The importance of being an outsider

Outsiders are useful.

They force a population to carry out a ‘common sense inventory’ just by being there.

Late last night I was on a live video link to a conference in Adelaide.

It was for the Public Relations Institute of Australia.

They had wanted to fly me out to be there in person, but I begrudge any time away from my brood, and Google enabled us to Hang Out.

That was probably fitting given that the session was called was entitled:

“Inside digital – so what works and why?”

Also joining the session from afar was Jay Walsh of Wikipedia and we both appeared on a large screen inside the room.

The conference organisers had wanted me to discuss the online work that had led to the publication of ‘Downfall. How Rangers FC self-destructed’.

For the uninitiated the book is split into four sections (Finance, Media, Fans and the SFA).

The subject of my contribution yesterday was the second section.

I was speaking to PR professionals and related the Rangers story as a failure of ‘firefighting’.

In Public Relations sometimes the PR professional has to stop bad news getting out about their client.

In that mode they have to, somehow, thwart the media from telling the public what is really going on.

As a journalist I have no problem with that.

It isn’t personal it’s strictly business.

However I think that one of the major players on the other side did take it a bit personal, but that’s just my opinion.

I said that the old ways of firefighting involved …err…cosy chats with newspaper editors or calling in favours from influential senior journalists.

The ability to do that usually comes from having a long track record in the trade at a senior level.

This is, essentially, what was tired for Rangers in 2010 and 2011.

In the digital age this type of firefighting worked as well as the Maginot Line in 1940.

It did not factor in the catalysing effect of, say, an accredited journalist with his own digital outlet operating outside the Glasgow football lobby system.

The usual carrots and sticks that keep the Glasgow based hacks in order could not be deployed.

Subsequently if the product remained legal then the firefighting team down Edmiston drive way had very little in their playbook.

The Sun’s volte face over the serialising of ‘Downfall’ was classic firefighting and it worked.

It was made quite clear to them that their guys would be persona non grata if extracts of Downfall appeared in the pages of the Murdoch owned blaat.

PR professionals are acutely aware their skills are often needed to prevent ‘reputational damage’ to their clients.

In the age of the celeb and the smart phone they certainly have their work cut out!

However the reputations that were damaged in the telling of the Rangers story were in my own trade.

Many in Glasgow looked the other way as the financial storm was gathering over Ibrox because to dig for the story would threaten their press accreditation at Edmiston Drive.

Of course another aspect of their failure to report on the collapse of Rangers was a fear of the klan.

When it became known to my twitter following that I was about to take part in this session there was a rather limp attempt to complain to the conference organisers.

Perhaps the Public Relations Institute of Australia will now be added to the boycott list of organisations that aren’t aware they’re being boycotted.

My talk to these PR professionals in Australia focussed on the failings the practitioners of their trade employed by Rangers FC (1872-2012) in realising that the sentient nature of social media means that the old days of blocking a bad news story are gone.

Back on Planet Fitba the hacks are still obedient.

In 2011 they peddled a ‘nothing to worry about’ line about Rangers despite clear signs of the impending financial tsunami and now steadfastly adhere to the same club myth to sooth the klan.

Apart from being forensically inaccurate it spits in the eye of 276 creditors including family run business and the Ambulance Service.

Faced with huge debts Rangers just did walking away.

I told the conference in Australia that the Public Relations people employed by Rangers failed to stop bad news getting out of Ibrox because they were using a pre-digital playbook.

In attempting to kill these stories they were trying to do their job and I have no problem with that even if one or two of them took it personal.

However it is my own trade that re-defined their job description when it came to matters Ibrox.

Instead of being on the same side the battlefield where this fella was they became a PR militia aiding and abetting the spin meisters at Ibrox.

So Craig Whyte was a billionaire and everything was going to be ok after the Lloyds bank interregnum.

All the klan needed to know was that there was a new Sugar Daddy in the Big House.

The spin was frontloaded and turned up to maximum.

It was shameful stuff.

I adhered to a different narrative, one based on facts.

However, I wasn’t entirely on my own.

Alex Thomson of Channel 4 News was a valuable outsider to the Glasgow media village in 2012.

Moreover, he agreed to write the foreword of ‘Downfall’ and has steadfastly defended the book ever since.

His criticism of the Fitba hacks was more scathing than anything I have ever written.

He is currently on his way back from the Philippines where he was covering far weightier matters than the downfall of a football club and the anguish of their fans.

Everything I have witnessed since the death of Rangers and the creation of Sevco from the body parts of the dead club convinces me that I am happy to be on the outside of Fitba media village.

That way I can hold the powerful to account rather than do their bidding.

Being an outsider has its uses.

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