Babel-belt PR

30 Jul

My short review of Hitting the Headlines in Europe has appeared in the IPR members’ magazine, Profile.

I’m republishing it here so it’s available online and because comments to a previous post on this topic helped solidify my antagonism to video news releases. European public relations has also been the subject for academic debate and a recent heavyweight text.

Every historic attempt to bring Europe together has encountered divisive forces: the Roman Empire fell to barbarian invasions; the Catholic church met with schism and Protestantism. It’s no clearer today whether the centralising forces (the EU, the Euro, the spread of English as a second language) will ever overcome the centrifugal pressures of nationalism and regionalism.

As the authors of this useful guide write, ‘if you want to talk to Europe, you need to speak its language’. Fluent European speakers are needed and to test our competence they pose some questions. What’s the difference between the Council of Europe (based in Strasbourg) and the European Union (based in Brussels)? Or what’s the difference between the Court of Human Rights and the Court of Justice?

It’s hard to understand the institutions; it’s even hard to define Europe, geographically or politically. And it’s still hard to find examples of Europe-wide media (older readers will recall the now-defunct newspaper The European). So what’s the role of a guide to European media relations?

First, the authors give us an introduction to Europe, its institutions and its media landscape. Second, they give us a country-by-country media round-up, from Albania to the United Kingdom (a thorough but not comprehensive survey: they skip Andorra, Liechtenstein, San Marino and other small states usually only encountered in a European championship qualifying group).

Language is the big theme of the book, hence the reference to the Tower of Babel. To communicate with the media across Europe, you should ideally operate in many local languages, the authors argue. The alternative is to employ a joke-free, unambiguous form of Eurovision English (which is in effect yet another language for the practitioner to learn).

My one quibble with this sensible, practical and helpful guide is that the authors appear to favour the use of the video news release (VNR). These have lost credibility in Britain and North America in the past decade and some broadcasters (such as the BBC) have produced guidelines limiting their use. Is it possible there are cash-strapped broadcasters with limited newsgathering resources that are still delighted to receive these expensive sponsored productions? Have you ever visited the new European state of Spinmania where only Spinglish is spoken? Me neither.

Cathie Burton and Alun Drake (2004) Hitting the Headlines in Europe, IPR/Kogan Page (£24.95)

One Response to “Babel-belt PR”

  1. Stuart Bruce 31/07/2004 at 11:45 am #

    “older readers will recall the now-defunct newspaper The European”
    Richard, you spend too much time with students. You don’t have to be older to remember The European – unless at 36 I’m already older. Just off to find my pipe and carpet slippers.

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