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On stereotypes and generalisations

25 Jun

Prepare for a blitzkrieg of tabloid headlines in advance of the England-Germany World Cup game on Sunday. It's a dangerous game, because it risks masking some truths such as the surprising youth of the German squad when compared with England's ageing team. 

Stereotypes may originate in accurate observations, but they tend to slip further from the truth over time. Take this from an otherwise excellent US textbook on Global Public Relations: 'The British respect authority and rank' (p269). That was right fifty years ago – but it's surely wrong today.

I know, there was a big fuss at Wimbledon when the Queen visited for the first time since 1977 and the players had to practise their bows and their curtseys. But this may be the exception – or it could describe our love of the picturesque (Walter Bagehot described royalty as the dignified part of our system of government, as distinct from the efficient part).

I've recently spent two weeks being addressed with unaccustomed formality by a group of postgraduate students from the US. They seemed determined to give me a title, while I'm used to my students calling me by my first name.

This group made excellent ambassadors. Punctual, courteous, well-read, literate, intelligent, curious and culturally-sensitive. Could I have started out with my own false stereotype?

A spin doctor writes

6 Nov

We argue that communications is a vital part of organisational success. Some even argue that it creates wealth. So here’s a problematic case study.

A rugby team formed from the best players from Britain travels to New Zealand to compete with the Southern Hemisphere’s finest. They take the celebrated Alastair Campbell as PR adviser. Yet they lose – on the pitch and in the press. (It seems even this muddy, unglamorous sport now suffers from player power).

Ben Wilson was recruited to work alongside Alastair Campbell on this tour. He gives his account of the experience in today’s Observer. You have to agree with Campbell’s comment that ‘life’s too short, no one died and the world has moved on.’

Saints and spinners

16 Dec

It seems there’s a fine line between being a ‘spin doctor’ and a ‘PR guru’ in the eyes of the popular press.

Here’s a news report describing Manchester United’s newly-appointed communications director as both. For balance, this is the club’s press release.

Ex post facto

9 Sep

Manchester United and Chelsea have both confirmed the news that every journalist (and most of the public) knew yesterday about the ‘transfer’ of the club’s chief executive. Since Mancherster United is a plc this raises questions about the rules on disclosure to the stock market.

Reuters reports on the reaction of the markets, and questions whether the authorised ‘leak’ will be investigated.

Top Totti earns goodwill

9 Aug

It’s a charming summer story from The Times. It describes how supposedly-stupid Roma and Italy footballer Francesco Totti has spectacularly turned the tables on his tormentors by publishing a book of Totti jokes. It’s a bestseller in Italy, and is raising funds for UNICEF.