“Oh, So You Are Like Sean Spicer?”
Many years ago, I was introduced to someone over dinner with the line: “This is Graham, he works in PR.” The response was very familiar… “What is PR?”. It was one of the first times I had been asked the question and after I had offered my explanation he said “Oh, so you are like Peter Mandelson – A Spin Doctor”. For ease I said: “Something like that.” Since, that ‘incident’ I have gotten much better at articulating what I do for a living. That said, there was one other incident where I found myself speaking to someone who had survived the D-Day landings and when said: “Someone pays you to do that?” All I could say was: “Yes, surprisingly they do!”
My point is that for the most part, PR people are behind the scenes (and for most of us that is the way we like it). So, when we do get asked what we do, there is always a desire to connect us with someone they have heard of, whether it is Absolutely Fabulous, Max Clifford, Peter Mandelson, or more recently the new White House Press Secretary – Sean Spicer.
Now, I have been working in PR for over 20 years and until recently the only White House Press Secretary I could name was C. J. Cregg, a character from The West Wing TV series. True, I am not a huge follower of US politics, although that has changed significantly in the past 12 months. However, the fact that I can name Mr Spicer is to me as a PR professional somewhat odd.
Our job as PR professionals is to make sure that the right story is told to the right people at the right time. At no point in this process do you want the PR function to get in the way of telling that story, or worse to actually become the story. Yet now, I along with many others, find myself tuning in to the press briefings just to observe how he performs. For those of us working at the coalface of the PR industry, pitching our stories day-in-day-out and often putting journalists on a pedestal, it is amazing to watch how he handles them. How many of my peers would bar the BBC and CNN from their press conference? I know I wouldn’t.
Of course, there are two sides to every story and Mr Spicer and the Trump administration are seemingly frustrated with what they would likely considered to be bias reporting from a predominantly left-wing media.
All, that aside, what fills me with fear is the next dinner party I am invited to and I am introduced as “Graham who works in PR” and the other person looks and says: “Oh, right so you are like Sean Spicer?” and I hear myself saying: “I am more of a Peter Mandelson!”