When Two Tribes Fail to Jaw

By Michael Greer

Why is it that experienced public relations professionals in the UK dislike, or fail to understand, the role of publicists? Did the unethical behaviour of Max Clifford tar every publicist with the same brush, or is it because publicists are perceived to be ‘one trick ponies’ specialising only in media relations? The only certainty is that our profession is made of two tribes with one looking down on the other.

You'll learn...

  • Why it is offensive for the PR profession to think all publicists are like Max Clifford.
  • Publicists are more than 'one trick ponies' specialising in media relations.
  • What publicists actually do, a little bit of publicity history and some suggestions for legendary publicists to follow. 
     

They are all like Max Clifford.

Max Clifford described himself as a PR man, but many thought he was a publicist. He was reviled by some, tolerated by many and liked by a few. He cemented his role in public relations with a column in PR Week and was the go-to-guy for any scandal dodging celebrity or TV programme looking for a “PR expert”. 

Max Clifford was very good at publicising himself and clients, but his conduct had a corrosive effect: the reputation of publicists within the PR profession suffered, and the public’s perception of the PR industry became more negative. When an audience of PR pros voted in favour of his motion that fabricating news on behalf of a client was okay, the ethical image of publicists and the PR profession took another hit.

Veteran publicist and strategist Mark Borkowski accurately described Max Clifford as “An anomaly. Not a PR operator - more a dark alchemist - part agent, part deal-broker, a one-man news agency with a twist. He was invented to exploit the voracious tabloid news agenda.”

PRCA Director General Francis Ingham said of Max Clifford: "He did our industry a disservice by pretending to be part of it. I note that most media outlets are describing him today as having been a publicist. That is - finally - an accurate description of his career."

To class Max Clifford as a publicist is debatable, but to pigeon-hole all publicists with Max Clifford is both ignorant and insulting. Publicists working for great brands like the BBC, Walt Disney, Universal Films, Channel 4, Random House and many award-winning PR agencies deserve better from many in the PR industry.


One trick ponies.

Whilst some PR people believe publicists are cut from the same cloth as Max Clifford, others believe publicists specialise in media relations only, and are therefore less qualified with a narrower skill set. In reality, a publicist works in-house or for an agency within the film, broadcast, music, entertainment, publishing and fashion sectors and employs the full range of PR skills. 

Before a story is even pitched to the media, a PR plan is drawn up that will include objectives agreed with the client, financial and budgetary considerations, strategy, goals and real-time measurement, research and data analysis to understand and identify audiences, creative activity, distribution channels, timing and resources needed.

Additionally, the strategy might also include integrating digital PR, advertising, experiential events, sponsorship and other elements. Spokespeople or celebrities might need to receive media training and their agents included for the exploitation of cross-promotion opportunities. If the objectives are controversial or have the potential to generate negative publicity, crisis management and reputation protection will be prepared. 

The great showman PT Barnum would measure the success of his event publicity by counting bums on seats, cash in the till and press clippings. If Barnum was a publicist today, his post event review might also include analysis of all offline and online media coverage, sentiment monitoring, market research and measurement of digital media activity.


What does a good publicist look like?

If Edward Bernays was “the father of public relations” then Jim Moran, PT Barnum and Harry Reichenbach are the legendary three wise men for publicists.

James Sterling Moran was a publicist and a press agent for film studios, manufacturers, retailers and Washington politicians from the 1930s to the 1980s. In 1989, Time ranked him as "the supreme master of that most singular marketing device - the publicity stunt." His many PR stunts included selling a refrigerator to an Eskimo and walking a bull through a New York City china shop. 

Phineas Taylor Barnum was an American showman and businessman remembered for promoting celebrated hoaxes and for founding the Barnum & Bailey Circus. Barnum was also an author, publisher, philanthropist, and for some time an anti-slavery politician.

Harry Reichenbach was a US press agent and publicist who dreamed up sensational publicity stunts to promote films. He worked both for actors, as an agent, and for the studios as a promoter. He promoted the ‘Return of Tarzan’ by sneaking a lion into a hotel and tipped off the management by ordering 15 pounds of raw beef through room service.


Three new stars to follow

Barbara Charone was an early champion of Madonna and cited Seal's elevation to stardom as a satisfying result in her PR career. The Guardian included her on its list of "The 20 most powerful celebrity makers" and dubbed her "Britain's most powerful music PR" after revitalising the careers of Madonna and Neil Diamond, and establishing those of Duffy and Mark Ronson. 

Alan Edwards is the founder of The Outside Organisation. Over the last 40 years, he has managed the publicity for some of the biggest names in the music business, such as: The Rolling Stones, The Spice Girls, Amy Winehouse, Prince, Michael Jackson, Blondie and The Who. Alan has been named the number 1 entertainment PR in the UK by PR Week magazine for three consecutive years (2015, 2016 and 2017). The one constant in his life as a publicist was nurturing David Bowie’s reputation from the very beginning.

Dotti Irving is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Four Colman Getty, established in 1987 after a decade spent at Penguin Books. With an extensive address book that spans arts, culture, business and the media, Dotti also handles high-level sponsorship and partnership deals on behalf of Colman Getty's clients. She has been instrumental in profile development of clients including the Booker Prize, Harry Potter author JK Rowling and domestic goddess Nigella Lawson.
 

Finally

Publicists are by nature storytellers. They like to start with a blank sheet, create opportunities that intrigue journalists and capture their attention with something irresistible that makes news. A picture is worth a thousand words and a stack of press clippings ‘on message’ is a job well done. Talent is to be nurtured, and it is a fine art to develop it into celebrity.

If you still think publicists are just like Max Clifford, or lesser than PR professionals, just remember it was entertainment publicists that turned Star Wars into a business delivering box office receipts of $7.52 billion.

Think about what could be achieved if the two tribes – PR professionals and publicists – had a greater understanding of each other. I wonder how many publicists are members of the CIPR and PRCA? There is more that unites us than divides us.
 


FP-M-Greer.jpg
 

Once a retail ops troubleshooter and Manager of Primark’s flagship store. Former PR wizard for JK Rowling. Very experienced at managing A-List celebrities, consumer events and PR campaigns. Now searching for the next big PR challenge, when I am not organising the #EalingTweetup - probably London’s longest running Twitter gathering.

LinkedIn:  linkedin.com/in/mgreer
Twitter:     @MGreer_PR

 

#FuturePRoof edition 3: The NHS at 70 with lessons for the wider PR community

2018 marks seventy years of the NHS. To celebrate, #FuturePRoof is publishing a special edition aimed at showcasing best practice in comms by teams within one of the UK's best loved brands.

#FuturePRoof launched in 2015 to tackle issues facing the public relations profession and celebrate best practice. Edition three is designed to celebrate the innovative and pioneering work undertaken by practitioners within the NHS on its seventieth birthday. It will be published in the New Year.

Below is the chapter spec list (in no particular order). As you'll see, authors are still being sought for some chapters. If you'd like to get involved, please email editor Sarah Hall at sarah@sarahhallconsulting.co.uk with the chapter you're interested in and a précis of your proposed content.

In terms of the commitment involved, authors are asked to supply 800-1200 words by 12 January.  The style requires 3 chapter 'take outs’ and dynamic copy written for the screen with sub heads as per this example.

If your pitch is successful, you'll also need to supply a 2-3 line bio containing any relevant links, a Twitter handle and a pic when it comes to submission.

CHAPTER SPEC LIST

CHAPTER ONE

Strategy setting - Where is the NHS heading and how will it get there? Aligning comms and marketing with the organisational objectives. Transitioning to prevention over cure. AUTHOR APPROACHED

CHAPTER TWO

Leadership and professionalism - What does good look like and what’s the benchmark? CLAIRE RILEY

CHAPTER THREE

Managing complexity - Simplifying and communicating how the NHS system operates; organisational complexity, hierarchies and managing competing agendas. STEVEN POLLOCK

CHAPTER FOUR

Political safeguarding - Competing political agendas and the impact on NHS business planning and commsROY LILLEY

CHAPTER FIVE  

The NHS at 70 - Outside looking in; an external expert’s perspective. AUTHOR APPROACHED

CHAPTER SIX

The power of the NHS brand - The story of the NHS identity and brand and how sub brands are using the association to diversify and scaleNICK RAMSHAW

CHAPTER SEVEN

Trust in the NHS - Public trust and the NHSKAYLEIGH RYAN

CHAPTER EIGHT

Doing digital - Managing the public and patient interface through technology. RACHEL ROYALL

CHAPTER NINE

Employee engagement and culture - Best practice with particular reference to strong sub-cultures within the NHS (such as The Christie in Manchester). AUTHOR NEEDED

CHAPTER TEN

CPD - Establishing a common competency framework across teams. AUTHOR NEEDED

CHAPTER ELEVEN

Cash strapped and resource starved - Doing more with less; how NHS comms teams are respondingROSS WIGHAM

CHAPTER TWELVE

Integrated comms and content marketing - Moving away from a reliance on media relations to integrated comms featuring strong visuals and multi-media contentCAROLINE LATTA

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Innovation through technology - The TEL programmeALEX DRINKALL

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

Crisis planning - Planning for the worst; politics, privatisation and data breaches. AUTHOR NEEDED

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

Safeguarding data - Understanding patient data and managing conversations about its use with the Care.data programme as an exampleNICOLA PERRIN

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

Planning and insight - Winter bed shortages; how to use data to inform future campaigns and change the media narrativeLIZ DAVIES

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

Internal comms with 1 million people and counting - Managing internal comms within a complex web of organisationsAUTHOR NEEDED

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

Motivation and mental wellbeing - Supporting employees in the face of organisational criticism and pay freezesAUTHOR NEEDED

CHAPTER NINETEEN

Hello, my name is - Putting the patient first; what comms pros can learn from the ‘Hello, my name is’ campaignCHRIS POINTON

CHAPTER TWENTY

Public health behaviour change - Taking a holistic approach from prevention through to end of life. ALEXIA CLIFFORD

CHAPTER TWENTY ONE

Social leadership - Diversity & inclusion & conditions for communityJULIAN STODD

CHAPTER TWENTY TWO

Dispelling myths - Managing misperceptions and the mediaAUTHOR NEEDED

CHAPTER TWENTY THREE

Ethics - Challenges in daily practice in adhering to industry Codes of ConductAUTHOR NEEDED

CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR

Procurement - Small changes, big differences; embedding procurement processes that can add real value. AUTHOR NEEDED

CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE

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