‘Never believe your own publicity’ - especially when it’s good!
PUBLISHED: 17:55 17 October 2018 | UPDATED: 17:56 17 October 2018
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Negative comments in any walk of life can be damaging, but David Clayton says its best to take them, and also positive comments, with a large pinch of salt
I was distracted this week by the chef who claimed his life was turned upside down by negative comments on Trip Advisor. I felt for him and knowing a good few people in the catering industry, I’m aware of the impact these sorts of comments have on the hard-working human soul. The energy and hours needed in catering are exhausting and all-consuming, especially over the coming months.
I’ve never posted on Trip Advisor and unless pushed towards it to look at something specific, have never browsed it. My take on these sorts of sites is, all of life is there so I’m not surprised nor bothered by them.
We all know charming, thoughtful people, some downright ignorant so-and-so’s and everything in between. Guess what, whatever the public platform, they’re all there, in all their glory. For anything we would refer to as “public-facing,” developing a thick skin and, occasionally, a siege mentality is vital.
At the start of my broadcasting career, when I was very green around the gills, I was mortified to receive a blunt letter complaining, quite forcefully, about something I’d done, or hadn’t done on air. I can’t now bring the actual nub of the complaint to mind, but boy, can I recall the personal devastation to this day.
I felt sick to the stomach and didn’t sleep. I was convinced this was the end of a very short professional radio career until a wise old producer simply said, “Never be afraid of the listeners.” It almost certainly translated better as “You can’t please all of the people all of the time.”
As someone who took the responsibility for your part of the BBC around here for a couple of decades, I’ve had my fair share of opinions on the end of a phone.
They pretty much fell into three categories. There were the polite, well-argued people, then the robust shouters, followed by the downright rude, who wouldn’t hesitate to pepper their rants with some choice swear words. I listened to the first lot, mostly enjoyed the discussions and took a lot of useful feedback from them. The second lot I heard and the third lot I sought to end the conversations quickly.
Lumped together as a whole, Norfolk’s radio listeners, or at least the ones who chose to call me, could be wonderfully contradictory. I well recall a man who was put through to ask how I could possibly employ the presenter he was listening to. What was the BBC thinking? Was I mad? He demanded there and then to have the presenter taken off air. I listened as carefully as I could. He simply didn’t like the programme. Fair enough. I pledged to consider his point of view. He pledged to write to the director general.
Minutes later I took another call, this time in total praise of the same presenter. I rather wished I could put the two callers in a field to fight it out and let me know the outcome! In the end I came up with an oft-repeated, diplomatic line which went something like, “It’s a fact of broadcasting life that not everyone enjoys every presenter equally.”
I had the pleasure of working with Ian Masters, who you may recall used to front Look East before the redoubtable Stewart White. I very much regarded Ian as a mentor and he’ll still offer me a wise word today, if I ask him. He once told me, “Never believe your own publicity.” What he meant was some people will tell you you’re brilliant, they absolutely love what you do and you’re the best thing since sliced bread. Smile sweetly and thank them. However, it’s best to remind yourself that the opposite view is out there too, they just haven’t pinned you down yet, to tell you!
The balance is somewhere in between.
We’ll all keep our sanity by remembering that.