The best novels for PR in Fiction or Scoop! are not necessarily romans a clef but if you buy into the (very) thinly disguised plots and characters of Martin Sixsmith's 2004 novel Spin it would be hard not to be tempted to believe it offered meaningful insights into journalism and public relations.
Sixsmith, if you remember, was the BBC man turned government adviser who got caught up in the Jo Moore good-day-to-bury-bad-news debacle. Spin is payback time, set in a rapidly approaching future with a few judicious tweaks that must have made the lawyers a little less twitchy.
Squeaky clean Andy Sheen is the New Project Party PM who has led the UK into the Middle East Wars and is about to launch into some pretty unpleasant "we know best" social engineering, through the new-fangled Department for Society. Sheen's success is a triumph of style over substance largely attributed to the lying, cheating and bullying of a comms team led by Charlie MacDonald. (Be aware that New Project's MacDonald is big, black and worked in Brixton, so should in no way be confused with New Labour's Alastair Campbell).
Charlie was even credited with suggesting the Party's Procter & Gamble-esque brand New Improved Project... and the PR campaign that went with it.
Few people in those days realised how powerful the New Project spin doctors were to become, how much influence the imperatives of presentation would soon have over the substance of party policy-making.
Under streetwise, no-nonsense MacDonald, and abetted by former NUJ PR Geoff Maddle, the Downing Street operation has become 'the most efficient, most revered and most feared PR outfit in the whole of Europe.'
Foreign governments sent their Charlie MacDonald wannabes to study at the court of the master: to learn how carrots, sticks, black eyes, blackmail, saccharine and smears, seduction and schmooze can all be deployed to keep the government at the top of the news agenda; how the media could be flattered and cowed into submission; how difficult journalists could be neutralised; and how inconvenient stories could be killed be killed by kindness, by cunning or by cutting some bastard's balls off.
It is Maddle who does the much of the hands-on dirty work: "Success for (him) was when a story did not appear, when a dog did not bark."
This is an area of PR that, as some of its more persuasive critics point out, gets very little attention. The official definitions promoted by the CIPR and the 'professional project' simply don't talk about the art of suppressing information, but it is as much at the heart of Spin as it is the heart David Michie's Conflict of Interest (2000). Here, MacDonald and his crew draw on a computer system called Lancelot to provide ammunition for blackmail, just as the Lomboids of Conflict owe their success to a hugely successful (and hopefully entirely fanciful), supersecret and murderous media surveillance unit.
I can't say I particularly enjoyed Spin - it is far too clumsy and self-serving to work as decent novel.
But it is interesting that the cynical Sixsmith and Michie have far more direct experience of the operations of which they write than most of the authors so far covered by PR in Fiction.