Sat | Dec 3, 2016

The rise of the (PR) machines part two

Published:Saturday | November 29, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Magnum vixens
Digicel promotional girls out in their numbers at a previous staging of Reggae Sumfest Dancehall Night.-File
1
2

Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer

So here we are, living in the entertainment media matrix, where the public-relations machinery of a few large outfits and a bewildering array of small operators pump out an unending stream of superlatives that there is often no way of verifying.

One of my favourites (and that is said with tongue firmly in cheek) is the story on a concert overseas, where such and such performer is said to have driven the audience into a frenzy and wrecked the venue, delivering a mind-blowing show in which the listeners lapped up their every word and twitch of a dance move. How the hell do we know that it is true?

Simple. We don't.

Let us make it clear. It is not all bad. There is, fortunately, some reporting on events, recordings and personalities of worth. But there are so many - too many - times when the fluff gets overwhelming and it really, really grates.

It is the legitimisation of the over-the-top public-relations output by the mainstream media which creates a gateway for the fluff to gain credence. For as much reach that the Internet has, when something appears on a website somewhere or is blasted on social media solely, it does not have the same effect as when it appears in a newspaper or in a credible electronic media source.

The key word is credible. It is an assumption - a very reasonable one, too - that a mainstream media outlet has impartial editorial oversight and personnel who have a view of the area it covers that is not as myopic as a public-relations person or company rapidly pursuing an agenda for their client that is as narrow as the gap between a robot taxi and the car which its driver is currently tailgating.

For the public-relations practitioner, their client is the greatest thing before, during and after sliced bread, a combination of Michael Jackson, Bob Marley and James Brown (or the female equivalent), with a dash of Houdini and David Copperfield in the mix (that's where the magic comes from). Inevitably, this leads to the deployment of superlatives, overwriting over and over again.

So, when lofty descriptions of the most mundane things are a matter of course, how does one describe something that is really, really good?

Paying for publicity

Then there is the matter of paying to get the publicity. The public-relations machines need to get results, to get the article published or read - now. So when a performer pays over their money, they naturally expect results. Therefore, the public-relations people form relationships with those who can get their material into the spaces they want (you know, a 'link'), and even if no cash is exchanged, there is a certain suspension of judgement - judgement which is critical to the business of journalism.

It is not good for the reporter, editor and publication.

In all fairness, the corporate entities which utilise Jamaican popular music extensively in their marketing campaigns are some of the main public-relations machines. Whether it is the Red Stripe beverages (Guinness, Red Stripe, Heineken), J Wray and Nephew products (Appleton is going at it heavily now with their Mix Specialist pop-up party series), Digicel, LIME, Pepsi or any other brand that has its claws on Jamaican popular culture, the process is the same.

After the event, images of some promotional girls in eye-catching outfits, grinning happily into the camera, turn up in the mainstream press. And do not forget the pictures of the company's executives posing with popular entertainers.

So where does the actual entertainment news come in when this deluge of public relations takes up massive amounts of media space? There is not much of it, unfortunately. And it is such a crying shame.

For when an artiste's love affairs, image alteration or a 'beef' with someone else (I call it cattle journalism) take precedence over lyrics, subject of song and the level of production, it must be so hard for someone who is committed to producing quality, to keep going.

melville.cooke@gleanerjm.com