What’s this? Another attack on PR as a vile example of everything that’s wrong in the modern world? Surely not…
Yes, this time it’s The Daily Telegraph having a go, highlighting the fact that ‘the Whitehall press machine’ now employs more than 3,200 PR staff, up from just over 300 in 1997 (when New Labour came to power).
Hmmm, that is quite a lot, isn’t it? And of course, it’s our taxes paying for all of this, you know!! But really, so what? Inefficiency within government is hardly a new story, and I’m sure this is just a drop in the ocean compared to the myriad committees, quangos and advisory boards that populate the back rooms of power.
No, what rankles is the way that, once again, PR has been singled out for a drubbing at the hands of the media. The title of the Telegraph article screams ‘Spending on spin trebles under Blair’, but then goes on to clarify that this actually refers to the Central Office of Information's budget for PR, advertising and marketing - and as anybody in the industry will tell you, out of that particular holy trinity, PR is always very much the poor relation. As the article even admits, ‘Much of the money has been spent on advertising flagship policies, including tax credits and extra help for pensioners’ - sorry, call me a fuddy duddy liberal, but what exactly is the problem with that?
It’s this constant use of the pejorative term ‘spin’ that really winds me up (no pun intended). The impression given that every one of the 3,259 PRs that the Telegraph lambasts is some kind of evil genius hellbent on doing everything in their power to manipulate the media is frankly ludicrous (though excuse me while I remove these black leather gloves and get this Persian cat off my knee).
But according to a follow-on column from Julia Langdon in today’s Telegraph, ‘it is not the scale of the sums involved that make me mad, so much as the waste of the money in question’ (actually, shouldn’t that be ‘makes’, Julia?). Ah, now we’re getting to the root of this constant griping against PRs - that basically, we don’t actually fulfil a useful function and in fact just prevent journalists from doing their job properly.
Well, knock me down with a feather… I could go on at great length about this, but instead I’ll just restrict myself to this statement: the news media would grind to a halt tomorrow if all of us inconvenient PRs suddenly ceased to exist, particularly considering the way that journalism is increasingly conducted these days. You might not like the symbiotic relationship that’s grown up between the two sides, but that’s the way it’s developed - and it hasn’t just been a one-way process.
Yes, the control freakery displayed by the current government has sometimes been pretty breathtaking - but political organisations through the ages have sought to control the messages they send out and the way they are perceived by the media. Again, that’s just the way it is (and this of course goes for companies too).
What I’m sick to death of is the way that ‘spin’ is used to tarnish the reputations of people simply trying to do their jobs and communicate with their audiences. It’d be nice if, just for once, journalists stopped portraying us as ‘the dark side’, and ‘fessed up to the vital role that we play in their professional lives.