The truth will out thanks to the power of tweets

Why the awesome power wielded by the Twittering classes has finally put paid to the old adage that all publicity is good publicity

In an age when icons crumble almost on a daily basis, will we now have to revisit one of the most fundamental tenets of communications – that all publicity is good publicity? Whether stated explicitly or not, this has been the historic theory that has underpinned almost everything from public relations and advertising to political campaigning.

A precise, accurate, targeted message is good if you can come up with one. But in a cluttered and confused world, surely it is impact, visibility and presence in the public domain that counts? “Bad” doesn’t enter into it, particularly if an element of humour is involved, although you do have to get your timing right.

John Major described his affair with Edwina Currie as “the most shameful” event in his life. Actually, it overturned his reputation as the grey man of politics and broadened his appeal for posterity. Leaked at the appropriate time, it might even have helped him win a second General Election.

However, there have always been things to avoid under the “all publicity is good publicity” banner – at least in the UK.

Being unkind to small, furry animals has always gone down very badly and, in a more contemporary vein, there is absolutely no way back from using public money to build duck houses in one’s lake.

But, in the age of Tweets and Facebook, is the “bad can equal good” theory of publicity still sustainable? And how will it inform the way the political party spinners fight the next election, which is now less than eight months away?

Tweet power is starting to look awesome as Carter Ruck, the firm of solicitors that not even all solicitors care for, found out earlier this month.

When they engaged in the disgraceful, but entirely lawful, exercise of trying to protect the confidentiality of the information in a written question before the House of Commons they were shot down by the instantaneous, concentrated fire of Twitter.

There is no good news whatsoever in the bad publicity generated for Carter Ruck and the firm’s client Trafigura.

As a result, there should be a much-reduced enthusiasm among the legal profession for “super-injunctions” or gagging orders as they are more precisely known.

Politicians will have to watch out in the run-up to the General Election because if they put a single step wrong they can be Twittered out of existence before lunch.

Because the implications of studio and audience location do not appear to have been thought through by the BBC, Griffin was allowed to harvest the small, furry animal vote. But his star will soon fade because bad news really is bad news these days.

But what about Nick Griffin? Doesn’t his Question Time appearance suggest that there is life in the old adage yet? Despite having most of his limitations exposed mercilessly, the opportunity gave him an audience of 8 million and bucket-loads of free publicity. The result so far? More than 3,000 applicants to join the BNP, record traffic on its website and a steady flow of donations.

Griffin has even been so emboldened, or carried away, that he is now asking to be included in all televised leadership debates.

Over the longer term the “bad” publicity generated by Griffin and his more ridiculous views, amplified endlessly in the social media, will do the BNP no good at all. Short term he was handed a boost by the flawed nature of the Question Time programme.

It all must have seemed like a good idea at the time. Let’s do it at BBC Television Centre; it will be easy to control and secure – and after all only a few demonstrators managed to get over the gate.

But for obvious practical reasons, it then had to be a London audience, which in turn was representative of the capital’s large ethnic minorities.

hat meant all the questions were about Griffin and the BNP. By then the producers couldn’t turn it into an “ordinary” edition of the programme even if they had wanted to.

And so it turned into the Nick Griffin Show and he has won a great deal of undeserved sympathy because of what many saw as the BBC and David Dimbleby ganging up on the poor, defenceless right-winger.

Nick Griffin

Because the implications of studio and audience location do not appear to have been thought through by the BBC, Griffin was allowed to harvest the small, furry animal vote. But his star will soon fade because bad news really is bad news these days.

There is no escape from the blogosphere, as our more established party leaders are about to find out.

Was there ever a more difficult politician to market than Gordon Brown? He hasn’t even mastered the television age yet, and the internet is another country, as he proved conclusively in his initial YouTube outing.

David Cameron has a marked advantage. He can do television and is plausible online.

But both should remember that lies and evasions will be nailed more rapidly and comprehensively than at any time in history. The Twitter fusiliers will see to that and make sure that bad publicity stays bad – most of the time.


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