Every office needs a devil’s advocate

pg-38-rob-lowe-1-wttv“I would rather be a devil in alliance with truth, than an angel in alliance with falsehood.”
― Ludwig FeuerbachThe Essence of Christianity

Sky One’s new comedy drama, “You, Me and the Apocalypse” gives a starring role to Rob Lowe as the Devil’s Advocate.

What a job, I mean the actual job.  I hadn’t realised until watching the show that this was a real job at the Vatican in Rome. For nearly four hundred years, from 1587 until 1983 it was the role of this man to pick holes in the evidence for canonisation of saints, and to look for real proof of any miracles.   Guess what happened when the role was reduced in influence by Pope John Paul 11?  Nearly 400 more saints confirmed during his quarter of a century of popedom, than all of the other 20th century popes’ terms of office put together.

Look round your office.  Where does your devil’s advocate sit?  If you don’t have one, then start to worry.  There will undoubtedly be too much belief in “advertising miracles” and too many people placed on pedestals on the way to media sainthood for the longterm health of the organisation.

The analytics teams can be a good place to find devil’s advocates.  Experts trained in examining the empirical evidence of the success of the communications plan to allow the truth to emerge from neophilia and gut feel.

More than once I’ve turned to them to provide evidence to argue against prejudices that still abound.  Is daytime TV worth it for anyone under 70?  Is there any point in advertising in the summer? If we do a cut down of the ad will it lose all its brand effect? (Yes, Yes, No).  They need their own devil’s advocates too though, don’t let them optimise you into a sub-optimal situation where nothing new gets through because it is unproven.

Most people I know would hesitate to act on the advice of an astrologer or a tarot card reader without taking a reality check.  We don’t believe in the stars or the signs like we used to do.  We do like to follow the Herd however, as Mark Earls puts it.  There are times then when claims made on a media conference platform or by those talking loudly in media hangouts sway media people to ditch an unfashionable medium at the expense of one that may be unproven but is on trend.

Don’t believe the hype then without questioning it.  That includes the hype about the people around you.  Building a reputation is a crucial part of building a career in our industry.  In some instances it can be at the expense of other arguably more crucial characteristics.  Can you think of anyone you know who is a bit shaky in some areas of being a media practitioner, whilst having a superb reputation for networking?  The kindest thing that you could do for them is to be their devil’s advocate and to have a quiet word.  Even the starriest amongst us need truth told otherwise they run the risk of believing their own hype.

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