship. To analyse the nature of this curious, involved, fraught relationship is to ask for trouble. And trouble is certainly something which PR as an industry has in abundance. “At some point during the last ten years,” said the Guardian last November, “PRs formed a clandestine, Mason-like alliance with accountants and took over the world. A few expense account lunches and it was done, though it’s not until you get inside the media that you realise just how much of what you read and see on television has bubbled up like rancid spring water from press offices.” Around the same time, Michael Bywater admitted in the Independent on Sunday: “Hell’s teeth, this is difficult… I was once in public relations. Not exactly in public relations, you understand. I didn’t sit by the telephone waiting for journalists to ring me up so that I could tell them lies.”
I feel I have much to be proud of, yet much to defend. I have been in PR for over ten years, during which time I have not only never lied, but I have endured the kind of bashing handed out to ethnic minorities not yet gathered under the protective umbrella of political correctness. PR is seen as anything from an irrelevance to an irritant, or in extremis, a polluter of truth. Who makes these allegations? Journalists in the media. Everyone in PR knows the value of cultivating friendly contacts. But the PR industry itself has few friends in the media.
When the Dunblane horror struck, it was news. A single atrocious act made the headlines for days. The media was praised by the watchdogs for its restraint and sensitive handling of the issue. This is unusual in itself. What is more unusual is that such a “pure” news item dominates the media. In my experience, something over 80 per cent of the media is, one way or another, PR-led. The sheer glut of magazines, magazine programmes, and spare pages/airtime demanding to be filled means that…