Home > Uncategorized > Hook, Line and Sinker: Flack Trumps Hack in the Age

Hook, Line and Sinker: Flack Trumps Hack in the Age

October 13, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Journalists regard PR practitioners as mercenary bottom feeders and, while I can’t disagree with the sentiment, I resent the supercilious tone that invariably accompanies it.

That said, if a journalist who spent his or her life dodging bullets and syphilis in war and disaster zones saw fit to rant against the public relations profession, I would be hard pressed to object. Fair cop in that case. However, we all know that the vast bulk of working reporters are not baked in such heroic tins. Far from it. Most journalists, like the majority of any given profession, are pretty mediocre. And one way mediocrity in journalism stands out like canine testes is the degree to which it succumbs to the transparent trickery of the very PR flacks they so noisily detest. If “spinning” or “shilling” for evil corporate clients is morally abject, then surely reporting the product of such spin and shill as news is many degrees worse.

There is a great example of this in today’s Age which I tend to pick on only because I can’t bring myself to read the Herald Sun, its tabloid competitor in Melbourne.

The story is titled Australia world’s ‘Dumb Blond’ and, if the website is any guide, features quite prominently in Thursday morning’s edition of the Age. This is such an extreme example of public relations trumping journalism, I suggest you read the full catastrophe if you can stomach it. For those who can’t, here’s the snapshot: A UK branding guru says Australia’s “brand” suffers in general because people he surveys think that the country is attractive but shallow and unintellectual; further, Indians are less favorably disposed to the place because of high profile reports of widespread racism targeting migrant students.

I ask you: how does this qualify as news, even if this were the quietest news day imaginable? An uneventful Sunday, say, between Christmas and New Year. In the Chatham Islands.

The answer is it doesn’t. If Dan Harrison, the reporter who gamely added his byline to the story, didn’t fall for every trick in the PR book of tricks, it was only because he ran out of time. Let’s spell it out in case he is a self-Googler (Hello, Fran Wilde. Fran Wilde. Fran Wilde).

First things first, and as politely as possible: a survey about national branding funded by a branding agency is not credible, let alone newsworthy. Would you publish the findings of research paid for by Krispy Kreme citing as seven the optimal number of donuts per sitting?

Secondly, the fact that other news outlets have fallen for this bill of goods is no excuse. I note this same “guru” has a good thing going in Africa and other parts of the developing world talking bullshit about branding to governments that should be, I don’t know, feeding, or at least not oppressing, their populations. Somebody else’s gullibility or poor news judgment does not excuse yours.

Third, even if the survey were credible, did you really need research to tell you that Australians are regarded as non-intellectual hotties? There are as-yet undiscovered tribespeople in the depths of the Amazon who believe this about Australia. Furthermore, does it really surprise that Indians admire Australia somewhat less in surveys AFTER high-profile racial incidents involving Indians than they did BEFORE high-profile racial incidents involving Indians?

Finally, did you bother looking at anything else this dude had to say about Australia? You only need go as far as his Wiki-fucking-pedia page to see him quoted praising Crocodile Dundee as great for the national brand because it portrays Aussies as “funny, courageous, outdoorsy, and clever”. This, the same chap who today lectures us to the effect that:

Australia needs to do is to invest in the sectors which demonstrate its seriousness and its capability and education is one of them.

Global Branding Expert a Complete Fraud: now there’s a story.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Kyllikki
    October 14, 2010 at 07:28

    You’re spot on re: Anholt.

    I recently helped organise a conference in the UK featuring Anholt on the bill. He’s an incredibly entertaining speaker – funny, cheeky and eloquent, he knows how to work a crowd. All credit to him for his presentational and entrepreneurial skills, and I don’t belittle the sort of expansive intelligence that turns a bunch of complex ideas into eye-catching, easily digested, though ultimately banal sound bites.

    Sadly, in person he’s a rather nasty piece of work. Like a grotesque in an Oscar Wilde novel, Anholt is fond of gossip of the character assassination kind. The snider and cattier the better. This makes him great company, since he knows how to charm, flatter and entertain his company. Just don’t expect him to show any decency, discretion or integrity once you’ve left the room.

    • Kyllikki
      October 14, 2010 at 07:40

      To be fair, though, Anholt’s advice to those African governments would amount to “more population feeding and less troughing would do wonders for your brand”. He doesn’t even like the term brand any more, precisely because it leads to this sort of misunderstanding.

      • PQ
        October 14, 2010 at 08:02

        Great comment. Thanks for reading. I don’t know if I feel any more charitable towards Anholt be because he is running away from “branding” as a result of the damage people like he have done to it. Also, don’t you agree he is even LESS qualified to preach public policy to Africa than questions of branding, or whatever he calls it? Not surprised he is a charming streak of malevolence in person. These types typically are. I agree that a particular form of intelligence is required to translate complexity into pithy, memorable soundbites, but perhaps i belittle a little. I attempt a version of the same thing in my day job. Like you, I just wonder if it’s not “ultimately banal”. My main issue is with the Age thinking this guy’s own surveys, which are a transparent PR stunt, are worth reporting. I don’t begrudge him being a blustering bullshit artist — how could I, of all people? — but I don’t feel we need to be subjected to “news” stories about him.

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