When I began working in the PR industry - although there were so few of us then you could hardly call it an industry - I never dreamt that the masses of material I've collected over the years and my diaries filled with hieroglyphics only I could decipher would end up on the walls of one of the most prestigious museums on the planet - the V&A. But that's what happened when I staged and curated the Always Print The Myth event across three weeks in April and May. It's made me re-evaluate what PR means in the 21st Century.
Here are a few themes that cropped up during the three weeks of speakers at the V&A
1. PR is a broad church, there are many different ways of delivering a message and I wanted to show the art of PR wasn't confined to those with PR on their business cards. I thought long and hard about the speakers and wanted them to reflect different aspects of communication. From Lord Tim Bell and Alastair Campbell, Bob Marley's photographer Dennis Morris through to the artist Jeremy Deller, Bob Geldof and advertising guru Sir John Hegarty. All came from very different backgrounds but all were great communicators and storytellers.
2. Brilliant communicators understand the importance of the message and that some of the best ideas have been written on the back of the proverbial fag packet and napkin. Many of the speakers were concerned at the amount of time being wasted on endless brain storming meetings and an over reliance on thousands of e mails when it really came down to the simplicity of an original idea. That to me is part of why the future looks rosy for PR - good ideas never go out of fashion. The explosion of social media and massive increase in TV and Radio channels mean the PR is even more crucial in business to help navigate the plethora of media outlets from the most niche blog through to the big beasts of Fleet Street.
3. Yes, the digital age has meant things have got much, much faster but telling a fantastic and engaging story is still at the heart of good PR. Many would think the words "good" and "PR" would never go together. But I vehemently disagree. I've always felt it was a natural thing to tell people about exciting bands and brands. When you hear a great song or album you really want to tell all your friends about it so they can share in your excitement. With PR now you get to do that with thousands if not millions of people in minutes. I like to think we are a bit like a souped up town crier, exclaiming "hear ye, hear ye." But now we have a computer and the Internet instead of a massive bell.
4. I started out in music first as a writer then as a PR man. One of our guest speakers really illustrated how music and PR can go together in an unusual way. Paddy Haverson, the former press secretary to the Prince of Wales was a huge Smiths fan and explained how he had wanted to get Prince Charles to Salford Boys Club for a photo opportunity. Not sure if The Queen is Dead was out that week.
5. Lots of brilliant anecdotes came up. I have a few rock and roll tales. Keith Moon smashing up my first bosses office before nonchalantly telling me to "Tell Keith (my employer) I called old chap" as he looked down imperiously through his monocle, playing football with Bob Marley, dropping my mobile in the toilet on the eve of a huge Spice Girls announcement and being chased from the venue by the lead singer of Big Country because my backstage game of ping pong had been broadcast over his gig. Hopefully some of these yarns raised a chuckle for our audience although they often didn't feel funny at the time!
6. Finally, I think we have reached the beginning of a new era and the end of an old one. Practicing PR now is like conducting an orchestra with social media, traditional print, radio, TV and blogs all in the mix. The key is coordination. When I started out the PR was a rarity and now there are very few boardrooms that don't have a PR in them. Indeed, even our PM was a former PR. At the end of the day the PR is a messenger and persuader - and that doesn't go out of fashion.