Thursday, 14 April 2016
CLARENCE DOWN UNDER PART DEUX
'You're too blooming soft' my dead old dad used to say me, and he was right, where a psychopath lacks empathy, I have got way too much of it, to the point where it becomes debilitating. I mention this because I found myself in the very strange position of feeling sorry for Clarence Mitchell. Curiosity got the better of me, and I watched his keynote speech at the CommsCon 2016 in Australia.
The pity however quickly turned to incredulity when I read the bullet points of his presentation. The arrogance of the man is outstanding, herewith a brief selection:
Blogging in the wrong hands - WTF!!!
Keeping the British Press in line - WTF, twice over
Be straight with the media - I kid you not, and the icing on the cake!
Such is life, those large porkies aren't doing him any favours. Gerry and Kate are not the only ones who looked stressed and haggard, time has not been kind to Mr. Mitchell, he looks burned out. He too is trapped in the Madeleine cage, he can't escape it, it's the highlight of his career and nothing he is likely to top. He could of course write a memoir, but if he sticks to the same party line as Summers and Swan, it will be equally as dismal.
His talk was basically a lecture in marketing, the audience appeared to be students. Using the high profile Madeleine case, Clarence explained the way he handled the press and kept the disappearance of Madeleine in the public eye. He was selling it as a marketing success story, and if you give it just a cursory glance it is. Heck Clarence, 9 years and there is still public interest, not much to be fair, and some of it of the most peculiar kind, but interest nevertheless.
'This is what I did' said Clarence, as he relayed his glittering career without so much as a hint of enthusiasm or pride in what he had achieved. I have attended many seminars and lectures, and the ones who made an impact were the ones who were able to convey their own love of their subject to their audience. I wasn't feeling the love.
He wasn't telling his audience the truth, his most helpful 'insider' tip, was to be completely honest with the press! If the audience were media students, they must have been deeply disappointed and if they were potential clients, the brochure probably went straight in the bin.
As careful as Mr. Mitchell was in sticking to the script, he did give away a few interesting snippets, especially with the Q&A session at the end. So he stayed in the idyllic, holiday location of PDL (all expenses paid by taxpayer presumably) for TWO MONTHS with the grieving parents. What a dream assignment, no wonder he was seeking a permanent position. I wonder if, at any stage, Warners and all their staff thought the McCann entourage were taking the piss? And why no mention of their holiday companion in Gerry's blog and Kate's book?
I don't know how well Mr. Mitchell is going down in Australia, but I hope the audience went away and did their research. From a media perspective there was not much to learn other than 'lucky you', but nothing that would assist journalists in their future careers. The information was lost in Mr. Mitchell's constant defence of Gerry and Kate. Whilst wanting to brag about use of Philip Green's private jet, he had to portray humility on the part of the parents, their reluctance to accept all the special treatment they were receiving, but I'm not sure he pulled it off.
Those who listened carefully, will have noticed the glaring contradiction between his claimed 300 calls from journalists a day, and his constant need to find new stories to keep their attention. I'm not so sure it was the journalists contacting them, or Mr. Mitchell and the very proactive families sending out the offers to the media. As the interviewer said to Gerry at the Edinburgh Media Conference 'what are you doing here?'.
I did wonder if Mr. Mitchell's presentation would form the basis of his own defence. Perhaps he would claim to be a vulnerable 'at risk' spin doctor, but he seems to be as firmly within the McCann camp as he ever was. His loyalty surprised me, who would have thought. Clarence is still focused on the job in hand, raising money for the Madeleine Fund and promoting the 'search'.
Unfortunately, like it or not, Clarence is inextricably linked to the parents of Madeleine McCann forever more. When he went into the employment of Gerry and Kate, he stopped being an independent spokesman and became part of the story. A strange thing for a journalist to do, and I would have liked a question from the audience along the lines 'so in retrospect Mr. Mitchell, how did that work out?'.
I would imagine the situation Mr. Mitchell found himself in, was unique in the world of journalism. Realistically, how many victims of tragedy want or need a PR man at their side 24/7? Traumatised people usually shun publicity and society, the process of grieving is very private and intimate, which of course, is the reason the McCanns' behaviour raised so much suspicion.
I had never heard of crisis management until the Madeleine story. To me it is a fairly new phenomenon and one that puzzles me. Whilst I can see the need for large corporations and politicians to guard their reputations, in this age of information there is no way of guaranteeing results. In the past sensitive information could be contained by appealing directly to the editors of the National newspapers. Those days are gone, as we saw this week - even super injunctions are meaningless.
The battles are now fought on social media and on an equal playing field. Twitter especially, is a great leveller. There is no class structure and there is no voice of authority, everyone is valid and there is no way to control what they say. There is something a little King Canute about claiming to be able to manage someone's reputation online, and I am not sure Clarence can claim the McCann case as a success. Whilst he was able to shut down the popular comment section of the Daily Mirror, his actions led to the opening of hundreds of forums, websites and blogs. Thousands of people were not buying the abduction story and were turning to the net for the truth.
He refers to the McCann media monitoring team as successful? I suppose in the early days they were. They patrolled the forums in packs disrupting debate and viciously attacking anyone who questioned the official story. Then as now they didn't even attempt to explain the parents' actions, they created the 'hater' myth, the idea that if someone didn't believe the McCanns, there must be something wrong with them.
Step forward Tony Bennett. The interfering Mr. Bennett was the just the kind of cartoon baddie Team McCann needed to illustrate the harassment and persecution they were suffering. The Madeleine Foundation was clearly intended to divert funds away from The Madeleine Fund and the leafleting of the parents' neighbours was just cruel for cruelty's sake. Mr. Bennett's actions provided the parents with the evidence of harassment they needed in their civil claim against Goncalo Amaral. In fact, Mr. Bennett's campaign has fed the parents' campaign, they are symbiotic.
And Mr. Bennett feeds the myth still. Clarence Mitchell cited the failed solicitor and destroyer of forums as representative of a handful of malcontents who still refuse to believe Madeleine was abducted. He fails of course to mention the large facebook groups, the informative McCann Files and the popular blogs. He needs Mr. Bennett as the face of the enemy, someone less likeable than the parents and someone who comes across as completely barmy. Mr. Bennett of course, is always happy to oblige. As the McCanns are planning the publicity for the anniversary, so too Tony is planning a trip to Downing Street. Let's hope if the newspapers respond, they will mention how few signatures Mr. Bennett's meddlesome petition received.