I’m fascinated by a new generation of people who work in the business of communications who think that their job is to tell the truth, behave ethically and fulfill a responsibility to the public.
I appreciate that people who work in the public sector will think like that. The only reason to work in the public sector is to give public service.
That said I don’t like the idea of communications people working in the public sector other than as information officers.
Yesterday Francis Ingham, the boss of a few international industry clubs for communicators called me a “dinosaur” in a Twitter conversation. I suppose he is right. My opinions do seem to be from and still in another age.
My view of campaigning and communications (PR) has always been straightforward. People who work in these jobs are hired by people to build, protect, and promote their reputation as a political or business asset.
The purpose of PR is to create and communicate change to that end. The change is to change (or reinforce) prejudice and opinion to inform behaviour which maximises corporate profit or wins election campaigns.
I have often called this the business of argument because the key to all success in communication is rhetorical skill. My friends and mentors Messrs Leaf and Burson call it the art of perception and the business of persuasion respectively. Perception, persuasion, or argument – they all work for me.
Argument is not about identifying an absolute truth. I’m not sure how it can be. Truth in business or politics (although not mathematics or science) is a relative concept. It is entirely in the eye of the beholder.
Whether something is true or false, right or wrong, is a matter of opinion not fact.
The responsibility the campaigner and communicator has in arguing those opinions is to whoever pays them. Unless “the public” pay us, then the public is not my stakeholder.
I’m mystified as to why any businessperson or politician would pay somebody to work against their own interests by telling the story the enemy might want to tell? It’s an odd way to go to war, and argument is a war (of sorts).
Francis is obviously right. My views are no longer current.
I am even more fascinated therefore to see how in the coming years this works out. I’m intrigued to know how people will determine the truth as opposed to a truth, and will be educated if I see organisations paying people to work against their own interests because somebody else thinks that is for a public good.
I’ve worked in campaigns and comms for 40 years. I’m struggling to think of a single occasion when I have ever known “the truth” about anything. Perception of truth is an opinion not a fact.
I have known plenty of versions of the truth and seen it as my job to advise which version is most beneficial to my employer or client.
Personally I am only ever persuaded to take a course of action by the power of an argument.
With this argument as with any other I will bow to greater rhetoric if someone assaults me with a better argument. Meanwhile I’m toddling off towards extinction. We used to talk about Essex as a priority in politics, now it seems it is Ethics.
To quote The Levellers who I admire in our Civil War history, maybe PR is “The World Turn’d Upside down.”
The business not of rhetoric, but of truth? Whose truth – yours, mine or their truth?
Really? Argue that case to me.