If you stopped the ubiquitous ’man in the street’ and asked him or
her what advertising, direct marketing and public relations is all
about, what do you think might be the reply?
I know, because I did it - although I needn’t have bothered. We all
know, don’t we, that the popular view of anything complex is always
simplistic and rarely positive. And yet, as our harshest critics on any
matter you care to mention, shouldn’t we take note of the view of Judy
and Joe Public in their public bar?
The responses certainly come as no surprise. Advertising is an
aggravating, extravagant interference getting in the way of press and
broadcast editorials (witness the emergence of the verb ’to zap’), and
only serves to bump up the prices of goods and services that would be
cheaper without it.
And should the grim reaper ever finally catch up with him - which I
doubt - Drayton Bird would surely turn in his future grave to learn that
direct marketing is, of course, just ’junk mail’. And no Joe or Judy
will naturally ever admit to being influenced by an ad, or responding to
a mailing, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
But at least advertising and DM are visible and tangible. What of
Judy and Joe still have a view. It ranges from the sad spectre of shady
shysters pulling strings behind the scenes, to the worlds of
manipulative spin doctors, and kiss ’n’ tell busty blonde bolly-sodden
It seems the prime purpose of PR people (please don’t say ’PR’s’)
revolves around hustling a hard-pressed press in order to push a
Words like ’puff’ and ’bumph’ predominate and the term ’PR exercise’ is
seen always to be a negative.
It’s all true of course. There are bimbos ... of both genders. Their
off-stage antics do reinforce the popular image of vacuous excess.
But like all truisms, it’s not the whole truth, and nothing but the
Does it matter?
Should marketers care? Well, PR’s particular problem is that one of
society’s most influential groups - hacks - are themselves consumers of
the service in its most humble and often puerile form: the press
And so, paradoxically, PR gets a poor press. And yet at its best it is a
philosophy that strikes right at the heart of any successful
It begins with asking ’who are we/what are we?’ questions, moves on to
the formulation of a meaningful culture based on the results and then
helps communicate to all those stakeholder groups upon whose success the
PR with some of these groups, like employees, involves not a single
journalist. At the top end PR is the most intellectual of all the
Heady stuff? No way. It’s true. So shouldn’t the public be told?
They’d never believe it.
Quentin Bell is chairman of the Quentin Bell Organisation.