CAMPAIGNS: JUDGE AND JURY; The flies in the ointment of fly-on-the-wall documentaries

A distinct lack of negatives raises questions on just how true to life a recent documentary on the V&A was, says Alaric Mostyn, head of internal communications at Burson Marsteller

A distinct lack of negatives raises questions on just how true to life

a recent documentary on the V&A was, says Alaric Mostyn, head of

internal communications at Burson Marsteller



Does it matter that I now believe that a key mission of the V& A is to

employ eccentrics? Or that they apparently introduced entrance charges

without substantial anxiety over their impact on universal access? As an

avid watcher of the world of work, I have enjoyed recent fly-on-the-wall

documentaries exposing the inside of the Royal Navy, the Royal Opera

House and, now the V&A. Of course it is fascinating to witness the

private joys and frustrations and (if we are honest) wait for the

moments of organisational embarrassment.



So what are the real benefits of allowing the cameras in, if you are

trying to manage the perceptions of an organisation? These programmes

usually result in the senior figures being (privately) dissatisfied with

the portrayal. Viewers may feel more positive but the choice of

‘positives’ is in the hand of the producer. The Royal Navy may have seen

an increase in recruitment interest, but how much of that was based on

seeing HMS Brilliant’s nights out in the Adriatic?



People who should know better are susceptible to the heavy wooing of

broadcasters who have decades of experience in getting targets to say

yes. But the programme makers’ real interests lie with the viewer and in

the cold light of reality, the assumption must surely be that the best

outcome will be a programme with as much negative content as positive -

anything else is good luck. In the end the V&A programme felt remarkably

benign. In the short-term it may boost ticket sales - but did it advance

their case for public or government support in any desired way? Did it

build the brand?



And a final thought on these 50 minutes of fame. One of the powerfully

true cliches of internal communication is that every employee is a

potential ambassador for their organisation. A fly-on-the-wall broadcast

presents the perfect risk and perfect opportunity for this. Everyone

will talk to their friends and family about how fair the televised

portrayal is.



I am the last person to argue for accepting a documentary request on the

grounds of internal communication benefit. But having said yes, it is

better to embrace the opportunity and brief everyone rather than leave

employees defenceless. If the V&A have managed that - then I really am

impressed.



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