Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Never become the story - Noel Edmonds pounces on press officer quip

He was never so agitated on Swap Shop! I'm talking about Noel Edmonds, who went postal at a press officer via his charitable show on Sky 1, Noel's HQ and in doing so delivers a terrific example of how becoming the story can be a disaster for a press officer.

Now I've not seen any more than this clip, preferring to keep Noel (and Keith Chegwin) in my 'Memories from a time of innocence' file, along with such gems as Pipkins and Bagpuss, but essentially get the idea that the show does good, not least through public indignation.

This exchange came about over Wealden District Council's rejection on planning grounds of a bungalow for a disabled war veteran - normally the preserve of local papers and regional TV, this has become major story courtesy of a press officer provoking Noel.


The killer line. The words that cost this press officer so dearly were his policy-based dismissal that the council 'did not speak to entertainment shows'. I wonder if the press officer realised his mistake the second the words tumbled from his mouth?

Have the press team at Wealden District Council never seen Watchdog? Baiting the spokesman is brilliant TV sport and has nothing to due with truth and everything to do with whipping up indignation and anything that is dismissive of the programme - and therefore the viewers it attracts - is a recipe for red-faces. When the viewers are tax payers (regardless if they live in Wealdon) then you need to switch to crisis management mode pronto.

Noel HQ is suddenly viral gold and appearing all over the web and will no doubt pick up more viewers - which is surely coincidence.

You should never become the story when you are a press officer - unless it helps your organisation of course. Back when I was a press officer at Thames Valley Police I was snapped at Reading Festival and the photo below appear across seven columns of Saturday's Guardian. All very entertaining - but at that morning's press conference there were more questions about that photo then there were about a rape at the festival and certainly less column inches appeared.

To an extent being a police press officer is a little different; when a detective argues he is trying to catch a murderer and would rather you front up the cameras, it is hard to argue back. But then I was a paid spokesman whose role included appearing on camera.

Somewhere in the archives there is footage of a brick bouncing of my hard hat (which I had questioned the wisdom of wearing as it made me look more builder than police PR!) and I am sure there is footage of me ripping into a journalist or six. But never where in itself it would become the story.

Personally I always wanted to come up against political comic Mark Thomas on one of his visits to the atomic weapons factory at Aldermaston - which would have been flirting with the risk of TV exposure of the most ridiculing kind, but it never happened!


Expertise on Tap said...

That was scary coming from Noel Edmonds! A salutary lesson in how, these days, a one line ill- considered comment can go viral and national within hours.

Graham Jones - Internet Psychologist said...

I watched the Noel's HQ program live on Saturday and was simply astounded at the press officer. Why on earth you would say you don't speak to entertainment shows is incredible. Surely a press office speaks to everyone, no matter where they are from, even if to divert attention...!

All that the press officer needed to do was empathise and promise an investigation. That would have defeated much of the story. And as we all know an "investigation" can be as little as asking around in the office.

I get the impression these days that press officers are merely in place to write press releases and to attempt to stop organisations from appearing in the media. Hence they don't think creatively...aah the things I got up to when I was a PR man....!

Claire Shiels said...

I was astounded after watching the Noel Edmonds clip and am sure, like many others, gasped in disbelief at the sheer ignorance of the council's press officer. Where was the guy trained, perhaps an obscure "online university"? It supports the view on my blog, that many so-called professionals in the communications industry have absolutely no right to be in their position. There is no excuse for unprofessional behaviour and unplanned outbursts. Well done Noel.

Expertise on Tap said...

A further update on this story: Edmonds 'threatened to quit Sky' over editing of tirade against council.

Expertise on Tap said...

Charlie Brooker at his best with his take on this story...