Lord Timothy Bell, the chairman of public relations firm Bell Pottinger, told an Al Arabiya English panel discussion on Thursday, March 10, that the public relations industry is more relevant than ever in the age of social media. “All that social media is, is more media communication; More channels, more opportunity to talk to people, more opportunity to talk to small groups of people, large groups of people. And the skills don’t change, the technique doesn’t change and all the gobbledygook that people talk in technical terms doesn’t make any difference to the fact that you’re still trying to do exactly the same thing,” Lord Bell said at a panel discussion moderated by Faisal J. Abbas, the editor-in-chief of Al Arabiya English.
The panel was attended by a number of government representatives, public relations industry professionals and senior journalists.
A communications veteran, Lord Bell advised UK conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s three successful general election campaigns over her 11 years in power, which began in 1979. Lord Bell received his title in 1990, after Thatcher nominated him for a knighthood.
Lord Bell said that today, public relations firms still have the “same audience, but broken down into smaller groups. The essence of public relations is to use third party endorsement to inform and persuade. None of that has changed… it’s the same skill, and the art of it that is to have an idea that you communicate with the same power to capture the imagination of the people you’re talking to, which makes them change the way they think and the way they behave.”
A regular commentator on Britain’s membership in the European Union, the PR veteran told the panel that he believed the UK should walk away from the bloc.
“Unfortunately, the European Economic Community that we joined in 1975 is not what the European Union is today. What the European Union is now, is an collection of countries and a bunch of unelected civil servants in Brussels, who invent rules that are supposed to harmonize the countries, so that we all have the same policies and the same rules and the same laws, and therefore we get the same outcome,” he said
“But the definition of madness is to do the same thing again and expect a different result. The concept of the European Union is based on a socialist collective. A socialist collective is exactly what communism is and what Marxism is, and it’s never worked,” Lord Bell added.
The Bell Pottinger chief also said that governments should work together with communications firms to help fight a “war of words” against ISIS, the militant group which controls vast swathes of Iraq and Syria.
“The communications industry around the world has the skills to counter the [ISIS] propaganda. I don’t see why the industry can’t get together and start a campaign to wipe out the evil of ISIS,” he said.
“There’s a military war, and there’s a war of words… the people in this room are perfectly capable of answering that. You don’t have to spend money, [as] the World Wide Web is free.”
The panel is part of an ongoing series, Al Arabiya News Global Discussions. The Discussions are an initiative created by Al Arabiya News – the English-language digital platform of the Arab news channel – as part of its relaunch in 2013 to help bolster understanding, encourage dialogue and find ways to bridge the communication gap between our region and the rest of the world.