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Drinking games post America's Cup celebrations – reputation damaging or not?

What will be your lasting memory of Emirates Team New Zealand's America’s Cup win: a well-earned victory or drinking games with team members seemingly vomiting up lamingtons? Luke Henshall explores the fine line between personality versus professionalism in the public eye..

“Bermuda, Bahamas, come on pretty mumma. Key Largo, Montego, baby why don't we go…” Is it just me or have other people been quietly singing this classic tune from the 80s “hit” film Cocktail over the last few weeks? That song and a mysterious triangle which planes fly into and get lost has been the extent of my mental reference for Bermuda until a few weeks ago.

That has all changed now however with the tiny island in the Atlantic forever known as the location for the staging of one of our greatest sporting triumphs / redemption / displays of aeronautical innovation with Emirates Team New Zealand convincingly beating the might of Oracle Team USA in the 35th America’s Cup early on Tuesday morning.

What a race, what a triumph, what a spectacle. I am in absolute awe of the demonstration of a well drilled team operating at peak performance in every way. What they achieved can’t be overstated. There have been many demoralising losses in previous campaigns including the time the boat literally fell apart in Auckland culminating with the heartache of San Francisco in 2013. These hardships would have been enough to convince any team to throw in the towel. But no, under the stubborn determination of the mercurial Grant Dalton, they were able to pick themselves up and move on. It was a great lesson in self-belief which was tested even further in the years leading up to the most recent regatta with Oracle and other syndicates playing their own game, and ETNZ under their “lone wolf” moniker clearly being shifted to the outer.

It truly is an inspirational story. If the achievement itself wasn’t enough to encourage a new generation of budding sailors, TV news footage of a much younger Peter Burling in regattas here days after the victory would have certainly triggered a desire for Kiwi kids around the country to get into the sport.

That’s why for me it just didn’t sit right when I saw this story appear of behind the scenes at celebrations with another less provoking one. Don’t get me wrong, if anyone deserves to let their hair down it’s these guys, but after working so hard to grow their reputation I couldn’t help think they were just eating into that goodwill.

I’m not sure drinking games with guys seemingly vomiting up lamingtons in the background is the ideal image we need to remember this team by. The antics were positioned by media as demonstration of good old Kiwi celebration, crazy bloke stuff. The reality is though, increasingly drinking isn’t seen as a big part of our culture with young people drinking less and a growing number of communities who don’t tend to drink in a big way. 

Given this, are scenes like that reflective of who we are as a nation in the 21st Century?  To their credit, ETNZ clearly didn’t invite the footage, as it wasn’t part of their official feed. Instead it was snuck out digitally by B list celebrity and socialite Gilda Kirkpatrick with another story coming from images lifted from ETNZ Instagram accounts. You can’t blame NZ Herald either for running it, sure to generate clicks and meet their KPIs. 

What this does highlight is the need in this day and age to police social media and phone use a bit more in private, as behind-the-scenes events can so easily result in scenes that may not carry that well in the public forum.

It’s important for all organisations, particularly those who are high profile or have some sort of national representation, to remember they’re always walking a tightrope between being professional and having a personality. From time to time it is good to position our role models as being people that others can relate to, “he’s just a regular bloke” as they can otherwise feel a bit sanitised. The difference is in control. Clearly in this situation the ETNZ celebrations making mainstream news wasn’t.

Another more positive observation from the America’s Cup, hats off to all media for coverage but in particular to ETNZ and their sponsors for an exemplar demonstration of sponsored channels.

As we are increasingly seeing big banks and some corporates doing here, they opted for an “in-house newsroom approach” recruiting broadcasters to beam exclusive footage out of Bermuda.

By bringing on very experienced yachting broadcasters Peter Lester and Martin Tasker, the sponsors and ETNZ were able to offer great value added with their insights as part of Vodafone segments on Facebook after each game. It provided a great way to control message and even break stories with the behind-the-scenes revelation that ETNZ’s boat damaged foils could have broken at any time during the finals. Nothing new in many ways, as we see the Blackcaps and the All Blacks providing their own footage.

By doing so, sponsors were able to highlight support and provide ETNZ with a chance to beam footage into New Zealand homes. This was a great illustration of the value of taking the bull by the horns, bypassing normal media channels and generating your own content.

If you’d like to discuss your use of video, social media and how you are managing your professional versus your personal persona, do get in touch with us at welcome@theclaritybusiness.co.nz

By Luke Henshall