Murphy's Law

Tom Murphy

Mon, 11 Nov 2002 09:47:32 GMT

If like me you earn your living providing Public Relations services for your client or employer, I’m sure you get annoyed with the macabre covert activities of self-proclaimed ‘spin doctors’. The questionable ethics of many PR ‘verticals’ affects us all and makes our jobs harder and more mis-understood.

During the weekend two particular articles brought PR ethics into focus. Firstly, Richard Bailey provided a link to this article in the UK Observer newspaper that looks at the dawning of an Age of Integrity. (Wouldn’t that be nice).

Secondly a friend passed on an article that appeared in Ireland�s Sunday Tribune newspaper. Unfortunately they don’t post content online, but I was so stunned by it, I thought it would be worthwhile to post some of it here.

First by way of introduction, Graham Norton is an Irish-born comedian who has a very popular show on UK TV. He is very talented and very entertaining. (IMHO).

Recently he gave his first ever stand-up performance in New York and the Sunday Tribune (a national Irish newspaper) was interested in reviewing the performance.

Marion McKeone was given the assignment and she contacted Karpel Group (Warning Flash Intro!), a New York-based PR firm retained to look after Norton�s New York appearances, to obtain tickets for the event (as it was sold out). After weeks of phone calls, Karpel informed her that there were no press seats available.

McKeone attempted to contact Norton�s UK representatives, TalkBack Management, a firm that represents sixty leading UK and Irish writers, actors and other performers � and represents Graham Norton.

Melanie Coupland, head of (McKeone said of Coupland, �(Coupland) isn�t only a graduate of the KGB school of Media Relations � she�s probably its star pupil.�) TalkBack Management was travelling with Norton and was �way too busy to deal with the matter� if McKeone needed any further assistance she was told to contact TalkBack directly.

After contacting TalkBack, McKeone was told that no tickets would be available because they want �British� media to focus on Norton�s new UK TV show and not the stand-up performance. Although McKeone pointed out that the Tribune was an Irish newspaper, the TalkBack rep insisted that there was no difference and that they considered the Irish media as part of the British media � a terrible international faux-pas.

McKeone thanked him for his time and told him it�s OK because a friend of hers had a ticket for her anyhow.

Five seconds later, the previously unavailable Coupland was on the phone. The conversation was at first very civil. Coupland pointed out she�d prefer if McKeone stayed away and if she complied, she would consider allowing The Sunday Tribune to review a future unspecified Norton performance in New York. She also pointed out that any attempt to review the current event would certainly prove �unhelpful� regarding future access to Norton.

McKeone then asks Coupland why she is so determined that McKeone doesn�t review the event � at this point Coupland explodes. Here are the excerpts from the conversation as printed in the Sunday Tribune:
�Who the hell do you think you are? Don�t think I don�t know what you�ve been up to, ringing up everyone, trying to review this when we�ve made it clear we don�t want reviews. Why are you doing this to us? I�m going to sort you out�

McKeone at this point tells Coupland that she�s taking notes and provides a sample of what followed:
�How dare you. How dare you. Don�t you dare interview me. I don�t want to be interviewed by you. Don�t you dare, you� you��

– �I�m not interviewing you I�m just taking notes.�

�Yes you are interviewing me. You are. Stop interviewing me. Stop interviewing me now. Stop it now. Now. Do you hear. You�ll be sorry. How dare you interview me.�

– �I�m not interviewing you.�

�Yes you bloody are. Stop it. Stop it now. Who do you think you are threatening to interview me? You�re finished. Given me your editor�s name. Now.�

– �Certainly it�s M..�

�Give me his name. Now. Now. How dare you threaten me.�

– �How did I threaten you?�

�Don�t� you talk to me. Don�t you even think about speaking to me. Give me his name now.�

– �It�s Matt Coop��

�His name, his name, his name. Give me his name, his number, what�s his number. You�re going to be sorry. His name, give it to me now now now.�

Finally the details are passed on.

McKeone contacted TalkBalk before publishing the story in order to provide Coupland with an opportunity to respond. She was on holidays. McKeone suggested that the exchange would be included in the piece she was writing and therefore, she really might want to call her to provide her (Coupland�s) perspective on the incident or to put it in context. She never did.

After I managed to close my mouth, many thoughts ran through my mind.

I think there is a lesson and a reality check for Public Relations practitioners.

The strong arm tactics, which seem to be rife in the entertainment business globally, are a dangerous path to thread. They will work as long as your client is in vogue, but when things go downhill, there will be a lot of journalists only too happy to redress the balance. You can imagine the conversation when the ‘star’ asks their publicist, “why are they writing this about me?” and the publicist shrugs, knowing full well that it’s the result of their bullying approach to media relations.

I look forward to the day that these �publicists� are exposed for what they are. I look forward to a time when entertainers have to play by the same rules as everyone else. I thought this piece was a welcome first step in the process.

We should all remember that what goes around, comes around. If you don’t treat people with respect, you won’t get respect in return and when things turn nasty it’ll come back to haunt you.

Let me finish with some advice for Graham Norton. Your representatives are doing you a disservice. Get a grip on them before they destroy your reputation.

What do you think?

Written by Tom Murphy

November 11, 2002 at 10:47 am

Posted in General

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