PR students in Leeds have enjoyed a rare opportunity to meet the man behind the name: Max Clifford.
Whether you boo at his name or relate to his ‘PR guru’ status, he certainly entertains.
Practitioners attending the CIPR Northern Conference and PR students came together to listen to him and question his methods.
Most of all, they wanted to understand the guiding principles behind so many headline stories over several decades.
Having left school at fifteen, he told how there were at that time no universities to teach public relations.
So he adopted a ‘make it up as you go along’ approach, landing on his feet when the unknown band he helped to promote at EMI turned out to be the Beatles.
Having told the audience of his journey into PR (it seems to have been a mixture of early opportunism and being in the ‘right place at the right time’) Max left the floor open to questions.
I haven’t seen that many hands go up in a guest lecture yet.
Certain members of the CIPR picked up on this idea, questioning Max’s approach to lies and honesty. When asked ‘Have you ever presented facts that aren’t true?’ he replied:
‘Oh yes, yes’. Refreshingly honest for a man with a reputation for lies.
Others probed further into his influence on our reputation as PR practitioners, asking whether the negative view of PR by some in the business community was partly his fault. Again, Max replied wittily ‘And everyone in the business community is honest, are they? I have to be comfortable with what I get involved with.’
Do as I say
Amongst all the controversy there was some great advice for students. The CIPR code of conduct states that practitioners must ‘maintain the highest standards of professional endeavour [and] integrity’.
When I asked Max whether he thought that honest public relations was an ideal, he didn’t shy away from the question but conceded that ‘telling the truth is hard. Look at every situation in its own environment and be realistic.’ A consequential approach to PR but one I have to say I agree with.
The value of PR experience was also discussed. ‘There is no substitute for practical experience. Get involved in what you believe in and like.’ Although the wording is simple, the message is great. Do what you like, get involved where you want to get involved. It’s all well going to university and doing the theoretical side but if you have no practical experience in the world of PR, then you’ll never really get anywhere. Placements are invaluable for students.
The final word
I expected to meet a brash, hardened PR guru who would gloat about his many ethical controversies and his own fame. I was actually quite surprised to find quite a quiet, seemingly-honest character with a strong sense of inner-conviction. Although I don’t necessarily agree with what Max Clifford has done in the past, I do agree with what he advises in the future.
‘It’s an incredible opportunity. Trust your own instinct’.
Student tweets from the talk
Other student reports on this lecture:
Emilie Sillett: Slander, libel and hearsay [own blog]
Faye Oakey: Max Clifford key note speech at Leeds Met #ciprnc [PR Examples]