Given my normal consumption of entertainment through television is miniscule, it’s been a bit of an eye-opener. In particular, I’ve discovered `Twenty Twelve`. For those, like me, previously unfamiliar with the programme, the BBC `mockumentary` series follows the trials of the management of the fictional Olympic Deliverance Commission (ODC), the body tasked to organise the 2012 London Summer Olympics.
It’s British satire at its best, lampooning the nonsense that is spoken in large and, in reality, unaccountable self-important corporate bodies groaning under the weight of political expediency and cultural fads. Anyone familiar with the internal workings of the BBC will know that the writers don’t have to travel far to find their inspiration. Perhaps that familiarity also explains its accuracy.
What particularly caught my interest is the inclusion of yet another masterly PR grotesque. Played by Jessica Hynes, Siobhan Sharpe (every irony in the surname intended I’m sure) is the gibbering, excitable, idiot head of brand, a function she performs through her PR company, Perfect Curve. She’s the latest in a series of hugely entertaining media monsters, including Ab Fab’s Edina Monsoon and The Thick of Its Malcolm Tucker who appear at the same time exasperated, befuddled by - and strangely disconnected from - the world that surrounds them.
It’s clear that the rest of the `delivery` managers find Sharpe’s ideas and gushing cliché-ridden delivery very tiresome indeed. Bereft of her own ideas she relies on her team back at Perfect Curves achingly trendy slogan-ridden office for inspiration. They are a collection of three contemporary PR stereotypes – the vapid girlie, the smug hipster and the clueless geek – so jaw-droppingly close to reality that I find myself squirming, then replaying each gut-wrenching scene as though afflicted with some form of masochistic professional OCD.
Sharpe is a character so excruciating, so self-absorbed, and so emotionally unintelligent you’d think she couldn’t have come out of reality. Think again. One of things that is interesting is that Sharpe has been appointed as `head of brand` wheras she practices, spectacularly ineffectively, the lowest form of stunt-based publicity.
Perhaps that’s a clue - much of the world doesn’t understand what PR is and so many PR professionals can’t be bothered to explain or are incapable of explaining. The fact that Sharpe was ever hired and is still employed is a mystery, given her incompetence far outweighs every one of the competing losers that regularly assemble around a table high in Canary Wharf.
But that’s a mystery that exists in real life, particularly in large organisations with small PR functions. Management believes PR is needed for some reason, but for what is never specified, let alone by the PR department itself. Thus the PR department is left to its own devices. This inevitably results in a vicious self-reinforcing downward spiral of poor performance from the disconnected function and a lack of respect from managers. The problem is, so often, no one cares enough to sort it out providing the incompetence never causes offence.
There are endless examples of how first-rate marketing can make winners out of companies with second-rate products or services and that the companies that win are the best communicators. That starts with the board treating PR as the accountable, measureable management function it must be in the non-stop connected global economy and PRs behaving like management peers.
So, if you are running a company that employs PRs either in an agency or in-house then tune in to Twenty Twelve and have a good look at both Siobhan Sharpe, her team and the relationship Sharpe has with the other `senior` management. If you see even the tiniest hint of your reality, it’s time for a PR re-think and fast.
*Nothing too major, I should be back in full working order next week