The saga of #Baldingate continues to rage. Showbiz journalist Ginny Dougary claims Clare Balding’s PR team took heavy-handed liberties with her interview copy, removing unflattering sections and inserting self-promoting fluff. Balding and the editors of the publication maintain that the responsibility of the edit lay entirely in the hands of the magazine. We’d half expect this from, say, Beyonce or Madonna but Clare -say it isn’t so. Whatever the truth the case illustrates a perception of what showbiz journalism has become.
In the US copy approval has long been an established trade-off. One well-connected client in the film industry recently told me that around 60% of journalists are “open to feedback”. Copy approval may be rarely granted this side of the pond but the tendency of clients to micro-manage is just as pronounced. In an age of owned channels where every details of a star or brand can be carefully curated why would you sit down with a journalist like Dougary? When print was dominant this risk of subjecting yourself to the agenda of a gossip bard was necessary for the reward of exposure. Yet when you have a twitter following larger than most magazine circulations this trade-off is hardly as urgent.
PR too has changed. Many publicists live in fear of losing their clients in the wake of an off-message interview. It’s better to say no to an interview request than risk the embarrassment of negativity. Anything slightly less than a piece of hagiographic puffery is regarded as “car crash”. The modern publicist has evolved into a content manager churning out anodyne soundbites and protecting their clients from contact with anything remotely shocking or risqué. And why the caution? Because fame itself has become so fragile. One hatchet job and you’re done for. Better to cling on and nurture your precious following rather than reach beyond the silo.
All very well but there is surely an opportunity for those who do go off script and embrace the haters. Look no further than Theresa May’s chaotic conference speech this week. The event itself could not have gone any worse for the PM. As if wonky stage lettering and a deathly cough weren’t enough for May she was forced to suffer the indignity of being handed a P45 by serial prankster Simon Brodkin (aka Lee Nelson).Yet by the end of the speech she had the floor on her side and -although poll ratings are obviously nothing to go by- the Tories happen to be up 2 points on the week before. It was a performance no spin doctor or image manager would have dared dream up. But for the embattled PM this act of human floundering has earned her the right for us to lay the Maybot cruelty to rest. Will it help her stay on? Probably not, as it reinforces her weakness, and politics is brutal game. But it does give her affection and she’ll need all of that if she wants to rewrite her premiership in a vaguely positive manner. It seems that the best PR strategy for May is, to channel Eminem, lose yourself.