Michael Bland, a leading figure in corporate communications, has died, aged 76.
Despite suffering from Parkinson’s disease for the last two decades, he lived an independent life until December 2020, when he was admitted to hospital after a fall. He died in hospital four weeks later from a Covid-19 infection. Michael’s son Ben has written these words.
Best known for his pioneering work in public relations, media training and crisis management, Bland trained and counselled more than 100 organisations in 37 countries. His clients included Bank of England, GSK, Nokia, Intel, government officials around the world, and British royalty.
Bland gained a particularly high reputation for consulting clients on how to communicate through a crisis. He provided crisis management services for some headline news events, and prepared senior figures for challenging public appearances.
Norman R. Augustine, Former Chairman of Lockheed Martin Corporation, once said, “those who heed Michael Bland’s counsel and apply his collected wisdom will find that many perils can be identified and corrected before they needlessly put an organisation at risk”.
Among his career highlights, Bland delivered crisis planning and training for the European national banks for the launch of the Euro, which at the time was claimed as the “biggest product launch in world history”.
Francis Thomas, former communications executive at Boots, Lego, and the UK Government department Ofqual, once said, “not only is Michael the undisputed ‘go-to’ thinker, writer and practitioner on crisis communications, he is also one of the most engaging people working in the PR industry”.
Bland was an accomplished speaker, and taught presentation and media interview skills to more than 10,000 trainees.
He authored 11 text books, two best-selling humour titles, 10 short stories, and numerous articles for national and industry publications, as well as a handful of scripts for comedy television programmes.
Born in London in 1944, raised in Suffolk, Bland went on to become an officer in the Royal Anglian Regiment of the British Army, where he specialised in winter survival instruction.
After leaving the military, he worked as a stockbroker and financial journalist, and as a manager at Reuters before focusing his career on public relations. He became corporate communications head of the Institute of Directors, then Ford Motor Company, where he described his role as “being the meat in the sandwich between Henry Ford and Margaret Thatcher”. In 1984, he launched an independent consultancy and remained a freelancer for the rest of his career.
In his late fifties, around twenty years before his death, Bland was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Despite the gradual degenerative effects of the disease, he remained physically fit until the last few years, and was able to maintain his independence until the end.
He was not shy about his illness and did not let it dampen the sharp wit and good humour for which he was well known. In a 2007 article for the Parkinson’s Disease Society (now Parkinson’s UK) he described the first time he spoke of his illness to a wider audience.
He wrote, “the moment of truth came at a seminar for building contractors on unexploded ordnance. [I] explained that my hands were shaking, not as a result of fear, alcohol or the sniffing of white powders, but that I had Parkinson’s. This, I assured them, did not affect my public relations or crisis management skills… and then as an afterthought I added: ‘…but you wouldn’t want me doing your bomb disposal for you!'”
Bland had an enduring passion for sports and fitness, including representing Great Britain at the European Masters Track & Field championships. He was a county champion in long-range rifle shooting, achieved multiple swimming certifications, and was a qualified ski instructor and member of the winning giant slalom team in a European stock exchanges championship. He also gained titles in the boxing ring and assault course while in the army.
At one point in the early seventies he became a bilingual commentator at an American rodeo in Germany. He was convinced to ride one of the horses for the crowd on one occasion but was knocked off and escaped with minor injuries.
Around age 50, Bland attempted to protect a stranger from a violent incident in London and was caught by a punch from her attacker. At the time Bland complained to his sons that “in my boxing days I would have dodged the strike”. This drove him to join Cobra Gym, a local martial arts club run by former kickboxing and Thai boxing champion Tim Izli.
Despite the intervening onset of Parkinson’s Disease, Bland went on to attain a black belt in kickboxing, and re-entered the ring for a demonstration bout against a then-current European champion, to raise money for the Parkinson’s Disease Society.
He developed a strong spiritual side, becoming a qualified complementary healer, teacher and council member at the College of Psychic Studies in Kensington, London. He combined his spiritual teachings with his practical knowledge to deliver guidance on how to reduce stress, improve motivation and enjoy life more, developing a successful course called Energy for Life.
In late 2020, Bland developed a serious leg injury from two separate falls and was admitted to Kettering General Hospital. He suffered complications from surgery and contracted Covid-19. After four weeks in hospital he was moved to end-of-life care and died five days later, on 18 Jan 2021. His eldest son Tom was allowed to be at his bedside briefly to say goodbye, and the rest of his immediate family joined via video call.
Bland is survived by two sons, a daughter and a two year-old granddaughter. In one lifetime he was an accomplished consultant, speaker, author, healer, soldier, athlete, and father. He had more stories than most, and he knew how to tell them. Now, his family and friends hope to keep his stories alive to share with his granddaughter as she grows up.