From working as an editor in the UK, to taking charge of a Hong Kong magazine, industry journalist Tony Murray has formed innumerable opinions. Interested to hear a few we invited him to share his thoughts via a regular guest blog. Use the comments form below if you have any feedback or written bile to spit as a result, and please remember; if you don’t like it, he doesn’t work for us…
If A Tale of Two Cities* had been penned by a contemporary PR person it would have almost certainly begun thus: “It was the best of times. Again.” This proves not only the lack of any true grammatical grasp by many in the trade, but also the endlessly white-washed faux optimism that has come to characterise the majority of PR practitioners.
If the Mayor of Hiroshima had have had PR training, he would have released the following post-Little Boy 1945 statement: “We see the increased nocturnal luminescence of our surviving population as a positive boon with regard to tackling the city’s on-going street-lighting issues.” Then died, obviously (or “entered a post-corporeal state of currently indeterminate consciousness” at the very least).
Seldom has this proclivity been better demonstrated than in the behaviour of supposedly PR-literate businesses during the current “financial tsunami” (as the English language press in the PRC are obliged by a CCP standing party edict to refer to any existing global economic fuckedupness).
How many companies have been quoted as referring to the current situation as “not a problem, but an opportunity”? An opportunity true, but only in the sense of one that sees them becoming more intimately acquainted with the local baliffery.
Similarly, how many businesses – notably in the marketing communications sector – have barefacedly insisted that changing client demands have led them to rebrand and reinvent themselves as leaner more digitally-focussed entities. That’s a word for this and it isn’t “PR”. It’s “bollocks”. Ask any of the out-of-pocket printers, suppliers and sundry freelancers than have attended the many creditors meetings subsequent to these “re-branding exercises”.
The bizarre thing is a strange kind of compact has been entered into. The people making these statements know they’re bullshit, they even know that the majority of people who read or hear them know they’re bullshit. The audience, while knowing they’re bullshit, still expects – even requires – these self-serving, delusional statements to be made. In short, it’s a sin not to spin.
It’s something of a contradiction that, while the public at large has never been so media-literate, nay media-cynical, the obsession with PR-ising the world has never been greater. Even when it seems pointless.
Take as a still barely current example, the recent Olympics, that has been filling an Eastenders-sized space on our TV screens for the last two weeks. Did any media pundit refer to the homeside as anything but “Team GB” for the entirety of the event? It was obviously a PR mandate of considerable weightiness that consigned the “British team” to the dustbin of sporting history, but to what end? An exercise in impressive, but ultimately entirely pointless, utter vapidness.
The only boon I could possibly see is that it might goad our transatlantic cousins into referring to themselves as “Team America” – which would have been funny. Fuck, yeah.
A timely mention of the Americans segues nicely into the fact that there, now, is a nation that has become the apogee of this obsession with varnished reality, right down to the individual level. Speaking to one of our colonial cousins – an activity I have to admit I actively avoid whenever possible – inevitably seems to involve some kind of delayed reaction.
This delay is caused by their in-head PR department processing their response to ensure that is a) entirely politically correct and b) as self-serving as humanly possible. In short, they seem entirely incapable of exhibiting any genuine feelings whatsoever. While I’m sure there are probably some nice Americans – in the same way that I’m sure there’s probably some decent people out there who don’t think Jeremy Clarkson is a twat – I have yet to secure any proof, undeniable or otherwise.
I suspect, though, this pre-occupation with all things polished and pre-packaged may have now reached its zenith (or, depending on your perspective, its nadir). I sense a change in the air and a latent craving for a dose of reality beginning to stir. Frankly, this is inevitable, in terms of rose-tinted spectaculars, I think we may have had enough.
In all honesty, there is nowhere else to go.
When, as a humble editorial assistant on Laboratory Practice in the summer of 1987, I was taught how to process press-releases for publication, the directives were simple – take out all the capital letters and the superlatives. If you followed those guidelines today, all you’d be left with is the date.
With all the clutter in the PR’d up world creating more of a muddle than a Touretted traffic-controller on crystal meth, simply telling the unapologetic truth may offer a surprising degree of cut-through.
I’m put in mind of an interview I did a long time ago in a country far, far away. The interview was with the head of what was then one of the UK’s most successful PR networks.
One of the biggest clients of this company was a well-known multi-national (WKMN). At the time, the WKMN was getting a lot of flak as the by-products of one its plants had devastated a local waterway. The Great PR Man’s advice? “Why don’t you stop polluting the river, then?”
Naturally, they lost the account and he never worked again.
* For those of you who attended a Polyversity, it’s a book** by Charles Dickens
** For those of you born after 1987 and working in the digital industries, a book is a single-use kindle requiring external illumination for optimum access