Publicity money can't buy

, posted: 23-May-2006 17:01

What does BBC's Guy Goma interview gaffe have in common with the "Telecon" spoof commercial?

Both are incredibly popular currently, making the rounds all over the world. They've propelled BBC and Telecom New Zealand to the fore of blogs, newspapers, radio, and TV amazingly fast.

For instance, I linked to the "Telecon" spoof in my FryUp newsletter for Computerworld last Friday and it just spiralled (apologies again Muppet...) with DPF's Kiwiblog linking to it, Russell Brown mentioning it in his Hard News column Public Address - as well as explaining why the spoof is a bit unfair to Telecom. The spoof has now been YouTubed and GoogleVideo'd and even TVNZ's Close Up programme played it, calling it an email for some reason and as usual, didn't attribute any sources for their story.

That kind of "cut through" in saturated media is something marketers can only dream about. Too bad that the publicity is negative for both BBC and Telecom. Or is it? Now would be a good to wake up and react for both corporations. Telecom could commission its ad agency to produce a follow-up spoof for instance, without making it too obvious who created it.

I don't think Telecom will have the nous to take the bull by the horn however. This is the company whose PR people saw fit to bang the publicity drum about a $3.25 "goodwill credit" after four days of rotten Internet provision at New Zealand's largest ISP, Xtra, without second thoughts.

Telecom's public image people aren't actually as dreadful as they used to be. When DSL was launched in New Zealand, I rang up some of the product managers for Jetstream and spoke to them about it. It was all new and exciting stuff, albeit expensive, so the story was quite positive. Despite that, I had apparently committed the unforgiveable sin of bypassing official communications channels; the then head of Telecom's Corporate Communications Gestapo rang my editor - not me - and compared me unfavourably to a child molester. I didn't take it too seriously at the time as it was so laughable, but soon discovered that getting useful information out of Telecom was a mission and a half.

One such mission stands out in memory: I had been tipped off that Xtra was ordering satellite bandwidth as it needed more to feed DSL customers (yes, the very rich ones who dared to use Jetstream with low data caps and 20¢ per MB excess charges). So I call up their official communications channel person and ask if this is the case, and was told that no, absolutely not. No satellite bandwidth purchased then and never would be. Just over a week later, the same person issues a press release about the purchase of satellite bandwidth.

Fond memories indeed.

The BBC's hand on errm, the other hand, looks tied now even if it wanted to use the Goma Incident to its advantage. Jeremy Wagstaff of the WSJ says on his Loosewireblog that Guy Goma happens to be an illegal immigrant according to a UPI report. Goma could in fact end up being deported thanks to his inpromptu TV appearance. There goes both the Goma Show on BBC and any comedy skits about bumbling Auntie Beeb interviewing whoever happens to stumble into their studios, I suppose.

PS: I hear that Telecom's mail servers have been configured to reject or drop messages that contain a URL linking to the "Telecon" video clip. Surely people haven't been sending that URL to Telecom en masse just for the sake of it?

Other related posts:
Twitter reporting
Speaking of prank calls
What PR people really think of journalists

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