Just as more tech-enabled amateur sleuths are looking into the actions and statements of those in the public eye, TikTok provides a forum for influencers to join the conversation about their favourite public figures. This can be seen as a continuation of a trend that developed in the Nineties, says Tim Maltin, founder of London-based firm Maltin PR. ‘Arguably, Tony Blair was one of the first prime ministers to govern by media,’ says Maltin. ‘One always remembers certain phrases like “Education, education, education”.’
But soon after the method increased in prominence, so did the internet – and, with it, opportunities to dissect the work of figures such as Blair’s director of communications, Alastair Campbell. This left the public ‘more able to recognise’ the ‘craft of the spin doctor’, says PR guru Mark Borkowski, who, around the turn of the millennium, wrote a column for the Guardian’s website analysing notable PR manoeuvres. Campbell stepped back from the high-profile press secretary post for a role running communications and strategy behind the scenes, before events caught up with him and he resigned in 2003 over the Iraq weapons/David Kelly affair.
But in and of itself, knowing that a public figure is making use of PR advisers doesn’t count against them, Borkowski says. ‘I don’t think anybody in the world out there doesn’t think someone significant hasn’t got PR help. Everybody knows that every celebrity worth their salt has got a publicist.’