Modern Manners: a balancing act
25 November, 2005

Ian Parker, Head of Strategic Communications, NLGN
PR Week

It’s not every Saturday evening that you get an apology from an alleged mass murderer. Even on a South London bus. And it’s perhaps not something that you should refer to in a magazine column. But in for a penny, and here’s to Mad Frankie Fraser – the evident gent that he is, who met my “excuse me mate, can I get by” with a quiet “yeah, sorry guv”. And before any associates get on my case, no I am not taking the rise.

What made this encounter all the more poignant was the fact that I’d spent the previous ten minutes bemoaning the manners of three other passengers, stuffing their faces with happy meals. Not the act itself; more the lack of regard for the discomfort of those near them. No mutual respect, you see. Unlike the aforementioned Mr Fraser.

Debates about modern manners are incredibly relevant for communications professionals. It would be fibbing to say I’ve never been rude in the course of external affairs. Such occasions however, are rare and prompted often by rudeness itself. A classic case being the assumption that as a think tank which has influenced government, you share its approaches to media handling.

But ill manners are not necessarily direct in nature. It can be mighty frustrating to have someone always pressing for a quick response with a claim to be “on deadline”, when the most recent issue of the magazine has just been put to bed. (You know you are)

As indicated, I do jump the gun myself occasionally and I recently had a pop at one of the best journalists in the sector for not covering a major bit of news – it was a matter of opinion! Still, my behavioural lapse was followed by, if not quite self-loathing, then certainly remorse. And staff on the main weeklies can rest assured that the bark is much worse than the bite – and hoarsening with age.

If it’s not apparent already, I’m not of the school of thought that believes PR can be merely taught from a manual. Experience suggests that rigid codes of practice can leave journalists weeping into their laptops – or worse still, misreading a signifier. More fruitful is when we leave scope for an ongoing creative partnership built ultimately on respect.

Even so, like all good long-term relationships, there should always be scope for the odd slanging match. It would be bad manners not to really.