Who watches the watchdogs?

26th October 2016

The media helps to keep capitalism in check.  It calls out bad corporate behaviour and it crusades on behalf of consumers.

But what happens when the crusaders get it wrong? Who watches the watchdogs? Or, to misquote Juvenal, who guards The Guardian?

I am currently dealing with four consumer affairs producers on behalf of three different clients. In the coming weeks all will be royally eviscerated for your viewing and listening pleasure.

But here’s the thing. In each case, and to different degrees, the items are misconceived.

I know this is the plaintive cry of every business called to account. You don’t understand the context; you’ve misinterpreted the data; you’re comparing apples with pears. And so on.

No doubt producers are fed up ploughing through pages of legalistic missives when they simply asked how many treacle tarts were sold last year. (Not on my watch, I should add).

Nobody expects consumer affairs producers to roll over easily. Cynicism and doggedness are part of the job spec. But it seems to me that some items make it to air for the simple sake of expediency.

By the time the dreaded email pops into the inbox with its litany of charges, very significant production resources have already been committed.

Given the cost and inconvenience involved in replacing the planned item producers frequently press on regardless of the response.

This can lead to some farcical outcomes with a coruscating five minute segment capped off with a company statement sheepishly delivered by the presenter that undermines the entire premise of the piece.

We humble PRs can make a difference. Our efforts can pull a disaster back to something more palatable. But getting a long-planned item pulled altogether is close to impossible both for us and our media lawyer friends.

Faced with a choice between making a mountain out of a molehill and finding a new mountain at short notice, producers invariably take the easier option.

As frustrating as it is there is some solace for businesses who find themselves on the wrong end of these injustices. Because however damning the item, the short term impact of an expose on national television or radio is almost invariably a small uptick in sales.

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