For sometime I have been thinking about setting up a companion to my Scoop! Journalists in Fiction blog, looking at the way public relations is represented by novelists. Only indolence holds back Scoop! but finding mentions of PR is more of a challenge.
Which is sort of the point. Scoop! suggests that it is instructive to see how writers portray journalism; by and large, authors strive to create convincing characters so their representations of the discipline and its practitioners must somewhow resonate with wider conceptions held by readers. When I get round to it, Spin! PR in Fiction will do the same thing, hopefully giving an insight into what a range of novelists consider to be plausible notions of who PR people are and what they do.
Over Christmas I finally got around to reading Richard T Kelly's Tyneside-set Crusaders, an ambitious and impressive novel that is grounded in sharp observation and gritty realism. One of the central characaters, vicar John Gore meets his sister in brasserie (of course). Susannah has moved into lobbying: "Well, I was fucked off with PR. Having to worry about the size of bloody billboards all the time..."
If that is Kelly's conception of PR, how about this from Murray Sayle's tale of 1960s Fleet Street, A Crooked Sixpence (recently republished by Revel Barker). Sunday Sun reporters O'Toole and Knight are paying a visit to Oliver Dawson Associates, Advertising, Camden Town.
"What's your business exactly, Dawson?" asked Knight.
"Well, it used to be called publicity," said Dawson, "We've only recently reached the status of a profession, if you know what I mean. The proper term is public relations."
Dawson explains that he has a couple of hundred accounts, mainly in the 'medical and theatrical professions': "We work creatively, not to plug our clients indiscriminately, but to mould and guide the attitude of the public, to influence, in a straightforward way, of course, the editors of the mass media..."
His role is to "get customers to the point of sale". To do this he handwrites and pins up in shops cards informing passers-by that Miss Maria now gives relaxing treatment and Miss Raymonde offers corrective treatment.
Knight: "He's convinced himself that this is public relations and you will never shake him off it. It probably is, at that. What the hell is public relations, anyway?"
O'Toole: "It means getting stories into papers without paying for them."