If you’ve ever pondered what it’d be like to watch someone publicly hang themselves, then cut free just before the final, fatal asphixiation, only to give an encore petard-hoisting the following day, then Channel 7’s ‘Sunday’ night interview with AFL leper Ricky Nixon provided a comparably grisly spectacle. Instead of the ‘3 R’s’ stock-in-trade of crisis management – Regret, Responsibility and Remedial action, Nixon opted to Refute, Recriminate and Retaliate.
During the vilified footy entrepreneur’s latest, most clumsy – and to date implosive – attempt at PR redemption, there were lessons aplenty for the modern celebrity, politician, public figure and even corporation. Clearly visible lessons included:
- Don’t do media interviews when you’re tired or easily provoked to irritation or anger
- Don’t give interviews when you can’t master your ego and emotions or mask your simmering aggression, disdain or sense of hurt and injustice
- Don’t do them when you haven’t polished your performance, practiced responding to inevitably thorny questions or have no ability to formulate and deliver a coherent set of appropriate messages
- Don’t storm off in a huff when you sense it’s not going the way you insist it should (that’s every provocative investigative journo’s dream)
- Don’t wave lawyers letters aloft and threaten to kick the interview camera around (ditto on the dream front)
Of course, you don’t need to be a communication visionary to call these out as PR blunders of the highest order. Then again, if your only goal is to create a truly controversial spectacle aimed at piquing interest in media deals for your forthcoming PR puff documentary, then perhaps you should do all of the above. After all, everyone loves a disaster movie – especially a real bad one.
Outflanked by social media
For me, though, the most instructive lesson to be had from the interview was when the previously powerful AFL ‘playa’ inferred that he was being unfairly outfoxed and out-PR’ed by a teenager: One who, Nixon attests, is clearly adept at effectively harnessing the technologies and tools of digital media to hook in ‘old media’ so she can effectively promote her own agenda. Young Ms Duthie brilliantly twins the PR instincts of Phineas Taylor Barnum with the digital smarts of Perez Hilton to become a compelling media publisher in her own right. If you listen to Ricky, you’d believe that her sense of PR timing is highly developed; so too, her ethical and moral flexibility; then there’s her understanding of the media’s appetite for celebrity scandal and infotainment; and now we hear of her alleged iPhone editing, hacking and video publishing skills which are clearly the match of any digital production house in the land. (Note; it always helps if you have raw and racy content of a jowly sports impressario in his stripy boxers, though).
For me, If Duthie ever straightens herself out (personally and professionally) she could actually become the poster girl for the PR person of tomorrow – her on-the-spot social media publishing skills will be hugely valuable on the new reputation battleground.
Mr Nixon’s now genuinely painful plight (a hinted at suicide contemplation revealed that) is again instructive in that it reveals how the attitudes, ethics and tech skills of today’s social media savvy stakeholders can be such a potent threat to the old order.
Reputational terrorism is on the rise, and the guerillas in our midst are better, smarter and more aggressive in their ability to turn what you say or what you do – or equally importantly appear to say or do – into negative and damaging media fodder. Reputation2.0 isn’t about facts or actual wrongdoing – it’s equally about managing the impressions that audiences will form over any incident. Ricky Nixon certainly won’t be viewed favourably by this latest media performance.
You see, the rules of reputation management – along with respect for our elders, if not betters – have changed completely:
- Everyone is a potential news outlet, which exacerbates the number and variety of threats to any individual, interest or organisation.
- Social media users are often creators, not just consumers, of peer news content
- Content is still king (or queen); if it’s good or rude enough – preferably sleazily grainy enough – it’ll get a following on YouTube and then picked up by traditional media
- Ethics, integrity and verifiable facts have long gone out the window – gossip rules!
Anyone interested in protecting reputation has to learn how to quickly and effectively manage the plethora of digital and content being produced by amateurs and activists.
However, should you find yourself in front of a media camera – or even a mobile phone with video capability – there are a few further points you might want to consider NOT doing:
- Don’t try to bully or bluff your way through the presentation of unflattering material
- Don’t say you don’t have an answer to the one question people want an answer for
- Don’t usurp your own credibility by feigning selective memory loss
- Don’t, no matter how peeved, slate and slag the character of your teenage adversary, and
- Do not portray yourself as the innocent victim of a witch-hunt when, clearly, elements of your behaviour have fallen well short of required standards.
Even simpler, have a chat with reforming AFL bad boy Brendan Fevola; his interview with a very provocative Peter FitzSimons, while not perfect, showed a man brave enough to contend with his own shortcomings.
And that’s a great place to start recovering from any PR disaster, whether created by social media or your own flawed decision-making.