Tuesday, 16 October 2012


So, you’ve had time to digest the extraordinary story of Jen Chang’s off-piste meeting with the blogger Sean Cummins, the man behind the Twitter character @DuncanJenkinsFC, eh (mates)? Pretty mantle, eh? (Sorry, I apologise for apeing his rather tedious joke; I shall desist voluntarily – there’s no need to be putting dogshit through my virtual letterbox, you average football fan, you.)  

There are several disturbing things to have come out of the brouhaha: principally, that people insist on calling @DuncanJenkinsFC a “parody account” (Telegraph) when to be a parody you need to be parodying something or someone – in this case, a real life person called Duncan Jenkins, or Jenkinson, or somesuch. It is a fictional account, a persona.

Nor was the blog “anonymous” (Mail): it’s pseudonymous.  

Anyway, those crucial issues of terminology aside, it appears that Liverpool FC thought that Jenkins was the nom-de-clavier for a real journalist (perhaps one forbidden to tweet as ‘himself’ by an employer) who was party to high-level information from within in the club – in fact, there’d been speculation that he had a mole in the club (not realizing that Santi Cazorla played for Arsenal). Apparently, the LFC hierarchy – including amateur eyebrow raker, Ian Ayre – were miffed that Jenkins’ Twitter activity had cost them money in transfer deals, adding £300k to the value of Fabio Borini after AS Roma were disgruntled that the “maximum discretion” they’d asked for had been apparently breached. Not that Jenkins was gruntled when he found out.  

So it was that the club’s Director of Communications of four months, Cambridge alumnus Jen Chang  perhaps after an evening of, you know, sitting around feeling powerful  took it upon himself to squash the fly in the room in a manner, alleges Jenkins in his blog, more befitting of Chow Yun-Fat. Internal Affairs, only ‘Dunc’ knew no insiders. (Yes, I’m aware the original film was Infernal Affairs, but that joke wouldn’t work, yeah?)  

You couldn’t make it up. Except that you could. Not that ‘Duncan’/Sean has made it up, although that’s what Jen Chang is reported to believe, quoted in The Independent that he won’t respond to “nonsense”.

But what is Liverpool FC’s position on this PR disaster? I know, let’s ask– …Oh. Oh, I see.

What’s that you say – Jen Chang is unavailable for further comment? And whom has issued that statement, pray tell?

See, this is the thing: postmodernism tends to push us beyond good old-fashioned brazen hypocrisy (thinking or feeling one thing, saying or doing another) to a kind of structural cynicism. A lawyer doesn’t need to believe in the law; a civil servant or politician doesn’t need to believe in the government. You just need to perform your duties, to simulate the assigned image that comes with your role. And in the PR universe (often quite high-handed and paranoid at the top end), the image-polishing duties mean that individual bodies are frequently forced to split themselves into private and public selves. (Incidentally, I was going to call this piece Compartmentalization of the Self, but no point losing readers at the title stage, eh [mates]? I also thought Chang on the Ching? might work.)

In fact, it’s probably more nuanced than that (even private individuals are not some untainted residue of authenticity), but the point stands that Chang can, in theory, speak about this affair privately (by which I mean publically, on Twitter, but in a private capacity), but he cannot, or will not, do so professionally – on the Liverpool website, say.

His Twitter profile sums up the absurdity of this situation – and it is absurd; if you don’t think so, that just means you’ve internalized the rules of the game, absorbed the proscriptions against honesty, become a cynic – by stating, as is now a commonplace: “Views expressed are my own opinions and do not represent those of the club”.

So, we go knocking on the door of ‘the club’ looking for a statement about Jenkins’ claims – and again, we need to find someone else since, in his professional capacity, Mr Chang will of course be the flesh-and-blood personage behind the PR cliché “Liverpool FC say…”. According to the aforelinked piece in The Independent, “The club said they were aware of the allegations but had no statement to make”. Hmmm. Yet presumably he is in charge of whether or not he can speak in his professional capacity, as ‘The Club’. Such is the conundrum when a PR gaffe is made by the PR Executive.

Anyway, having myself just (with barely lukewarm zeal) started in this rarefied specialism that is Public Relations – I was also a perspiring journalist, of sorts, after leaving academia – I’m perhaps not yet qualified to diagnose this situation as a “PR disaster”. Nor am I sure what talking head Max Clifford’s line on it all is as yet, but I’d certainly say it’s too early to be calling Mr Chang a PR Guru solely on the basis of the status of his current job.

At the time of writing, being decidedly not ITK (and unable to see how peddling semi-spurious transfer gossip is a professional achievement), it looks like this is what will transpire here: a powerful institution simply denies it happened and, without witnesses, without recorded evidence, the story slowly goes away.

That’s exactly how me and Max-C – M-dog, the M-Unit – would play it, eh Jen.

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