Global public relator Toni Muzi Falconi's newest book is available completely free for download. You can also buy a paperback version of the book on various online stores. Either way, check it out.
The son of an Italian aristocrat and career diplomat, 74-year-old Toni Muzi Falconi recalls over fifty years as an international Public Relations professional and scholar.
As CEO of the most successful PR consultancy of the ‘80s in Italy, and equally at ease with North American giants such as Steve Jobs and Leonard Cohen, Toni’s narrative in Biased Memoirs of a Public Relator is unusually candid: from politics to journalism, earnouts and transcontinental business deals, the personal voice of one man never fades against the background of ideologies, history, individuals’ ambitions, exotic cultures, and the rise and fall of business empires, at home as abroad.
Work and personal life are tightly weaved to create a vibrant, passionate and colourful fabric; the entire point of the Biased Memoirs is not to consign to history a point of view through a professional’s ‘spin’, rather to use the narrator’s own experience to cut through it, and tell of an incredible career.
A privileged life? Absolutely. Yet also one peppered with mistakes, dips and peaks, anecdotes, struggles and a steep learning curve. As Muzi Falconi dives into his next project (multi-culturalism, inter-culturalism, an interest in the public narrative on Islam) and looks forward to his new academic appointment, the reader is left to ponder over a much-vilified profession – in that sense, Biased Memoirs does good PR for PR – as well as famous and infamous episodes, from banker Calvi’s murder in the UK to the rise of Silvio Berlusconi’s empire.
Check out a few pages from the book.
I was born in San Salvador, capital city of El Salvador, on July 22, 1941, son of Marion Barton (Anglo-Irish daughter of Sir Sydney Barton, the Queen’s representative in Shanghai in post-World War I and, subsequently, the King’s ambassador to Hailé Selassie in Adis Abeba in the Thirties) and Filippo Muzi Falconi, an Italian aristocrat and career diplomat.
In Adis Abeba during the early Thirties, when Sir Sydney passionately supported the Emperor in his struggle to offset the imminent Italian invasion of 1936, Marion fell in love with Filippo, who then, as a junior diplomat, represented the Italian Fascist government.
Their love affair quickly led to Marion’s expulsion from her British family. Benito Mussolini refused to accept the marriage until she became an Italian citizen, so my mother moved to Florence, learned Italian and became Italian.
As some historians recently explained (Angelo Del Boca, for one), the incident that formally caused and somehow lent legitimacy to the first Italian invasion of Ethiopia, was provoked by my father who shot himself in the leg on purpose and, in agreement with his government in Rome, accused Ethiopian militias of the attack.
I had to wait 52 years to learn about this episode, indirectly confirmed by my mother before she died in the early Nineties, in an interview given to the above-mentioned Italian historian.
I came to life as the third son of this diplomatic couple, at the time representing the Italian Fascist Government in the Republic of El Salvador. My elder brothers were Alessandro (now passed away, a life-long environmental activist and senior advertising executive), and Livio (today, a retired Italian diplomat).
My early days were somewhat troubled, as the Italian war with the United States had been declared only four months following my birth; this event marked a good part of my life because all my original identity documents were destroyed when the Salvadorenians set fire to the Italian Consulate, after we had left to be interned elsewhere with other German-Japanese-Italian diplomats.
On the other hand, my mother’s memory for dates had always been rather vague and my father never really bothered with mundane things such as dates. His main interests, as far back as I can remember, were thorough reading, cooking, conversing, and attractive women.
As a result, well into my sixties, I had three different birthdates (22, 24, 26 July 1941) appearing in as many different documents (passport, ID and driver’s licence), in line with the statements my parents and/or I had supplied at various times to the Italian authorities, who, in turn, never bothered to check.
This had annoying consequences, particularly during the terrorist years in Italy, in the late Seventies and early Eighties. Every time I was stopped by police for spot-checks I inevitably ended up giving long explanations.
As a side effect, as those three dates resided in ‘no man’s land’ between Cancer and Leo star signs, I never nurtured any interest in my or others’ horoscopes.
It was only some years after my mother’s death in 1994, that my brother Livio discovered a letter dated July 24 1941 written in French by my father to his mother, Maria Mars (she was from Nice, on Italian territory at the time of her birth), in which he wrote ‘avant hier est né mon troisieme fils Marcantonio’.
He was referring to me. I have never used my full first name, and Toni has always been preferred by all (except by my father, but only when he was cross with me). Amusing that Toni, spelt with an ‘i’ in many countries refers to a female, while for example Andrea (a male name in Italy) elsewhere refers to a woman. In my youth I happened to have a short liaison with an Austrian girl named Andrea. Her friends believed she was a lesbian, and my friends thought I was gay.
Back to the story: as mentioned, from Salvador we joined German, Italian and Japanese diplomatic personnel from other Central American countries. First in Guatemala, then in White Sulphur Springs, Florida, and, finally, shipped on a boat from New York to Lisbon, where we arrived in the early months of 1942.
My father had been appointed Italian Consul General in Vienna and we moved straight to the Austrian capital, albeit only for a short while, as in September 1943 the Italian Fascist Government collapsed. My family temporarily moved to a villa near Padova owned by one of my father’s colleagues, who had preferred to remain abroad and had asked us to live in his villa to avoid it being occupied by the Nazi-Fascists or, alternatively, the Partisans, as a civil war had erupted in that region of northern Italy.
While my parents and elder brothers remained there for some time, I was soon sent off to a quieter country estate of relatives in Vicopisano, near Pisa in Tuscany, where I lived with the local farmers until my family reunited in Rome in 1945.
It’s difficult to separate factual memories from tales heard in later years, but I do distinctly remember drinking red wine instead of milk at the farm; perhaps understandably, the rest remains blurred and muddled.
The late Sixties in Italy, particularly in Milan, were troubled by much social and political upheaval. I was always on the ‘wrong side’ and both my bosses as well as my American supporters from Saint Paul were getting a bit fed up. Robert Peterson had arrived as European head of PR, with his adorable wife Kay, an opera buff and a good singer, and headquartered in Milan. He backed me up every time it was necessary, and I am very grateful for that.
All my cultural activities at Cife had an implicit political bias, and I used to join the marches that regularly passed in front of my offices in Corso Vittorio Emanuele. I would take the trade unions’ side most of time, within my company. I was a manager then, and such attitude did not go down very well. They let me free to do what I felt was right until 1970 when the two companies I was working for merged, and the French CEO took over, obliging my mentor Piero to leave.
Piero soon became managing director of Corriere della Sera, one of Italy’s major newspapers and a huge publisher.
I remember one day walking into the French CEO’s large office in Milan. Mr Imbert looked up at me from his desk and said “you know, every time I see you I imagine myself drowning in a swimming pool and you, on the side of the pool, telling me that the colour of my swimming costume is inappropriate.”
I was insulted by that remark.
At 3M Italy, I recall a specific professional incident which left a mark: I was entrusted by the advertising department to look after the launch of the new colour copier in 1968. My boss had agreed to book, on the Corriere della Sera, a full-colour advertising page to coincide with the opening of Smau (a very important office appliance fair in Milan). It was the first time anyone had advertised in color in an Italian daily newspaper: I read, re-read and signed off the ad copy. It incorporated a coupon that said something like “bring your original to our stand and we will make for you a perfect colour copy you can take home.”
On the opening morning I arrived early at the stand and saw a small group of Xerox salesmen (our major competitor, which was driving us out of the photocopy market) in their typical dark suit, each with a wry smile and a urinal in their hands, waiting for a colour copy. I had not spotted, during proof-reading, that the term “original” had been spelt as “urinal”.
Lesson learned: always read from right to left (I oblige my co-workers and students to do the same). It works.
“Hello” said the caller, “I write for the New England Journal of Medicine. Are you Mr Muzi Falconi?”
“Yes, I am, what can I do for you?” I was rather surprised, as I revered that journal but had not been in contact for years.
“Well,” he said, “I would like you to confirm that on 28 April 1981 (19 years earlier), coming out of a meeting with the then Italian Health Minister, you sent a note to your client Philip Morris indicating that the Minister had agreed politically to back an attempt in Parliament to reverse the prohibition of advertising of tobacco products in Italy if the bill explicitly included the ban of all indirect advertising, and that the media would accept only direct informative advertising pre-approved by a government-nominated commission.”
I was shocked. How the hell did he know? From the very first day of my relationship with the client we had both agreed to sign every year a reciprocal non-disclosure agreement.
I adopted the usual technique I advise my own clients to adopt: “I am sorry, but the line is dreadful, I can’t hear what you are saying. Please try again in a few minutes.”
Putting the phone down, and after four years of silence, I called my Italian PM interlocutor, but could not reach him.
A few minutes later the journalist called again and I admitted that the incident he mentioned sounded familiar, but I was not sure of the date. Of course, was he aware that the project never proceeded because the tobacco industry backed out of the arrangement?
“Yes,” he replied, “I know that, but what I don’t know is why. Would you care to tell me?”
I answered, “How do you know all this? What is your source?”
“What? You mean, you don’t know? I can’t believe it. Philip Morris agreed with the US Congress some months ago, in exchange for a 500 million dollar-rebate on a billion-plus dollar fine, to release on a publicly-accessible website all of its international marketing and public affairs documents for the last thirty years!”
I gulped and came up for air. “What is the url?” I hesitantly inquired. He gave it to me.
I quickly closed the conversation saying that the real reason that project never went through is that when Philip Morris had authorised me to test the waters, the company was sure that it would never have been accepted. When they learned from me that indeed the proposal had legs, they had second thoughts and decided that indirect advertising was more powerful and persuasive than direct advertising and asked me to abandon the project, which I begrudgingly did.
I turned off the phone, opened my PC and searched the internet to see what had been posted. I digitised my name, the name of my company, the CDIT,… and a few thousand documents came up.
Terrified, it took me hours to go through twenty years of my life, there, for everybody to see, and wrote down on a piece of paper the more embarrassing and unethical episodes I had been involved in. At the end of the exercise my piece of paper had about twenty items, of which only two were totally unacceptable and inexcusable.
I began to bombard the Grand Hotel with phone calls after seven, and finally got through to my client. He seemed irritated by my call: I asked: “how did it go?”. He responded with a short “very well”, and added that he was in a private meeting with Andreotti.
I exulted and, as we had agreed during rehearsals, leaked to a newswire service that my client had been received by the Governor. No mention, of course, of the Scalfari encounter.
The next morning I was at my desk in Milan very early (there was no internet then, but only wire services).
All the daily papers had prominent news of the meeting at the Bank of Italy and suggested that the Ambrosiano story would be quickly solved, which is the result we had focused on.
La Repubblica had a fantastic editorial signed by Scalfari, in which he praised my client as the best possible candidate from the Catholic side, to sort out the Calvi mess.
It was before 7.30am, and as I was reading those news with triumphant joy, I heard the ticking of my wire service and saw the issued news as it was being typed by Ansa (the National press agency): it said that the news of the meeting was false and that the Governor had never received my client.
Shocked, I woke up my client and asked him what the hell had been going on, and told him of the Governor’s statement. He yawned and said: “oh yes, I did not tell you, his Secretary had called me at 4.30 pm to cancel the appointment.”
“But you said everything went well!” I panicked.
He replied, “I could not elaborate as I was speaking to Andreotti, but was actually referring to the Scalfari meeting…”.
I immediately typed and released by fax a statement signed by me, as Bagnasco’s spokesperson, confirming the Governor’s statement and saying that it had been my personal mistake, in the hope of minimising the issue.
It did not work.
Scalfari was absolutely furious and the next morning he wrote a second editorial under the title “A carpet merchant.”
That was the end of my client’s ambitions: the Banco Ambrosiano’s activities were frozen, the real estate funds collapsed and my client never became Chairman of the Ambrosiano.
Of course it had been my mistake. I was so excited about it all that I never questioned the extent of Bagnasco’s “very well” statement whispered down the phone.
Ah, the power of PR. Another lesson learned: never trust yourself and always double-check in tense situations.
On New Year’s Eve, I was mostly trying to ensure that the National Crisis HQs and the Capital’s Crisis HQs were networked and connected efficiently. I did not feel that virtual presence from the crisis team HQs was sufficient, so I had also organised for a number of youngsters on their scooters, armed with mobile phones, to go back and forth in the heavy (but excellently managed, for once) Roman traffic.
Of course we all celebrated New Year and the New Millenium the next morning.
In the same year, the Italian Government organised the OECD’s Global Social Forum, hosted in Naples.
We worked on the logistics, practical management and media relations of the three-day June event.
The digital divide was then the primary issue of discussion, and official government delegations from 66 nations, mostly from the world’s developing countries, were gathered to discuss and structure a global action plan to reduce that divide.
Little did they know what leaps in technology were round the corner, and how many of those discussions would soon become utterly futile.
The Social Forum was selected by activists and Black Blocks (young and violent European troublemakers) as a stage for demonstrations. The government was worried: Enzo Bianco (ex-militant from the Clubs’ Left and Minister of Home Affairs at the time), had toughened security around the Forum’s venue.
Violent clashes broke out; I had joined as a media consultant to concentrate on the digital divide, the Forum’s main subject, but my time was instead mostly dedicated to influence the media into perceiving the activists’ violent attacks as a protest against a Left-Centre government hosting a progressive social conference.
My younger colleagues from the activist groups, instead, used intelligent and professional arguments to accuse Italy of being the USA’s sidekick, glorifying America-style computer and telecom businesses, in an attempt to convince developing countries to invest the little resources they had to improve their connectivity and their digital literacy.
With hindsight they were right: mobile, wireless and cloud computing have since done more to reduce the digital divide than any other costly infrastructure.
Biased Memoirs of a Global Public Relator is downloadable for free, as it was never meant to be a profit-led initiative (like many of my projects). However, regardless of what one may think of my work, I would like you to consider making a direct donation to the Cordoba Initiative, my latest professional assignment (see last chapter of this book).
The Cordoba Initiative is a lay, progressive, Muslim-led, non-profit organisation dedicated to 'shifting the global public discourse on Islam' to improve understanding and build trust among people of all cultures and religions.
Such request may be unusual, or at odds with one's religious beliefs; however, whatever your ideas, positions, likes and dislikes, please consider that your donation would simply be contributing to the hard work of many respectable individuals who are committed to improving the quality of life for all who live in today’s world, for a healthier, fairer society.Donate Now