Whatever bonkability has kept Sven-Goran Eriksson in the headlines during the only part of the year we should all be trying to forget the beautiful game, the Football Association have had the true dreariness of their crusty old clod-hopping male chauvinism revealed to the world. As if harking back to the mood of some secret, shady backroom deal from the 1960s, possibly with the Kray Brothers in attendance, the transcript of Colin Gibson’s ‘subtle’ approach to deal-making was printed in full in The News of the World yesterday. And sensational it was too, especially from a man paid £150,000 a year to make the FA’s ‘communications’ sound as though they are on the FA’s side.
Successful PR is about nurturing, about care, about shades of subtlety. It’s never black or white, never tub-thumping, It’s got more in common with gardening than with any competitive sport. A great pro needs to be tough but also demonstrate that they are a formidable opponent with more than half a brain. But the FA wouldn’t know anything about that.
Gibson may be only the fall guy, but you sense that they all really enjoy the trappings of power down at Soho Square, and when your designer ‘lifestyle’ is threatened that’s when Spin & Bluster, the Laurel & hardy of the PR world, usually come storming in to mess everything up. First Rule of PR: when problems occur, be honest.
Do not lie and start to dig yourself into holes out of which you will only be taken very publicly on the end of a rope. Be straight. It’s the only way the journalists who write the stories will ever respect you or believe a word you say.
The biggest trouble usually occurs – as with Mr Gibson – when journalists switch over and imagine they’ll make good PRs, in a sort of reverse poacher-to-gamekeeper syndrome. Making a living double-guessing your former colleagues and running the risk of imagining you’re no longer bound by journalistic mores is a recipe for disaster. Look at Alistair Campbell. Was ever a ‘former journalist’ so despised by the press?
The macho spin-doctor who would have died for Tony, who ran marathons and shouted rude words at the parliamentary lobby…in the end it was all so aggressive and so un-Tony Blair. Iraq, David Kelly and Lord Hutton notwithstanding, in the end Campbell became the story and he had to go.
So back to the FA, the sweet FA we all cherish and feel warm about. Er…perhaps not. But it could be that way. There could come a day when a call from the FA needn’t mean two tickets for Stamford Bridge and steaks for afters: it could mean a lovely chat at Harvey Nicks and a nice glass of Frascati. How? Simple: appoint some bright powerful fiercely intelligent female PRs. Believe me, that nurturing, long-term gardening aspect of PR (see above) is far, far better handled by women than by men.
And women are so much more convincing on the occasions when some or other story needs a little spicing-up or refinishing prior to distribution. Women do well in this business because, let’s be honest, they often have a deeper interest in relationships, and more patience to build the trust which is at the heart of the client/PR connection.
Forgive these sexist generalisations, but they’re TRUE. Women are also better at getting people to open up, and subsequently getting the whole story, bot just the little bit on which the client wants to focus. In a crisis or confrontation people tend to play their cards close to their chests – asked questions by our doctor, for instance, we edit our answers carefully – but with less confrontational female PRs the problem is almost unknown.