Max Clifford is coming to Northern Conference on 31 October, and it’s raised a bit of a stink in some circles.

Now: as a transparent PR person, I have to say that I was one of the people in favour of him coming to Northern Conference. Very much in favour, if we’re being honest, and I’m still having trouble seeing what the problem is.

I know some people get upset when they hear Max being referred to as a ‘PR guru’ when he isn’t – but I don’t see them waving placards outside the BBC when Ab Fab is on, and AB Fab is even more removed from the wonderful world of public relations than Max is.

We’d rather people think of us a profession full of Bolly-swigging, past-their-prime alcoholics than people who [insert list of Max’s ‘achievements’ here]? Really?

I work in public relations, and I’m a CIPR member, which means I subscribe to the CIPR Code of Conduct. Max is a publicist, and frequently a self-seeking one. One who, by dent of not trying very hard at all, seems to know exactly how to wind people up (and not just the PROs). But for some, it’s as if the Code of Conduct is the creed by which we PROs must all live, and anyone who doesn’t believe in the Code must be cast out for all time into the fires of Hell and eternal damnation (or the PRCA), which is a bit harsh on those thousands of professionals who aren’t members. Now, I’m a Roman Catholic (“and I have been since before I were born“), I know dogma when I see it; the Code is just a Code, it’s not going to guarantee you a future in the afterlife at the right hand of Saints Edward Bernays and Ivy Lee.

And Max isn’t the Devil Incarnate: he’s just a very naughty boy.

As an aside, Bernays is apparently the man whose work encouraged millions of American women to take up smoking in public, helped overthrow the Government of Guatemala and revelled in the title of “America’s No. 1 Publicist”. Makes “Freddie Starr ate my hamster” look a bit tame, doesn’t it?

The argument for Creationism (sorry, more religion) goes: “If man evolved from monkeys and apes, why do we still have monkeys and apes?” So if modern public relations evolved from publicists, why do we still have publicists? I can’t speak for creationists, but publicists *are* part of the broad public relations church (er, spectrum). A good PRO can do what a publicist can, though the reverse is rarely true; just like men can swing on tyres and travel into space while monkeys… oh.

So stop worrying about Max and some of the things he does (and, sadly, some of the things he says). Let’s concentrate instead of improving our profession – not just for CIPR members but for everyone engaged in all the different branches of public relations activities – so that we can show the value of our profession and change public perception of it.

Oooh: you know what the PR profession could do with? A really good publicist…

One thought on “CIPR to the Max

  1. Excellent blog Gary – after listening to Max speak yesterday and hearing all the debate, I couldn’t agree with you more! A code of conduct isn’t about a ‘moral high ground’. It is about making a choice about what kind of practitioner you want to be. I’m not saying I agree with everything Max has done or everything he said yesterday but what I did agree with was the fact that being an excellent (rather than an average) practitioner is about standing up for what you believe in and staking a claim. Like him or loathe him, he has made an impact and a difference and, right or wrong, that was very inspirational for the students that attended his presentation yesterday. We also need to look at Max’s presentation in the context of the whole day at the CIPR Northern Conference – there were many different perspectives and viewpoints on the past, present and future of our industry but one theme ran throughout – the biggest risk to anyone working in public relations, communications, publicity or any related field is not being part of the conversation and not generating debate. We are about dialogue, not broadcasting messages and yesterday showed that we have an interesting story to tell that gets people talking. As an industry we ironically have some reputational issues but at least people are talking about us!

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