Wednesday, 6 August 2008

The ultimate PR challenge

Say what you like about Gordon Brown, at least he’s not Robert Mugabe. David Miliband has not disappeared in mysterious circumstances, and even desperate silly season columnists can only moan about the lacklustre design of our new pennies, not the replacement of the entire currency because it was costing $1.8 trillion to buy a beer.

Of course, Mugabe may have the edge in clinging to office through a blatantly rigged election, rather than attaining power without one. But I’d still much rather be living under Gordon, unless he emerges from his Southwold retreat sporting a toothbrush moustache.

Some defenders of Mr Brown say that his core problem is terrible PR. This seems ironic given that he has is married to a successful PR guru and has appointed another leading PR executive as his chief of staff.

Mugabe appears to attach more weight to brute force than any gentler arts, but even he employed a PR company to mastermind his “re-election”. We know this because it turned out to be partly owned, to their huge embarrassment, by the British WPP.

In these difficult times, all PR firms are having to look at bigger and more distant challenges in order to earn a crust. I recently had dinner with one PR executive in London who is spending a lot of his time advising Russian oligarchs, trying to make out that they are gentle, cuddly people who have been much misunderstood.

I wondered cynically when he would be pitching for the Radovan Karadzic account. But since even those accused of the most heinous crimes are entitled to competent representation in court, why should that not apply in the media, too?

Shortly afterwards I identified one possible attraction of working in Russia, when a judge threw out a sexual harassment action on the grounds that the human race would die out if men did not make passes at their employees. It brought back shaming memories of my London office in the 1980s.

On the whole I think I’ll resist the temptation to emigrate, but I could definitely use an amusing new challenge. I’ll duck the hopeless cases like Karadzic, Mugabe and Brown. But fingers crossed that a much misunderstood Russian judge will spot this on the internet and drop me a line.

Keith Hann is a PR consultant with limited horizons.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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