Brian Edwards Media

Some free media advice for Dean Barker: Ditch the sad-sack look!

 Dean Barker

I read that my friends and esteemed colleagues in the media-training business, Bill Ralston and Janet Wilson, have been employed, in media guru John Drinnan’s words, “to handle the Barker overboard debacle”. Drinnan notes that Janet “recently completed two videos on the Team NZ Facebook page, and interviewed Grant Dalton about what blows his spinnaker.”

He goes on: “But methinks much more will be needed before he has a warm and cuddly image like Spot the Dog.”

I disagree. The last thing a Team New Zealand Manager needs is “a warm and cuddly image”. Quite the reverse. Ambition, strength, drive, determination and perhaps a degree of ruthlessness might be more appropriate, and my impression is that Dalton has those qualities in spades.

Nor do I find too much wrong with his image: amiable, firm, no-nonsense, a man willing to compromise but unwilling to yield on the core issue, in this case Barker’s fitness to lead New Zealand to victory in the next America’s Cup.

Dalton has spine. 

If there is a PR job to be done at the moment it’s not for Grant Dalton but for Dean Barker.

We’re pretty loyal to our sporting heroes in  Godzone and, despite taking New Zealand from a seemingly unloseable  position to a humiliating defeat in the last Cup, Barker has continued to enjoy considerable public support. His unceremonious and appallingly handled dumping as skipper has gained him a lot of sympathy.

But sympathy is a finite commodity and Barker is in danger of exhausting his quota. If I see one more TV interview with the former Team NZ skipper bemoaning his fate, I may well put a gun to my own head.

These poor-me, sad-sack, edge-of tears performances are undermining rather than supporting any claim that Barker might have had to keep his job. He looks and sounds pathetic. Though I loathe the expression with every fibre in my body, I find myself thinking, “Man up!”

It’s an unworthy thought. My guess is that Barker is deeply depressed. And his depression is understandable. Something very precious to him has been taken away, something that went to the very core of his identity and self-respect.

But Barker isn’t going to get his job back and he needs physically and emotionally to walk away.

I’m not entirely sure whether media training is the answer, but in the sense that Barker’s media appearances are, in my submission, damaging rather than enhancing his image and reputation, it might just help?

If Judy and I were running the show we would probably suggest replacing the “poor me” image with a bit of good old fashioned rage, a healthy outburst of venom directed against the disloyal, dishonest, dissembling bastards who did this to me. Feels better, looks better, preserves your self-respect!

Psychologists call this a “racket emotion”, “racket” in the dishonest sense – not what you’re really feeling but, personally and publicly, a more palatable version. I say, “Whatever works!”

I know what you’re thinking – this is a pitch for a job. It isn’t. But I’ll admit the challenge of converting Dean Barker back from “sad-sack loser” to “Captain Courageous” is really, really appealing.

Someone has to – for his sake.

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  1. “Psychologists call this a “racket emotion”, “racket” in the dishonest sense – not what you’re really feeling but, personally and publicly, a more palatable version. I say, “Whatever works!””

    Brian, I always thought you advocated honesty when dealing with the media.

    • Well, I’m obviously not suggesting that he tells any lies. He may not be comfortable with showing anger, but I’m bloody sure he feels anger as well as hurt. I’m simply suggesting that letting the anger out may be more therapeutic and, in the end, more rewarding, than crying into one’s beer.

      That’s the patient, reasonable response to your comment.

      Here’s what’s really going on:

      I’m sick to the back teeth of nitpickers like you who can’t be bothered with the central theme of a post but have to nitpick their way through it, to find some piddling, perceived, inconsistency.

      Anger is MY racket emotion when I’m feeling hurt.

      And just in case you missed it, the “more palatable version” does not mean more palatable to the public, but more comfortable for him.

      Phew, that feels better!

  2. Wars are not just won by brawn Brian, they are almost always won by superior brains. And you almost never find brawn and brains, in the same package, and certainly not in a young head. When you do it is an instant inspiration to all who follow.
    Dean Barker is a young man who was exposed to the ways of war, way to young, by people who don’t have the first clue as to what constitutes a real leader of me in battle (sport is how men play war in times of peace. The requirements are exactly the same).
    His smile and massive talent will flower once again, as soon as he leaves the source of his pain, New Zealand. So many have left for exactly the same reason and done incredibly well once free of their small town shackles. (Russell Coutts did rather well). I wish him the greatest of success because I am 100% sure that he will flower hugely, once he is free of his so called ‘peers’ (I use that last term completely tongue in cheek).
    Kiwis are valued overseas by exactly the ‘look’ he espouses. Our eyes and mood can go from sensitive to absolute steely resolve in the blink of an eye, and those are the exactly the abilities and insight that make us valued around this world.
    So, on this one. I beg to differ.
    NZ may well find that we have just made an very serious foe on the mens playground that is international sailing.
    And good on him if he does.

    • I wish him well too. And he’s already had huge international success. But he was the skipper who took his team from near certain victory to an embarrassing defeat. These things have consequences. I’m simply saying that he isn’t dealing with those consequences very well. The mourning period is well and truly over. You know what they say, “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” He has two options now. Swallow his pride and accept the job Dalton has offered. (probably too late now) Or join another team and win the cup for them. That would at least be bitter-sweet.

      • At the most critical point in the racing, it was Daltons call behind Deans back to grant Oracle a lay day (to allow TMZ sponsers to arrive???), and that was when the cup was lost.
        The loss was Daltons fault, not Deans.

        • Well, I’m probably too uninformed on these matters, to debate that point. But Dalton isn’t behaving like Barker. I certainly don’t want to see him wallowing in self-pity. And I don’t expect to.

    • 2.2

      No sane person “plays” at war. Attempts to repurpose the likes of Sun Tzu for business or sporting purposes are misguided and comically grotesque.

  3. Once again Brian I find myself agreeing with you. The sacking of Dean Barker was handled extremely poorly by TNZ and Grant Dalton in particular. Many of us who’ve “had the sack” can empathise with what Dean is going through. Fortunately for most of us we haven’t had to endure it being played out in the media. However there’s no doubt at some stage one has to “man up” as you say and get on with living. You’ve given good advice. I hope he takes it for his sake.

  4. The thing is the AC is not so much a ‘sport’ but war. Dean Barker is a very likeable guy and a mild mannered sportsman. He is more suited to match racing and international sailing regattas.

    The history of the AC is littered with skulduggery on and off the water. This has always been the attraction of the AC, for the billionaire competitors and spectators alike and should be left as the ultimate no holds barred nautical challenge. The fastest boat with the smartest legal team always wins.

    Peter Blake and Alan Sefton understood this about the AC and the creation of Team NZ in 1993 was a unique weapon that proved its potency in 1995 by winning the AC. The same force defended the AC in 2000 then disintegrated as the main driving force’s departed.

    The AC is not for the faint of heart and NZ needs either a new weapon or a complete overhaul and reshaping of the old one.

    • 4.1

      That’s a new side to you, Kat. Good analysis.

      • Its that sort of comment, Alan, that makes you such a likely sparring partner.


          I’ve always noted you are one of the rare Lefties who can sustain a debate with some wit and without resorting to mindless ad hominems, Kat.

          I’m sure we could entertain each other over a coffee or a cold one.

          • And here was I thinking all this time you were the rare breed Alan, just shows to go how right us “lefties” can be.

  5. There are two types of Americas Cup yachtsmen:

    Those who have been fired, and those who will be.

    There are two types of Americas Cup syndicates heads:

    Those who do what it takes to keep their job irrespective of the results, and those who are fired.

    The Barker-Paul Henry interview last year was interesting. In hindsight it was almost certainly Barker who fed the questions in advance to Henry so he could throw Dalton under the bus – while appearing to dissemble – in the hope that public outrage would lessen Dalton’s power off the water.

    It is now evident Barker lost that contest too.

    • Hmmm. I didn’t see the interview you’re referring to. But I’d be surprised (and disappointed) if Barker “fed the questions in advance to Henry so he could throw Dalton under the bus”. Like most people I have a love-hate relationship with Henry – the very secret of his success – but I’ve never doubted his professionalism, which includes fairly presenting both sides of the story.


        I didn’t know it would be unprofessional to ask pre-agreed questions, especially if it was to bring facts to the public attantion that would otherwise remain hidden. But I defer to your experience.

        • I’d distinguish between an agreement as to what the question areas in an interview would cover and agreement on what questions were going to be asked. Most of us like to think that the interviews we see and hear on TV or radio are unrehearsed. This should certainly be the case in the areas of news and current affairs. An interview about dog grooming or how to make waffles would be an entirely different matter.

          • OK.

            The reason I reached that conclusion was this was essentially Barker’s first extended public port-mortem interview, and the first time many of the issues such as lay days etc., was officially confirmed by anyone within the camp.

            Also, there was a “we are all a team…but yeah, Grant Dalton made that decision” quality about it. Sort of like how the “Truth” used to frame its stories back in the 1960s by the faux moral outrage of “Mothers – learn how young people are running rampant, and make sure your daughter doesn’t do the same”, and then proceeded to give lurid details.

            The timing of the interview was also interesting – some five months after the loss, and at a time when the Team NZ internal review was going to take place. Why would Barker agree to be interviewed out-of-the-blue by Paul Henry of all people, if not to use it as a platform to weaken Dalton and strengthen his own position in the review. Henry’s scoop came out of nowhere – it was one of the few ‘serious’ things he did all year. So why did barker turn up? Cui bono.

            I don’t usually do plot theories, but this one seemed a bit too obvious.

  6. The AC thing is just a load of spoiled rich brats sucking on the public tit and I view the whole fracas the same way I would a pack of dogs fighting in the street: an entertaining spectacle but really nothing to do with me.
    Except, of course, that my taxes are funding it.
    I hope the scrap goes on and on; at least I’ll get something for my money.

    • Curiously, I find few things less entertaining than the television coverage of the America’s Cup. The trouble is that the canvas is much too large, forcing broadcasters to use Ian Taylor’s wonderful digital technology for most of the race just to give us an idea of the relative positions of the yachts, who is ahead of whom and by how far. There are moments of great visual drama, primarily as competing yachts in close proximity change direction, but for the most part it’s big-picture, long-range tedium. I’d rather watch international netball. Now that’s breathtaking stuff!

      • 6.1.1

        It’s not the racing I find entertaining, as you say most of it’s computer graphics. Now there’s a thought! The whole thing could be done in CGI; no real boats at all. Think how much taxpayer’s money we’d save.
        Let’s keep the scrapping , though. Now that IS entertaining.

  7. Oh Mr Barker we implore/ You go away and speak no more/ Or if that burden prove too great/ Just go away at any rate

    There must be almost nothing more boring in the world than the doings surrounding the Americas Cup (possibly only exceeded in that regard by the David Bain compensation issue)

  8. Don’t disagree with your view on Barker – who has taken on a Princess Di persona. As for Dalton – he will of course have a say in how that strategy is handled.My point on communications strategy was that the Team NZ enterprise has come across as dysfunctional for a long period and that surely reflects on whether public money she be ploughed into it.
    Toyota NZ is still questioning whether to support Team NZ – though it will have its own commercial criteria – no doubt.

  9. Reminds me of when Brash knifed Hide in the back. In the joint press conference Hide was studiously polite and woebegone when I (and I imagine others) longed for him to plant one on Brash’s nose.

    What’s with the CAPTHA. Are you trying to weed out the mathematically challenged?

    • Hi Ben. A new version of Word Press has this feature. I’ve removed the plugin responsible. Mind you, the maths weren’t all that difficult. Annoying though, I agree. Let me know if the issue persists.

  10. 10

    Jasperdene Harmonious

    Dean Barker and John Kirwan have something in common: Nice guys but not winners.

    (Hey, how come you didn’t warn us that we now need a calculator at the ready to submit the comment?)

    • BE is probably counting on that little quiz to screen out the ‘Rightie’ oily types who usually fail at simple maths and economics.

      • 10.1.1

        Admire your brazen effrontery, Kat, but your average Lefty journalist is innumerate and has never heard of opportunity cost while the Greenies have never met an economic conclusion they liked.

        • Alan, what about the average righty journalist, do they exist even, or is the fourth estate entirely the domain of socialist scribes. Can’t imagine Henry or Plunket in cheese cutters though, can you.


            There are a handful outside of NBR, Kat. Strangely enough Hosking and Plunkett are now regarded as hard right having graduated from Lefty National Radio’s Moaning Report. Apart from Hide and O’Sullivan only Roughan sometimes opposes the Left on the Horrid. On Fairfax I can only think of Karl du Fresne. Henry is hardly serious is he?