Guides to good – and very,very bad – writing

However much PR people go on about the various skills essential to PR practice there is one overwhelming pre-requisite – the need to write well. What makes it challenging is that the writing is usually not in the author’s voice but more frequently in the voices of many others.

Equally frequently many of those voices are using, and demanding, words which can only be regarded as utter claptrap. Once upon a time we called it jargon – a word which Shirley Hazzard, in her book We Need Silence to Find Out What we Think, said derived from ancient times and related to the twittering of geese. But now – along with capital T Twitter and business claptrap the geese sound like songbirds. read more

No longer the Tory party at prayer

When British Prime Minister, John Major, looked for words to describe the sort of England he hoped for he turned to George Orwell’s description of “old maids cycling to Holy Communion through the morning mist” from his essay: The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius.

It was an ironic choice given Orwell’s socialism and the once common assumption that the Anglican Church is the Tory party at prayer – a view that didn’t help Theresa May when she regularly referred to her vicar father’s influence. Almost a quarter of a century after Major’s comments visiting many Anglican churches makes it seem doubly ironic. read more

Eulogising a good friend

The following is the eulogy the blog delivered a year ago for his friend Don Macfarlane. It joined other eulogies by family, friends and colleagues and representatives of organisations he had generously helped.

I had lunch with Don on May 27.

On that Friday Don had just come from a meeting with a professor who was giving him advice about the next stages. The advice – focus on one thing. When I asked Don what his one thing would be his answer was – of course – painting. read more

Postscripts to an election

The UK election is continuing to generate theories, punditry and speculation but it is fascinating to look at some of the little things which go to make up a campaign and how they look in retrospect.

The Maybot ‘strong and stable’ slogan may have originated with the Prime Minister’s co-chiefs of staff who have just resigned. It might also have originated with the Tory Australian strategist, Lynton Crosby, who was knighted by David Cameron. Whoever, the co-chiefs have gone and one needs to be careful what one says about Crosby because he has been known to be litigious – unlike his former Australian client, John Howard, who estimably took the view that you give and take it in politics. read more

UK Election: Another heap of egg on the pundits’ faces

The UK election has a bit of everything for politicos and pundits – polls all over the place, poor punditry performance and the unveiling of a new rule on how to gauge polling errors.

As usual the majority of pundits got it wrong and the more confident they were in their assertions the more wrong they were. This is a phenomenon the blog has written a lot about, in particular drawing attention to alternatives which tend to work much better – Tetlock’s crowdsourcing and sifting prediction methodology and Nate Silver’s emphasis on Bayesian probability. It should be said that Tetlock and Silver do get things wrong – Tetlock on Brexit and Silver on Trump – but what is more significant is how often they get things right; show how you can make better predictions; and, how they demonstrate why others get things wrong so often. In Silver’s defence, with Trump he did always point to the possibility of Trump winning, and the blog wouldn’t have wanted to play Russian roulette on the basis of the probabilities Silver estimated. read more

It’s a scary place out there – but scarier in more ways than you think

People throughout history have been pretty hopeless at assessing risk.

The blog was in France last year after the terrorist attacks and in the UK after the first London Bridge attack but before the current ones. It was struck by how often people asked whether it was a good idea to go or not. The blog sort of shared the concern as far as the UK was concerned because it was driving a car in Britain for the first time in years, and driving it much more slowly than just about everyone else on the road, but not because of the terrorist risk. In France in crowded markets there were more soldiers and police than one could imagine and at train stations even obviously off duty soldiers (they’re easy to spot if you know how) were showing high degrees of alertness. And in the UK, even though IRA bombings are long in the past, people are still very conscious of left parcels and bags. read more

Ignorance, power and Wonder Woman

One of the most depressing things about contemporary life is the realisation that, despite the Enlightenment and modern science, we live in societies in which many of the most vocal and most powerful people demonstrate astonishing ignorance.

The Dunning-Kruger effect, which describes the condition in which truly incompetent and/or ignorant people, believe they are really very, very awesome is very, very much in the news these days with Donald Trump as its poster boy. But as details of the views of some of his appointees emerge, for instance in leaked discussions during the recent seven days Trump world tour, it is clear that the condition also affects more in the Trump administration than just him. read more

Post truth fake news is not new

If there is one historian all PR people should read it is Peter Burke, author of The Fabrication of Louis XIV and the multi volume A Social History of Knowledge.

The blog has frequently referred (in books, presentations and this blog) to Burke’s work because much of it throws light on the history of communication and PR and how rulers and others created and nurtured their images. Now he has collected a series of essays, Secret History and Historical Consciousness, which among other things looks at personal, contextual and historical self-fashioning. In particular the book looks at how inter-disciplinary insights impact on this self-fashioning – from other cultures and disciplines such as sociology, geography and anthropology. These are the sort of insights essential to developing effective communication strategies. In passing he also looks at the post-modernists who challenge the way we perceive things. read more

An insider’s view of how public relations really works