Hype can be a very dangerous business, and The Archers is the latest commodity to find itself damaged by it.
I am not an Archers’ fan, but Fiona is and yesterday, the biggest anticipation of the day was not celebration of her birthday, but tuning in to make sure she learned what all the fuss was about.
When it turned out that the event which would rock the series for a decade turned out to be a man called Nigel falling from a roof, she felt somewhat cheated. Judging by the reaction online, this appears to have been a widespread feeling.
So why did they do it? The Archers has a solid reputation, a place in the national life, and a real core to it. And I say that as someone who can name none of the characters (apart from Nigel today, because he is all over the media) and likes the theme tune only because Billy Connolly once suggested, in one of his many side-splitting acts, that it should replace God Save the Queen as our national anthem.
So the basic rule is do not overhype if it is going to affect your core strategy and reputation.
In politics, where in the 24 hour media you are constantly being defined by others, care is required too. But I’m afraid a little bit of hype is inevitable and neccessary at times. I once issued an edict in Downing St that we were to say nothing about an upcoming TB speech until he made it. But the media are made up of odd people. Broadcasters tend not to view something as important unless they have read about it in the papers first. Newspapers tend not to deem something worthy of comment unless it has been all over the telly and the radio. So it is all a bit Catch 22. The net result of my ‘no trailing’ strategy was that we got next to no coverage.
A good example of effective pre-briefing is the trailing of Ed Miliband’s visit to the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election tomorrow. It seems odd to some for briefers to give out words that he ‘will say’ but you can see from the press today that it is a good way of scene-setting. His message, about the damage this week’s VAT rise will do to hard-working families, gets a good outing. The broadcasters will now want to make sure they hear the words, and some will report the words, warning that the VAT rise is the wrong tax rise at the wrong time.
Provided he doesn’t fall from a roof, he should get a fair hearing. In fact, even if he falls from a roof, he will get a fair hearing, provided he doesn’t say in advance that the fall from the roof is likely to be the clincher in the battle to beat the ConDem candidates fighting under a Lib Dem banner.