Wednesday, December 9, 2015

What you don't know about the messy and called-off media day of A+E Networks UK in South Africa for Idris Alba and the History channel on DStv.

I know the rest of the press brigade have remained silent but I need to weigh in on A+E Networks UK and their Africa's office hysterical History hufflepuff with Idris Elba that set back relationships with the media and broke trust - something that I have no idea how long it will take to repair or build up again.

It's the second time (and the second time in a row) that a documentary made in South Africa and also specifically about Nelson Mandela for, and on, A+E Networks UK's History channel on MultiChoice's DStv ends up being more in the news for the scandal and drama around it, than for the actual programme and its contents.

It's no accident.

By now the media intelligentsia and every South African TV critic will know how Idris Elba was on his way to South Africa for work and a "secret" A+E Networks UK press junket for its South Africa office at the end of November to promote a documentary shown on History (DStv 186).

I say "secret" since A+E Networks UK's South African office and its PR company deliberately chose not to tell all the press who they do lip-service to as having a so-called real media relationship with, about it.

It wouldn't have been that big of a deal, but of course Idris Elba who didn't want to continue to do his/the work he agreed to as a professional artist, abruptly left Heathrow airport at the very last minute and went back home when he discovered his daughter wouldn't be allowed into the country without an unabridged birth certificate.

The turnaround, visit cancellation and scuppered press jaunt of course flung A+E Networks UK, A+E Networks' office in South Africa and Idris Elba into the national and international headlines - but for all the wrong reasons.

Dear Idris suddenly became the latest poster child of the South Africa's cause célèbre around the controversial visa regulations damaging tourism, travel, the economy and making overseas visitors no longer wanting to fly to South Africa.

It's presumably not the type of hard news, banner headline type stories A+E Networks UK, A+E Networks in Africa, the History channel or MultiChoice wanted to see their names and brands mentioned in who work hard to bring TV viewers entertainment.

What most people won't know is how A+E Networks UK, A+E Networks' South Africa office headed up by Anthea Petersen as regional director, and its PR agency JAG Communications actually damaged its standing, relationships and what trust there was with the South African media and TV critics because of this incident.

A+E Networks in Africa and JAG Communications didn't bother to tell all the journalists and TV critics they work with and supposedly have a relationship with, about the impending Idris Elba visit to Johannesburg and media day to screen the Mandela documentary and do interviews.

The irony in A+E Networks UK and JAG Communications' lack of proper and expected communication and media relations was however twofold.

Firstly a lot of media knew about it beforehand anyway even though they were not even shown the common courtesy of just being told (and they were miffed, felt dissed and decided to deliberately not give exposure to the programme and focus on other programming).

Secondly, while A+E Networks and JAG worked on "secretly" bringing press in to Johannesburg, almost all of South Africa's journalists and TV critics from Cape Town and Durban, but hilariously kept in the dark, were already in Johannesburg anyway for M-Net and Mzansi Magic's Idols finale on Sunday 22 November.

Since A+E Networks in South Africa and its PR company couldn't bother to reach out and talk and have conversations with the media beforehand (it's called having and building public relations), they were apparently clueless that press would and were already present, and that they knew about the impending Idris Alba presser. 

I can't repeat most of what the contingent of media from across South Africa - all together and waiting for the live finale of Idols - had to say for hours on Sunday afternoon when the news broke that the (selfish?) Idris Elba turned around at Heathrow and decided to no longer come and work in South Africa to promote a documentary film for History.

What I will say is that the sentiment was extremely negative, and I suppose still is: towards Idris Elba ("Why if his holiday plans are no longer working out does he not continue to come to South Africa to do his work?") - as well as towards the History channel and by implication A+E Networks in Africa.

"Silly" and "Why don't they properly communicate?" and "They [meaning History/ A+E Networks] clearly showed who doesn't matter to them, so they and their show doesn't matter to me" were some of the things I heard from various journalists who were - and I'm sure remain - extremely unhappy with History and A+E Networks UK.

After the blow-up and after reporting the news of the media event's cancellation, I asked if Idris Elba is doing interviews for the History documentary. 

Even at this late stage, A+E Networks UK by proxy of their PR agency couldn't sense that what was needed was to reach out to all relevant media and to provide something usable to everyone.

The flat response back was: "He did do telephonic interviews with those media who were scheduled to meet him in Johannesburg".

Since silence is golden, I doubt if A+E Networks UK's South African office and JAG Communications have the faintest idea of just how many journalists and TV critics were and are pissed off by what is perceived as a diss. 

What's interesting is how everyone from the press corps who were together on Sunday 22 November and who talked about the Idris Elba media day and the spoke in the plan, shared the same negative remarks and sentiment towards History.

What I also now by now is that people - especially journalists - don't forget these things. 

Inadequate reputation management has seared a certain (very negative) perception and feeling and attitude towards History, Idris Elba and A+E Networks in South Africa into the minds of several journalists covering television - something that will be difficult to change or lessen over time.

I always think a TV channel or a show or broadcaster and the intermediaries like their marketers, publicists or PR agencies want to build and maintain and grow real relationship and above cultivate a bigger degree of mutual trust and respect. 

Obviously in this case not - where the exact opposite happened.

Gladly choose the "select" press you want to work with, the ones you want and will bother to communicate with, and then those you won't tell anything, or keep informed, or be as open and honest with. Continue to run your "tiered" system of press management and see if and how well that works.

Just then don't ever complain about media or TV critics not liking you, or sit and wonder why there are not more and deeper media relationships, a lack of trust from journalists, a lingering negative media perception about your brand(s) and general journo disinterest.

The answer is that bad public relations actually caused it.