CAN YOU GET MY NAME IN THE PAPERS?
Public Relations is an odd trade. You don't need a single qualification to call yourself a practitioner, an executive, or even a consultant, despite heroic attempts by the Institute of Public Relations to improve standards and gain chartered status. One problem is that not every PR person belongs to the institute, which makes it impossible to impose its standards on every self-styled practitioner of the "black art" as my old friend Arnold Kemp, former editor of The Herald, calls it. Another problem is that many clients don't seem to care whether or not their PR people are members of the IPR.
Nevertheless the profession has come a long way since I went into it in 1962. Nowadays there are courses on the subject in colleges and universities in addition to private companies which run courses and seminars.
Some of these companies claim to tell the students in two days or three days and for a few hundred pounds everything there is to know about catering for every type of news media, which may be the bargain of the century in view of the fact that it took me nearly half a lifetime to master this trick. Maybe I was a slow learner.
In a speech to the Confederation of British Industry Scotland in April 1980 I made a plea for Public Relations to be taught as a degree course at university. Eight years later Stirling University started Europe's first post-graduate Master of Science degree course in Public Relations, lasting one year. The following year a four-year BA honours programme was introduced at Bournemouth Polytechnic, now Bournemouth University, and in 1991 Stirling introduced a two-and-a-half year M.Sc., by distance learning programme.
An ever-increasing body of opinion opposes the view that training in journalism is a necessary prerequisite in Public Relations, or that catering for the news media is the principal function of Public Relations. Perhaps not, but there is absolutely no doubt about the dependence by Public Relations people on the news media to spread their message because that is the cheapest and most effective way of reaching the most people at one time. Nor can it be denied by the news media that they depend heavily on PR people to give them stories they would otherwise not hear anything about.
Public Relations people now claim to be able to help clients do almost anything, go public, go private, cope with crises, or make a better mousetrap, but in my opinion, and experience, writing for the news media is still of critical importance because clients want to see favourable mention of themselves in newspapers, and if that mention is also on radio or television so much the better.
Many Public Relations people fail dismally in this area. They may learn from seminars how newspapers and radio and television news programmes are produced but writing for them is utterly beyond them because the writing skill takes years of experience to acquire and young people don't want to spend years learning to write. Nor do many of the executives already in Public Relations jobs, which is why they spend their days dreaming up stunts to attract attention to their clients or employers, the implication being that the client doesn't have a story worth telling until something is cooked up by a Public Relations consultant.
I have found over the years that among the things which can make news or feature articles are:
· How much of a product is made
· Who makes it
· The personalities involved
· How many people are employed to make it
· Where it all goes
· How it gets there
· Facilities available to employees to keep them happy at their work
· How the product benefits the people who use it
· How it can benefit others if they use it
· How it benefits the community in which it is made
· The extensive use of other people's goods or services.
· New products or ranges of products
· Large orders received or placed
· Changes in management or staff
· Increase in number of employees
· Visits by important or interesting people (not necessarily the same!)
· How the product's export earns revenue for Britain
· Overseas travel by executives
The list is virtually endless, and it may all be presented in a way that reflects credit on the company, its management, its employees, its product and on the wisdom of its customers in buying that particular product. And that's all the routine material. There are also dozens of other stories which emerge in the course of a year's trading.
Public Relations in local government is different from commercial PR because there is a service rather than a product involved and often it's more difficult because the news media would much rather criticise local government, often with good reason, than praise it, but despite all the difficulties it is also true to say that the news media will always take positive stories from local government if they are any good and the way to make them good is to research and write them properly.
The man or woman who can write for the news media in a way that is acceptable and intelligible to them in their terms has an infinitely better chance of publication or broadcast than the stunt arranger or the "fixer" type of Public Relations practitioner although I admit they have a place in the great scheme of things.
There is no substitute for being able to write a series of simple, consecutive, intelligible, informative, unambiguous sentences in one's native language. Words properly used can do the most miraculous things. They can make us laugh or cry, love or hate, they can make us envious, fill us with admiration or wonderment, change our attitude, create a good impression or a bad one, make people think we are well-informed or ignorant, make us sympathetic or antagonistic, make us fall in love or out of love, influence what people think about our product or services, or someone else's. Think of the effect Shakespeare's words have had upon the world, or the words of the Bible, or the Koran, or the Torah.
It also helps to know about modern printing techniques, photography, research, marketing, how to interview and be interviewed, making films and other visual aids, the design of brochures, pamphlets and house journals, and the organising of exhibitions and other special events.
Public Relations is not a cheap form of advertising. They are different forms of communication, just as television is different from radio. No amount of promotional and sales literature, no matter how expensively produced, serves the same purpose as material prepared specifically for editorial use.
Despite its increasing importance in public, business and institutional life and its contribution to the greater understanding of what goes on around us, and despite stars in the Public Relations firmament like Peter Gummer, Roddy Dewe, Sir Tim Bell, Lynne Franks, Sir Bernard Ingham, Mike Hingston and others, Public Relations is still regarded by many as a trade for dilettantes, dabblers and bright young things.
And no wonder. An example of the drivel that Public Relations consultancies produce is this statement by one of Scotland's leading consultancies in September 1991 when making a proposal to Glasgow City Council: "Glasgow is faced with an immediate challenge to raise its image.....by overcoming a past negative image and aligning it with the existing progress and revitalisation." This was after the opening of The Burrell Collection, the garden festival, culture year, and almost two decades in which Glasgow's merits and virtues had been consistently and regularly publicised throughout the world.
In February 1995 BACUP, a national cancer counselling service launched its first office in Scotland and was advised by a promotions company that a good way to interest the press was to release 1800 balloons from the centre of Glasgow . A card attached to each balloon carried the name BACUP but did not say what it was or give the organisation's address or telephone number, which meant that anyone retrieving one of the balloons would not have the slightest idea what it was meant to tell them..
Two or three young people I know are in various stages of learning about Public Relations. When they came to me for advice I told them to choose another profession. I pointed out that in the time it would take them to become competent in Public Relations they could qualify as a doctor, a lawyer, an architect, a chartered accountant, a computer systems analyst, an engineer, or an airline pilot and everyone would know what they did for a living, and would respect them for it, whereas Public Relations could mean anything and was understood by very few. Of course they ignored my advice.
We are still at the stage when people look rather doubtful when you say you're a Public Relations person because it can mean almost anything. A friend of mine who advertised for a Public Relations executive once received an application from a retired butcher who said that after dealing with the public for 30 years there was nothing he didn't know about Public Relations. He wouldn't have applied for a post as a surgeon because he spent 30 years cutting beef.
I never made any secret of the fact that I approached Public Relations as a journalist looking for news or feature stories about my clients because that's wanted they wanted above all else. Rightly or wrongly that's the way they thought.
In the November 1994 issue of the Journal of the Institute of Public Relations Mr Neville Wade, a former president and a respected member of the fraternity was quoted as saying, "In the job we do what PR means to employers and clients is lots of press cuttings. Learned books on the practice and theory of PR are a million miles from what many clients want. They just want to know can you get my name in the papers."
Gordon Beattie, a journalist who runs a very successful Public Relations consultancy in Lanarkshire, incensed a large number of PR people when he claimed in an article in Scotland on Sunday in August 1995 that journalists make the best PR practitioners.
In June 1991 a few months before I retired Pat Lally asked me to write something about the direction I thought the Public Relations department should take in the future. Here are some of the points I made in a report I produced. I don't know what Pat did with it but I do know my department's name was later changed to the Marketing and Public Relations Department..
MARKETING GLASGOW.....OR IT'S THE WAY YOU TELL 'EM
The main functions of the Public Relations department are to:
a heighten public awareness of the functions, workings, and services of the council.
b publicise decisions of the council and the implications of these decisions for the lives of the people who live and work in Glasgow, who invest in it, and who visit it for whatever purpose.
c publicise the work of the council's departments and explain how their activities serve the interests of the public.
d help institutions in the city and the private sector to publicise any project which reflects credit on the operator or developer and the city.
e publish The Bulletin, the council's newspaper
2 The department's objectives must be to keep Glasgow, Scotland, Britain and the rest of the world constantly informed of anything of a positive, constructive nature that is happening in the city, using whatever media of communication is appropriate or available.
3 An essential ingredient in the marketing of Glasgow is "editorial marketing," a continuous flow of information to the news media in Britain and abroad written in a way that is intelligible and acceptable to news and feature editors nnd producers.
4 Everything that happens in the city must be assessed for its value as a means of publicity. This is a matter of judgment based on experience and should therefore be carried out by the Public Relations Department.
5 Experience has demonstrated that there are few of the more positive aspects of the city's life that cannot be made interesting to the print and broadcasting news media, either in Britain or abroad or both.
6 Every possible outlet for information about what is happening in the city must be explored. In the past two decades the Public Relations Department has enlisted the co-operation of the Scottish Information Office, Scottish Tourist Board, British Tourist Authority, Central Office of Information, British Council, Press Association, Associated Press of America, Reuter, Agence Presse (France), Xinhua News Agency (China) Argus South African Newspapers Limited, At-Tadamon (Middle East, Chambers of Commerce, embassies, personal contacts at home and abroad, newspapers, magazines, airline in-flight magazines,. radio and television stations in Britain and overseas. All of these are still prepared to publicise Glasgow if the material is supplied to them in a form they in turn can market.
7 Public Relations staff may of course glean much information about decisions of the council and the activities of departments from council minutes but it is essential that directors should liaise closely with the Public Relations department and keep it informed of projects from the day they are planned. Nothing is issued to the news media without the agreement of the department concerned.
8 Time and time again directors have allowed their own staffs to send out what they call press releases which failed to interest the news media because they did not conform to even the most fundamental rules for catering for the news media. There is a reluctance to recognise the fact that promotional literature, no matter how expensively produced, does not serve the same purpose as material prepared specifically for editorial use.
9 There are times when an element of showbusiness may be injected into the council's activities and projects (or stunts) may be devised to attract attention but one must be careful not to rely too heavily on activities like these as they tend to be very expensive for what they achieve.
10 In an organisation like Glasgow City Council which has an influence on the daily lives of so many people who live and work in the city it must be acknowleged that the day to day activities of the council and its departments, and the myriad activities of the business community and the visual and performing arts should yield most of the material necessary for marketing the city without having to resort to artificial devices or stunts.
11 Although currently there are no high-profile "glamour" events like the Glasgow Garden Festival or GLASGOW 1990 it is my belief that there are enough things happening or at the planning stage to persuade the world that Glasgow did not close down on December 31, 1990.
12 It is beyond the wit of man to list the number of publications and radio and television stations throughout the world which have featured the more positive aspects of the life and times of Glasgow since l975 but it is certainly true to claim that almost all of this exposure has been achieved through editorial marketing.
13 An effective marketing operation must of course also make use of advertising and when appropriate, films, videos, logos, books, brochures, pamphlets, brochures, conferences, exhibitions, and even trinkets like key fobs, pens and drinks coasters but it is unchallengeable that the most effective marketing operation also contains an editorial element, which is often the most cost- effective way of spreading the city's message.
Many groups of London-based foreign correspondents were persuaded to visit the city over the years. This was quite an achievement because as far their news organisations were concerned London was where everything happened in Britain and there was rarely any need to go elsewhere for a story. Other news people came from their home bases overseas. All of them were prepared to publicise Glasgow when material was supplied to them in a form they in turn could send home.
One of our overseas visitors was Jack Webster, a Glasgow-born man who had become one of Canada's leading television broadcasters. Jack claimed that his father, Willie Webster, an iron-turner, fitted pumps on every battleship, destroyer, and merchant ship built on the Clyde between the two world wars.
Jack flew in with a crew of producers and technicians in the Spring of 1981 to do a 30-minute documentary about his birthplace but he was so fascinated by the changes in the city that the documentary was extended to two 30-minute slots on British Columbia Television. Some months later I was told by a relative in Vancouver that he saw me in a lengthy discussion with Webster on the revitalisation of Glasgow
I enjoyed my working life. Maybe it took up too much time sometimes when I should have been with Jackie and the boys but many men have regrets of this kind. It is difficult for an ordinary mortal consistently to be a good and conscientious son, brother, husband, father, employee, employer and friend all at the same time. I look back on some of my adventures with wonderment and think did I do that? What was I trying to prove? I'm not sure what the answer to that is, unless I just wanted to show how clever I was.
I was a bit anxious when I retired about passing my time productively but my old friend and colleague Tony Meehan, founder of TMA Communications, came to my rescue and gave me a part-time consultancy job but I had difficulty in adapting to Tony's way of working, which is very successful, and we parted company amicably after a few months.
Then I decided to do some consultancy work and my first client, John Smith, a Cambuslang roofing contractor, started a golf club manufacturing company, Scotgolf Europa (Marketing) Limited, and asked me to publicise it internationally, which I did. At the end of the exericse I sent Mr Smith a bill for £1800, which included £600 I had spent on translations and other services, but Scotgolf Europa had gone into liquidation and I never got paid. I did get a cheque from Mr Smith for £600 but this was returned by my bank as there were no funds to honour it. My bank also charged me for processing the cheque! I found all this a bit discouraging so I gave up consultancy work and now I concentrate on communal and charity work.
I've often been asked which career I enjoyed most, as a journalist or a Public Relations man. The answer is I enjoyed them both, but I would like to think that in the years I spent with Glasgow City Council, in addition to enjoying myself, I did leave my mark on the city, even if it was such an intangible thing as helping to change people's perception of the place. I didn't go crazy working for politicians as some of my friends predicted but if you have a propensity in that direction a town hall is a good place to start the process.
I enjoyed meeting so many people in every stratum of society and people who had only their 15 minutes of fame; and I enjoyed my own moments of glory when occasional recognition came for my work. In 1978 I was the first person in local or national government in Scotland to be elected a Fellow of the Institute of Public Relations and in 1989 I received the Stephen Tallents medal for "exceptional achievement" from the then President of the Institute, Reggie Watts. Harvie was too heavily committed with his law work to go to the presentation dinner in London with me so Michael flew from his home in Israel to share the occasion with me. It would have been good to have Jackie with me but it was decreed elsewhere that this was not to be.
In the 10th anniversary supplement of PR WEEK in September 1994, three years after I retired, I was described as one of the most influential Public Relations industry players over the previous decade, but I think the biggest compliment came when letters arrived at the City Chambers addressed merely to Harry Diamond, Glasgow. I knew I had arrived then.
A few months before I retired I got a note from the personnel department asking me if I would like to go to a pre-retirement course at Langside College to learn how to cope with not having to go out to work for a living any more. As this meant a whole day in class each Monday for six weeks I decided it might be fun so I signed up for the course.
The chairman of our course was Doug Randall, who had retired from his job as an income tax officer eight years previously and had been enjoying life ever since. "The secret of successful retirement is to be properly organised," he said. "Do something you like, make your new life worth while."
Doug told the class about all the advantages of retirement - the freedom to do what you want, not having a boss to make your life a misery, not having to dig the car out of the snow to go to the office, concessionary travel, cheap holidays, the opportunity to meet new friends and new challenges, time to develop hobbies, cheaper tickets for recreational facilities. There were about 15 of us in the class. In the weeks that followed we were told about things like accident and fire prevention, how to wire an electric plug, how to make lentil soup, sensible eating, saving money, music and art appreciation, and a whole lot of other useful things I had known for decades. As a special treat in art appreciation we were taken to The Burrell Collection. I kept my mouth shut during the tour, which wasn't easy.
All the lecturers were experts in their subject, but the first-aid speaker was so dull my eyes got heavy and I almost went to sleep. Suddenly I heard a stern voice saying, "Are you paying attention?"
"Why, will you give me the belt?" I said. "Get on with it." He was not amused.
A lady from the Citizens Advice Bureau told us she and her colleagues could find an answer to any question. One worried caller had difficulty with a job application which asked her for two referees. "I don't know anything about football," she complained.
We were told about pensions rights from a Department of Social Security video featuring my old friend actor Ian Cutherbertson, and the merits of libraries and books. We also got a pile of literature telling us how to avoid a large number of health hazards from fallen arches to a heart attack. Exercise was very important, we were told. As a college student I was entitled to use the college car park, the refectory (very good soup and spaghetti bolognese for about £1.50) the library, and even the swimming pool.
In a diversionary moment Doug Randall depressed us all by telling us we were born before televison, penicillin, polio shots, antibiotics, frozen food, nylon, radar, computers, dishwashers, clothes dryers, electric blankets, yogurt, Batman, instant coffee, tape recorders, video recorders, word processors, DDT and vitamin pills!
What I really wanted was for someone to tell me that old guys like me were a valuable asset to society with a lifetime of experience and confidence and that the minute it was announced I was retiring I would be bombarded with requests for my expertise which would bring me in at least twice my salary.
I also had a fantasy about finding a wealthy, young, beautiful widow who was prepared to keep me in indolent luxury for the rest of my life, but regrettably that never happened. A number of well-meaning wives of friends went through a period of trying to find a mate for me as if I was a giant panda or something. They've now given up the seemingly impossible task. I have had a couple of lady friends in the past few years but our friendships didn't lead anywhere. I went as far as to go on holiday with one of them. As we walked about in Venice I told her, "Robert Benchley was once sent to Venice by Harold Ross the editor of the New Yorker and when he got there he sent Ross a telegram saying, 'Streets full of water. Please advise.'"
My lady friend said, "Did he not know that before he went?"
"Did that man not know Venice was covered in water?"
"Robert Benchley was a very clever humourist. That was a joke."
"Have you never heard of Robert Benchley?" I asked.
"Tell me about him"
"He was an editor, writer, drama critic, humourist, and even a film actor. He died in 1945."
"I was only a little girl then," said my lady friend. "Of course you're older than me. You'll know about people like that."
I tactfully refrained from saying I wasn't born when Napoleon, Shakespeare, and Moses lived but I still knew about them.
One evening I took the same lady to a concert in Glasgow Royal Concert Hall and we met that marvellous man Sir Alexander Gibson, who did so much for the musical life of Scotland, and his charming wife Veronica at a reception afterwards. Alex wasn't performing that night and I said to my lady companion, "Meet a couple of friends of mine; this is Alex Gibson and his wife Veronica. My lady friend said brightly to Alex, "Oh, hello, do you like music? Do you come here often?" I wanted to drop through the floor but Alex smiled indulgently and muttered something innocuous like the gentleman he was.
My first meeting with Alex took place in 1974, not long after I joined the city council. I had what I thought was a brilliant idea so I phoned Alex to ask his advice about it and he invited me to his home. "What do you think of the idea of the city commissioning a piece of music named after it, like the Glasgow Symphony or Concerto?" I said. "After all, other cities have musical works named after them; the London Symphony, Paris Suite, Warsaw Concerto, Symphony of San Francisco, Leningrad Symphony."
Alex told me there was even an Edinburgh Symphony, written by the Edinburgh-born composer and conductor Guy Warrack, and first performed at the Royal College of Music in London in 1932. Alex thought it was a great idea to have a Glasgow Symphony and we even talked about what a grand occasion we could make the premiere, but my political masters thought it was a rotten idea. "It will cost us a helluva lot of money and then we might not like it," they said. I tried to argue that it would be a magnificent Public Relations exercise for the city and that there was hardly a piece of music of any kind that some people didn't like, but it was no use.
When I recalled this story in a letter to The Herald when Sir Alex died in January 1995 several readers, including my old friend ex-Lord Provost Michael Kelly, indignantly pointed out that there were two or three pieces of music inspired by the city, but most of them came after 1974 and had never been heard of by most people.
. It took more than a decade and the appointment of Robert Palmer as Festival Director before the city commissioned about 40 musical works, but even with Palmer's heroic efforts there still isn't a major work of music instantly identifiable to the world, or even the rest of Scotland, as Glasgow's own symphony. Not long after Palmer was appointed Director of Performing Arts and Venues I inadvertently referred at a committee meeting to the Department of Performing Lions. Jean McFadden was not amused.
I am happy to be away from the anxieties of being the city's propagandist and I don't really mind being an old age pensioner, not that it make any difference whether I mind or not. A lot of people don't like the phrase old age pensioner or even senior citizen but no-one has so far been able to think up an acceptable name for us. In America we're called retirees! There are 10 million of us in Britain, including 865,000 in Scotland.
I still do some communal work and am still very much involved with Erskine Hospital. In 1995 I handled the publicity for the visit to Glasgow of Madame Jehan Sadad, widow of President Anwar Sadat of Egypt who was assassinated by Islamic fundamentalists in Cairo in 1981 because he had signed a peace treaty with Israel a couple of years earlier. She spoke at a Joint Israel Appeal dinner in Glasgow.
I spoke to her briefly at a press conference I arranged and found her a dignified, charming, warm-hearted woman. She got a standing ovation at the dinner for a very moving speech about her husband and about the Prime Minister of Israel who had been assassinated only a week earlier. I was surprised to learn that her mother was born in Sheffield. Small world.
Some years ago when I had achieved what I thought was a certain amount of status, authority and respect in my profession a relative asked me to see a friend of hers whose 20-year-old son had not yet found a meaningful role in life. He had had a number of jobs but had not found fulfilment in any of them.
After some persuasion I allowed this young man's mother into my large, elegantly appointed office and listened for 20 minutes to her sad tale. Eventually she leaned forward and said in an earnest, concerned, and confidential tone, "The truth of the matter is Mr Diamond, George's father and I don't think he is very bright, but we think he would do well in your kind of work."