Mark Cavendish media management
Mark Cavendish provokes a strong reaction in everyone, from fans to journalists. By turns witty and a PR nightmare, he’s rarely dull
Freshly minted Rio Olympic medallist Mark Cavendish has some clout. On or off the bike, Mark Cavendish is a personality, in every sense of that word. The record-breaking roadman sprinter has presence, he carries clout and he knows that most print-based media need him more than he needs them. The mainstream television – whether TF1, ITV or RAI – will almost always get the best of Cavendish and the Giro loves him and his enthusiastic efforts in Italian. The French, particularly TF1 host Gerard Holtz, are besotted with ‘Cavenditsch’ too. In the media pecking order, magazines are clustered around the base of the pyramid of his needs, print jostles with the rest of the bottom feeders, recycling the crumbs of press-release quotes.
Five minutes before my scheduled interview slot with Cavendish – promoting his latest book, ‘At Speed’ – I bump into an experienced cycling journalist who has just finished his allotted 30 minutes with Cavendish.
“I hope he’s in a better mood with you than he was with me, he was almost monosyllabic at times,” said the journo as he headed out.
The press officer for Random House, the publishers of the book, collected me from the holding pen.
‘How many interviews has he done so far?’ I inquire, as casually as I can.
“Um…you’re his fifth and he’s got one more to go after you,” says the publicist, “he’s been here all day.”
“How is he?”
“Well…the last one was a bit strained, it was a bit strange, but he’s OK.”
The boardroom is occupied by Cavendish’s manager, Simon Bayliff, and two publicists from Random House and, of course, by Cavendish, who sits apart, with the ‘support’ staff at the other end of the table. I have 30 minutes.
The opening questions go OK. I ask about the book before trying some broader themes.
Do you recognise yourself in the media, the stuff you read?
“Yeah, there’s some things that get written are wrong, but do you know who the worst is for not ‘getting’ me? It’s cycling magazines. Like, I stopped reading them. I don’t know whether or not they have stopped catering for cycling fans or, I don’t know, but they are the people who don’t get it right.”
You mean globally though, not just the UK mags?
“No, British mags.”
What is it you think they get wrong?
“Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think anyone is out to nail me. They are preconceived perceptions, you walked in here pretty gingerly you know what I mean, like you were waiting for me to bite. I’m not like that, if you start asking, doesn’t matter if it’s my fifth interview or what, if you haven’t done your homework and you start asking things like a dickhead then I’ll snap at you, you know what I mean? If you ask intelligent questions you’ll get intelligent responses.”
I have a flashback to the 1991 Nissan Classic. After a long solo break on a grim, soggy day on Irish dual ‘cabbageways’, Robert Millar is caught and dropped. After the finish, as he is toweling off beside the Z team car, I ask him if it was a serious move. Millar fixes me with a death glare. ‘You’re not going to start asking stupid questions are you?’ he growls. Lesson learned. Fast forward 22 years to Cavendish in a swish London boardroom.
“If you ask a difficult question that’s fair enough, but if you ask an uneducated question then I don’t think that’s very professional, if I’m doing my job professionally, then so should the person doing the interview, it’s as simple as that, there should be mutual respect.”
Is that partly down to the new popularity and profile of cycling?
“I think that’s what frustrates me about cycling mags so much, that they write with so much conviction, as if the person was a pro and they know what they are on about, but they actually don’t. I think that’s the thing, not just professionally, but about me as a person, and it’s sometimes it’s just so far wrong, but it’s written with such conviction that’s the frustrating thing and for sure more people are reading that stuff, because of the growing popularity, there are more new people who want to know stuff.”
But the ‘fact’ that I’ve had a bad season this year is written with such conviction that it’s frustrating. So I don’t fucking read it no more…only since this year to be fair. Forums I stopped reading years ago, but it’s only this year I stopped reading cycling magazines. When you stop reading that stuff, it… just doesn’t matter anymore.”
The recorder on my phone shows 27-56 as the publicist says, ‘It’s probably time for the last question now I think.”
OK, it’s shit or bust time.
What’s your favourite colour Mark?
Kenny Pryde, November 20, 2013
(Pic by Thomas van Bracht)