A must hear in Adelaide

The Adelaide Writers’ Week is always outstanding but this year’s program contains one exceptionally interesting speaker who might not get as much attention as other, higher profile, writers.

 The writer is Ann Wroe, The Economist obituary editor and writer of many of the obits. The Economist obits are a delight – a great example of how simple, elegant, witty and cerebral writing is still possible in the modern media.  She was also the paper’s US editor in the Clinton years.

 Ann Wroe’s other interest for communications people stems from her books. Pontius Pilate: The Biography of an Invented Man is not only a wonderful description of reception history and mythopoeia but also a reminder of how images and attitudes were shaped centuries ago long before a few people started talking about how the US had invented public relations. Another of her books, Perkin: A Study of Deception, is a biography of Perkin Warbeck, pretender to the English throne in the time of Henry VII. Perkin claimed to be one of the princes from the Tower allegedly murdered by Richard III. What is striking from the point of view of public relations is how celebrity shapes what people believe. Lots of people, for various reasons, believed him and the greater the belief the easier the pretence. It was what we now refer to as the ‘halo effect’ which allows brand extensions, skews corporate reputation measurement and explains celebrity endorsements.

 Incidentally, it is interesting that she is coming here so soon after the discovery of Richard III’s remains. Unhorsed and killed in close contact it makes one wonder about a significant change in the consequences of political leaders deciding to go to war. Would George W. Bush, Tony Blair and John Howard have been so keen on invading Iraq if they had been at the battlefront experiencing the ‘face of battle’ and risking falling at Baghdad as Richard and Harold did at Bosworth and Hastings? Howard, of course, could perhaps have opted for a champion and pitched Abbott against Hussein but Dubya and Blair didn’t seem to have such ready champions close at political hand.