Communicator of the Week: Paraic O’Brien

When building a leadership story, how an individual and their supporters counter the counter story can sometimes be as important as the story itself. In his book ‘Lessons from the Top’, Gavin Esler tells a tale of how Alastair Campbell sometimes describes himself as “the most evil man in Britain” at the start of speeches as a way to disarm his audience and break the ice.  

Everyone in the public eye will have at least one counter story and this will often be used against them to balance out an argument or the reporting of an issue. It is how they deal with the counter story that will define them. Whether a public figure yourself or advising one this is an important point to remember.

So to this week’s Communicator of the Week – an investigative reporter, who many might see as a natural enemy to someone managing reputations. If you take that view then you will fail. All reporters have a right to probe and question. If dealt with well then their approach might even help you to get your message across.

On Monday celebrity campaigner Russell Brand joined residents of an East London estate to campaign against rate rises, that they claim, is forcing them out of the area. After a noisy demonstration outside the landlord’s offices a petition was delivered to Downing Street. The fact that this campaign has secured national newspaper coverage and managed to be granted the right to deliver a petition to Number 10 is likely to be linked to Brand’s involvement. It therefore follows that any good reporter questioning Brand would seek out balance by raising one of Brand’s counter stories.

This is what Channel 4 reporter, Paraic O’Brien did in asking millionaire Brand how much he paid for his property. A valid question for many who see London’s ’super rich’ squeezing out others from what was once affordable housing. Immediately O’Brien’s question had the desired effect making Brand morph seamlessly from a smiley passionate campaigner to a nasty, vindictive bully in a heartbeat. In getting angry and calling O’Brien “a snide” Brand lost his temper and his chance to tell a positive story. 

This blog though isn’t about Russell Brand. The important thing, even for someone like me who advises people in how to deal with counter brand issues, is that we have reporters willing to ask the difficult questions. Paraic O’Brien was subsequently attacked via Twitter but justified his approach by asking, "Is it my job to test tension between private circumstances & publicly held views of celebrities?”. I would answer a resounding “yes” which is why Paraic O’Brien is my Communicator of the Week.

Communicator of the Week is written by Ed Staite.

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