People with shares in newspapers want them to make money, and newspapers make more money by selling more copies. Got that, year three?
Top of the hot cakes stakes, of course, is a big fat sticky slab of scandal, as Edwina Currie has just demonstrated. Her antics this past weekend illustrate an exciting new convolution in the terminal implosion of the media/celebrity/PR/privacy agenda.
She has, of course, done an excellent job, with a consummate sense of timing (two weeks before the party conference). The Conservative party has lately been annexing the state of sexual propriety, as a core step on the 20-year path back to power. Thanks to Edwina, the great work has been undone.
All the sleazy old adulterers (or their dear departed ghosts) are back, front page, dancing up and down, making farty noises and smirking at John Major’s fall. On the other side, the “oh shut up, you stupid morons” contingent is getting vocal, which is great sport for the viewing public.
You could almost think it had been organised by Tony Blair (a) to wreck any sensible coverage of the Tory conference and (b) to divert media attention away from attacks on his infantile, indefensible, simple-minded obsession with PFIs.
Alternatively, it might have been fixed by Iain Duncan Smith’s spooks for the same wrecking reasons. If they’re all talking about the Major/Currie coupling, the media may miss the fact that the Tories having nothing interesting to say about anything to do with politics.
Oh, and Edwina is also propping up ratings on her show on Radio 5, which makes all this business a pleasantly, career-enhancing coincidence. Viewed from this angle, this is win-win-win city. Or is it?
Edwina’s autobiography was only offered to the Times – that’s why it was such a shock to most people on Saturday morning. But most recent autobiographies, such as those by Nicole Appleton and Roy Keane, have been hawked around the media to the highest bidder on the back of two or three very juicy stories that are worth a wad to whoever has the fattest cheque.
Once the six figures are in the bag, the PR management’s job is to optimise the release of the big stories to secure maximum profile for the client, and to sell, sell, sell the book on a wave of prurient hysteria. The scuzzy tabloid (in this case the Times) that bought the rights needs to cash in on its investment and tease the public across the course of the serialisation to shift more copies.
This is basic product packaging and the figures are astronomical. Papers pay big money for rights. They expect big returns. They get them. As in any other marketplace, competitors don’t stand idly by. They rip the idea off, create their own variations, ridicule or undermine the original and exploit every possible angle to produce their own exclusive take on the hot story.
This is delightful. The publicist can sit back on auto-pilot and let the media scrum do the selling.
But what of the raw material that provides the hook from which all this commercial activity must hang? The raw material is the celebrity with the sleazy story, and s/he is obviously of no consequence whatsoever. Not when this kind of money is involved. They’re just the means, not the end. And they deserve everything they get, as far as I’m concerned.
These people are outraged when the long lens of the paparazzi catches a lover caressing their cellulite when they’re sunning themselves in a private villa in Barbados. But when it suits, they’ll splatter their most personal secrets across the bookstalls – if the price is right. Which suggests that morality is a tradeable commodity, its value determined by the greed of the media, the stars and their agents. In a world so cynical, why bother even talking about privacy laws.
I don’t know what it is that Edwina Currie, Nicole Appleton and Roy Keane (to name just three recent sad cases) and their PR advisers were thinking about when they entered into these agreements. Presumably, they couldn’t see beyond the cash. Neither could their advisers. Because this is short-termism on the grandest possible scale. Maybe they thought Nicole’s revelations would drive single sales, and maybe they thought that Roy Keane’s self-incrimination would increase his marketability?
Presumably somebody said something and the clients were vain enough, or thick enough, to believe it. I’m not saying I’m Mr Squeaky Clean Principles, but I’ve had people come to me and say they’ve got the story of all stories to sell, and I always tell them the following:
“You do this, if you want. Understand it’s never worth as much as you think it is, and from a personal perspective, it’s not worth it at all. You will be eaten alive by the media. They will take every detail of your past and current life apart, with particular reference to sex, morality and crime.
“Your friends, family and any casual bystanders will be caught in the cross-fire, and it will be exceptionally – probably unbearably – unpleasant. It will change your life, but maybe not as you hope. They will find things out about you that you didn’t even know yourself. You will look like an idiot, you will lose friends, you will forever be identified as “the man/woman who …” – in this case, the woman who shagged John Major – and you will be stripped of dignity and credibility. Apart from that, it seems like a pretty good deal”.
The question, as ever, is: do you want a short-term fix or a long-term future? Edwina’s got herself re-evaluated, thanks to this PR exercise, and now she’s left to pick up the pieces. I think she’ll find that her currency has devalued. Is that a letter from I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here II heading towards her in-box? I very much fear it is.