Warrane College UNSW | college accommodation for students at UNSW
Warrane College UNSW | college accommodation for students at UNSW

Peter Wilkinson on How to Spin a Positive Public Image

Peter Wilkinson (Right) giving his speech in Warrane College

When ordinary people follow what is happening in the media, they need to be able to work out what is true and what is not, media expert Peter Wilkinson told Warrane residents on Wednesday, May 4.

“In what appears in the news, honesty and integrity are sometimes sacrificed,” he said. “Most news has elements of truth and very large elements of opinion. Julia Gillard will put one line and Tony Abbott another and you have to work out who is telling the truth.”

Peter, a former news producer for programs like 60 Minutes, Four Corners and A Current Affair, is now a public relations consultant. Founder of PR agency the Wilkinson Group, he is also President (Asia/Pacific) of IPREX, one of the world’s largest public relations networks in the world, and is also a regular guest on ABC radio’s Spin Doctors program.

He said that a huge amount of professional public relations was misleading, including information circulated by pharmaceutical companies “peddling drugs” and information put out by the “spin doctors” employed by politicians.

“I would never do that,” he said, “and I would never work for companies like ‘Big Tobacco’.”

When it came to the media, individuals had to trust their own judgment by following the media over a period of time and making up their mind about the important issues. Over time it was possible to sift out the nonsense by reading widely.

“Don’t lock yourself into a particular politician or blog,” he said. “The social media you now have on the internet makes it easy to gather information and also read reliable publications like the New York Times and the Financial Times which have a very high level of accuracy and objectivity.”

Peter offered residents four pieces of advice to help them in their future careers:

  • He said as someone who had to fight for his own career in a very competitive environment, he would advise young people to never knock back an opportunity. “Never say I can’t do it or I am shy,” he said.
  • In the real world, getting ahead was all about maintaining a wide range of contacts. Anyone who wanted to get ahead needed to put in time developing their own network of contacts.
  • When starting out in a career, it was important not to ask for a pay rise. Instead, one should always seek a promotion – offer to take on more responsibility. “The pay rise will follow”, he added.
  • Finally, there is no substitute for sitzfleisch: “Get ahead by always working harder than the next guy.”

Peter fished up by demonstrating how to handle media interviews by answering questions in a way that gets across your own message, rather than allowing the interviewer to dictate the direction of the interview.

“The aim is always to stick to your key message,” he said. “Always try to take control of the debate and stay on message.”

[Warrane College offers more than just accommodation to students at UNSW: Details of other guest speakers are available here]