BBC’s Inverdale Loses Game, Set, and Match

 BBCs Inverdale Loses Game, Set, and Match

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for John Inverdale for the comment, and to the BBC for its anemic response.

Not much could tarnish the pride in the United Kingdom after Scottish national Andy Murray took home the coveted trophy of the All England Club at Wimbledon. BBC commentator John Inverdale sure gave it his best shot, though.

As Marion Bartoli of France accepted her first-ever Grand Slam tennis trophy, Inverdale shocked listeners of his BBC Radio 5 program by saying “Do you think Bartoli’s dad told her when she was little, ‘You’re never going to be a looker, you’ll never be a Sharapova, so you have to be scrappy and fight’?”  The comment was met with fury in the Twittersphere, while the older school logged more than 700 telephone complaints to the BBC’s headquarters in London.

This isn’t the first gaffe for Inverdale, who has served as a BBC sports presenter on Wimbledon for several years. For many in the UK, this boorish remark was the last straw. Each year, listeners “are gifted his open distaste for the women’s game, which apparently lacks anything to hold his well-remunerated attention,” fumed a columnist in The Guardian.

After first trying to brush off the criticism, Inverdale finally apologized at the start of the men’s finals on Sunday. Even then, he downplayed his comment as “clumsy” and “ham-fisted.” The BBC was little better, saying, limply, “We accept that this remark was insensitive and for that we apologize.” The only winner here was Bartoli, who said she never aspired to be a model and invited Inverdale to check her out at the champion’s gala a few nights later where, she mused, “He could change his mind.”

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for John Inverdale for the comment, and to the BBC for its anemic response.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: If you find yourself about to remark on someone’s appearance to the media: STOP. Unless you’re referring to a beauty pageant, no good can come of the words you’re about to utter, whether complimentary or critical. Regardless of how attractive someone is, commentary should focus solely on that person’s skill or accomplishments. In today’s world, any reference to physical attributes is too easily construed as sexist – and rightfully so.

The BBC Adds Insult to Its Own Injury

 The BBC Adds Insult to Its Own Injury

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for the BBC. (Pictured: Former BBC Director General George Entwistle.)

Much hand-wringing at the BBC these days. The venerable news organization continues to flounder following the broadcast of a news segment concerning allegations of child abuse. The most high-profile casualty so far is none other than the BBC’s Director General, George Entwistle, who resigned on Saturday.

For a while, it looked like Entwistle was going to make it. Following the crisis management rulebook, he was saying and doing the right things: taking responsibility, calling for answers, and promising reform. Ultimately, though, that didn’t save him. He was taken down by an astonishing interview given on BBC radio. The fifteen-minute segment is now widely credited as being Entwistle’s undoing, and interviewer John Humphry has been praised for it. His BBC colleagues might want to re-examine those kudos.

In the incendiary interview, Humphry dispenses altogether with the notion of allowing listeners to decide.  Basically telling his boss he should have known better, he does a lot of telling and not much asking. Entwistle does his best to stay on message and answer questions, but Humphry becomes belligerent, hopelessly drunk with the power of the chair he is sitting in. The interview sounds like an exercise in personal and organizational retribution. If the BBC is worried about its PR (and trust) with the public, this didn’t help. The BBC can claim scalps in its interviews, but in so doing makes it entirely clear how the current issues came about in the first place.

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) to the BBC, which demonstrated the thinking that  got its news department into hot water.

The PR Takeaway: Fair and balanced is the media motto. While Fox News is routinely derided for being aggressively opinionated, Humphry’s “news” interview would sit perfectly on a Fox talk show. If the PR problems of the BBC relate to the inadequate editorial checks and balances in its news department, then this interview serves its critics well. Instead of celebrating the “gotcha” moment, a stronger commitment to facts, not opinions; more asking, less telling – might be the change that starts the BBC’s PR turnaround.

To listen to the interview, click here.

What Did the Princess Ask For? Is That All?

PRINCESS What Did the Princess Ask For? Is That All?

The PR Verdict: “C” for the Princess and her call for reform.

Princess Basma Bint Saud Bin Abdulaziz (is there a shortened form?) gave the BBC a surprising interview yesterday, calling for change in her native Saudi Arabia.

From her London base, the daughter of King Saud, former ruler of Saudi Arabia, identified five needed reforms for the kingdom.  Radical in scope they included the constitution, divorce, education and social services.  She also criticised the current chaperone system for women as “infantilizing”, turning Saudi women into “a burden on their men and on society.”

The urgency of her calls came undone when she added in the interview that she is opposed to women driving, urging a delay  “until we are educated enough and until we have the necessary laws to protect us.”

The PR Verdict: “C” for the Princess and her call for reform.  She let the air out of the balloon by urging caution.  By saying that allowing women to drive is not for now, she pushed her five lofty reforms into the distant future and delayed  a simple reform from happening anytime soon.

Key PR lesson: Always start with a call to action that immediately mobilizes.  Give people something to do.  Arguing for constitutional and legal reform has its role but the Princess’s foray into free speech left her energized sympathizers limp.  While her five suggestions can be the subject of endless academic debate,  the question of women driving is a straight forward yes or no.  More importantly, it is the gateway for broader change.  Sadly a missed opportunity.

To read the interview click here

What’s your PR Verdict?

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