Getting the best out of the media is easy, right? Just put on a suit, invite in a reporter, put the kettle on and wait for the journalist to hang on your every word.
Wrong. And this couldn’t be better illustrated than by Madison Avenue’s favourite alpha male and advertising industry reprobate, Don Draper, of the TV series, Mad Men.
Series 4 of Mad Men got underway on the BBC last night with an episode suitably entitled “Public Relations” in which “Don’s secretive demeanour results in an unfavourable interview by a reporter”. Clearly, it’s not bad enough the characters are lunchtime drinking and chain smoking themselves to death.
The interview, conducted by a one-legged Korean war veteran and reporter for Advertising Age (Don’s colleague, Roger, quips about how “cheap” the magazine is, sending only “half a reporter”), has Don at his most louche and uncommunicative. When the finished article appears, Don’s personality takes centre stage, and he’s described as probably having a Dorian Gray-style portrait slowly decaying somewhere in a loft. His fellow directors are appalled with the outcome and the fact that Don has singularly failed to “sell” their relaunched company. Don is indignant: surely it’s the reporter’s job to get the story.
Well, yes, that’s true. But it’s the responsibility of the senior company spokesman to at least influence the direction of that story.
Not every C-level executive in a company is a natural communicator and nobody is so senior that they can pass on having proper training to handle media interaction. Dealing effectively with journalists isn’t solely about managing a media crisis but maximising a media opportunity. Don’s mistake, either through arrogance or laziness is thinking that the sheer magnificence of his presence will achieve the desired result with the magazine. He says: “My work speaks for itself”.
Maybe, but don’t assume the media gives a hoot. You have to ensure you speak for your work.
Meanwhile, I’ll have another Martini…