Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Ken Clarke PR comments show industry reputation still suffers

Ken Clarke, the big old Tory Beast, used his leaving party platform on Radio 4's Today Programme this morning to fire a warning to incoming Government Ministers to beware the 'lightweight sloganeering of PR men'.

Whether this means PR women are OK, I'm not so sure, but what it does show is that almost 20 years on from the birth of the 'sultans of spin', the PR industry is still regarded by many, including those in Government, as a hindrance to democracy and lacking in gravitas.

There's no doubt that 'spin' became a badly received four letter word during the end of the Blair years, as things can only get better gave way to dodgy dossiers and briefing wars.

Since then, the PR industry has been through a golden period where every organisation wanted their own Campbell-like operation, to some leaner times during the recession. During this period the sector fragmented and went through some very grown-up changes, now having two industry bodies with increasing national influence, to offering some of the very best training and opportunities for young people.

But all that is really a side issue to the point here, which is that 'PR' is still received by many as warmly as a cold cup of tea: it is a toxic phrase.

Part of that is because the communications industry is so vast that mainstream media and Joe Public wouldn't know where to begin to describe it, so the tabloid default sticks in the same way it does for 'public sector worker', 'freelancer' or any number of often lazily described professions.

But we still have to recognise that too many people within the industry are actually lightweight. Too many dinosaurs remain with their 2012  like jargon and inability to offer people anything other than a regurgitated marketing handbook.

The effect of this is that it often leaves 'PR' people somewhat lacking in confidence around the board table. Sure, they know how to get a message across (at least they should do) but ask them to pinpoint exactly how their work adds to the bottom line and they fold.

There's been too many 'the death of PR/the death of SEO/the death of lists about the death of' articles that I don't need to take that route, but it is clear that one of two things need to happen.

The Ken Clarke generation needs to retire and make way for impressive younger operators, especially women, who will win the public's respect through their professional and transparent modern two-way communications (I read that in a PR manual...).

Or, the P and the R need to quietly slip out for a drink one Friday afternoon and not come back. Its family move on and come Monday morning they are shacked up with digital communications in an integrated three bed semi in Richmond.

I'm not sure which one it will be, but I can assure voters that the squeezed middle won't suffer because of it, as we're all in this together.

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