The Distraction Strategy

I would argue there are some things you can teach and some things you cannot. I am still not convinced you can teach creativity for example, but you can certainly pass on how to be an appreciator and maybe that is the point here.

PR is a craft. At the heart of that craft are three muscles that must be trained and flexed on a daily basis. Listening, appreciation and curiosity. Now, more than ever, this world demands a concession to conversational instinct and that comes from a lifetime of building and nurturing relationships and of understanding human nuance. But then conversely, experience though of great value, all too often fails to change the world. What does change the world is open mindedness and a healthy dose of distraction! Imagine suggesting a module focusing on distraction should make the PR degree syllabus – and yet, being open to disjointed impressions is essential for creativity. And creativity is essential to great PR.

Many of us can get into the habit of believing that solving problems and creating solutions means bringing our minds to bear on them with discipline, thoughtful concentration and single-mindedness. I’m not sure this is completely true. Discipline, thoughtful concentration and myopic focus usually shut down creativity and drive it straight into reasonableness and logic, and whilst of course, logic certainly has its place and so do intense concentration, undistracted focus and attention to detail, they are best to come after the flip side of that has produced its magic. That magic, comes from limitless distractions and disjointedness to provoke appreciation, curiosity and imagination, in whichever sequence they occur to you.

Most businesses are growth obsessed and can only purport to be creatively driven. Most are repeat order service businesses, where originality and breakthroughs take too much time and don’t add up on the balance sheet.

A successful business or campaign now demands relationships are built on trust and based on an understanding of different demands and opinion. This is the first time in modern business when success or failure depends not on what you say nor even on what you produce, but who you are.

Be careful.

The way PR engages has changed and trust is key

Many of us have felt the shifting sands for some time but the Greenpeace, Lego and Shell narrative really does signal the last warning shot.

This world demands trust above all and, alongside that, the right people in positions of power who understand the pressures.

Traditional methodologies are no longer fit for purpose. A younger, more knowing generation cannot be moved in the same way as before.

Legacy industries have to touch the same consumers they once bought. Fifty years ago corporations could hide behind expensive public image campaigns. But now thanks to social media they actually need to connect properly.

This is the first time in modern business when success or failure depends not on what you say, nor even on what you produce, but on who you are.

In days gone by, trust was at best viewed as subsidiary to the all-pervasive focus on better sales and market share demanded by stakeholders.

In the current environment, the degree to which consumer trust influences decisions has never been higher and is clearly rising.

Yet, paradoxically, trust and transactions are independent variables. Only when you view them as such can you fully understand their relationship to true brand sustainability.

PR can no longer shape perceptions about a brand to the same extent because a brand is a conversation happening as much outside a company’s walls as within them.

So it is individual relationships that count. That said, businesses should avoid the tendency to use their increased social reach to try to ‘advertise’ their way out of that responsibility. Behaviour is on public display so customer interaction is an imperative.

Big corporations that have been weighed down by their responsibility to shareholders and legal straight-jackets must be able to rethink these bonds.

It is time to develop a new style of corporate leader and build something more resilient.

Fashioning a stunt

Textiles and fashion occupy a central position in the realm of material culture. Apart from fulfilling the basic human need for clothing and protection, textiles play important political, economic, and religious functions. Through variations of construction and patterning, cloth also has a great capacity for communication and serves as a significant site of personal and cultural identity. How we dress in particular is, by its very nature, one of the most visible of the arts.

Given the nature and role of textiles, it should therefore come as no surprise to discover that they can serve as powerful visual metaphors for all sorts sentiment and propaganda.

There’s a point. This week Karl Lagerfeld sent a parade of waifs down the runway brandishing placards for women’s rights (of a Barbie doll kind of flavour) Lagerfeld certainly knows how to pull off a stunt, but is this really the best fashion can do? Lagerfeld’s comment “I don’t ask myself political questions at that level” proved this was nothing more than his version of a model army.

Stunts are the fastest means to create indelible brand infamy. Some of them are put under the microscope and picked apart by media cynics, Chanel included, but the greatest stunts are those which nobody spots as stunts. Without careful thought the wrong stunt can diminish the impact of the message, and if it’s not backed up it’s not worth the newspaper inches it generates.

If you look back in history, fashion actually does have the power to make such changes: Coco Chanel herself emancipated women from the restrictive corsetry giving them freedom to move and work. This was nothing but a tongue in cheek swipe at the Parisian predilection for street protest, but one that millions are impressionable young women are willing to buy into…

War of the Words

The political banners under which we operate may be different, but the forces that drive our world are still the same. After many years enjoying comparative warmth and reconciliation following the fall of the USSR, the imperial eagle of Russia is narrowing the eyes of its Western head and turning once more towards the East.

This week, the New York Times reported that Russia is set to <> “limit foreign ownership of Russian media outlets to 20 percent, targeting several prominent publications critical of the government and extending the Kremlin’s control over the nation’s independent news media”. Russian lawmakers claim that the West has been using the media to attack the Russian government, particularly in light of the situation in the Ukraine.

Whilst this may seem like a political grizzly bearing its teeth at basic freedom of expression, there is an element of truth in the lawmakers’ claims. Media Land has been the frontier of many a Cold War, and the West is just as guilty of the manipulation and dissemination of meddlesome information or misinformation, as the East. A brilliant article in this week’s LRB by Frances Stonor Saunders entitled The Writer and the Valet <> provided an excellent exposé of the War of Words that took place during the last Cold War. Specifically, the article explored the theft and illegal circulation of Pasternak’s novel Dr Zhivago by Western political powers ranging from the BBC, MI6, the Vatican, and the CIA to attack Russia in a move dubbed Operation Dinosaur. It is evident that power structures in the West were also content with putting lives at risk in the crossfire of media jousting.

The Financial Times reports that <> “some executives believe the new rules may also be aimed at helping Gazprom Media, the country’s largest media holding, gain full control of radio station Ekho Moskvy, the lone liberal bastion on Russia’s airwaves”. The link to Gazprom Media is significant, as the giant has ties with Michael Maslov and Ketchum, the PR heavyweight behind Putin’s communications – whom we wrote about in 2013. <> CNBC wrote an interesting piece on their relationship this year <,d.ZGU> , too.

As Russia wraps her wings around herself once more, we can be sure that this War of Words will provide ample ground for the spreading of mischief on both sides of the world. Pasternak is just the tip of the iceberg.

Curiosity about what we don’t understand needs to exceed that which we do!

So Scotland has voted. All the hype, the rhetoric, propaganda, and social chatter boiled down to one thing. In the end the majority are still cautious and rather than embrace uncertainty and change (an opportunity some did in this case)  stick with the status quo. The crowd certainly has the power these days to change opinion and spin a media charge, but arguably only up to a point. The loudest voices aren’t always the pioneers and there is a big question around data, but that’s another blog altogether!

switch-off-your-brainAnyway, this is not a radical new thought. But it’s one I keep coming back to.

It’s the listeners, the doers, the seekers and the questioners that don’t sit with the status quo that make change happen. Yet in an ever changing media landscape it’s more and more impossible to allow for distraction and time out to reflect on new ideas and thinking.

Blinkered by habit and time pressures we glance around rather than look with acuity. Yet what we see and what we notice aren’t the same. CEO’s so often fail to step outside of their own echo chamber, so they fail to see the bigger picture or the legacy from the past. We shouldn’t write off what’s gone before, as taking experience forward is vital. But it must be done with an open mind. This means building cultures where mistakes are allowed.

For experience is based on repetition and rigidity.

In many cases when businesses hit a crisis point, either in communications or strategy, they call for an “expert”. After all there is no one more expert than an “expert!”. But an expert will see that your question gets answered as if it’s been answered many times before, and the resulting solution is actually more or less the same answer!

That is why a critical friend with an open mind is more vital than ever. There is no one answer these days or at least there is a wide picture to glean before the answer is arrived at. So someone who is not fooled by fashion, tamed by reason and trapped by experience is what a business should look for. Leaders are required to become masters of reaction which requires a wholly new mind-set and approach – one that embraces uncertainty, empathy and learning how to communicate in a way that can be engaged with. Everyone talks about disruption which is fine as long as you don’t paper an Emperor.

Successful campaigns and services are designed around compelling ideas, organisation and immaculate detail. A given of course.
But not easy to reach that point. Working with people who inspire new thinking allows us to go beyond where we are capable of getting to alone…

The Recipe

Identify the goal.
Capitalise on every channel.
Hook celebrity.
Keep it simple…
And fun!
Make it immediate.
Consider the power of viral multiplication.
Allow participants to feel good.
(Ensure its not really worthy.)
Indulge the emotional connection.
Sit back and watch it grow.

ALS. It doesn’t matter if it’s not new. Kudos!

Mark’s lively and informative talks, speeches and panel appearances offer provocative perspectives on the past, present and future of communications. Why not extend an invitation?

markSL 240

In his talks he draws on the analytical, advisory and creative work of the company, which places it at the heart of debate and developments concerning consumers, communication and technology. But he also draws on his 30 years’ practical experience as a publicist. 30 years during which he has earned a reputation as one of the most free-thinking, innovative and challenging practitioners of the art of consumer communications.

Please e-mail to inquire about possible speaking opportunities.