Opinion: Perspective - Spreading of French story is a true sign of times

There's been far too much written already about the Neil French debacle (the entire front page of the Evening Standard? The editor should be shot). See opposite for yet more debate. Yes, French is a fool, and, yes, so is anyone who spends too long analysing his comments.

My two penn'orth: thankfully, the dinosaurs are dying out; sadly, it is the dinosaurs that have brought so much colour and personality to the ad business. The future will be a blander but more politically correct place. Heck, you can't have everything.

Anyway, it's the nature of the story's momentum that really deserves some exploration. Usually when you give a speech to a select group of your industry peers, you can be pretty sure it is the networking and the quality of the wine and canapes that will linger in the mind. If people actually listen to what you've got to say, that's a bonus; if they manage to remember any of it word for word, that's verging on the miraculous.

So not surprisingly, by the end of last week, French's employer, WPP, was still desperately trying to find a transcript or film of the speech to find out what actually happened. Meanwhile, thanks to the internet, the story had taken on a life - and truth - of its own: blog as God.

When Nancy Vonk attacked French's supposed comments on her blog, she rocketed his speech to the top of the media agenda. The humble blog - by its very nature a strictly personal opinion - dictated television, radio and press coverage for days. And as a result, Vonk has become a familiar name to media junkies everywhere. Meanwhile, French has become equally infamous, with a plethora of book deals and new jobs being waved under his nose as a result. If the whole thing had been a publicity stunt conjured up by a WPP-weary French and a fame-hungry Vonk, it couldn't have worked more sweetly.

And as proof of the power of the individual to create news, it is a wonderful illustration of how new technology has turned us all into journalists and editors. You saw it with the 7 July bombings: mobile phone pictures taken by ordinary punters at the scene became the news. In fact, it got to the point where you didn't even need the regular news media: you could often get a more accurate picture by going online, reading the blogs, looking at the mobile pictures posted on the web. Not only were the mainstream media playing catch-up, they were relying heavily on these man-in-the-street journos for their material.

Of course, there's also something crazy about the traditional media, with all their supposed emphasis on independence and rigorous reporting, taking their lead from the opportunistic observer. On the other hand, we're now getting a much richer picture of the world around us as a result.

But for advertisers, this is one media phenomenon that's hard to harness.

As the French drama proves, you can never be sure where the story's going to come from, how big it's going to get, or even if it's actually true.

And by the time you've worked it out, the world has moved on.

Over the past few weeks, 80 of the ad industry's youngsters have been sweating away on the Nabs Fast Forward course, designed as an all-round introduction to integrated adland. The idea is to get them into teams to answer a brief, pitch their ideas and try to win a fictional ad account. There can be few better introductions to the challenges and rigours of the ad business.

But what's really great about this course is the participation of so many senior people in the business as mentors, speakers and judges; the delegates on this year's programme have had access to some of the most passionate and inspirational minds in the industry. If there's one thing advertising is good at, it's the selfless willingness to help others.

Nabs must take much credit for fostering that spirit.

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