Magazine article Marketing

Wilson's Open Version of PR

Magazine article Marketing

Wilson's Open Version of PR

Article excerpt

Don't obfuscate or muddy waters, but be crystal clear. Des Wilson gives Marketing his tips on perfect PR

Once upon a time Des Wilson was the scourge of big corporations. He helped found housing pressure group Shelter and led it for five years. He ran the campaign for unleaded petrol in the UK, directed the Campaign for Freedom of Information and was chairman of Friends of the Earth. More recently, he ran the Liberal Democrats' General Election.

Now Des Wilson is the director of public affairs and crisis management at leading PR firm Burson-Marsteller (B-M). And, although he won't comment on it, he is reckoned to be one of the highest paid people in PR.

So what happened? Is the enemy within? Or has Wilson sold out? Neither, says Wilson. "If I was going to sell out for money I would have done it a long time ago."

And, far from being the enemy within, Wilson claims he will act as a bridge between pressure groups and business. "Companies should stop talking about activists as a dangerous breed, and pressure groups should stop talking about people in business as though they're criminals."

If Wilson is true to his word, then his appointment at B-M represents a significant move by a big player in the PR industry.

Wilson's creed is disarmingly simple. He has summed it up for himself in a few basic tenets. These talk of words and deeds sending out messages which affect other people's perceptions: the image should reflect the reality, albeit in an attractive and positive way; and public relations, not being an alternative to good behaviour or good service.

Internal communications is a top priority: if things go wrong internally, you'll never get them right externally.

It's all good clean stuff, but time and again, big companies have shown that they prefer it the other way around. Take BA's dirty tricks or BP's internal memo ordering employees to, "keep our heads down on this one," this one, being the issue of safety in the wake of the Braer oil tanker disaster.

Wilson's argument is that doing the right thing is ultimately the best thing for business. He uses the campaign for clean air as a case in point. In 1981 he led a group of campaigners who wrote to every car manufacturer and petrol company in the UK, asking them to meet a deputation.

None of the petrol companies would answer the questions or meet with the group. …

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