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Elton John

Parting shots – as Sir Elton John and his publicist say their goodbyes, is the role of PR underrated?

By Mark Borkowski

December 18, 2015 | 3 min read

Many a moon ago I was forced to part company with a rather fragrant client who was hell-bent on career suicide. Don't ask – it's one for the memoir. At the time, a PR sage offered up a morsel of advice: "It's a truth that every client will sooner or later hurt you: you just gotta find the ones worth suffering for."

Yesterday Lord Gary Farrow parted company with Sir Elton, ending a 34-year relationship. The resignation was announced in one of those elegantly uninformative releases that we're all familiar with from football speak. Think Peter Taylor moving away from Brian Clough or Chelsea parting with The Special One.

Yet the analogy only goes so far. The performance of a dedicated publicist is more like running a marathon every day. Few really understand the daily grind of being a publicist: plundering the media rollerdex, returning favours, leveraging a network and building up enough client trust to tell a high powered ego that they're wrong.

Farrow is no slouch. He was influential in shaping The Osbornes into a global brand. He offered a confident shoulder for Jonathan Ross during his annus horribilis. Jeremy Clarkson has been a beneficiary of Farrow's calm head. Michael McIntyre was launched on the path to stardom through some cracking establishment feature work.

It's a strange world. Making sense of the changing face of PR is a struggle. Beyoncé, rated by Forbes as this year's most powerful female musician, hasn’t given an interview since 2013. In an age where you can speak directly to your fans via Twitter and manage your own image on Instagram who, many ask, actually needs PR?

'Engagement' is fine, but in order to sustain fame you need someone who will build relationships with influencers and keep the wolves from the door. It takes time and lots of give and take to nurture a rapport with the right journalists who know how to seed a story.

Sadly this is a receding novelty in our time compressed age. Internally I implore my folk to use every opportunity to build relationships with a diverse group of contacts. I know from experience that when the excrement hits the spinning blade you need to have the right contact on the end of the line. Does the fashionable PR with a funky website and a healthy Instagram stream? Few, I suspect, have the head for crisis.

Sir Elton's great leap forward is no doubt brave. I suggest that he should have first checked the bath water for the babies.

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