How far will a PR professional go to land their story? I'm not talking about a cheesy photo opportunity featuring greased up hunks or buxom beauties or a commitment to always follow up an email with a call (journalists love that don't they?). I mean the ethical line your willing to teeter on, perhaps cross, to secure coverage, defend a reputation or take down an opponent.
My background is in political communication where a skin thick enough to deter a career ending stab in the back is required. Briefings, spin, 'friends of' steers given to journalists are all part of the trade as are, I'm sad to say, targeted take downs designed to kill not wound.
In his bid to become Prime Minister, Gordon Brown was well served by supporters who would destroy reputations of those who threatened Brown's ascendency to the top job. While I couldn't condone the results, careers destroyed with a carefully placed word, the surgical way it was done is worthy of a mention. It takes skill and gumption to undertake this kind of career limiting briefing as, if it goes wrong, it's a different career that will be at an end.
All this came to mind when I saw this week's Mail on Sunday which ran a story that the BBC had likened its bad boy presenter, Jeremy Clarkson, to the hateful paedophile Jimmy Savile. A crass, insensitive thing to do.
Here is the quote in full which came from a senior BBC figure as part of an official briefing:
"'The pressure this guy [Tymon] is under is so Savilesque in a way,’ he said, adding that Clarkson’s support from high-level politicians recalled the way Savile was once defended. ‘If you look at what David Cameron says or what [former Culture and Media Secretary] Maria Miller says and you swap Clarkson for Savile, you get this: David Cameron is effectively saying that Savile’s a real talent, Maria Miller saying Savile will be Savile.’"
I'm assuming the BBC briefer thought this a clever way to further undermine Clarkson's position. It wasn't. Arguably it strengthened his hand and made the BBC, who have handled the whole row of Clarkson's "fracas" terribly look bad. Instead of a laser guided strike we had an ill directed carpet bombing.
It could be argued that an entire organisation - in this case a national institution - shouldn't be found culpable for the actions of one individual who undertook the briefing. I disagree as the inept yet toxic culture at the BBC is directly behind this botched briefing and is why the BBC is my Mis-Communicator of the Week.
Communicator of the Week is written by Ed Staite.
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