The King and Queen of Morning TV have been ripped apart in a plot worthy of Shakespeare. Money, greed, deceit, jealousy, subterfuge and high drama are driving this scenario, as if an excitable new scriptwriter with grand designs has been drafted in to rescue a failing soap. The vigour is intoxicating. Fern Britton has quit This Morning because she is fed up with being in Philip Schofield’s shadow. The screaming headlines are a sub-editor’s wet dream; Fern’s sensational walkout has fractured her relationship with ITV chiefs.
Rows in TV are fantastic copy for the dailies, but never a good thing for the talent; they’re often a wounding career move. I have been on This Morning once or twice and I like both Fern and Philip. I think they are both terrific broadcasters and stand shoulder to shoulder in the talent stakes.
Perhaps, if there is one factor that separates them, it’s that one embraces the modern techniques of digital PR and the other doesn’t. Far too simplistic you cry, but is it really? If we know one thing, it’s that the digital PR space is a subtle knife, which has unfathomable, hidden depths, which can sharpen a celebrity’s ability to persuade and inform.
We are not privy to the fine detail of the true row between Fern and ITV – it will be left to the unnamed friends and spokespeople to whisper into eager ears to keep this particular soap opera on the pages of the red tops. The hullabaloo will undoubtedly pick up pace over the weekend – until boredom sets in – but I believe it has lessons to teach us all in the game of brand husbandry.
Philip Schofield is a keen advocate of the digital space. He has a lively blog and a refined online presence. He uses Twitter well and is building a profile that is both honest and engaging. There is also a hint of vulnerability in his Tweets. We see his brand through a prism of tweets and the Twitter folk cherish his banter as he moves through cyberspace like a weekend charity half marathon runner.
Twenty years ago, his brand of celebrity would have been engaged in constant fete openings, ready with a smile and oodles of time to sign autographs for ladies of a certain vintage. But Scofe is a hands-on collaborator in the digital PR process and has generated a subliminal channel of support as a result. Perhaps this consideration suggests that he has a real hunger to remain relevant and that he recognises what it takes to stay ahead. No wonder people are paying top dollar for his services.
I would suggest that there is no complacency in Scofe’s world, just a craving not to be mutton dressed as mutton. Fern, on the other hand, has perhaps suffered from being a little too relaxed; she was certainly bruised by her unfair treatment at the hands of the News of the World. Her only crime was a lack of transparency regarding her weight loss, but negative press can create disconnection and a mistrust of the process. Scofe, however, has built the tools to reinforce his brand value whereas Fern feels like a superpower with a rusting arsenal of weapons, hampering her ability to fight back. I pray she doesn’t become a footnote – she has a crowd of support but she needs to source it!
Another TV talent who has proved that he can rise above the fug of negativity with the same tools is Jonathan Ross. I was not surprised when he received a BAFTA nomination. He too has created a virality and herd that has interacted with his brand since he started using Twitter. It’s a new dawn for celebrity engagement – the writing is on the virtual wall.
The analogue media should be looking over their shoulders; it might well be fortuitous that the This Morning bust up is played out today. But in the future the stars will have their own digital media to drive their brands forward without the perilous media high-wire walk.