How much of a monster is PR? It’s what we do, it’s how we pay the bills and it’s mostly what we love. But how much are we responsible for the way it can consume people and is it ultimately for the good?
At any given time, there are comets fuelled by PR that light up the sky and captivate the media. The power of the adrenalin from media exposure is addictive and can either propel someone into the limelight for their ultimate good or dispatch them like a spent rocket into the undergrowth.
Two different and diverse characters are presently hitting the headlines. Donald Trump, US Presidential nominee and Kevin Roberts, Chairman, Saatchi and Saatchi. Both have embraced the warmth of the PR frenzy but have they flown too close to the sun?
Trump has amazed most of the globe by his meteoric elevation from trumpeter to would-be President. No one I know believed a year ago that his naked ambitions and skill at self-publicity would be enough to win the support of his fellow Republicans and for him to be standing a stride away from the Oval Office. He has done it by spouting rhetoric and bias that was previously inconceivable. Every statement, which in the beginning were almost harmless in content, has generated headlines around the world. Buoyed by this effect he has slammed his foot ever harder to the floor to power this momentum.
We’ve watched and scratched our heads at the way he made statements, some truly absurd, which were akin to the pronouncements of the fabled Emperor’s New Clothes. He has relished and lapped up the media attention like a kitten with a saucer of milk. I can only imagine he must go to bed each night having instructed his team to dream up ever more headline grabbing concepts for him to embrace and own the following day.
No target or issue seemed out of bounds. Our man Trump had really started to believe he could get away with anything. He had stoked up a raging furnace and it needed feeding with ever more bones of contention. Then suddenly he ranted against a ‘Gold Star’ family – a special honour conferred on families who’ve lost a loved one on active service in the US military – and a Muslim to boot. Then it became a violation and in many eyes unforgivable. Has Trump met his Waterloo?
So it seems did Kevin Roberts on a smaller stage. He tried to make a very valid point that it is presumptive to imagine all staff – male and female – want an upward trajectory in their careers. Some/many want a more circular life based on different values. However, the way it came out seemed to imply this was a particular female trait and, in any case, the subject of more women in top jobs was now done and dusted. Ha, would that life was that easy!
Well he got the headlines. In the same way he did when he proclaimed that brands were dead and then that strategy was dead. Possibly his career is now dead too.
This seems like a classic case of a man who was hungry for column inches. He sounds like the sort of person who relishes a good fight and has become addicted to the exposure it brings him. But ultimately it has been his undoing.
So the monster lives. The challenge we have is trying to control it once we have unleashed it. I am not believer in the perceived truism that all press coverage is good coverage. PR has a valuable role to play in presenting the facts in the best light. It is only when the desire for that exposure takes over the purpose that it becomes ungovernable. As practitioners of PR we have a duty to try and manage responsible outcomes.