PR handouts that you can't refuse

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The Independent Online
I GOT a call from Adrian Wardour-Street, my favourite public relations man, the other day. He was looking fit and relaxed, tanned and confident. But then, it's death not to in the PR world.

'Have a drink, dear lad,' he said, ushering me into the nearest Soho open-all-day pub. We never closed, said the Windmill Theatre. Some pubs in Soho today are a lot more open than the Windmill ever was.

'So what's it to be?' said Adrian. 'Hair of the dog?'

The strongest thing I could remember having had the night before was coffee.

'Yes, please,' I said. 'Black coffee.'

He brought a coffee, and sat down.

'So, Adrian,' I said, 'what redoubtable client are you representing this time? Who is in bad enough trouble to want you to get them out?'

Silently he pushed a paper across the table. The headline leapt out at me: 'Giant engineering firm infiltrated by the Mafia.'

'You're representing an engineering firm?' I said. 'Bit mundane for you, old boy.'

He shook his head impatiently.

'Would it surprise you to learn that for the past nine months I have been representing the interests of the Mafia?'

I opened my mouth to signify that it would. I raised my eyebrows as far as they would go as an invitation to him to carry on talking.

'They are much maligned people,' he continued. 'Any little racket or extortion set-up that crops up is blamed on the Mafia, the same way any half-decent joke about men is attributed to Dorothy Parker. It is so unfair] Anyway, corruption is old hat. We leave that to amateurs, such as the president of Brazil.'

'We?' I said. He shrugged.

'You have to identify with your clients.'

'But what good can you possibly say about the Mafia?'

PR persons tend to be ready for questions like that. 'The Mafia has many qualities that we should be proud to copy. Whereas other people are always trying to drag their enemies into court, the Mafia does not. It never, for instance, sues for libel.'

'No, it shoots them instead.'

'You have proof of this?'

'No, but you read about it.'

'Yes. You read about it. You read a lot about it. The Mafia gets fed up reading the papers, because of all these lies. That is why it has hired me. It is tired of lies and slanders. And it is really tired of jokes about people being put in concrete and thrown in rivers. It wants me to root them out. Anyway, if what they say about the Mafia were true, it would shoot a lot of newspaper editors, wouldn't it?'

Adrian had started to gesture in a way that was unlike him, and more . . . well, Italian.

'So how do you go about improving the Mafia's image?'

'I try to encourage people to think of the Mafia as a modern business corporation, which of course it is.'

'But the Mafia indulges in blackmail and extortion and strong-arm tactics and ruthless elimination of individuals . . .'

'As I said. It is a typical modern business corporation.'

'But modern business firms don't go around killing people and blowing them up]'

'That's true,' he said. 'In that respect the Mafia is more like a modern government.'

'Oh, come on]' I said. 'When did the British government last blow people up?'

'The most recent notable example was during the Gulf war, when we slaughtered thousands of Iraqi civilians to achieve our business objectives.'

He had a point. I changed tack. 'So how do you set about getting your client's name in a favourable light in the papers?'

'Old idea, new twist. I write to the editor saying that in such-and-such a story he ran the word Mafia should have been spelt with a capital M'

'Where's the new twist?'

'Ah. The editor looks up the story, which might be, say, about business changes in Japan, and he finds no mention of the Mafia. He rings me back and says, 'Look, that story wasn't about the Mafia'. I say, 'Wanna bet?' He gets the point. Next time he runs that story, it's a Mafia business story . . . Like I said, we're going respectable.'

'Where do I come into this?'

'Just a small favour. Report this conversation in your column. Show that the Mafia is cleaning up its act.'

'And if I don't?'

'Don't be silly,' said Adrian.

'I'll see what I can do,' I said.

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