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Have public affairs folk become dull or are they simply afraid to be seen to be having fun? Asks Peter Bingle

5th March 2018

I have always believed that clients like to work with consultants who are not only best in class but are also best company. It is surely common sense that they want to work with people whose company they enjoy. So this has always been my personal mantra: Best in class. Best fun. And thus far I haven’t done too badly.

During my formative years at Westminster Strategy, The Communication Group and Bell Pottinger, I always strove to create teams which were not only brilliant in what they did but also great fun. I had to struggle against those who were obsessed by evaluation methodologies and templates. I didn’t need a methodology to tell me whether or not we had delivered for a client. If they continued to pay me a large monthly retainer and joined me at concerts and musicals I just assumed we were doing a good job. I rarely lost a client.

At Terrapin I am trying to show that even in the autumn of my life my mantra still works. The world has become increasingly humdrum and dull. I rarely see competitors at The Book of Mormon or Hairspray or even at The Barbican and I am perplexed as to why. Are public affairs folk dull or are they simply afraid to be seen to be having fun?

These are strange times. We appear as a society to be ever more puritanical to the point that having fun or a good lunch is frowned upon. Of course, there is a paradox. Go to the Book of Mormon or Iolanthe at the ENO and you will experience genuine hilarity. The audience is literally howling with laughter. Yet, in the public and political realms glumness and sobriety are now a given. Interesting is it not that at the same time the quality of our politicians has fallen to new lows? There has to be a link. Dullness and mediocrity are surely joined at the hip.

The public affairs industry (which I have always championed) tends to reflect the body politic so it is little wonder that it is also going through a difficult period. I have nothing against youth. Indeed, I was once young myself (!) but there is nowadays a strange dearth of experienced big hitters. When I was a youngster there were lots of them and they were all truly great characters. What has happened to them? It is bizarre…

I used to describe working at Bell Pottinger as living in Ancient Rome under Nero, but having much more fun! We advised most of the major organisations in the UK, charged them massive fees and they all loved us. Why? Because superb consultants delivered fantastic results and made them laugh. So simple and yet so successful.

If I ever become dull or boring  I trust that I will be taken for a final meal at Harry’s Bar and then despatched to The George Club in Paradise in an efficient, effective but painless manner. Without fun and laughter there really is no point. A client once said to me that whenever he visited my offices at Bell Pottinger all he could hear was laughter. It was meant as a compliment and was taken as such. Not a bad epitath.

Article written by Peter Bingle, founder of agency Terrapin Communications

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