Lobbying – the art of the impossible, surely?

(Speech by Hall PR director, Don Hall – Dublin, September 2017)

Has lobbying become the modern-day pursuit of the snake oil salesman? Has the manner in which some practice the art become a fast-track method of besmirching reputations…those of the lobbyist, of the politician who has been lobbied, and of the client whose interest the lobbyist was engaged to further? Judging by some recent, high profile occurrences, the answer to both questions would appear to be a definite ‘yes’.

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The task of ‘bending a politician’s ear’ is one that’s as old as Government itself. It’s a pursuit that the Irish engage in, with relish…something that is natural to us. For generations, it has been carried out on the roadside after Sunday mass…practised at funerals and at football and hurling matches…over pints in the local pub and in the sanctuary of a politician’s private clinic.

Mindful that the very finest form of lobbying is carried out in silence – with a nod and a whisper and a shake of the hand – one can still be sure that the picture painted above continues unabated, unrestricted by regulations introduced to protect politicians from the infection that lobbying can sometimes visit upon them.

It was over the last decades that lobbying began to change in Ireland. Like a cavalry charge, professional lobbying came galloping over the hill, flag waving and bugle blaring.

For those multi-nationals accustomed to having highly paid lobbyists pushing their agendas in Washington, Brussels and the like, local help was at hand. For native enterprises that believed themselves impotent in the matter – and were willing to pay hefty fees for the service – the emergence of clean-cut, mohair-suited executives who would boast of ‘being in the know’ became something of a Godsend.

Driving this change was a community of over-the-hill politicians, civil servants on the early retirement trail, political party apparatchiks, failed Ministerial advisors and programme managers, and journalists abandoning their craft in pursuit of the richer pickings lobbying promised. Fanning the (often mistaken) belief that they had influence in the corridors of power, lobbying was an escape route to a new career whereby they could bolster their earnings by escorting fee-rich clients through some ‘mystical’ process that, in truth, they (clients) might be better advised to undertake for themselves.

Dressed in all its finery and perfumed with an alluring aroma of intrigue, the supposed power to shape the mind of Ministers and influence political decision-making is now being promoted as a marketable service that can be hired if one only had the budget to pay for it! Like the Holy Grail, politicians became portrayed as something akin to a community of untouchables – distant people whose minds, whose intelligence, whose willpower were housed in a secure place to which lobbyists alone have the key.

That the majority of TDs and Senators are public people who can be approached openly, easily and in so many different ways is something that….sshhh…we must be careful not to mention!

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Lobbying, as it is popularly known, is, in one respect, a wholly necessary and worthy undertaking. Politicians, even the most senior, Government officials and local representatives cannot keep themselves up-to-the-minute on every trend, development, nuance or consequence peculiar to the life and activities of an organisation – whether it be a business or professional body, trade union or representative organisation, charitable or voluntary undertaking, a pressure group or otherwise. Fact of life!

Indeed, it could be argued that politicians and officials are somewhat errant when it comes to equipping themselves with research and knowledge that they ought to have in order to carry out their duties more effectively, and that those [lobbyists] who set about filling their knowledge void may well be doing a monumental favour for society as a whole.

Therefore, those who have information to impart should do so, safe in the knowledge that they are engaging in a communications process. No more and no less than a church newsletter, the simple and ethical transfer of information from one to another is an activity that surely poses no threat to the welfare of the State.

However, it is at the point where ‘communication’ morphs into ‘persuasion’ that the problem occurs; when ‘for your information’ becomes ‘urging and encouragement’ as one determines to alter a political course…or seek benefit or preference…or forestall or amend legislation…or wreak change to a particular policy.

Horrendous in this context would be efforts to induce or otherwise reward those who may be the targets of a lobby. As observers of the Irish scene will know, this is a Rubicon that has already been crossed. Lobbying has become a dirty word, a sullied trade besmirched by the actions of some, infamous for having suffered the ‘hard time’ consequence that their love of the ‘brown envelope’ method of communications attracted.

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Not unreasonably, this underhand (backhand?) approach to political arm-twisting encouraged legislators to introduce regulations governing lobbying and lobbyists, and all who practise the gentle art of political persuasion.

Introduced in the interests of what is euphemistically called ‘transparency’, those engaged in lobbying must now, under law, furnish a comprehensive report to a State body – SIPO, the Standards In Public Office Commission – setting out full details of who it was that was lobbied, the purpose of the lobby, etc., etc.

Like a traffic light, politicians now regard lobbyists as people to be approached with caution. They know that contact with a lobbyist, and the purpose of it, must be registered publicly, in open view, and liable to be queried in parliamentary debates, raised (or questioned) in media reports or broadcast via social media. This has led to a tightening of the situation in relation to lobbying activity generally, and should serve as a warning to those who might engage in it without care to consequence.

As observers of the lobbyists’ trade, we in Hall PR have chosen not to offer ourselves as professional lobbyists – despite the fact that we have been closer to the political process than many who profess to be experts in the field. Noting that politicians’ minds are seldom for turning on important issues, and a conviction that lobbying really doesn’t work, we stick rigidly to the belief that the process of political engagement should never be undertaken for commercial gain, nor should one ever allow oneself to be commissioned under such terms.

While we thoroughly enjoy political communications – and have gained a privileged insight into the political process – we do not promote ourselves as ‘lobbyists’ nor do we conduct what might be termed ‘lobbying activity’ for commercial reward.

Some say we’re silly…the more enlightened say we’re shrewd! Indeed, the last to comment on the matter, a former Government minister, said: ‘the day you guys start talking to me for fees will be the day I’ll stop talking to you for fun’.

Indeed, so anxious have politicians become to put distance between themselves and those who practise the dark art, more than a few lobbyists have had shadows cast over their own reputations as those within the body politic rush to cleanse themselves of the very suggestion that they would ever engage with such people. Dog dirt and shoes come to mind.

Our advice is this: Become involved with politicians and engage with the political process by all means…but do so on a strictly voluntary basis, without expectation of fee or favour. Then will you be stimulated, motivated, educated and frustrated in almost equal measure, and come away mentally rewarded in ways you could not imagine. Become involved in politics for money or material reward and you will come away branded with the mark of being a political hack.

But not to worry…should that day come, you need have no concern! Around the corner will be a career working for some lobbyist who will offer you to clients, charging out your time in fee amounts that only a heart surgeon could justify.

Then, on the treadmill of your own good reputation and the friendships you have formed, will you be expected to demonstrate your political pedigree, justify your credentials, and pony up proof of your performance – appointments with politicians, their programme managers and advisors; letters and copies of correspondence; meetings, briefings and dining dates; acceptances, refusals and excuses; any scrap your boss can report to clients as evidence of your effort.

As one wit noted: If politics is the art of the possible, then lobbying must surely be the art of the impossible!

PR – The answer to so many questions

PR is magnificently challenging in terms of the situations it throws up for which solutions are sought, and hugely varied in terms of the problems it can be asked to resolve.

In delivering job satisfaction, it can be wonderfully creative in terms of the opportunities it offers to be imaginative, inventive and strategic, and wholly rewarding in terms of the enjoyment and satisfaction it brings when executed well.

These and more are amongst the benefits one gets from a career in PR. If it has a health-giving dimension, it surely arises from the fact that no two days will ever be the same, nor will boredom or routine ever come as options. In that regard, PR is a career that promises physical and mental stimulation, sufficient to ensure that the successful practitioner will have little time to focus inwards in a manner that could be damaging to wellbeing.

Hugely relevant in today’s world – given all of the pressure for information and answers emanating from a 24/7 media and a curious and demanding public – the service that PR performs is likely to be in demand well into the future. Consequently, for those young people in search of a career that offers the prospect of long-term employment, PR should feature in the frame.

In government and politics…in offices of state…in the public sector generally…in commercial, professional and voluntary enterprises…in agriculture, food cultivation and production…in charities, medicine, health care and not-for-profit undertakings…in sport…in religious and church affairs…in security and policing…and in other walks of life too numerous to mention, the importance of PR is recognised and held in high regard.

Some of the skills and talents that would benefit anyone pursuing a career in PR would be an enquiring and questioning mind and doggedness when gathering fact and information. Important also would be a facility for scepticism, a talent for judging, both the ‘upside’ and the ‘downside’, a courage to speak out and give advice and caution, and an ability to be a true devil’s advocate, by seeing and sometimes judging situations as others might.

It is qualities like these that help the PR person to [metaphorically] ‘walk around’ a problem, to envisage situations and outcomes, to think through scenarios and to plot a course before finally deciding on the approach to take.

Beyond that, one must have a love of words – a craving to write, whether in statements for media consumption, speeches, reports, scripts or presentations. Beneficial too are organisational skills, a talent for abstract thinking and an ability to conceptualise – to ‘see’ things in theory, to envisage outcomes, and to be creative and ‘think outside the box’ when planning strategy and designing programmes.

PR – without it, where would life’s little questions go to be answered? Where would opportunity go to find expression? Where would those who understand it, and who strain to work in it, go to find an outlet for their talents?

While education and study have their purpose, they will not suffice to prepare one for a career in PR. In every sense, it is a ‘learned’ discipline. Only through on-the-job experience can one build up the fund of knowledge and experience that will inform performance going forward. And, such is the level of change taking place in society today, it is a poor practitioner who will not learn something new almost every day.

Those keen to pursue a career in PR would be advised to consult the Public Relations Institute of Ireland regarding courses available or to interact with practitioners who are prominent and active in the trade.

Social Media – the communications platform of which even Presidents should be careful

Brought into sharp focus by certain high-profile figures, and the bandwagon of recent public controversies and debates, social media is under a spotlight as never before.

In its most acceptable form, this new communications platform offers tremendous opportunity for groups and individuals to engage creatively and positively with each other.

Yet, those who look to it in seeking to foster healthy and active online engagement (whilst helping to manage risks and prevent misuse) would be advised to take note of the following recently published guidelines.

They advise all concerned to exercise courtesy and responsibility at all times when using social media. More pointedly, they recommend that we ask the following questions of ourselves when preparing to post a comment or image:

Would the content of my message breach a confidence?

Would I want my family and friends to read it?

Would I want to see it published on the front page of a major newspaper?

Would I speak its content from a public platform, or write it in a letter, broadcast it on radio or television, or include it in a circular, newsletter or some other medium?

Will it be damaging to my own good name and reputation or cause anyone to think less of me?

Does what I am writing reflect a compassion worthy of the person I am, or would like others to believe I am?

Where it might concern a disagreement, have I tried to resolve it privately beforehand or could its publication only deepen the dispute?

Is it something I would be happy that my boss would read or have it brought to the notice of a prospective employer?

Will it break the laws of the land or offend against public decency and good taste?

Is it something that would withstand investigation in a court of law or in a police station, or survive questioning by a slick lawyer acting on behalf of an aggrieved client?

If written on the spur-of-the-moment – inspired by some fleeting incident, utterance or occurrence – pause and ask if I should set it aside and let my emotions subside before posting?

Does it paint an accurate picture of me and is it something I would like to add to my public profile, now and forever?

Social media can be a wonderful medium when used well.  However, it is a wise person who exercises good judgement about what he or she is saying on it, how and why it is being said, and to whom it is being said.

Social media posts are public property, not restricted to the person to whom they are addressed but available to be rebroadcasted by others.

Remembering that they can travel across the globe within seconds – and that misunderstandings can quite easily and very quickly occur – before posting a comment or image on social media, be advised to pause and consider the tone of the conversation you are joining, and whether it is appropriate to participate.

 

Brexit : Questions

Could the British decision to leave the EU be the best one they’ve ever made? Alternatively, could it herald in an era which they will live to bitterly regret?

For those who view Brexit in a positive light, will it deliver the opportunities in employment, in exports, in savings, in economic growth and prosperity that many hope and anticipate it will?

After decades spent, confined under the shelter of an EU umbrella, could Brexit prove to be the stimulus that Britain seeks to get it moving in a positive direction? It’s a thought that few are willing to endorse, one that fewer still seem willing to believe.

But what if it turns out to be true?

What if Britain does come alive, free of the constraints that EU membership imposes? What consequences would such an outcome have for Ireland?

From Ireland’s viewpoint, what if post-Brexit Britain flourishes in its newfound freedom? More importantly, what if its path to progress leads it to conclude trade deals with countries for goods and services we currently supply?

Is Britain about to attend a party at which Ireland too should be a distinguished guest, but whose name does not appear on the invitation list?

Are we prepared for this possibility and any outcome that might follow from it?

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In the way that balm is designed to soothe, we are assured that matters are in hand; that Ministers are hard at work; that Ireland has lots of friends in Europe; and that ours is a country that punches well above its weight around the EU table.

But, dare we place our faith in such assurances?

With Britain’s train now about to leave the EU station, departing for a destination that some believe should be ours also, will we be able, on our own, to plan a successful future for ourselves if Britain’s doors are no longer open to us in the way they once were?

Alone, as the only remaining English speaking nation, will we be able to protect and promote Ireland’s interests surrounded, as we will be, by a diverse group of foreign nations with which we have so little in common, historically, culturally and linguistically?

If one believes that Ireland’s long-term interests are best served by staying close to Britain; by not allowing too big a gap to grow between us; have we placed ourselves in a good position or is there lots more work that we should do?

If it is their priority to agree new trade deals with the USA, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, India, other Commonwealth and non-Commonwealth countries, should we be travelling alongside them on that path?

Knowing that Britain is our single largest trading partner, how might our interest be best served by not staying close to them? For the interest of Ministers and other opinion formers, there are actions we might profitably consider:

We should voice friendly words of understanding and best wishes for the action they are taking – words of a kind one would expect to receive from a friendly neighbour.

We should appoint a top notch (all-party) group of negotiators and open high level discussions with Britain concerning our shared future interests rather than wait for any EU bureaucrat to do our work for us.

We should make clear our desire to maintain an even closer relationship with them, even by concluding an overarching Anglo Irish Agreement that would take account of our new situation – one that would embrace our wider sphere of interests and transcend any that our EU membership would permit us to make.

We should reveal our interest in being party to any North Atlantic trading arrangement as might be agreed.

Mindful of a view once expressed by a leading member of Dáil Éireann: that Ireland should consider rejoining the Commonwealth, we should seek to develop deeper trading links with countries such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand and India, and those numerous African, Middle Eastern, Far Eastern, Central and South American nations where the need exists for products and services that Ireland and Britain could so well provide.

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Contrary to popular opinion, many are of the view that a brave new world exists beyond the EU – one that Britain will soon have the motivation to explore. Were Ireland to become so minded, would our future interests be best served by seeking to accompany them on their journey by whatever means can be agreed?

It’s a question for which we have little more than one year to find an answer.

 

Don’t waste your money on Public Relations

Amazing as it may seem, there are still a few businesses out there that are happy to pay large fees to PR companies without expecting…or getting…much in return.

It’s a situation exemplified in a conversation we had with the boss of a well-known and successful local radio station. Citing one of our largest international consultancies, he said: ‘every month they send us a fee invoice, yet they do absolutely nothing for us in return.’

It was a confession that begged this jocose response:  ‘You could improve your situation at a stroke – you could move your account to us and, if you like paying for a service you don’t get, we could charge just half that amount and still do nothing for you.’

Doing nothing for clients while taking their money is something foreign to our culture. How could we sleep at night knowing that we weren’t earning every penny we charge for our services?

Yet it’s surprising how many do.

Another example we came across was the case of a leading motor importer whose PR manager had engaged the back-up services of an outside consultancy. Commenting, one year into the appointment, she revealed: ‘I could sit in my office, week in and week out, and not once would they call me with a proposal they wanted to discuss. All the ideas still come from me.’

At Hall PR, we work by these simple standards:

One, we deliver quality advice.

Two, we give top class attention to our clients…always being interested in their affairs and forever striving to capitalise on the events, developments and opportunities that arise.

Three, thankfully, we deliver top class results…and we can name a string of clients who will testify to that fact.

Four, we don’t charge the earth…never in our 40 plus years history have we ever had a client dispute over fees.

If we’re the kind of PR firm you wish you had, but don’t… we’d be delighted to hear from you.

 

 

 

Time to ditch the Mission Statement?

For many years, the Mission Statement has been part of the corporate communications toolbox.

Managers have been wedded to it, seeing it as a short, simple, easy-to-read composition that would magically portray an organisation as responsible, caring and committed, with determination and resources to serve its various publics to the very highest standards.

Like any promise, the Mission Statement became a manifestation of corporate intent. But, therein lay its fatal flaw – like any promise, Mission Statements are aspirational. They promise ‘jam tomorrow’ whilst often skirting the ‘jam today’ treat that the public craves.

Using terms like ‘strive to be’ and ‘working to provide’ and ‘determined to achieve’ and other vague constructions, Mission Statements generally deliver hope but no salvation.

Is it time, therefore, that managers ditched them and substituted something new that would promote what a company is, not what it hopes to be?

What that something new would be is a Statement of First Principles.

For the majority, ethics and principles are the intangibles that frame our behaviour and guide our lives. Either one has them or one does not. The same is true for business.

A Statement of First Principles is one that would set out the non-negotiable yardsticks by which your enterprise operates, the bedrock that forms its foundation, the elements that, when considered in the round, define the character of your business.

To those entering a relationship with your organisation for whatever reason, it should provide an insight into the type of operation it is. It should be solid, strong and clear…not vague or wishy-washy. It should present a true insight into your business, the ethics and standards that it espouses and the things that make it tick.

In order that those who read it would know and understand, it should be written in language that is unequivocal and devoid of conditions, caveats and qualifications and be sufficiently clear to remove any cloak of doubt that one might have on key issues.

Youth or Experience – You Can’t Buy Both

When choosing a public relations consultancy, one will inevitably run up against that age old choice: Should I opt for youth or go for a firm that has experience?

Looking through a recent Who’s Who in Public Relations supplement published by Business Plus magazine, one was struck by the many fresh young faces whose agencies were profiled and whose opinions were quoted.

Youngest was a firm just a few months old. Oldest – though they themselves may not be conscious of it – was a firm that has been advising clients longer than any other.

The consultancy one chooses will often depend on the nature and quality of service one is seeking.  Youth has its very special appeal, especially in this social media driven world. Young agencies can have a vibrancy, a bubbling enthusiasm, an urgency and drive that long-established firms may find difficult to match. The need to ‘prove oneself’ can be a potent force.

Against this, one might ask: How can the older, more mature consultancy compete?

One imagines that the answer lies in the fact that consultancies don’t get to be mature without having some notion of what it takes to ‘get things done’. Not unreasonably, the more mature consultancy will have richness in terms of ‘learned knowledge and experience’ that only years can bring – qualities that younger practitioners must take time to acquire. Probably, they will have an established client base, excellent contacts, and a track record to which they can refer and from which they can draw knowledge when framing their campaigns.

There is no right answer when it comes to solving this dilemma. However, there are some interesting questions that could be asked when short-listing your choice of consultancies. It is this: How many clients have you every lost through bad workmanship? The firm that answers ‘none’ will be a very special one indeed!

There’s no such thing as bad publicity

How often have you heard that old chestnut? Yet, how often have you seen people behaving just as if it’s true?

Of course, there may be no such thing as bad publicity if one is an aspiring starlet, someone with a lot of space going on between the ears, or some kind of ‘himbo’, overloaded with attitude and overdosed with a sense of self-importance.

But if one is a serious kind of individual, one keen to craft and protect a serious reputation, you’d be foolish to think that bad publicity, even doubtful publicity, will help you get there.

One doesn’t have to point fingers or name names to identify those who know only too well that there is such a thing as bad publicity. In the music world alone, there are ‘two little boys’ and more whose records are no longer played. Yes, like a bolt from the blue, bad publicity can arrive on the doorstep. And, it will arrive generally when it’s least expected.

So, be careful. Take advice – stay away from people and places that could get you into trouble. Walk around cameras and be aware – remember that a snap shot that puts you in the picture could link you to a situation that you’d rather not be part of.

The same applies to comment. Resist temptation to voice your opinion when it isn’t sought. Too many people have been caught saying things they later regret when, if they had paused and thought it through, they would have known that the world could have got by without having to hear what it was they said.

Yes, there is such thing as bad publicity.

And, should you find yourself in a situation that you know could embroil you in bad publicity, do something about it and do it now. Don’t wait for the clouds to burst. By then, it will be too late!

Silence Is Golden

One was prompted to recall this advice when reading a question posed in some media outlets not long ago. It read: Is Nigella winning the PR battle Stateside?

A more apt question might have been: Has Nigella won the PR battle…full stop?

There is very good evidence to suggest that she has.

Throughout her trials and tribulations (though not her trial, it should be noted) the famed TV personality maintained a dignified silence, despite the accusations and abuse that were hurled in her direction.

We believe that that approach has stood her in good stead.

Here in Ireland, the war of words that waged around the Limerick City of Culture debacle was another example of a controversy around which the ‘silence is golden’ advice might have been better observed.

In interview after interview, the public was served a diet of statements, claims and counter-claims across a host of issues relating to appointments, resignations, budget allocations and so forth as key figures got sucked into an uncontrolled, unregulated, undignified brouhaha in their rush to retain credibility and protect reputation.

This unedifying spectacle, of which Limerick itself was the innocent and unfortunate victim, was one that did serious damage to the project whilst failing to protect the egos and safeguard the reputations of those who thought – and may have been advised – to engage in what they believed was the right thing to do.

It was a controversy that presented yet another reminder of how a PR objective could be served by keeping one’s head down and one’s mouth firmly closed. And, if one cannot do that, then perhaps it would be better to confine oneself to the written statement.

Twitter…so trendy…so alluring…SO DANGEROUS

Isn’t Twitter wonderful?  Instantaneously, it can place a message into smart phones across the globe.  As a low cost, no effort means of communication, nothing beats it. And the beauty is…it penetrates that youth market that every manager wants to reach.

Isn’t that so trendy…so alluring…SO DANGEROUS?

With a shelf life longer than a fist full of nuclear waste, Twitter messages should be handled with extreme care – a warning to which managers should pay careful attention.

Ask this question: Would you sanction the release of a company press statement that had not been thoroughly checked, approved at a most senior level and, perhaps, passed before your company lawyers?

You bet you wouldn’t!

Yet, how many managers give their social media communicators free rein to compose corporate messages and broadcast online to as many so-called ‘followers’ as they can reach?

Constrained to compose messages within a straightjacket of 140 characters, can managers be satisfied with the linguistic shortcuts that must be taken? And when the responses come tumbling in, can managers be confident that replies being issued mirror corporate policy exactly?

In most cases, the answer is a whopping ‘NO’!

If a corporate tweet offends against good taste, in what difficulty could a manager be?

If a corporate tweet contains matter that offends against laws of defamation, what protection does a manager have? If a corporate tweet challenges beliefs and leads to protest, how can a manager safeguard reputation and protect a business against the possible consequences that might follow?

If a Twitter user, known to be an employee of a business, posts a personal utterance that could be considered damaging to his/her employer’s good name and reputation, what right does a manager have to challenge that employee and lay down conditions governing his/her future Twitter content?

Understanding young people as we do – they being most active users of Twitter – one must be doubly conscious of the fact that they tend to be less aware of the importance of image and reputation, often placing their own at risk in a way that previous generations would not.

In the matter of Twitter, it is long past time that managers sat up, took note and introduced some robust company policies and protocols around the use of social media.  Managers should alert their staff to the potential dangers inherent in the use of social media and not trundle along believing that – because it is somewhat new, has developed so quickly and is widely used, and mindful of its immediacy and effectiveness as a means of communications – it should be embraced with enthusiasm and without question or regulation.

Hall PR is not of that school. Indeed, many learned people in the world of media and communications don’t think so either. In the matter of Twitter and social media use generally, society has already entered the danger zone. Now is the time for managers to make sure they and their companies have not gone there too.

Without delay, managers should take these actions: Develop policy. Write strict corporate guidelines, rules and regulations. Engage the advice of lawyers, if necessary. Ensure that employees are made aware of policy and cautioned in regard to their adherence to it.  Establish procedures for the approval of content. Put insurance protection in place. Publicise policy, if one so chooses.

Above all, remember this: To whatever extent one might criticise you for ‘not being on Twitter’, you will definitely be criticised if a problem arises and you are found to be on Twitter in a way that is not managed and responsible and that fails to take proper account of the damage that unregulated Twitter content can cause!

 

Lobbying – No Place For PR

We welcome Government’s plan to legislate for the introduction of a Register of Lobbyists.

We welcome it – not for the benefit Government believes it may bring – but for the fact that its introduction may well encourage PR firms to turn their backs on this trade as a means of earning fee income.

How impossible must it be for PR firms working in this sector to spend their time hanging around Dáil Éireann, begging for appointments and hoping to catch the ear of passing politicians? Then, having done so, how difficult must it be for PR firms to interpret and place reliance upon the feedback they get?

Against the shifting sands of politics, how utterly impossible must it be for PR people to make reliable political judgements on the effectiveness of their work, sufficient for them or their clients to place value upon it?

Of course, there is a place for PR in the lobbying process – by being there to advise clients, to plan campaigns and by helping to assemble arguments and piece together submissions.

Far removed from the nod and wink, theirs should be a low profile, background role only – supportive of their clients whose responsibility it should be to seek their own meetings and make their own representations.

Then would each genuine representation be seen for what it is – activity that is clean, honest, decent, above board and removed from the odium that the words ‘lobbyist’ and ‘lobbying’ often attract.

Some of our best friends are politicians

Here in Ireland and across the water in Westminster, one has shared and still shares friendship with elected representatives of various stripe.

From Government and Opposition, those of Ministerial and Prime Ministerial rank, and others from Seanad Éireann and the House of Lords – we’ve known many and enjoyed their friendship.

If there is one lesson that we have learned from all these friendships, and from our involvement in and proximity to the world of politics, it is this:

Help and assist politicians by all means. Volunteer to pound the pavements if you will. Freely offer them your time and your advice. Be a willing helper and support them in any way you can.

Be driven by their ideals and objectives…and share in the challenge and excitement that one gets from involvement in the political process.  Disappoint in failure or share in the elation that can come from their success.

And, if you’re a PR person…relish the fact that few if any other fields of communication and persuasion will deliver a judgment on your workmanship as quickly and as accurately as an election outcome will.

Politicians can be a joy…and, from time to time, a frustration too.  To be really happy in your association with them, to be really confident and secure in your relationship, there is one thing that you must never do: Never ever work for them for money. Never seek fee or favour…nor wish for any form of recompense.

Then, and only then, can you be free to be yourself…and free of many other things not least the risk that one might ever be accused of living out of the taxpayer’s pocket…as if one would.

Haec est nostra opinio

Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive

This cautionary observation is one of which every right-minded business leader should take careful note.

When caught in the grip of a raging controversy, it is natural that beleaguered managers would want to put the best face on things. Often this leads them to seek advice and support from so-called ‘spin doctors’ who are believed to be expert when it comes to controlling the media.

Their trade, popularly known as ’spinning’, is seen by many (media included) as a dark art. It has no place in our world of PR and communications and is (or should be) anathema to all who properly practice the business of public relations. That is a lesson that many bankers, crèche owners, meat processors and senior figures in medicine, remedial care and rehabilitation may have learnt by now.

Like lace curtains on a clear glass window, spinning allows those on the inside to look out whilst obscuring the vision of those on the outside who may wish, or need, to look in.

Amazingly, there are those who believe that a spin doctor is possessed of magical powers that, like a mother’s kiss, can suddenly make things better. Yet, contrary to public belief, they have no crystal ball by which to forecast what the future holds. Neither do they have the power to manipulate media bent on pursuing a particular course.

Like a dog that bites, spin doctors are well known – some so well know they have acquired a certain dubious celebrity. Truth to tell, engaging one may be the very worst thing a troubled organisation could do. Often, their involvement is viewed by commentators as tantamount to an admission of guilt on the part of those who engage them – their presence being seen by the sceptical as an action whose purpose is to obscure, divert, distract, distort or cover up.

There is no spin that one can put on truthful, honest discourse and those who try risk being seen for what they are…maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but some day. For those whose PR need is great, and for whom the pressure is immediate, the advice is this: seek help from one who prefers fact to obfuscation, one to whom deceit, distortion and deception are foreign words, one who values reputation and who has the courage and the strength to express opinion and tender good advice, however unpalatable it may be!