Bell Pottinger’s David Wilson on why it is important to stay true

Am I alone in believing that once you’ve fought – often tooth and nail – to promote, defend and build a brand that you should be an advocate through thick and thin? For life perhaps? 

My question has been prompted by the plethora of autobiographical accounts that now hit the bookshelves. A fan of non-fiction (I’d highly recommend the first Michael J Fox autobiography Lucky Man as one you’ll be challenged to put down), I’m intrigued by the proliferation of low-quality tittle-tattle from Z-listers and worse … insignificant people in politics.

In public relations, once we’ve taken a client’s fees, we should be bound to the brand and the argument we are carrying. We’ve sold our soul and so clients expect our undivided support. And yet people thumb their noses at those for whom they’d previously fought ‘in the communication trenches’.

It now seems the norm that if you’ve spent a few days in the limelight or any political office – no matter if directly or indirectly elected – then you’re entitled to produce a written record. Some have a burning desire to lay down one’s account. Others are simply selling their soul and the reputations of others for cash, be this a few thousand pounds, or indeed, millions of pounds.

But does this rush to release one’s memoirs have a positive or negative impact on their general public perception, or the brands they’ve stood for? Can biographical accounts really change or reinforce deep-rooted views?

Tony Blair’s account of his time in No.10 forms the latest summary of Labour’s turbulent and yet historic period in office. But his selective memory has not really told us anything we didn’t already know, not least about the most public political civil war ever to engulf a government. I stood in a bookshop queue before publication to hear a raft of customers dismiss outright the offer of pre-ordering this forthcoming publication. Their response highlighted a deep-rooted contempt for Mr Blair’s record in office.

Were we ever going to secure the truth or half-truth in this tome? Did we really get Blair’s candid thoughts on Gekko Gordon, Saintly Cherie, Crazy Caplin and the Beast of Campbell? I fear not.

Surely the superbly flawed Prince of Darkness had already cast his magic by getting his defence in first. Or perhaps it was an attack. Even Peter Mandelson was beaten into print by an insignificant pollster, detailing some work for a flawed leader in denial. Gordon Brown could justifiably have thought he was paying for trust and sincerity.

The memoirs of Blair and Brown (surely to come) will tell us little we didn’t know about two characters whose animosity in the highest political office had already secured the greatest media scrutiny of any political spat.

So one wonders what price we now place on loyalty, and the length of our loyalty. As communicators, are we bound for life?

Political loyalty appears to stretch no longer than the time you are resident in power, or less in the case of Blair and Brown! Blair clearly thought it better to have his once loyal political friend, then bugbear, enemy and his eventual nemesis “peeing from within” rather than expounding a deluge from outside the Downing Street tent.

Certainly, my own loyalty to brands has been tested over the years. Only recently, a company I previously represented, simply deserted me as a customer in need. Not only did customer service fail, but worse, there was no service recovery to follow. A paid defender of the brand no more, I witnessed and later allowed an immensely damaging online tirade to go uncontested. At best I became a passive bystander. No longer could I bring myself to deliver a vocal defence.

Worse, I’ve even seen good communicators unfairly rubbish expert analysis by unleashing their hired bulldogs (really no more than pathetic puppies) to bite from afar. Brave souls! Communicators, whose brands are under attack must draw breath and not allow a brief moment to cloud a wiser long-term judgement call.

This rambling has all served to remind me of the friends and colleagues with whom I’ve stood in the trenches to represent brands I’ve truly believed in. Without that belief in a client’s’ case and cause, and their right to be heard, then I wouldn’t have represented them at all.

A career is built over decades and yet spoilt in seconds – just like brands. Will I change my tune and be paid by the publishing piper? No. Perhaps I alone will take my secrets to the grave, but then perhaps they’re not that newsworthy. Reminds me of the story…

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