Some free media advice for Dean Barker: Ditch the sad-sack look!

If there is a PR job to be done at the moment, it's not for Grant Dalton but rather for Dean Barker.

I read that my friends and esteemed colleagues in the media-training business, Bill Ralston and Janet Wilson, have been employed, in media guru John Drinnan’s words, “to handle the Barker overboard debacle.” Drinnan notes that Wilson “recently completed two videos on the Team NZ Facebook page, and interviewed Grant Dalton about what blows his spinnaker.”

He goes on: “But methinks much more will be needed before he has a warm and cuddly image like Spot the Dog.”

I disagree. The last thing a Team New Zealand manager needs is “a warm and cuddly image.” Quite the reverse. Ambition, strength, drive, determination and perhaps a degree of ruthlessness might be more appropriate, and my impression is that Dalton has those qualities in spades.

Nor do I find too much wrong with his image: amiable, firm, no nonsense, a man willing to compromise but unwilling to yield on the core issue, in this case Barker’s fitness to lead New Zealand to victory in the next America’s Cup.

Dalton has spine. 

If there is a PR job to be done at the moment, it’s not for Grant Dalton but rather for Dean Barker.

We’re pretty loyal to our sporting heroes in  Godzone and, despite taking New Zealand from a seemingly unloseable  position to a humiliating defeat in the last Cup, Mr Barker has continued to enjoy considerable public support. His unceremonious and appallingly handled dumping as skipper has gained him a lot of sympathy.

But sympathy is a finite commodity and Barker is in danger of exhausting his quota. If I see one more TV interview with the former Team NZ skipper bemoaning his fate, I may well put a gun to my own head.

These poor-me, sad-sack, edge-of tears performances are undermining rather than supporting any claim that Barker might have had to keep his job. He looks and sounds pathetic. Though I loathe the expression with every fibre in my body, I find myself thinking, “Man up!”

It’s an unworthy thought. My guess is that Barker is deeply depressed. And his depression is understandable. Something very precious to him has been taken away, something that went to the very core of his identity and self-respect.

But Barker isn’t going to get his job back and he needs physically and emotionally to walk away.

I’m not entirely sure whether media training is the answer but in the sense that Barker’s media appearances are, in my submission, damaging rather than enhancing his image and reputation, it might just help.

If Judy Callingham and I were running the show we would probably suggest replacing the “poor me” image with a bit of good old-fashioned rage, a healthy outburst of venom directed against the disloyal, dishonest, dissembling bastards who did this to me. Feels better, looks better, preserves your self-respect!

Psychologists call this a “racket emotion,” “racket” in the dishonest sense – not what you’re really feeling but, personally and publicly, a more palatable version. I say, “Whatever works!”

I know what you’re thinking – this is a pitch for a job. It isn’t. But I’ll admit the challenge of converting Dean Barker back from “sad-sack loser” to “Captain Courageous” is really, really appealing.

Someone has to – for his sake.

Media trainer and commentator Dr Brian Edwards posts at Brian Edwards Media.

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