You always know how busy or important a minister is by his willingness to take your calls. (Unless you are The New York Times or The Economist, or one of the other top publications, as I referred to in this earlier post.)

I managed to snag an interview with the Energy Minister by phone earlier this month for this Christian Science Monitor piece. I was surprised he had the time but then I realized this is a guy who’s been in office only a few weeks.

His predecessor resigned to run for some other office in October, as is common in election years in Brazil, and the new man is essentially a stopgap. Appearing in the press is probably not a bad move for him.

The real issue here, though, is the incredibly irritating one of hierarchy in Brazil. When you call a Brazilian ministry, organization, company, or whatever, more often than not the only person authorised to speak to the press is the top man. Even if you just want some basic quotes and information. In Brazil, there is nothing in between an interview with the head honcho or information grabbed from the official web site.

It’s absurd because more often than not any mid-level official can answer questions and in many cases they can answer them better than their superior. The important thing is that the person knows what he is talking about and can be quoted

But this is a hierarchical nation and the big cheese is the big cheese. He wants you to know he is the big cheese.

The answer to this of course is to hire press officers who know the company they represent and are authorised to speak on their behalf. A good example is Embraer, who have the most knowledgeable and efficient press officers I’ve ever had the pleasure of dealing with.

But the vast majority of assessores de imprensa, as they are known in Brazil, are outside hires and serve only as a bridge between reporter and organization. They don’t know anything about their employers.

The result is that companies get no press at all. Which might be exactly what they want.