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For whom the Bell tolls


It's not always easy telling people who don't work in PR that you work in PR. Sometimes the man or woman on the street assumes that if you were in Hogwarts you'd be in Slytherin, cooking up a cauldron of spells to get the latest chocolate teapot (10% cocoa solids) on the front page of the Financial Times.

Certainly, the reason why I am passionate about working as a public relations practitioner is being the intermediary between an organisation and the media. Being the buffer serves to feedback media opinion to clients and challenges to the organisation and the way it does things, allowing it to change and adapt based on consumer behaviour or market issues, or make relevant contributions to media looking for expert insight and thought leadership.

Transparency is key. It's not rocket science that consumer voice and social media add weight and definition to a brand's public perception, and in an age of mass media, getting cut through with key messaging requires creativity and imagination. And guess what, journalists don't always get it right. As I mentioned in my last blog post, there could be signs of some prominent media voices no longer placing informing the public at the heart of its narrative and instead serving the egos and tastes of its critics. This is where the PR's knowledge of a vast and changing media landscape is vital to provide meaningful results that encourage and support both media and client interests with delivering the right message.

As part of this continually evolving process, it's also exciting to observe changes in the media, whether it's the challenge faced by national media to retain revenue, or discovering new outlets. Just today I had an exciting chat with a Theatre Editor at a new arts magazine who informed me of its desire to break down barriers between cultural disciplines which will no doubt expand the narrative around creativity and give emerging artists a voice. PR can help facilitate this and give a voice to the unheard.

With all this in mind, it might seem very obvious but PR strategies must be ethical and uphold moral values. Its outcomes affect and influence the public. And, just when PR seemed to be upholding its reputation, it seems it has taken a hit that will see one of its biggest players in tatters. Bell Pottinger's inflammatory campaign inciting racial divisions in South Africa was dangerously toxic. And according to this recent Guardian account from a former employee, lack of diversity and inclusion of its staff along with a prevailing singular political stand-point limited the contributions of its more ethical employees.

I couldn't quite believe my eyes when watching Lord Bell on Newsnight, who made a complete pig's ear of his interview. I couldn't decide whether I was watching sheer genius tactics, creating so much car crash chaos that the interviewer and audience forget the details of what is being discussed, or, watching someone who's left their media training notes, unread, on the top deck of the 315, currently stuck down the back of a seat in Streatham bus depot.

At a time when Trump fails to condemn fascists on the streets and with White House comms directors coming and going at a rate of 'one in one out' at your local sticky floored nightclub, the Public Relations Communications Agency's decision to expel Bell Pottinger (note: membership is not compulsory and not every PR agency is a member) was swift and welcomed. However, there will undoubtedly be savvy PR industry headhunters and new business scouts sizing up its staff and abandoned clients.

Where do we go from here? There will be some way to go before the PR industry can lick its wounds from this ugly and despicable episode. However, a PR disaster for the PR industry will serve to hold those practitioners who operate immorally to account. Whether they want to be in the news pages or not, it will get harder and harder for such agencies to not 'be the story' themselves.

#PR #bellpottinger #lordbell #media

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