Ray Eglington, group managing director of Four Communications Group and current chair of the Middle East Public Relations Association (MEPRA) share his views on how the PR profession is practiced today... at the White House but also in the Middle East.
For PR professionals across the globe, the White House has been the gift that didn’t stop giving this summer… albeit one which had us staring slack-jawed at our news feeds, mouthing ‘they did what?!’ on a weekly, sometimes daily basis.
From talking about the ‘fine people’ marching at Charlottesville, to the ‘fire and fury’ warnings to North Korea, to public attacks on his own party and, worse, his own appointees, Donald Trump seems to have picked up the PR 101 handbook and decided to ignore pretty much every lesson.
And that’s before we consider his regular press conference attacks on ‘fake news’.
In the digital world, the old adage about not picking fights with people who buy ink by the barrel might sound old-fashioned, but regular, aggressive attacks on The New York Times, CNN or even the BBC are counter-productive to say the least.
The event that really got me banging my head on the desk was the (thankfully short-lived) appointment of Anthony Scaramucci as White House communications director.
The ‘Mooch’ came to the job with some impressive experience across many areas of business. He was lauded in the official announcement as “a successful entrepreneur, financier, and founder of SkyBridge Capital”.
In fact, there seemed to be only one significant gap in that experience: public relations. The closest he’d got to any meaningful background in PR appeared to be as a cheerleader for the Trump presidency on various TV programmes.
The announcement rolled back the years to a time when PR was seen as the job anyone could do, as long as they had a smart suit, good hair and a nice line in patter.
For decades, the industry has put huge efforts into getting boardroom recognition for the importance of communications. That’s meant demonstrating the need for insight-led strategies, showing the results that effective communications can deliver in terms of business outcomes and highlighting the value that trust in a brand delivers to the bottom line.
All those only happen if the right skills base is in place, from the ground up. (Or, in the Mooch’s case, from the top down). That means trained, experienced professionals, people who know what they are doing.
In the 12 years I’ve been here, the industry in the Middle East has taken huge strides in improving its core skills base. In key markets, there is a vibrant and highly competitive PR agency scene and the best in-house communications leaders in the region are now recognised worldwide.
In September, the industry takes the next step in that journey, with the launch of the new MEPRA Academy. For the first time, there will be an internationally accredited curriculum of PR and communications training – for all levels, from graduates to vice-presidents and managing directors.
The Mooch duly obliged all the naysayers by committing the cardinal sin for communications directors – becoming the story. He was gone within the fortnight.
It didn’t seem like he particularly enjoyed his brush with PR. However, if we are mistaken, maybe a few sessions at the MEPRA Academy might help. I’d recommend Media Relations 101 for a start…