Categories: Media issues / PR issues

3 March 2009

One comment

Max Clifford tells it straight to me online

After my post in homage to Jade Goody and Max Clifford, CIPR President Kevin Taylor left a comment on my blog, and Max Clifford kindly got in touch. The latter tells me that he’s not surprised by the comment of Kevin Taylor condemning him.

Max Clifford described how he’s always been honest about how he handles stories. He cited to me the example of a professional footballer he knew was gay, but Max denied it was so to the media. “What was I do,” he asked. “Tell the truth and ruin the guy’s career? One of the few professional footballers who did come out committed suicide. Football is not a gay-friendly environment, not even today. So I go down the route of the lesser evil.”

He said that any PR practitioner who claims he has never lied has never been in the front line, or is lying. When I asked him about the difference between dissembling and lies, he told me he does not like the euphemism. He prefers, he said, to tell it as it is.

He explained how you have to take each case on its merits and make a moral judgment. For instance he would never have defended Nigeria’s former President Abacha. But he knows that some major PR firms did. You have to know where your limits lie, he said.

Moreover, he added how on some stories he tells the version he thinks is true and is told is so and never mind the unpopularity. He cited the case of Robert Murat – the man wrongly accused of abducting Madeleine McCann in Portugal. He told me how he went with his gut instinct on the issue, and how he received death threats for defending him. “I was later proved right to believe the man,” he added.

He described how leading PR figures will agree with him and his methods in private, but rarely in public.

But he reminded me of how in 2007 he defeated a PR Week motion, “PRs have a duty to tell the truth” by 138 votes to 124 in front of an audience of professional PRs. For the motion were former CIPR President Simon Lewis and former Luther Pendragon chief (now a man of the cloth) George Pitcher. Against the motion were Max Clifford and Simon Goldsworthy.

So which do you prefer? A man who insists he’s the driven snow but who dissembles, or Honest Max who broadcasts far and wide that he’ll flagrantly lie from time to time because that’s the right thing to do and what he’s paid for. Call him a diplomat.

He also was keen to point out that Hollywood spun lies on a grand scale over many years. That just how it was, he said.

All in all, an immensely attractive figure.

I have a biggish problem. On the one hand, I bang on about how PR has become mealy-mouthed and a bit preachy with it. Accordingly I proclaim my gospel to be: “Stick to the robust truth!”. And here I am in awe of a man widely viewed as a wide boy and devoted to manipulating the truth.

Go figure. One way of reconciling the two positions is to note – again – that it’s frankness I’m after and I find it in Max.

PR is a rough tough business, there’s no point denying it. To do so would not be authentic.

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One response to “Max Clifford tells it straight to me online”

  1. Kevin Taylor says:

    Another good blog Paul and I can actually agree with Max that we should avoid euphemisms for lying. However, I have been in the front line (a press officer for London Transport handling a number of major incidents and for BT during the company’s flotation and also thru’ a major industrial dispute) and I really don’t think I ever told a downright lie. Now, as then, I have often said to a client facing a problem that we should start with the truth and work from there. Sometimes there is a question to which you can’t give a direct answer so you stick to what you can talk about and refuse to get drawn.
    This could be seen as a complex issue with many different layers – but I think it is quite simple: do you knowingly, willingly and actively spread lies. If so, you are not practicisng a form of PR that I want to be associated with – and I’ll condemn your activities whether you are an individual, a company or a PR consultancy.