Prior to the lecture (and as detailed in my post Lie to me) we had received a suitably convenient pre-Max Clifford lecture on the importance of being honest and ethical as the next generation of PR practitioners. I was inspired by this lecture and the fact that it is my fellow students and I’s duty to represent the industry and be a catalyst for change for the infamous bad reputation of the industry.
As I sat down in my chair (and waited an extra 30 minutes than scheduled for Max to arrive) I was actually somewhat nervous about what he was going to say and how I would actually feel about it. I wanted to keep an open mind, and make sure I heard as much of the lecture with as little bias as possible.
For the first half an hour, Max detailed his journey through PR; from dropping out of school at 15 and becoming a trainee reporter at the local newspaper, to being headhunted by EMI in the early 1960’s to launching The Beatles and travelling the world to promote stars such as The Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder and The Temptations.
Throughout this historical journey, and intense envy most students in the room were feeling, Max dropped in some food for thought for the young budding practitioners in the room. Max made a point of noting that back when he started in PR, it was an extremely unknown industry, with no university degrees or anyone to show you the ropes, and was largely about promotion. This, he said, was mainly about “teaching the people I was representing to get the best out of the media, to create the best image for them and image which people can build upon.” He then continued, “but everything has changed today, especially in the music industry, people are forgotten in 10 minutes.”
He continued to build upon the idea of PR being about creating images, saying “the most effective way to create images is to understand the process, work closely with journalists – understand what they need, and what works best for them.” His other nuggets of wisdom for those entering the industry included:
- Clients and the emphasis of our industry has changed from promotion
- The media is changing
- It’s important to understand this ever changing world.
Max was quick to move on from these points, and didn’t tend to give practical examples or advice for the students in the room to learn from.
Max also said something which captured my attention, and I really wanted to find out what he meant by this. He said “All the girls in my office have PR degrees now, but it takes me 5/6 years following graduation for me to build them up to where they need to be.” He said no more on this, and I was surprised that no lecturer in the room asked what he meant, but I would love to know what he meant and his experience and opinion on the value of a PR degree. His parting advice was to “gain as much experience as possible, as nothing is more valuable than practical experience”, which leads me to believe that Max prefers his employees to have a strong set of skills under their belt, rather than a degree.
Ethics and Honesty
With half of the lecture theater full of CIPR members, it wasn’t long before the questions about honesty and ethical standards within his work starting coming thick and fast. I’m sure Max is no stranger to these questions, and he certainly favoured the phrase “Back your own judgement.” By this he meant that if you believe in a situation, and believe that by supporting that situation you will be doing more good than bad, then you should do just that. He also said that you should you use your instinct, common sense and look someone in the eye and talk to them about the situation.
To support this, he explained that he had been offered fortunes to conceal Gary Glitter being exposed as a paedophile, but turned it down and outed him. He also said he represented OJ Simpson as he believed, and still does, that he was innocent.
He quickly disregarded a comment from a CIPR member who claimed that the industry is working hard to be open and honest, to which he replied “Who? Who is trying to be open and honest? Is every journalist you come across honest and ethical? Absolutely not.”
At the end of the day, Max entered the world of PR when no one knew what it was. There was no guidelines, and no one to tell him what was right, what was wrong, or how to ‘do’ PR. He made it up as he went along, did things his way, and that has only seen him achieve success. So why would he ever do anything else? In fact, he summed this up by saying “What I do works for me and I’m happy with the decisions I’ve made.” Max has always been completely honest about his frequent dishonesty within his work. From this point of view, I can somewhat understand why he does it.
And, for that absolute unapologetic attitude, I kind of like him.
That doesn’t mean to say that I am going back on my word on being ethical and honest in our work, I completely still believe in that. But for Max’s line of work – it seems, to an extent, necessary. But that is his choice, and I choose not to enter into that line of work or represent the people and the scandal he represents on a daily basis. When I finish University and start a job in the field, I will absolutely uphold the ethical and transparent values the CIPR urges us too.
PR might have been a certain way when Max started, but the industry is changing at a rapid pace, and that’s exactly why its so important to uphold those ethical, honest values. The advance of social media is only increasing the need for the PR industry to be more transparent and honest, and giving us the opportunity to do so.
I may be wrong, but it seemed to me Max isn’t much of a social media man. Not only did he categorically deny he has ever had anything to do with a personal Twitter account, but he also offered a closing note saying “The internet has less impact than the front page of a newspaper or a panorama documentary.” I suppose it depends on the clients you work with, but I think we can all agree that is not entirely true. It seems to me that, for someone who represents such high profile celebrities, social media would be one of the most important things to monitor, as it allows for regular individuals to slander his clients and create normally fabricated rumours about his clients on a daily basis.