It’s interesting to compare and contrast two heavyweights in the PR world that have recently been speaking at Leeds Business School, writes senior lecturer Robert Minton-Taylor.
Both men are at the top of their crafts. Max Clifford as a publicist and owner manager of a single office, Max Clifford Associates, and Bob Leaf the former international chairman of Burson-Marsteller who helped build the company into a global brand spanning over 90 countries.
Max Clifford’s early life as a journalist and publicist for EMI was interesting but hardly insightful. While he put up a spirited defence of his ‘well it’s OK to lie’, it compared poorly with Bob Leaf’s mantra that PR was about perception and reputation.
Clifford has a passionate distrust, indeed dislike of journalists, strange when his background is in journalism. During my 45 years in public relations, and having trained as a journalist, I find that deeply offensive given that journalists are one of our prime paths to communicating with a myriad of target audiences.
At heart I suspect that Clifford is simply a publicist with an uncanny knack of getting coverage in the Red Tops – popular tabloid newspapers. He was somewhat disingenuous in claiming he didn’t know about the CIPR especially when they paid for his two suites at the Queens Hotel, Leeds and first class rail travel to and from London. Was he just taking the CIPR for a ride? I suspect he was. Contrast that with Bob Leaf who paid his own expenses.
As a former managing director of a public relations agency what I found somewhat disturbing was Clifford’s assertion that there is nothing wrong in lying to further his clients’ aims. He appears to operate under his own rules and no-one else’s. Fine, but PRs don’t live in isolation.
We have to engage with and facilitate communication between people. To do that we need to be open, host and transparent in our communications and bound by a code of conduct. Unless you trust what a PR person is saying then the whole basis of what we do and say is shot to pieces.
Indeed, public relations would be a much poorer discipline were it not for a code of conduct. Having helped refine the CIPR’s code of conduct (as a former chairman of its professional practices committee) I am delighted to hear that the CIPR intends to publish a list of all its members. It’s high time we were held accountable for our actions to our stakeholders and clients.