x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Good and bad PR flacks, my favourite coffee spots, and a lie for a lie

Good PR executives, with relationships at the very top of the clients’ corporate structure – can be invaluable sources. On the other hand, it is frustrating to be fobbed off by a less experienced spin doctor who does not know the difference between comment, guidance and off-the-record briefing.

Just how close is the public relations profession to the centre of events at the companies they represent?

The question has bothered me over my years in financial journalism. Good PR executives – well-informed, news-savvy and eloquent, with relationships at the very top of the clients’ corporate structure – can be invaluable sources. They are often better than the “C suite” executives because the flacks have, in theory, a better understanding of what makes the media tick.

On the other hand, it’s frustrating to be fobbed off by a less experienced spin doctor who doesn’t know the difference between comment, guidance and off-the-record briefing. “We’ve got no comment, and that’s on the record” is one of the more asinine things to say to a journalist. Some PRs even mean it.

I’ve never taken the view that journalists (especially in this part of the world) are the natural and bitter enemies of PR flacks. If we’re both doing our jobs properly, the relationship can be fruitful and mutually beneficial. It’s always better to “jaw jaw” than to “war war”, as Churchill once said.

But the question of how good PR flacks are at their job resurfaced twice in the past week or so. The first occasion came from a corporate contact in London, who was seeking an introduction to a good PR firm in the region.

“We’ve worked with a few [PR firms] in the past and found them uniformly underwhelming and expensive,” my contact emailed me. That’s pretty damning.

The second was more nuanced. Discussing an ongoing corporate situation with a well-respected PR flack in the region, one involving a client well known to both of us, I asked for an update of a protracted series of negotiations.

“I don’t know, but there must be something going on, because I haven’t heard a thing,” he replied.

More amusing, but also rather more damning, if you think about it.

***

I’ve been a loyal habitué of the Dome Café in the Dubai International Financial Centre for years now. And I still appreciate its unique offering for a working journalist: good, free internet connection, a reasonably serious and quiet working environment, and staff who know me well and seem to anticipate my every need. And very good penne carbonara.

But recently I’ve been spreading my wings a bit, and can report on two new venues that might tempt me away from the Dome, occasionally.

The first is the Icon Bar & Lounge at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Dubai Media City. It’s convenient if you happen to be at that end of town, a good (if pricey) menu, and very attentive and efficient staff. A good alternative to the Dome, and a great place to put in an afternoon’s work.

But the latest was an eye-opener. I’ve always thought that the lobby at the Jumeirah Emirates Towers hotel was the best place to spot business celebrities in Dubai, but a recent afternoon there was extraordinary: Dubai royalty, a whole clutch of senior executives and other movers and shakers were all there, and apparently keen to chat.

The only drawback is that, with so many interesting people around, you’re too busy networking to get any serious journalism done. Maybe I’ll make it a once-a-week treat.

***

Here’s the latest from the brilliant “Goldman Sachs Elevator Gossip” Twitter feed: “The iPhone 5C is the cutest possible way of saying ‘poor’.”

And, “When someone says ‘we should get together’, I always say ‘sure, I’ll call you’. It’s a lie for a lie.”

fkane@thenational.ae