Binge-drinking, boob-jobs and the black art of spin
Ten years ago I had the good fortune of sitting next to Paul “The Chief” Harragon, hardman for the Newcastle Knights rugby league team
We shared a generally enjoyable conversation until discussions turned to a player who had become the media focus for – what else – excessive drinking.
Harragon was genuinely staggered that the drinking exploits of a league star would make tabloid fodder.
“If a plumber goes out and has a few to many,” he said, “no-one thinks of writing that up in a newspaper.”
I told him it was unlikely the binge drinking plumber would have a six-figure contract, earn money from product endorsements or feature in the Topps series of trading cards.
I told him that once players assumed the status of role models, they were under the microscope and needed to live beyond reproach. They may have once been plumbers, but as a team of professionals they needed to live by a stricter set of policies.
A decade later, we are more than ever confronted with problems in rugby league – most of which have a root cause in alcohol. Yet there are still players and officials who openly resist changes.
And here’s the point.
From a PR perspective, the dinosaurs which have resisted much needed reforms have allowed a policy vacuum to develop and as is the case with any of the physical sciences, nature abhors a vacuum.
This vacuum has been filled from other sources, with media stories and commentary, lurid accounts of behaviour, legal processes and the victims of alleged crimes.
Others are now setting the agenda, given that many in league won’t.
Good administrators in sport or business know how to stay ahead of community expectations; they recognise where changes are needed to head off the sort of backlash that rugby league players are currently enduring.
I had first-hand experience working at one of the big-four banks, which was absolutely convinced that its campaign to lift fees and cut bank branches was a winner – until the customers and other stakeholders told them otherwise.
Not that getting on the front foot is easy, or that the positive changes are always welcomed, but fighting from the side of angels is infinitely better than the reverse, as the NRL and banks are finding out.
Cosmetic surgeons are trying to get ahead of the curve and cleaning up their act before others cleaned it up for them.
One of my clients, the Australasian College of Cosmetic Surgery, recently attempted an industry first and introduced a new code of practice to ensure anyone who practices cosmetic surgery meets the highest possible training standards and to give patients the most accurate transparent information.
Cosmetic surgery may not be many people’s cup of tea, but it is growing and the industry is keen to establish itself as a recognised specialty with its own college and code of practice.
It is also keen to be able to assure people flocking overseas for procedures that its standards here are of the highest quality.
The new code has been scrutinised and passed by the ACCC and the Australian Medical Council is currently examining the college’s bid for specialist recognition.
But even though it is setting the agenda with positive changes, cosmetic surgeons are encountering resistance on another front. Plastic surgeons are fighting the reforms tooth and nail in a bid to frustrate a potential competitor.
In the coming days and weeks there will be immense PR health war, fought mainly by tut-tutting plastic surgeons who will effectively attempt to stymie changes.
Get ready for arguments from the white coat plastic surgeon brigade that will all try to halt progress and keep competitors sidelined.
Plastic surgeons are very keen to do nose jobs, breast enhancements and tummy tucks for a lucrative bit of part-time work on the side – they just don’t want to have to compete against those with relevant specialised cosmetic surgery training to do so. Unfortunately this position is not in the interest of the patient.
In this case, the plastic surgeons are on the wrong side of the PR war, like beer swilling NRL players or rich banking executives. It is always easier to fight to change policy for the better, to set the agenda from a proactive position.
What could possibly be better than forcing everyone who attempts a cosmetic procedure – cosmetic surgeon, or plastic surgeon – to be trained to the highest standard and to let patients know how many procedures they have performed?
The flipside is that a failure to reform is usually not in anyone’s interest. A recent survey of rugby league players found that 60 percent of them are now ashamed of their profession. Recalcitrant administrators and players have damaged everyone through sheer bloody-minded reluctance to act.
The point to this is that the best campaigns are waged, not only from necessity but also from moral strength.
To do otherwise can leave you with a cracking hangover, embarrassment or a shocking boob job.
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