The university’s ‘PRfutures’ group played host to one of the profession’s ‘big hitters’ last night. Mike Lee is CEO of Vero Communications, and was director of communications and public affairs for the London 2012 Olympics & Paralympics bid.
In his animated yet detailed lecture, he gave a case study overview of how the campaign was won, and ended by sharing his top tips for effective campaigns. Mike repeatedly stressed the importance of narrative – of individual stories within a campaign adding up to tell a larger story – thankfully resonating with my repeated flag-waving in lectures for a growing academic interest in the concept of story-telling.
The backdrop of Obama’s inauguration speech screening, which luckily for us in terms of potential audience distractions had just finished in the Student Union bar, powerfully backed-up Mike’s case. Indeed, he joked that the invoice for campaign inspiration was in the post.
The importance of narrative, of involving young people in the campaign, of stressing the historic nature of the decision in front of the audience – it was indeed uncanny. I drew the line at the stirring national pride moment that I felt when Aretha Franklin started singing in that amazing outfit. She cannot be compared in the same breath with Heather Small in the soundtrack to the 2012 campaign films that Mike aired during his talk, despite their effectiveness at stirring something inside.
I watched the inauguration before Mike arrived, and when Aretha got up to sing, I felt proud to be American for the first time in my life. I had to remind myself quickly that I am not an American, although for some strange reason, I often wish I was Estonian.
Mike Lee is not to be confused with the filmmaker Mike Leigh, whose credits include High Hopes. The hopes for Obama are high, and his inauguration speech was another fantastically delivered piece of PR, crafted to convey a businesslike tone, arguably to convey the idea that he is a man of substance. When I wrote down the values on which he was basing his presidency, I imagined another politician delivering these values in front of a room full of my students. They probably would have been booed off the podium – hard-work, honesty, loyalty, a quiet force of progress, and a new era of responsibility – although he did celebrate curiosity.
It was on that last value that I encouraged the assembled students from our own college, but also new MA students starting this week, students and alumni of the PR Academy, plus guests from Central St Martins and the London College of Fashion who are also part of our university to continue to attend the programme of guest speakers we have for ‘PRfutures’ events during the coming term.
Our next guests from industry are Mark Borkowski (17 February) and Colleen Harris (10 March).