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We all know how much Crikey hates the manipulative PR Industry. Well, a special correspondent has revealed just how absolutely fabulous and fatuous it really is. And check out the spirited defence from a highly paid flak-catcher.

According to this writer’s dictionary, the word comes from the early sixteenth century. It’s archaic usage was “distinguished”, but now it means “conspicuous; especially conspicuously bad” or “flagrant” as in “an egregious mistake”.

Let’s use it in a sentence: Peter and the Rehame crew weren’t the most popular people at the Public Relations Institute of Australia annual conference in Melbourne last week after their egregious efforts.

To begin with, the “Ab Fab” Rehame ad on the booklet promoting the conference hadn’t gone down well. It didn’t go down well a second time, when it was included on the conference program, too.

It even provoked comments to staff at the Rehame convention stall. These were handled sympathetically by Rehame’s CEO, Peter Humpleby – who told complainants that they should “get a sense of humour”.

Well, this writer would love some Prada (but would probably have problems squeezing in), likes a glass of champagne or six and has learned that a Vitamin B last thing at night does more for the inevitable hangover than a Berocca the next day – but doesn’t see how this relates to professional development.

However, the ad wasn’t the only special contribution Rehame made as the convention’s principal sponsors.

Peter Maher got to make the opening speech as part of the sponsorship package, a patronising and didactic challenge to delegates to practice the profession as he saw fit that finished “and if you don’t, we’ll tell all your partners you’ve been sleeping around”. Unfortunately, no one got round to asking the other people on the platform, Victorian Treasurer John Brumby, and PRIA’s po-faced president Jim Macnamara what they made of it all.

Maher wasn’t finished, though. As convention dinner MC, he made a series of remarks on the size of co-host Brigette Duclos’ breasts, and described an award winner as “looking like a cheap floozy”.

Rehame had some 30 staff at the conference, including a number of young women. God knows what they think of their boss.

But that’s enough on Rehame. “The Public Relations Institute of Australia exists to explain the relevance of a profession that is often misunderstood and misrepresented.” It is supposed to encourage and maintain standards and ethics in an industry that can throw them out the window as Ken Hooper’s stunts for Westfield showed.

Last week, a group of professional communicators sent precisely the wrong message about their industry.

They also failed the ethical test. The sponsor is not master. We should be grateful for the support the sponsor provides, but not let them call the shots when they behave in a manner that is likely to offend or detract from the purpose of an event – and continue to do so.

Perhaps, before the next convention, PRIA should do a little professional development of its own.

Now, in case you’ve forgotten, this is what Krystiina wrote last week.

And in response, we had a letter from Greg McNamara which reads as follows:

Everything you report about the PRIA conference is true of course. Quoted from the brochure and other materials. But fair? Or representative? Or balanced?

You forgot a few minor details. Like the PRIA national conference included addresses by:

* Nobel Peace Prize co-laureate, Jose Ramos-Horta on the 25-year global campaign to raise awareness of East Timor (a coup for any professional organisation in Australia);

* Admiral Chris Barrie, Chief of the Defence Force, speaking on the media and communication performance of Australia’s Interfet forces in East Timor which was acclaimed worldwide;

* Patrick Moore PhD, founding member and international director of Greenpeace (viewed as pretty good at the communication game);

* Dr Jon White, visiting professor in public affairs at London City University Business School;

* Alison Clarke, President of the Institute of Public Relations of the UK;

* Gregory Tan, President of the Institute of Public Relations of Singapore.

I could continue on with the long list of speakers. Pretty serious and world-standard stuff. But you no doubt didn’t want to read or report that.

Jim R. Macnamara

National President

Public Relations Institute of Australia

CEO

The MASS Communication Group & CARMA International (Asia Pacific) Pty Ltd

E-mail: [email protected]

ends

When you have your own website you often get the last word so here goes:

CRIKEY: It is most amusing to have people who are paid to get a positive spin out there complaining about us putting a negative spin on their grubby industry. We don’t need to remind people that PR is a sinful industry. Good PR relies on bad journalism and good spin doctors prey on guillable journos who’ll buy their line. There are about 20,000 paid spin doctors in Australia compared with only 12,000 working journalists. While they might be a necessary evil, it is not a profession that deserves any respectability. Journalists who sell out to the dark side should be reminded that there is a “credibility and ethical discount” that comes with that “financial premium”.

And to all you PRs out there who are feeling a bit guilty about what you do, why not leak a damaging story about one of your clients to assuage that guilt. Do something in the public interest for a change. Better still, come back to journalism and use all those skills you learnt against the very people that paid you to manipulate the public.

ends

Now this is the original piece about the conference that got the hares running.

The PRIA: Absolutely Fabulous

Sweetiedarlingdarlingsweetie! Are you going to the Public Relations Institute of Australia Conference this week? No? But darling! It will be the chance to show everyone how we’re a serious industry.

Oh the irony! The vicious, delicious, irony of it all. Public relations has an image problem. Think about it for a moment. Think about PR. What comes into your mind?

At one end, there’s those ever so smooth spokespeople for the cigarette companies, always happy to remind you that they produce an entirely legal product enjoyed by millions every day – before declining to answer any other questions. And at the other there’s the Ab Fabbers, the air kissing crones who think getting pissed at the Cointreau Ball is a hard day’s work.

But the profession knows it’s got a problem? And it’s doing something about it, right? Of course. The industry bible, US magazine PR Week, recently carried a story that warned about “PR’s pink collar ghetto” and decried the “PR-party-girl stereotype”.

So, naturally, the local industry peak body, the Public Relations Institute of Australia, is doing something too.

This week the top PR people from around Australia are gathering at Crown Casino for the PRIA National Convention – a very serious time. And PRIA is determined to show just what an important adjunct to management the industry is – as a quick glance at the program shows.

To begin with, the program urges delegates to arrive early to catch the tail end of the Spring Racing Carnival. Then there’s the “martini tasting” night and the “walking tour of historic Melbourne hotels” – notable, perhaps, as the first time anyone’s tried to spin a pub crawl as a cultural event.

And, of course, you can’t miss the importance of the dinner – “put on that black tie and those plunging necklines” – promoted with a Brad and Janet pop-art Shockwave presentation e-mailed out to prospective guests that plebs can also view at http://www.dd-media.com/pria2a.htm.

But just in case all this hasn’t convinced you of the serious nature of the conference, then there’s an ad on the back of the brochure from Rehame, the conference keynote sponsors that underlines the serious intent of the whole thing.

Here’s hoping that Peter Maher knows what the word “egregious” means – because if you want to reinforce every negative stereotype of the PR profession, then Rehame are your guys.

Let’s look at the text. There, by the Rehame logo and over a map of that well known communications centre, Crown Casino, is the header “Directions you need” and the text:

A. Where to find champagne: JJ’s Bar and Grill, Level 1

B. Where to find a manicurist and hairdresser: Crown Spa, Crown Towers, Level 3

C. Where to find a new outfit: Prada, Ground Level

D. Where to find cigarettes: Opposite Fidel’s, Ground Level

E. Where to Party after the Golden Target Awards: Heat Nightclub, Level 3

F. Where to find Berocca: Hotel minibar, Crown Towers

G. Where to find a Bloody Mary: Jack’s Bar, Level 3

H. Where to get the Bloody Mary stain out of your new outfit: Reception, Crown Towers.

Where to enjoy a coffee and arrange your radio, television and internet reporting and analysis: Palladium C, Crown Towers Level 1.

Yes, the PRIA Convention is clearly very serious and all about professional development.

It’s going to do so much for the industry.

It’s absolutely fabulous.

(And did someone mention tobacco advertising laws?)

Peter Fray

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