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Is there value in media notoriety?

By Neryl East - posted Friday, 16 June 2017

Ned Kelly seized it (but swung from a noose), Pauline Hanson got a rapid dose (with mixed political results) and shock jock Kyle Sandilands revels in it as his radio earnings rise. The recent public debate over whether Schapelle Corby's exit from Bali was fascinating or nauseating fuelled anew an ongoing question: is there value in being notorious?

The Kardashians appear to demonstrate an answer in the affirmative, although Kim no doubt had second thoughts after last year's frightening robbery in Paris. Even then, online and offline media reports reflected the Kardashian brand; breathlessly informing readers that at the time Kim was confronted by two men she was "wearing a bathrobe, naked underneath".

And while they appeared to rail against the media, the Schapelle Corby camp did a remarkable job of taunting and teasing an already super-hyped media pack into a frenzied collective circus.


The lure of quick and dramatic media fame has attracted a steady procession of reality TV hopefuls over the years. It's important to remember though, that the desire for "overnight" notoriety can cloud judgement, especially for those operating in the business world. In today's reputation-driven economy, for a brand to last it must stand out for the right reasons.

Hosing down people's enthusiasm for instant fame can be tricky when they see the spectacular rise to prominence of pseudo-celebrities. However, like the fable of the hare and the tortoise, there is another approach – one that builds brand over the long term.

This was recently reinforced to me through two polar opposite scenes. In the first, a pair of sixty-somethings stood patiently at a football match, their Salvation Army Red Shield Appeal collection buckets held with quiet hope. They offered a smile and thank you as gold and silver coins clattered into the plastic containers.

In the second, like many others I shook my head in dismay at the manufactured media maelstrom as a convicted drug smuggler and her minders wreaked havoc for camera crews, while delivering real time social media commentary.

Here you have one organisation, the Salvation Army, with a brand founded in proud tradition. It's been a long, slow build of credibility for more than a century and the deep trust earned from the community keeps the coins rattling in. You don't see the Red Shield Appeal collectors doing a yell and sell; their brand speaks for them. While the Salvation Army, like most organisations, has had its media dramas over the years, many of us still relate to that catch-cry of "thank God for the Salvos".

On the other side there was the Corby craze, right up there with Pokémon for pulling an instant crowd. There was intrigue, public fascination, and more than a hint of hocus-pocus to keep the flames of interest fanned. Unlike the Salvos with their calm and dogged consistency, the whole escape-from-Bali routine was unpredictable and full of twists that left media heads spinning.


The unfolding of the Schapelle melodrama even left journalists confused about their own role. Were they participants or indignant critics of the ridiculousness of it all? Even as they were being openly goaded they couldn't get enough of the story. At the same time the Corby camp's direct access to social media circumvented the traditional media's part in the process.

So, back to the question of whether there's value in having your own Schapelle-style experience (minus the drug smuggling conviction). We know gimmicks and stunts can have an impact in the short term, but often there's a long-term price. Celebrity publicist Max Markson told the Sydney Morning Herald public demand for stories about Corby will continue unabated as she resumes her life in Australia, shown most recently with speculation that she is to appear on a UK reality show. But, known for the right reasons? I think not.

Leaders and businesses that build credibility over time are the ones that attract genuine brand loyalty. Rather than trading on notoriety and manufacturing a public profile, they slowly fill their reputation reservoir through having a clear purpose, making sure their actions are congruent with that purpose over a prolonged period, and having impeccable relationships with those who can impact or be impacted by what they do.

Those entities will still have their tough times, but they're more likely to be given the benefit of the doubt in the public opinion stakes.

Which will be around in another decade - the one with the solid reputational foundation or the shooting star that erupts in infamy?

Let's face it, the Salvos don't have the most exciting brand and their actions aren't likely to go viral. Still, I'd choose in favour of an organisations that has stayed the distance; the one with a long-standing connection with me. That's who I would want to work for, who I'd recommend to others and who I'd give my money to.

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About the Author

Dr Neryl East is a highly qualified and experienced expert on media, communication, credibility and reputation. She has had an extensive career in journalism, corporate, crisis and governance communications over the past 30 years, working for Win TV, Wollogong City Council and Shellharbour City Council.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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