The news that MI6 will be launching its first advertising campaign aimed at recruiting more women is significant not just because M’s the word. It marks a new openness for an organisation that for the best part of the last century did their utmost to persuade us they didn’t exist. Diversifying away from the old boys networks that have often characterised the world of spooks is fitting for a moment when macho power-structures everywhere are being exposed. Yet it also seems to be part of a more general drift towards openness, the benefits of which are not always clear cut.
Unsurprisingly this urge has been most pronounced at the coalface of communications- PR. Even Kensington Palace -the paragon of restraint- fell into this trap in their misjudged response to the Thomas Markle debacle when it issued a statement announcing Meghan’s care for her father. Which only begged the question, why wouldn’t she care? In its heyday the Royal spin machine knew that the best way to kill a story is to say nothing. By fuelling the speculation the blurred line between Kensington and Kardashian risked torpedoing the careful choreography of Royal communications. Necks were saved -thankfully- by an event that went off without a hitch, a demonstration of British pageantry and state power.
Few would argue against the value of transparency. It’s Mark Zuckerberg’s new favourite word. Yet issuing statements for the sake of doing something isn’t openness; it’s just noise. This isn’t just a problem with PR agencies justifying their retainer (although the way careful, informed counsel is rarely valued as highly as the press release churn is deeply worrying). When American diplomacy is governed by trading blows over twitter we know we’ve passed through the looking glass. Even commentators well-versed in world affairs seemed hoodwinked by Trump’s self-declared “modern Presidentialism”, willing to see in his trolling of Kim Jong-Un a potential breakthrough in the decades long deadlock in the Korean peninsula. Alas it turns out Donald quest for peace -or at least a Nobel Peace Prize to put alongside his Emmy- is on hold because, surprisingly, murderous dictators don’t like being bossed around and belittled on social media. Now that the historic meeting between Trump and Kim has been cancelled attention ought to turn back to the quiet, patient diplomacy that had been painstakingly nurtured over the last few years by South Korea, China and the UN.
None of this is meant to undermine the art of a well-timed, precisely worded statement. Brevity is of the essence, as is a dash of wit….