What? Who’s this? Why it’s our good friend Jamie Theakston, allegedly emerging from a drunken debauch in a London dungeon where sex acts were administered, photographs were taken and positions were compromised. My oh my, would you believe it. What is the world coming to? It was never like this in my day. The shame of it all. What a naughty boy.
The thrilling tale progresses to blackmail by text, the squeaky clean one coming clean, followed by deeply felt expressions of regret, remorse, and self-loathing, and a sheepish apology to mum, dad and millions of fans aghast at the spectacular moral collapse of a once-heroic role model.
Adding to the chorus of condemnation, the stern suits at the BBC wring their hands and make threatening pronouncements about Jamie’s earnings, contract and future in the entertainment industry, although those funky dudes down at Radio 1 say it’s cool.
Jamie’s future looks extra-rosy to me. His image is now nicely tarnished with a tantalisingly grungy edge, a frisson of unpredictability and danger, that makes him just a little cultishly appealing.
Who is this charmingly fresh-faced young fellow presenting TOTP? Well, he’s a charmingly fresh-faced young fellow, but nudge nudge, underneath it all he might be a bit of a likely lad. There’s no knowing what he might get up to next! He’s a bit of a puzzle, isn’t he, he’s a bit interesting (something he’d never been accused of before), he’s someone we need to watch. Know what I mean?
Was this a very neat and sly and subtle piece of PR double-think? Had some sneaky spinner spotted that a deft sprinkling of sleaze did no harm to Hugh “had it with a hooker” Grant, Gail “smother me in baby oil and spread me across GQ” Porter or Richard “A-class act” Bacon?
From what I hear, the PR industry is getting its knickers in a twist over whether this was a stunt or not.
I’d reckon that the prevailingly positive outcome to the affair has nothing to do with PR. Rather, it’s down to a shift in the media’s attitude.
These days, papers spend more time observing the view rather than throwing themselves into the fray. Red tops now dare to suggest that what Jamie gets up to off camera is his own business, which is a scandalous dereliction of the journalist’s historic duty.
Meanwhile a broadsheet will devote pages to a boring analysis of the issue (a bit like this boring analysis really), so long as it offers an opportunity to print some (arty) images of S&M. (If you want arty images of S&M to accompany this, just visit your favourite website).
The media is moving on and shaking off a few of its old habits – it’s handling the same old stories in new kinds of ways. Certain members of the PR industry are sitting around looking puzzled and rather limp.
These are dangerous days. Who knows – the dead-cert PR tricks of the past might begin to backfire. For example, I note from an ad in the Standard that the makers of the new West End version of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang plan to hold open auditions for a dog this coming week.
It may well make it into the media (“and finally ..”), but this time round, with the papers in more detached and analytical mood, they might choose to take a careful look behind the spectacle.
I wouldn’t be surprised if they found that the dog has already been cast from an animal agency, and the whole audition is a charade. That’s just a hunch, based on a memory that I have of some campaign in the early 90s that I shouldn’t claim any involvement in.
Let me explain – with all the guileless disingenuity I can muster – that I am not trying to spike the audition story before it runs, out of a sense of pique that something I did 10 years ago is being recycled. That would be petty and spiteful.
It’s not as if I haven’t plundered the distant past in one way or another. I’m just advising Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’s producers to have a care, given that the media is undergoing a sea-change, and has discovered a liking of late for digging around behind the story to expose the PR processes and secret purposes that underpin the shiny surface.
After all, fluffy puppies parading in front of producers is nice; public conned into participating in cynical sham is nasty. On another matter, I’ve been asked to comment on the issue of people claiming ownership of past PR triumphs that’s currently exercising the marketing and PR press because of a pending legal action.
As far as I’m concerned, it’s irritating – some backwoods agency in the sticks once did it to me, so I speak from personal experience. But at the end of the day, the truth will out and frankly it’s not worth wasting the emotional energy (or the legal fees) on this kind of business.
The answer for PRs everywhere is to challenge what we do and to keep moving forward, because if you’re good the competition will never catch up.
For now, we need to stop thinking about who did what when and focus instead on the future, using the media’s changing perspective on the world as a new creative spur. So think about what would have happened to our Jamie then, see what’s happened now, and exploit the opportunity.