Class wars and PR smears

Gordon Brown’s “playing fields of Eton” swipe at David Cameron has generated almost febrile excitement at the prospect of a class warfare strategy for the election. But generally overlooked in the same exchange was his other attempted smear: that Cameron speaks with “the voice of a modern public relations man” .
The depressing fact is that the PM knows his pantheon of prejudice. He knows that PR people – worse, “modern” PR people, are right up there alongside estate agents, used car salesmen, old Etonians and, these days of course, bankers. Though a politician sneering at a public relations man does rather bring pots and kettles rattling to mind.
But Brown knows his beans. He knows that , for a large part of his audience, public relations is a dark art, dishonest, deceptive, manipulative, and too clever by half.
Of course they are wrong. But nobody is saying so.
It’s time that PR people – real PR people, that is, not propagandists, “spinners” , press agents and publicists – stood up for our profession, and explained what we do.
Real PR is a force for good. It benefits society, business and the public in general. Real PR is dedicated to enhancing relationships between organisations and their publics. Real PR understands that good relationships require good communications. This means listening as well as talking, because if you don’t listen , you’re certainly not going to be able to communicate. It also means communicating with honesty and integrity, because trust has to lie at the heart of any good relationship, and if you mislead and consistently lie to the other party in your relationship – whether you’re a business or an individual – you’ll destroy any trust and poison your relationship. Good PR recognises that, and acts accordingly.
Good PR also recognises that what business does, how it behaves, is central to its public relations. If an organisation behaves dishonestly, irresponsibly, insensitively or with gross greed in its relationships with any of its key publics, it will undermine the very relationships it should be nourishing. So PR at the highest level has to involve not just corporate communications but corporate behaviour too. Responsible, decent, generous and honourable behaviour. And the “voice of the modern public relations man” should be a welcome voice, because he understands what it takes to build and sustain a relationship.
But if truthful, honest communications and honourable, responsible behaviour are what modern public relations is about, then perhaps it becomes easier to understand why politicians like Gordon Brown seem to be so out of sympathy with the profession.
Terence Fane-Saunders

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