Managing the media
Gerald de Kock was one peeved communications officer. A prominent local newspaper had published a picture of Graeme Smith's girlfriend with a caption. The problem was, she wasn't his girlfriend, but his manager. It was a rare error by an Indian media obsessed with the wives and girlfriends of the South African squad, but it had to be fixed. It was another day in the life of de Kock.
de Kock was involved in South African sport for 17 years as a radio broadcaster. Then, one day, after years of being a regular at Wimbledon, Roland Garros, cricket World Cups and numerous Olympics, the opportunity to be the media liaison for the South African cricket team arose.
Every day, he monitors anything and everything said and written about South African cricket around the globe. "During the game I have to gauge the pulse of the media box and, based on the chief talk of the day, I warn the players about certain points. I don't tell them what to say, I just need to let them be aware of things."
For instance, a big match-fixing ring was busted recently, and a gang of six bookies was charged with the intention of fixing the first Test at Kanpur. The players had no clue about it. de Kock silenced all rumours by stating, "It was news to us when we saw the story in the newspapers. As far as we are concerned it is a matter being handled by the local authorities and we have nothing to do with it." Clear, precise communication to cut down speculation.
de Kock laments the lack of trust between the players and the media. He feels that when South Africa returned to international cricket in 1991 there was mutual trust between the players and the media. "Both could trust each other - the player could talk off the record and still trust the journalist." But not too long afterwards, intense competition between media men resulted in that trust being breached, making the players more cautious.
"In each country the relationship between the player and the media is different. Some are close while [in other places] there is a gulf which can't develop that trust. The trust has steadily dissipated," de Kock says, "as there is a lot of competition now."
He understands and agrees that both sides need each other. "The media needs the game to keep their jobs, and the game needs the media to get the money."
de Kock has toured every Test-playing nation, apart from Australia, with the team. Of the lot, he says, England had the best media set-up, which made his job as a media manager easier. But when Smith hit two double-hundreds on the trot in 2003, the job was anything but easy. "Graeme Smith had scored those back-to-back double-centuries at Edgbaston and Lord's and there was this barrage of media requests every minute. I had lost my privacy." There were dozens of calls at all times of the day, and sleep suddenly became a rare commodity.
Having played as an amateur in the Birmingham leagues, de Kock says that watching the game becomes monotonous at times, but the same cannot be said about his job. "Every day is a new one." Especially during home series, where he needs to make sure that the media are catered for. "During the home series I am not just a media manager, I have to look after the media and make sure that they are satisfied not only with their reporting requests but [are also kept] happy by providing them with good facilities."
His experience in the media has helped him deal with it in this new role. But he has to maintain a very fine balance, and find the middle ground. "I am always in the middle where the media sees you as the enormously high barrier, whereas players feel you are a low barrier. I am not there to keep anyone happy but to facilitate, to make sure that there is access and communication on both sides."
Still, how did he handle the error about Smith's girlfriend? Were there frayed tempers, shredded newsprint, or anything dramatic? "I spoke to both Graeme and Minki and both of them are fine. They laughed off the report." An anticlimactic outcome, but one a media manager could count as a minor success.