Why let facts get in the way of a good story?

Improperganda | Proud Galleries, London
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The Independent Online

Why let facts get in the way of a good story? When it comes to grabbing the public's attention, there's nothing like a canny publicist to add a little spin - all they need is the odd bearded "lady", elephants on water skis, a handful of near-naked women and a fertile imagination.

Why let facts get in the way of a good story? When it comes to grabbing the public's attention, there's nothing like a canny publicist to add a little spin - all they need is the odd bearded "lady", elephants on water skis, a handful of near-naked women and a fertile imagination.

Improperganda is a celebration of those unsung creatives who have made a healthy living out of feeding irresistible images to a news-hungry press and increasingly media-savvy public. Without a few pros backstage, how else would a 1993 influenza vaccination programme (plus bikini-clad patients) have mustered more than a groan?

The show is presented by Borkowski PR - the company that brought us the Mad Max antics of Archaos, Ian Botham on an elephant and unlikely hunk-of-the-month Joaquín Cortés - and it takes a humorous look at the recent history of PR. "This is our inheritance as publicists," says the agency's director, Mark Borkowski. "The techniques are timeless. They are as relevant today as they were when PT Barnum first created a lithograph of Mrs Tom Thumb dwarfed by the baby she'd supposedly borne."

The captions in the show are irreverent and glib, and it soon becomes clear that any event, record breaker, or even the most mundane of products can make the headlines, with a little bit of professional manipulation.

The ability to whip up a controversy is a definite winner, as the Sensation exhibition proved, and any PR company worth its salt knows that protest and vocal outrage will get its client into the news. A clever protest will always be an effective way to get your message across, and examples range from a 1930s demo featuring one man with a sign reading "I know 3 trades, I speak 3 languages, fought for 3 years, have 3 children and no work for 3 months, but I only want one job" - to John and Yoko's bed-in for peace.

Improperganda includes the cute, the sexy, the unsettling and downright absurd. Self-publicists also make an appearance, and Liz Hurley in that dress gets put in the same look-at-me slot as Ken Livingstone, Salvador Dali and the inimitable Screaming Lord Sutch. Seeing how publicists can turn what should have been a low-key video launch into a half-page broadsheet article, and the launch of yet another car into an enticing, icy striptease, is a fascinating lesson in the ingenious tricks of the trade.

PR is big business but this exhibition demonstrates that when it is done well, it is, at the very least, good entertainment as well. Why stick to the bald facts when there's a clever gimmick or colourful yarn that can be told instead?

Improperganda, Proud Galleries, 5 Buckingham Street, London WC2 (020-7839 7979) until 12 August

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