Alastair Campbell is best known for being the often controversial communications lead for then Prime Minister Tony Blair. He’s also been a journalist, a consultant and an author in his long career. I particularly appreciate that Campbell was one of the inspirations for the profane character Malcolm Tucker in the fantastic satirical film In the Loop and the TV show In the Thick of It.
Campbell recently gave a presentation on what he calls modern communications in Australia and published the full transcript on his site. Here were the most interesting perspectives on communications today:
- Public affairs now covers any interaction between any two people or organizations.
- As the PR industry grew up, it did a lousy job on its own reputation, and indeed terms like “PR” and “spin” are synonyms for bullshit, lies, deception.
- The real spin doctors in the modern world are journalists, broadcasters and bloggers, and they want their readers, viewers and listeners to think they have the monopoly on truth.
- The interaction with the public space has become more complicated, and therefore the demand for simplicity is stronger. In a world of greater chaos, people search for greater clarity.
- The definition of PR as being focused on getting a good press, whatever that means these days, is close to being redundant.
- Quote from President Clinton: “Clinton said something else that stuck with me that day ‘Too many decision makers define their reality according to that day’s media. It is almost always a mistake.’
- Tony Blair understood instinctively that in the modern world comms is not simply the means by which you explain, it must be integrated into your strategy. Churchill knew that too. So did Lincoln.
- Social media’s pressures are to be tactical, so the response should be strategic.
- Sometimes law is just PR with a wig on.
But, above all, this excerpt resonates with me and what my partners and I are doing at The Pramana Collective:
Think about why people come to (communicators) like us. Often, because things are going awry. Because they have an idea but they are having trouble explaining it. Because they have a plan – but the plan is not going according to plan. Because they think that what they do is great but the media don’t seem to agree, and they want help getting the message out. So they want a new digital presence or they want a series of meetings with opinion formers or they want a new slogan. And all those things might be doable. But they all jump ahead of what is usually their problem. They are not clear about who they are, what they are doing, their DNA.
Getting to the heart of the DNA is the heart of good PR and public affairs. It is little or nothing to do with whether you can place a puff piece here or get the CEO into an airline magazine feature or have a nice dinner with a bunch of self important columnists.
They are all tactics. But objective and strategy should always come first.
And, objective and strategy built on organizations’ inherent truths are even more powerful.