The special one, the mighty Jose Mourinho is back, and with a bang. Love him or loathe him, he is box office. He always reminds me of the legendary Brian Clough: he has the god given talent to deliver a narrative and focus attention. He is the master of the soundbite, his manner excites, beguiles, bewitches, befuddles and annoys. True value is always trumped by hype, and hype in turn is fuelled by controversy.
The seasoned sports journalist and Manchester United fan, Jim White, opined before the press conference today that we’re likely to see “three years of media silliness, trophies and ostentatious spending. Then another huff, another argument with a loaded Russian, and a flouncing off to continental Europe.” But in truth, we all love a spectacular soap opera of the kind Mourinho creates wherever he goes, and the press more so than anyone. What Jose cares deeply about, where he excels like no other current manager, is in creating fanfare around his tenure.
The fact of the matter is that the media world is much richer for the return of the special one; next season the post-match moments will be much less boring. The man has a natural talent to stimulate the media. He has what the old Hollywood press agents called ‘the stuff’.
He is, without doubt, the cynical, conniving, chameleonic master of self-promotion. He knows, like the granddaddy of hype, PT Barnum, that what led to people getting excited about something was not about how spectacular the thing itself was, but how spectacular you told them it was.
Jose has worked out that with the media as his canvas it is possible to paint pictures, stir up controversy, subliminally undermine opponents and put match officials on edge. Big players want to be part of his three ring circus. His ability to make news takes the story onto the front pages, fires up social media and builds the Chelsea brand.
Everyone loves a showman. Someone of his natural ability is a rare commodity but on the evidence of the press conference he has plenty left in the tank.
The special one’s antics will guarantee points on the board before the team has kicked a ball.
Rhys Ifans has been commanding attention for all the wrong reasons, testing the very limits of the notion that there is no such thing as bad publicity. There can have been few publicists who didn’t experience an internal cringe on behalf of the luckless PR that had to deal with his catastrophic interview with The Times.
It begs the question of when exactly the point comes that it is imperative for a flak to intervene. The interview scenario is tricky to negotiate. A decent publicist will generally maintain a peripheral role. By and large, well briefed clients who know their subject and the objective of the interview need little more than a good introduction and the support of knowing their PR is close at hand. It’s always a sign of defeat if the journalist references the presence of the PR muscle.
But there are obvious exceptions to this rule, as Rhys’ antics have proved. If a client is really likely to do their reputation damage because they are not in a position to represent themselves, or their organization, properly, it’s the publicist’s job to find a route to deflect the calamity. My advice has always been to be creative in the upstream of the crisis; don’t get overwhelmed when control has been lost. Save the client from himself – and use humour when the alchemy fails. Neither client nor journalist is edified by situations like this. Although there is a cheap thrill to be had in an interviewee misfiring badly, journalists want the story. Sadly in this case the interview became the story, with the journalist being abused and bearing witness to someone executing a spectacular Hari Kari, inside the belly of the movie junket process. Alas the future publicity process for this truculent turn is forever stained. His lack of etiquette will brand him as a bad boy for good. Redemption via Comic Relief may be the only option.
I was blessed to work with Richard Harris, a man not disposed to the oleaginous process of PR. In my experience he understood the need to create chaos. His off screen antics forged a unique cult status. He proves that the contemporary promotional system does allow for mavericks. Producers enjoy working with talent who understand how to “give good marketing.”
Ifans will live to enjoy the delights of a future fat junket. PR folk usually take the blame: it’s a case of ‘the client is always right’. Many feel the best strategy is to ensure that these situations don’t arise in the first place. Not always possible, but there are numerous stopping off points en route to an interview that allow for potential hazards to be identified and creatively tackled. If the interview is heading the wrong way, the creative turn it into an opportunity, not allow a repetitional crisis. The lame damage limitation forced into service post publication as the interview went viral suggests unease from both camps. Reports suggest his behaviour may have been the result of an adverse reaction to medication.
Somewhere in London today, a publicist is wishing deeply that they’d done things differently. The sad thing is that I don’t know a thing about what Ifans was promoting. The real crime was Ifans’ refusal to commit to the process, allowing antibiotics to create a powerful narrative without a marketing punch line.
The attack on the soldier on the streets of South East London was truly terrible.
The two men who carried out the attack coveted one thing: the oxygen of publicity for their cause. And boy, did they get it. Today’s papers are entirely dominated by sensationalist headlines and language that does nothing to encourage calm consideration of the causes of the crime and how we work to prevent this happening again. The natural response to an incident of this nature is to think of the perpetrators as ‘monsters’ and ‘butchers’, but our national newspapers referring to them in such terms only serves to heighten emotions at a time when sobriety is required. Editors and journalists, however, know we will be kept hooked to our screens, and so they play into the hands of the perpetrators, inciting anger and providing terrorist networks with dynamite for their recruitment campaigns.
It calls to mind the 9/11 Twin Tower attacks – that world changing event where Al Qaeda demonstrated their terrible mastery of the media by carrying out an attack that not only caused death and destruction on a massive scale, but also, by destroying the symbol of US Capitalism, presented a shockingly simple visual representation of their attack on the ‘Western’ way of life. In the aftermath, as the US-led retaliation built up, various news media reported on “The Propaganda Battle”, even using this term.
A few years ago, I invited a former military information officer into the agency to talk about the influence of digital media in the so-called ‘War on Terror’. He explained the central position social networks play in the recruitment of terrorists, positing that, in the battle for the hearts and minds of Muslims, once a person is introduced to a radical group, media is used as an indoctrination tool. The internet is well-suited to publicity of any kind, and terrorists have long been using it to promote their goals. Terrorism is an example of asymmetric conflict, in which the terrorist organization is the weaker party. Terrorists, as small sub-state actors, have less power than the nation-states that they are fighting against, which forces them to use unorthodox means to achieve their goals. But the increasing reach and accessibility of the media has given them an extraordinary powerful megaphone. They don’t need huge financial resources or masses of people. They simply require the will to carry out acts of cruelty that defy normal human experience, creating narratives that we are compelled to relay.
It is disappointing that, even in the aftermath of Leveson, editors are demonstrating so little care in how they report. The mainstream media still plays the crucial role in defining the public opinion that is amplified on social media. There are times when the pursuit of an easy buck must be set to one side. With the EDL on the streets and mosques under attack, what we need now is not the sordid satisfactions of inflammatory headlines. Our media has the chance to foster dialogue and prompt a compassionate response to the incident. They must seize the opportunity to prove the central role they can play in a healthy democracy.
We are struggling to come to terms with the news that Lord Beckham of Ongar and Leytonstone has packed away his Adidas Predator LZ boots. His like will not be seen again. His footballing and soccer achievement is extraordinary: who could forget the stunning injury-time free-kick booking England a place in the 2002 World Cup finals salvaging a 2-2 draw against Greece?
The announcement of his retirement has been beautiful managed. No leaks; just a huge surprise, hijack the news agenda (much to the chagrin of PRs with non Beckham related stories to tell). Golden Balls has proved yet again that he possesses a miraculous gift for wrangling the media. The squeaky voiced, blond curtained young hopeful has matured into a personality of considerable substance, a man at ease with public scrutiny.
We don’t know yet what the grand plan for continued world dominance is, but rest assured there is one. Becks could easily become a sporting politician, a fashion icon or a powerful charity champion. It’s a mark of his PR genius that he has not declared a future direction, instead his minders have cleverly fostered an atmosphere of fevered speculation. Hours of radio, acres of newsprint and tens of thousands of tweets wonder about future direction for Brand Beckham, creating the perfect backdrop for whatever he announces next. By leaving the Game, Beckham won’t have the usual tactic of refreshing public interest by joining a new club available to him. But his hype machine rises above this, and it’s certain that his new endeavours will be tacitly exploited for maximum effect.
Beckham has established himself as a great British brand with proven worth. The media needs Beckham, and the brand needs the oxygen of publicity more. Let’s hope the confidence of the last 5 years will sustain. Some find the dwindling interest in stars of yester year hard to stomach. Brand Beckham must proceed with care. Desperate, ill thought tactics, or, heaven forbid, poor stunts and rash licencing will damage the fabric of success. The time and effort to fix any short term deals is likely to be expensive.
So, enjoy the flattering eulogies while they last. The first step into the brave new world is the hardest.
As the sun sets on the news that Sir Alex Ferguson has decided to hang up his fabled hair dryer, it is time to consider the lessons the PR industry might learn from his departure. Undoubtedly, Sir Alex was a remarkable leader, true he forged a unique brand personality but his move to take control of his exit underlines another aspect of his genius. Despite the growing conspiracy theories circulating about the real reason for his resignation, the man was in ultimate control of his departure. The manner and timing of his exit is an exemplar. Leave at the top, offer few words: sit back and watch the feeding frenzy of positive opinion.
It’s prompted me to consider this question: do PR agencies tend to hang on too long to once successful accounts? It takes true bravery is to resign an account whilst an agency is at the top of the game, and I’d contend, the act is the mark of a fit, vibrant and purposeful PR business. You know how it feels: going in to see a long standing client, bored before even entered the meeting because you’ve lost your motivation. So often the inspirational, game changing activity is done in the early days of a relationship. Your flash of genius might last longer – Sir Alex’s lasted 26 years – but the time will come when you aren’t doing your best work anymore. Creativity stagnates. But you cling on to the lucrative fee, ritually processing the work.
Having the balls to resign the client, allowing another agency to refresh the brand, shows that you are fully in the driving seat of your work. It’s an act that will of course be accompanied by feelings of terror. Radical resignations test the profit margin. There is the fear another consultancy might just do a better job.
But I say, kill the Ego. Time spent finding fresh work is much better investment of your company’s resources. PR folk love the thrill of the new – that’s why we inhabit a world powered by the 24 minute news cycle – and we delight in nothing more than having our mettle tested by a new challenge. A business that is constantly faced with new goals, opportunities and obstacles to tackle is a healthy one.
Sir Alex may be gone, but his name will maintain cult status long after he disappears from the public eye. PR agencies should look to his example.
Our so-called obsession with celebrities is as old as the cult of saints. But the adoration of flimsy celebrity effigies is now facing a stark reality check, thanks to the revelations of Operation Yew Tree.
I am appalled yet weirdly hypnotised by the carousel of failing celebrities. Disgraced household icons, once the essential popular entertainers of a generation, are now nothing more than rotten old television symbols reduced to dust; broken beings, who now have to be purged from the public eye.
A couple of years ago I took part in a documentary for US TV on the price of fame. For anybody familiar with my writing on the sticky web of notoriety, you will know that history indicates that celebrity often comes with a very high price.
For the documentary I was asked to meet two young fame hungry wanna-bes. Their claim to a parabolic trajectory was a simple conceit, they were identical twins. Blood brothers with the will to do whatever it took for the riches and frenzy of renown.
Ironically both were bright lads: one a budding mosaic artist, the other studying to be an architect. However, the long haul through university and arts school held no allure. During a challenging hour of filming, my dismal attempts to diffuse their misplaced adoration of the god of fame failed to cut through. They wanted it now and at any cost because the perceived lifestyle was far too delicious to disregard. The life plan was set in marble.
The late great fame merchant Jay Bernstein generously gave me a huge amount of his time when I was researching my book,The Fame Formula. He had a thing or two to opine regarding the human lust for notoriety .
I arrived on his lavish Beverly Hills doorstep to seek the detail of his alchemy; few knew more about fame mungering. Philosophically he positioned the view that fame was a curse. He was in the winter of his life and perhaps his age encouraged greater honesty. He thought fame was not worth the price. He proffered a view that the success holds a putrid underbelly, which the entertainment industry hides.
“Few managed to deal with the downside which often crept up to extinguish the fierce lifestyle. We allowed stars to get away with it, behave badly because they were who they were. We allowed them their peccadillos, for God sake they were box office. Hell, why would we want to lose a client. The studios handed down the instructions to indulge the hedonism and would pay for the cover up”.
The falling star will not put off the wannabe seeking the trappings of fame. The idealistic tradition might have deteriorated, ecstatic worship has indeed dissipated, but the recognition of the toxicity of fame has only temporarily dulled.
But it’s time to recognise the value of more meaningful existences less glamorous yet more worthy for society’s benefit. Yes, there is a primordial desire for acclaim, however the ego must find a way to be supported, to sit more comfortably alongside other, less destructive impulses.
Those who have allowed the criminal indulgences of a generation should take responsibility for remaining silent. The “untouchable” talent has in the past bred the concept of “too valuable to lose”. Entertainment history has covered up the power stars who didn’t abide by the same rules. Obfuscating and shifting focus away from the monstrosity of fame does nothing to challenge its future trajectory. The frenzy of renown will morph, then find a new value. Perhaps those who are in the engine room should consider its value and purpose before it suffocates the real joy of human endeavour.
As for the twins, I’ve no idea what happened to them, and Google offers up no clues. I guess they never achieved their dream of international stardom. They are probably all the better for it.
The BBC crowned Liverpool player Luis Suarez the king of football controversy yesterday afternoon following the FA’s announcement that they have handed him a massive 10 match ban.
The scandal has had scribblers on the sidelines outraged at football’s reputation since. Left, right and centre, commentators have been clamouring to declare that football’s reputation is in the gutter – but is it?
The truth is that football’s reputation has been in the gutter for decades. Biting, spitting, headbutting, rioting, racism, rape and homophobia have riddled the Professional Game for years. Not to mention the number of super injunctions players have taken out against wives and girlfriends. These super injunctions – which come with a hefty price tag – are part of wider attempts by the industry to use financial muscle to prevent the real extent of players’ malfaisance.
Let’s face it: there are very few role models in football. There have been a few wonder boys with brilliant branding, and international superstars who have made formidable efforts to improve prospects for their home countries, but on the whole, the interest isn’t there. The culture is tainted from the top down and it will take a lot more than an FA ban to rectify things. With so much money to be exploited, does anyone care? The CSR and faded campaigns trying to polish the sport are nothing but fig leaves.
Football’s 1992 move into television sparked a wave of commodification that inverted the sport’s culture. Football is about money now, not values. Multimillion pound sponsorship deals inspire a culture of short-term agency. The real stories that affect football are those about management changes, player transfers, new signings, sponsorship and digital television deals – not fidelity, etiquette and corporate social responsibility.
Justin Bieber fell foul of public opinion earlier today following comments made after a visit to the Anne Frank Museum saying that he thought Anne Frank was a “great girl” and that he wished she too were a “belieber” (term for a Justin Bieber fan).
Although defensiveness is an immediate reaction to the atrocities of the Holocaust, there is perhaps a blessing disguised in this misguided 19 year old boy’s comments. Whilst his remarks may seem flippant in the light of the atrocities suffered by Frank and countless others during the Holocaust, what is perhaps more striking than the 19 year old’s light treatment of history is the Twitter reaction to it. When Anne Frank started trending on Twitter, it was not a result of the united voice of people defending her; it was the united voice of uninformed young people rising to the defence of their idol.
Whilst it might be a travesty that so many young people did not know who Anne Frank was this morning, we can at least be assured that a proportion of the 37,000,000 individuals said to follow the singer will know about her by the end of the day.
Today marks a momentous day for Sally Osman, who, in June, will take on the role of Communications Secretary to HRH The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall.
Whilst researching my book, The Fame Formula, which examined the PR legends of Hollywood, a pattern started to emerge: the very best publicists in the game were not taking on the A-listers as one might expect. Although such individuals can offer a publicist great collateral, they are dangerous. The wisest publicists are always wary of stepping into warm shoes.
When Jay Bernstein – who represented names like Sammy Davis Jr and Farrah Fawcett – looked back over his career and those he could have represented, he noted that there is always a reason why someone leaves a big job, and you will be judged by your predecessor’s success.
When a brand is successful, it’s important to take a hard look at who’s representing them.
Paddy Haverson, who took on the position in 2004 was a prudent and wise PR who knew how to harness the worst of times, turning them into stimulus for fairer weather. will be a tough act for Osman to follow – he was an inspired choice, and in the nine years he spent in the role, managed to turn the media’s perception of the Royals completely on its head. His representation was almost near-faultless.
Osman and Haverson share a great set of contacts, wonderful relations and both are clever planners and execute decisive action. Success is a result of good judgment. Good judgment comes from experience, and experience is earned through poor judgment.
I rate Sally Osman, she is a strong PR, but she has a big challenge ahead of her. She has big shoes to fill, perfecting how to say ‘no’ to numerous requests, and potentially making a lot of enemies along the way. She will know all this, and I wish her every success in the new position.
As I write this from Los Angeles, the news ticker is awash with the minutiae of the horrific bombing that took place in Boston today as marathon runners crossed the finishing line. Doctors are telling stories of innumerable injuries and amputations; eye witnesses are giving accounts of terror and confusion; the President is offering platitudes until the truth can be established, and pundits are hypothesizing about who the culprits might be.
The narrative is expanding in all directions.
At the time of writing, no one has yet come forward to take responsibility for the events, but make no mistake, this attack was designed for the 24/7 news cycle. It is no coincidence that the bomb was set to explode in front of the cameras at the finishing line on a day when international eyes would be upon the area.
Fundamentalists of all persuasions have an innate understanding of narrative and the power of the shareable story, as often the existence of their ideology depends on it. These doctrines have spread and proliferated because they are pure, stripped-down and unblighted by complication, providing simple, black-and-white answers to difficult questions that stand out in a sea of grey.
Unfortunately, terror has been a part of the fundamentalist press kit for millennia, and has secured the sure-fire spread of noxious messaging for centuries.
If you examine propaganda’s most secret causes, you will come to different conclusions: there will be no more doubting that the propagandist must be the man with the greatest knowledge of souls. I cannot convince a single person of the necessity of something unless I get to know the soul of that person, unless I understand how to pluck the string in the harp of his soul that must be made to sound. If we underestimate their understanding of the basics of PR and the battle is lost – these zealots are schooled in the dark arts.