Island Life by David Slack

You can quote me on that

Cameron Brewer appears to cleave to that hoary old PR creed: don't worry what the media might write about you, just make sure they spell your name right. On that basis, he should be happy enough with the results of his efforts this week on behalf of the Newmarket Business Association.

Sideswipe took some pleasure in telling Herald readers that he had generously supplied the paper - for its 'exclusive' use - "unsolicited pap quotes to insert into our coverage of Bill Clinton's visit, just in case the former President buys some socks in Newmarket".

Of course they were too good not to share:

1. "America has a special place in Newmarket's heart and unlike Winston Peters we would love the opportunity to show Bill Clinton our appreciation for his country's role in the Pacific," said Cameron Brewer, head of the Newmarket Business Association.

2. "We would love to get the stars and stripes back out on Broadway. Newmarket is the spiritual ground for any visiting American."

Some may sneer, or scoff, or chuckle, but I think this is admirable work. Don't the economists keep telling us we need to improve our productivity?

Just tell me this, Mr or Ms News Editor: isn't it a lot more efficient to have little quotes all filed away and ready to go at a moment's notice?

Newsrooms must strike a man of such tidy thought as Cameron Brewer as great sprawling empires of inefficiency. The only thing they write in advance are obituaries, and even those they tremble about because of the risk that the thing will inadvertently get run while the subject is still up and active and on the golf course, and tributes have not even begun to trickle, let alone flow. (Where, incidentally, do these tributes flow, precisely? Can a mourner gather with other admirers along a street or outside wrought iron gates in Princess Diana fashion and sob together as the tributes flow past?)

But back to productivity.

Our public figures are pretty predictable in their public utterances. Our Prime Minister's response to any scandal has two templates: I can't comment on that while the investigation is in progress and: the matter has been thoroughly investigated and I've moved on. Name a public figure, pick an issue and you can predict their script without very much difficulty.

So I offer this notion to an enterprising reporter fresh out of the 14 dozen or so tertiary institutions now preparing young New Zealanders for a fabulous career in journalism, or more precisely, the faint glimmer of hope of one day getting to wear one of Kate Hawkesby's frocks and read the late night news.

What I have to offer is guaranteed to make you stand out from the pack. First, you need to make a list of the all the likely big events of the next year or so: Bird Flu Mutates, US Invades Iraq, Democrats Win Midterms- Bush Impeachment Underway, Oil $125 A Barrel, that kind of thing.

Then all you have to do is work up a portfolio of predictable quotes by all the usual figures, and tuck them away ready to use the moment the story breaks.

Let's try an example. Let's say we want quotes from all the usual suspects on the second coming of Christ. You just need a couple of lines each.

Helen Clark: We will make Mr Christ very welcome on his visit to New Zealand, and if he is able to join me on a tour of our film and TV locations I am sure he will soon be telling the rest of the world: "Morningside forever!"

Don Brash: It is of course a not inconsiderable matter of pride that a celestial eminence as notable as Jesus Christ should be coming to New Zealand. But it would be quite wrong of me not to point out that he will be spending twice as long in Australia. What future can we possibly hope to offer our grandchildren when the gulf between our two countries continues to widen?

John Banks: That's not him.

Tim Shadbolt: I told you we'd get him to Invercargill. Do you want another picture of us shoveling the builders mix?

Phil O'Reilly: I simply remind people that if we had lower taxes he might actually feel like staying here.

Wendyl Nissen: Do you notice how he keeps changing the subject when you ask him about his mother?

Ian Johnstone: What a great shame we couldn't have seen him on Gallery. Brian Edwards would have asked him much better questions than Susan Wood did.

And so on. It couldn't be easier. Close your eyes, think of what they'd say, then write it. In just an hour or so, you'll have all the material you'll need. In conservative and unenlightened circles, this is otherwise known as making shit up. And the odd journalist has lately got himself in trouble for doing it. But the mistake those reporters made was in trying too hard. They made the quotes too colourful.

You need to follow the work of a master, and Cameron Brewer has shown you the way. If you make the phrases as bland and predictable and anodyne as possible, no-one will spot the difference. It will read as though it has been through the proper blood-draining channel of spin and polish, and you will be welcomed as a go-getter who can pull the quotes before anyone else has even hit the speed dial.

Must stop now. I'm late for an interview with Rupert Murdoch. Later, I'll be having lunch with Kerry Packer.