Damned if you do; Damned if you don’t…

Of the many people I follow on Twitter and befriend on Facebook a noticeable percentage are members of the advertising trade press and various PR companies. All of them were atwitter over the “Mad Men” premier last Sunday, because so much of the story had to do with moody Don Draper’s bungled interview with Advertising Age.

“Who is Don Draper?” the reporter asks him, opening the show. “What kind of question is that?” responds Draper. And it’s downhill after that. When the story comes out, it is, by all accounts, an ambiguous portrait of a dark and mysterious man. “A missed opportunity,” grumbles “Sterling Cooper’s” aged founder. And indeed it was. For there would be no ballyhoo for the new agency and its fledgling staff, when they needed it most. Frustrated, Don kicks a garbage can across the room. It is a rare demonstration of emotion from the show’s enigmatic anti-hero.

I feel your pain, Don. In all the times I’ve been interviewed by the trade press the story has never come out right. Reading them has always –and I mean always- been like discovering photographs of myself that I despise. Those you can tear up, showing no one. Unfortunately, this is not the case with articles written about you or your agency. For a week, a month or even longer, the artifact haunts me, especially if it has drawn the ire of my colleagues or, worse yet, a client. Both have happened. A lot.

Thing is, save for writing the piece myself, I don’t think there is anything anyone or I could have done to change the outcome. It is damn near destined that these bits of vainglory will bite you in the ass as much as pat you on the back. And it is as much the interviewee’s fault as it is the interviewer. For the reporter wants an angle and you want publicity. Motives are at odds. It is like trying to stick two magnets together; they are repelled. Often, the best one can hope for is a canceling out. We take the good with the bad. Thus the old saw, “any ink is good ink.”

Despite a seemingly predetermined bad outcome, we try and try again; the allure of a fresh story is just too tempting. Our PR folks provide us with talking points in order that we stay on message. This, in turn, frustrates the reporter, who may or may not take them at face value, which, in his view, is limited at best. On the other hand, if the interviewee deviates from said talking points, who the hell knows what will happen? “I was taken out of context,” is not a cliché without reason.

I’m surprised we are surprised when the tainted document appears. And when I say “we” I mean everyone: colleagues, clients, us, me.

Alas, we never learn. Just as the male Black Widow spider mates only to be eaten alive by the namesake female, so to do we engage with the press. Like the spider, we are compelled to meet our maker, for publicity is our agency’s lifeblood. The reporter is equally compelled to get his piece. One reputation up against another.

In the show’s closing scene, we watch with relish Don Draper go at it again, with a reporter from the Wall Street Journal. This time Don plays the creative star of his agency. He is their dream weaver. He is the centerpiece. Like a devil, Don spins gold for the journalist. But the Black Widow merely bides time, knowing wherein the real web lies.

Most of us agree that nowadays social media has made scripting messages all but impossible. Judging from the grimly accurate storyline on Mad Men, maybe it never was.

* * *

Rance Crain wrote about the same scenes from “Mad Men” in AdAge. Good perspective on the trade press during that era: Rance Crain, in AdAge

Proving my point, a story came out today in the marketing blog of the Chicago Sun Times. It was ostensibly about my new novel slash social media project, Sweet by Design. But of course it was about so much more:http: Marketing & Media Mix, Chicago Sun Times

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