If Eusebius can’t stand the heat, he should get out of the MasterChef kitchen

My six-year-old son, Sam, sat up excitedly in bed yesterday morning. “This is the day of the MasterChef final, mom.” His excitement was echoed throughout South Africa as we sat on the edge of our seats waiting to see whether Sue-Ann or Deena would take the title.The contestants and team at MasterChef and DStv had done an incredible job keeping the outcome secret, despite having known for months, while at the same time fuelling our enthusiasm.

Eusebius lets the steam escape from the ultimate pressure test

As Deena and Sue-Ann battled it out last night, we all sat glued to our TVs and, in some cases, to our twitter feeds. Imagine my surprise when, as they sweated over their spun sugar, the following tweet popped up in my timeline at 8.43pm:

@Eusebius: 2012/07/24 20.43 Folks, Deena wins. Seriously. So rather tune into #TalkAtNine for great conversation, including about Deena @Radio702 @CapeTalk 567

[For those who don’t know him, (yes, Eusebius there are some who don’t know who you are), his Twitter bio refers to him as “Political Analyst. Associate at Wits Centre for Ethics. Talk Radio 702 host: Talk at Nine. New York Times on-line columnist. 2011 World Masters Debate Champion.” ]

Immediately, my attention was drawn away from the TV screen. Appalled, I replied asking him what gave him the right to spoil it for the rest of us. His considered response?

@Eusebius:2012/07/24 20.48 @inotherwordscg @Radio702 @CapeTalk567 I don’t know

Stunned by his arrogance and self-serving audacity, I began retweeting these tweets and, as happens in the Twittersphere, others picked up on it. Soon there were others also demanding to know why Eusebius saw fit to steal MasterChef’s thunder. And why his employers thought it okay to allow him to do so.

How to win friends and expose yourself as an arrogant self-promoter

At this point he blocked me so I couldn’t see his responses. When @Sascja suggested the sponsors should take him to task based on non-disclosure agreements, his response, oddly reminiscent of words a disgruntled 6-year-old may utter, was “You wish!” Then he blocked her, too.

In fact, as I have subsequently learned is his wont, he blocks anyone who criticises or questions him. So this column is about more than his assumption that the MasterChef secret was his to reveal. He has a habit of alienating people who have the cheek to stand in the way of his multi-faceted (and very public) career.

He has also taken the extraordinary (for a public figure) step of protecting his Twitter account; you now have to ask his permission to follow him.

Take some time to ponder that one. The man’s opinions are thrown in our faces wherever we turn. He is, on his own version, a political analyst, talk radio host, columnist and international debating champion. But when you question him, he retreats behind a wall, unable or unwilling to back up his narcissistic behaviour and condescending opinions.

Do as I say not as I do: the irony of hypocrisy

What makes this all the more astonishing is the fact that Eusebius himself has been a vocal critic of the tone of other public figures’ communications.

I have columnist Sipho Hlongwane of the Daily Maverick to thank for leading to me the first example. As I am not on Facebook, I missed Eusebius’s April 2011 Facebook Note disparaging author and columnistKhaya Dlanga. Hlongwane refers to this post in his column, “Eusebius McKaiser needs to stop worrying about bloggers”. He quotes the latter as having written: “Social networking sites, precisely because they have no gatekeepers, allow too many of us to simply dump data into the virtual abyss that is the Internet… Traits like thoughtfulness and habits like reading before you speak or (heaven forbid) reflecting before you comment, are dispensable in the virtual world. This wouldn’t be a big deal, but for the fact that, sadly, these trends hurt public debate. “

(I hasten to point out that Dlanga now has five times as many Twitter followers as Eusebius. Anyone smell sour grapes?)

In a more recent display of blatant hypocrisy in the Mail and Guardian, Eusebius published his unsolicited advice to the DA on how to grow. He criticised the DA leader for “spinning out of control” and taking too long to apologise. He even went so far as to accuse her of  “instilling fear in other leaders to prevent them from disagreeing with her publicly and generally making more than a nuisance of herself with brand-diminishing behaviour on social media platforms.”

Am I the only one who thinks his words have come back to bite him?

The silence of the media lambs

So, what do his employers say? Well, nothing at the time, which is strange given that they are part of a major media group that includes several marketing and communications businesses.

After numerous attempts both last night and today at eliciting a response from them on Twitter, Cape Talk patronisingly commented: “understand you are not happy. What would change that for you?”

When I asked for an admission of what he’d done and an apology to those whose limelight he stole for self-promotion, they went silent. (Eusebius, however, didn’t. Surprisingly, despite having blocked me, he tweeted angrily at them: “No idea what you are understanding about this person’s unhappiness. They’re being silly. “)

Minutes later I received a direct message from someone at Cape Talk inviting me to call him on his cell phone. I declined politely, explaining this was not a private matter but one of interest to many people. I again asked Cape Talk to comment on the tweet stream. I am still waiting.

Hours later, I received the following tweet from Talk Radio 702: @Eusebius did not know who the winner was. Was having fun with his followers by pretending he did.

So, it was all a joke? How convenient, not to mention unconvincing.

Recipe for brand fail

Put a pot on the stove.

Throw in one arrogant employee.

Add a good dose of hypocrisy, a sprinkle of narcissism and some shameless self-promotion.

When the pot starts to call the kettle black, remove from the heat. Your PR blunder is complete.

No invention test required – this tried and tested formula is foolproof

How can a marketing and media giant fail so badly in their PR relations? If their arsenal is not equipped to handle criticism by their public and mistakes by employees, perhaps they should seek the input of an independent professional. I have just the man for them – Martin Hatchuel of BarefootClients, which offers“communications services (copy writing, advertising, project management and that kind of stuff) as well as strategy planning and creative thought for select clients.”

I asked Martin for his take on why companies like Primedia are so bad at handling comments from the public. I really like his explanation for the way it explains a complicated industry in language the rest of us can understand:

“In communication, both parties listen first and speak second. And this is why I … call it the social web – it may be disorganised, messy, sloppy, and even unkind and often unethical, but it’s a two-way conversation… The media seems unable to do that. Populated as it is by so many people who think they know more than the experts they quote and interview, it’s become a place in which people force their opinions on others. It’s push, rather than pull marketing…And that’s why I prefer not to call it social media: the very concept of media implies one-way thinking. (Advertising being the ultimate expression of this.)

 For the first time ever, the social web has given us a conversation that’s totally measureable, and that’s quantifiable. And… this is causing a  transfer of power that is scaring the living shit out of the media houses. “

And the moral is…

So, Eusebius and Primedia, although I’m pretty low down the pecking order, certainly far below Khaya Dlanga, I do have a right to my opinion and a right to tweet that opinion. And, for the sake of your brands, you should appear to respect that right, even if you don’t actually care.

If you put yourself and your comments out there in the public domain, we are entitled to judge them and take you to task. If you can’t handle that, perhaps it’s time for a career change. Like Andrew, Benny and Pete, we too are leaders and judges in our field – the field of public opinion.