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    How long is a piece of spin?


    G’day Anthillians. These are troubled times, but nothing some good PR can’t fix! Antagoniser extraordinaire, Ray Beatty, considers exhibit A: the brand new Hardest Job In The World. (Hint, it’s not W’s.)

    (anonymous ant esquire)

    The Antagonist speaks…

    What would be a really difficult product to market? One with such an image problem that you’d want to give up from day one? Try this for size: Hamas has now appointed a PR firm to improve the organisation’s image at home and abroad.

    That’s right, the Islamic Resistance Movement – ‘Hamas’ – has hired a spin doctor of its very own, and is paying a hefty $230,000 fee for his services. And he’ll earn every penny of it if he has to persuade the world that blowing up over 300 Israelis – not to mention a sizeable contingent of its own younger membership – is all perfectly good politics.

    But then, an important section in every PR company’s pitch is ‘Crisis Management’. Or, ‘What do we do when the doo hits the fan?’ So the star clients for most of the big PR consultancies number scores of mining companies, tobacco firms, shipping lines, and, no doubt, wheat boards.

    Of course there’s a difference between being prepared for disaster and being a disaster waiting to happen. Our brave Hamas consultant Nashat Aqtash is a 44-year-old public relations professor who won the unenviable challenge recently, when the party leadership realised that they were facing the reality of taking political power.

    As a group they were more into bang than spin so like any commercial corporation they hurriedly searched for an expert to front up to the media without a balaclava on his head.

    He has already started, giving interviews and making statements: “Hamas has an image problem,” admitted Mr Aqtash. “But hopefully within a few years they will understand that they are people just like us. They love to help their people. That’s why they are joining this election.”

    Any experienced PR rep will sympathise with Mr Aqtash’s plight, after all, their history includes the oil industry, grappling with the Exxon Valdez or Shell’s quagmire in Nigeria. BHP would have made sizable contributions to the industry over the Ok Tedi mine, while the coal and power industries keep reassuring us that the hurricanes and deep freezes are all really quite explicable.

    There’s a big difference between advertising and PR. Some think it’s just that advertising is paid for while PR is free. Not so. Certainly you don’t pay the media for any attention they take of you. But you pay a hell of a lot to have a team of people working hard to give those mentions a favourable spin.

    Our politicians of course have whole wings crammed with ex-journalist “special advisers”. Their job is to vet every word that comes out of their minister’s mouth – ideally before it emerges.

    This explains why so many of our most successful politicians are former media mavens – witness, Bob Carr, West Australia’s Alan Carpenter, South Australia’s Mike Rann, Northern Territory’s Clare Martin, and Victoria’s Mary Delahunty and Jeff Kennett (though he was out of advertising). Why have more premiers come out of journalism rather than chartered accountancy? Because they understand the business of communicating with the outside world.

    This is a lesson well worth taking to heart. Businesses have constituencies just like politicians. The audiences range from the customer in the shop to the stock exchange floor to the factory floor. All have to be handled with skill.

    It’s even harder when you’re a terrorist. People tend to misunderstand you. Just read the pages of An Phoblacht. That’s the jolly colourful tabloid subtitled Sinn Fein Weekly – the mouthpiece for the IRA.

    But as more bombers come in from the cold, what a great opportunity this presents for Burson Marsteller and their ilk. Think of the Iraqi resistance assuring the public they are being blown up for their own good; Iran telling us all that an Iranian missile will make the world a safer place. Syria’s President Assad crossing his heart and promising that he never hurt any politicians in Lebanon or supported any insurgents in Iraq.

    On the other side of the ledger, Denmark’s Jyllands Posten could have done with a bit of outside input, before they ran those Mohammed cartoons.

    Yes, the more you look around the world the more you see a huge market for good PR. I wonder who has the George W. account?

    Ray Beatty runs Marketing Solutions, a consultancy advising companies on how to turn around their unsuccessful advertising campaigns.