Newspapers, magazines, online publications, radio and TV: they are all inundated with material every day of the year. It comes in many forms, from corporate appointments, government announcements and research findings, to new product launches and charity campaigns. Gaining the attention of the journalist can be a struggle, so novelty works.
The media wants the genuinely new; someone who is going to say the unexpected or who breaks the mould. The maverick businessman or politician can be almost certain of media coverage.
But an interesting phenomenon took place in English football last season – the underdogs, Leicester City, won the Premier League and the team-builder, manager Claudio Ranieri, has been the subject of media attention as much as football’s ‘special one’, the singular Jose Mourinho.
So is being the maverick the right approach to gain media attention? And does the perception of the maverick headliner help or hinder success?
The qualities that make the likes of entrepreneurial maverick Sir Richard Branson succeed in business are exactly the qualities that make them good for the media. They are risk takers, innovators and independent thinkers. They back themselves against the critics or the cynics.
Steve Jobs of Apple and Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou of easyJet were big and bold and always in the media. In many ways their brands were built around the perceptions created through the news coverage of their leadership and their ideas.
Nowadays, it is the big bold, maverick politicians in Donald Trump and Boris Johnson that dominate the media channels. By being outspoken and creating controversy, they are seen by the media as the catalyst for presenting different views, polarizing opinion and causing a reaction: a great way to engage a readership.
But here also lies an interesting shift because of course being a maverick in the news has very real and inherent dangers.
A business can be too closely associated with one person and then can’t move on. Apple, to a certain extent had this problem, but Michael O’Leary of Ryanair is the classic example. He built the cheap-as-chips image of his airline through his outrageous statements that always generated acres of media coverage – remember spend a £1 to spend a penny; ‘standing room only’ on flights, even his comments about Germans? The maverick, by nature, can say the wrong thing one too many times, or become clichéd and even disingenuous.
And, if the business goes under, what next for the face of that business? Their star quality is tainted, associated with failure and it can be a long way back. The focus on the maverick business leader is not necessarily a long-term plan. Politicians, on the other hand, seem content to focus on the short-term gain that recognition through the snappy photocall or one-liner or sound bite can bring.
But there’s been another interesting shift – this one caused by social media. Michael O’Leary found that his customers had a means to answer back and he has had to re-think his PR strategy. The new generation of business mavericks, today’s ‘disruptors’, meanwhile, is finding its niche and its audience through the new media channels of Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.
For most corporates, their PR strength is now in the depth and substance of their message. All need leadership and a trailblazer, but the focus is the company and its customers, not the individual. And even maverick companies, including Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin stable, need a team behind them. Sir Richard is the stunt man drawing the media gaze, but the team around him has built up the media’s trust.
Unilever, an Anglo-Dutch collaboration, is another interesting example. Ranked in polls as one of Britain’s most admired companies, it has to manage the reputation of a vast range of products from Dove to Domestos, across the media. Central to that reputation is its initiative, the Sustainable Living Plan, a commitment to halve the environmental impact of its activities whilst simultaneously doubling revenues and improving the lives of one billion people (approximately half its total customers) in developing countries – all by 2020.
Yes, success in the media is still about bringing something new and different. Every company needs a touch of the maverick to attract media attention, but as Claudio Ranieri and others have proved, it is also about bringing the ‘team’ with you.
If there is one conclusion it is that the media wants drama – and while there is drama in the conflict posed by the maverick’s outlandish statements, there is also drama in visionary thinking and challenging the status quo, which a team-builder can inspire.
Lizzy Lambley is a Director at Indigo
This month voters in the UK will go to the polls to decide whether we, as a country, prefer to stand alone outside the European or continue to try to lead the international agenda from within it.
In the run-up to the referendum we will be posting a series of blogs, client stories and interviews from across Indigo’s networks, taking a sideways look at whether we can balance the advantages of strong networks against the freedom to stand out from the crowd.