I heard a good tale the other day. The Guardian’s theatre critic was ambling past the Shaftesbury Theatre a few years back when he saw a huge sign advertising the musical Rock of Ages, trumpeting a quote from his review. “Rock ’n’ Roll debauchery,” screamed the placard.
His daughter squeaked: “Look! There’s your name. That’s the coolest thing ever.” But his one-star review actually read: “It’s a very peculiar show indeed, with an unvarying and unpleasant tone of careless sexualisation. Rock ’n’ roll debauchery is presented as the pure and innocent way of dreamers.”
Journalists happily tweet about PRs’ many failings every day: a turgid press release; a persistent caller; a lack of knowledge of the finer points of a client’s discounted cash-flow model. And if we put a dull client in front of you? You complain like Nicola Sturgeon with a toothache.
That’s just the way it is, and the way it should be. No complaints from the House of Flak — we’re tougher than we look. But, my friendly scribes, this stuff goes both ways: what the hell are you playing at with Tesco chairman John Allan? There he was, making interesting remarks about diversity on boards — and the media gave him a proper shoeing. “Tesco boss says white men work twice as hard,” shrieked the headlines. White males were “an endangered species”, said this dusty, embarrassing relic of Britain’s past.
Really? Actually, no. What he said was: “If you are female and if you’re from an ethnic minority background, preferably both, you are in an extremely propitious period, so go for it. For a thousand years, men have got most of these jobs. The pendulum has swung very significantly the other way now… If you are a white male, tough — you are an endangered species and you are going to have to work twice as hard.”
Like the theatre review, he was arguing the opposite case to the one that was portrayed. He was saying the right thing. And anyone who actually heard him say it would have known that. But his remarks were filleted carefully to suggest the reverse of his point and, over time, that trait has consequences. Tesco’s not a client, by the way.
So next time you read a crashingly dull Stock Exchange release or talk to a CEO who does the marketing-tosh routine and refuses to say anything remotely interesting or newsworthy, the House of Hack should shoulder a slice of the blame. Deliberate misinterpretation puts you alongside the scoundrel from the Shaftesbury Theatre. There. Now I’ve got that off my chest… lunch anyone?