One’s an octopus. The other’s a glamourpuss. And they’re both suckers for soccer (or soccer players) in their own peculiar way. But Paul and Cheryl have more than that in common. Over the past week their tentacles have reached deep into the murky depths of the British media demonstrating once again that there’s nothing like animals and celebrity (or better still a combination of the two) to whet the appetite of a silly season sub editor.
First to Paul. That’s the unlikely name given to an octopus who lives in a tank at the Sea Life Aquarium in the western German city of Oberhausen. Since when has Paul been a German name? And aren’t octopuses supposed to have alliterative monikers like Otto (which at least has the virtue of sounding vaguely Germanic)? But then Otto doesn’t scan too well with Paul’s skill as a psychic. Herr Otto, I mean Paul, has managed to pick the winners of every game involving Germany during the World Cup by choosing mussels coded with the national colours of the various teams. Call me an old cynic but clearly the England team’s mollusc was laced with a particularly nasty form of shellfish poisoning to avoid any slip ups in the group stages. Whether Paul’s punditry is a freak of nature or a fluke of chance matters not – you can’t buy this sort of publicity (see http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/10604336.stm if you missed it) but you can manufacture it. I’d stake my modest reputation on the fact that the managers at Sea Life set up the whole thing as a publicity stunt. Now that’s what I call a story with legs (or is it arms)? All you need to get free advertising in the editorial media is an understanding of what gets us hacks going. And Paul ticks a lot of boxes (as you’d expect with all those limbs) – his story’s topical, involves the national sport, is quirky and gives us a chance to have a wry smile at zose crazee Germans…
And so to the Geordie songstress. Cheryl’s story – or at least the most recent chapter – was an unfortunate accident. Let’s face it not even publicity-hungry ex-WAGs deliberately get themselves infected with something as nasty as malaria to try to deflect attention from their philandering former friends. But as soon as she contracted the disease – and even as she was being treated in intensive care – there were media opportunities being sought and exploited.
Malaria kills up to three million people a year – mainly in sub-Saharan Africa – and all those deaths rate barely a mention in the UK media. So you could, not unreasonably, argue that our obsession with celebrity is obscene when the relative value of human life seems so out of kilter. But at least Ms Tweedy’s suffering has put malaria on the map. Charities fighting the disease and its consequences have not been slow to use this opportunity for the good. In the same way that cancer charities sensitively handled the death of Jade Goody.
I’ll leave you with this question: which is the bigger parasite – the media or the malaria-causing Plasmodium protozoan carried by the female Anopheles mosquito?
If you’d like to use the media proactively (like Paul) you can learn how on our media strategies and campaigns workshop.
If you’d like to learn how to deal with the media in emergencies then our crisis communications workshop is for you.