After labouring mightily, the powers at King’s London have finally spoken, and launched a mouse onto the world. As part of an article in the Guardian on 23rd March, an unnamed spokesman announced that
“The college management deplores the reckless campaign orchestrated to upset the consultation process by undermining the college's reputation. The college has conducted the consultation processes in good faith and believes that the procedures applied in each instance are fair and transparent.”
I had expected something much better than that. It is a half-hearted response, which sounds more like a manager stamping his foot than a remark crafted by someone who truly understands Public Relations.
Certainly, it is not indicative of a serious fight back. rather it seems more like a holding statement, designed to maintain the line without upping the stakes. this, curiously, is quite hopeful.
You do not win hearts and minds by sounding self-righteously hurt, you do not use the conspiracy gambit (the orchestrated campaign part) unless you are really running out of ammunition, not when it is so patently untrue.
Nor do you lay yourself open with remarks like “the college believes the procedures are fair and transparent,” when it is clear that the college does nothing of the sort; only the management does, and that is not the same thing.
And after years of politicians and bankers and governments cheerfully acquitting themselves of any wrong-doing no matter what the circumstances, declarations of management happiness with management policies carry little weight with the public. Such statements instantly raise suspicions; the wise PR man now avoids them like the plague.
"Transparent" is also a no-no, as overuse has changed its meaning in recent years from "clear" to "deliberately opaque." Only would-be technocrats now use the term, and the object of PR is to get the targets to identify with your side, not to alienate them.
Exaggeration and hyperbole are all very well, indeed PR could scarcely exist without them, but they have to be used cautiously and effectively. Referring to “reckless campaigns” is poor stuff indeed.
It is a bit like saying Northern Rock would have been perfectly fine if only people hadn’t tried to get their money back. But the run on the bank was caused by its weakness, not the other way round. It is the same with King’s: the damage was caused by the policies, not the criticism.
Finally there is the laziness of “orchestrated.” I think not. Orchestras are organised groups playing the same tune with a conductor. Trying to conjure up images of the hidden hand manipulating in the darkness, in a manner reminiscent of a 1950s spy film, is fumbling. Is King's now suggesting the nine MPs who have signed a motion urging a rethink are being orchestrated? That the reach of the humanities is so great it can stretch into the house of Commons and bend politicians to its will?
Would that academics were capable of such organisation. Anyone who knows such people at all are well aware that trying to get them to stick to a common line on anything is a bit like herding sheep. That is why academia is such fun, and why the current methods of the King’s management will only work by strangling the life force out of the profession.
-- Iain Pears