I spent the day in training with the PR arm of my employer. I now appreciate the pressing need for global socialism.
In the early days of my current job, an email was circulated in which we were implored to attend a training session on creativity. The wiser heads in the office contrived to miss the session and carry on their work in the morally malleable world of drug development, so I alone undertook the schlep up to the glass office on the top floor, overlooking the City of London.
In here we meet our cast: the principal character and chief antagonist is “Ruth”. She begins by casually alluding to her previous engagements with de Beers, the diamond merchants, and the Israeli and Russian governments, the white phosphorous merchants. This passes without reaction; I take this to mean that this woman has a background in “detoxification”, which impresses some people in the room. After all, there is a more urgent requirement for an active and effective PR operation in an organisation that is committed to war crimes as an integral part of their business model.
Time drips on and I sense that we are fellow travellers in this beardly-ironic, transparent spaceship. It is not for us to question the morality of a business: we are mercenaries as those who buy us are mercenaries and the journalists whose stories we will write in lieu of news are mercenaries. Ethics is someone else’s lookout.
At first it strikes me that the three men behind Ruth couldn’t construct a personality between them and little happens afterwards to disabuse me of that notion. These are called Ben, Andrew and something else.
“Always be thinking of the bottom line,” says Ben or Andrew, and for a time I believed I was in Glengarry Glenross but Ben Affleck had fluffed his lines. “How we can be engaging with the consumer and driving the conversation.” A statement, phrased like a question in the imagined present continuous tense: the lingua franca of the industry. Cool, yeah, brilliant.
He brings up an ugly Powerpoint slide which details how many Twitter hits his Mastercard campaign has achieved. It’s probably a good number: it features myriad digits. In the interests of brevity: the point of the campaign is that a company wants to “deposition” (that is a made-up word meaning “to move into a bad position” or “to confer a bad reputation upon”) cash. They achieve this by making gifs about people receiving bad presents — the logic that bridges the difference between the aims of the programme and the tactics it employs are obviously tortured. I shan’t bore you with them: but ask yourself, is the thought of a crap gift going to stop you using cash? Are these people worth hundreds of pounds an hour? Anyway…
The lack of useful and productive talent is surprising and shocking. For example, in a room full of paid communicators, I present the case of a man who said “antithesis” when he meant pinnacle (I suggest he may have taken a wrong turn when intending to misuse apotheosis only slightly) to interested and thoughtful nodding from around the room. Or Ruth, who chided a marketeer for his unclear language and encouraged us to use plain English by telling us: “communicate as granularly as possible”.
On a system level, these people are not only allowed to exist in our society: they are, on an economic and therefore political level, valued. In addition, they save journalists time and effort by giving them adverts dressed as stories, and in doing so they set the agenda. The fingerprints of PR are all over the national papers, as much as nepotism and provincial small-mindedness is in the Helensburgh Advertiser or the Tain and Dornoch Picture Post, and the more popular the newspaper the more obvious it is. They run lowest common denominator “viral media” sites, set trends by decree and get snapped up by the political spin machine. All of this in spite of the fact they are clearly intellectual cretins, but that is beside the point — I would rather principled idiots than intelligent, amoral automata, but these are neither. They hijack anything that is genuine or authentic and bend it towards their clients’ goals, often cack-handedly, always cynically.
These people, these people described above, are, tragically, the ones who prop up the establishment under cover of being free and creative spirits. Should this behaviour and these attitudes be rewarded? This is the foundation upon which our grey matter economy is built. This, dear readers, is the area in which we lead the world and will continue to lead the world, the edifice onto which we carve the chiselled face of the wealth-creator.
Pay by cash.