Archive for December, 2012

Never Mind the Mayans, Here’s the Apocalypse

Whether or not the Apocalypse is approaching this Friday is speculation that I will leave to the Mayans. As life flashes past us, however, the approaching end of year provides a good opportunity to contemplate the changes that have happened in our world over the course of this past year and some of the PR dilemmas generated by a tsunami of negative memes.

As we have been quaffing the dregs of the Diamond Jubilee and delighting in the now-distant memory of the success of Team GB, a strange transformation has been taking place in the celebrity sphere. Celebrity culture has been punctured by the Post-Savilegate Twitter Trials that now drive the media agenda.

Whether we are looking at the names of those implicated in Operation Yewtree or Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell’s scuff with the Metropolitan Police, it is the ire of the crowd that has dictated, and continues to dictate the narrative – and in some cases – the outcome of the story. Where the old vanguard festers in its own corruption, there is growth, but not of the kind we might anticipate.

Where the post-World War Two working class would turn to professions such as boxing, football or music to seek fame upon the Yellow Brick Road, in recent decades we have seen the emergence of people seeking fame for fame’s sake. The value of culture has been undermined by a sugar rush driven by ten years’ worth of reality TV. Further proof of this generational lust for fame and overarching cultural shift came in the form of an interview earlier this week with Rylan Clark, the X Factor’s latest pantomime Dame. In Rylan’s words, “I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to be famous. I didn’t know what I wanted to be famous for. I didn’t care. It was about being, not doing.”

But reality TV and Twitter cannot produce the kind of culture we export around the world. As luminaries argue over the future of the Arts post eBacc, they miss the point. The first question we should be asking is why this type of culture has slid so far down our list of priorities. I can point to one word: ‘elite’.

The word ‘elite’ has become a political power word that plays upon British class sensibilities. What we forget is that the word is not always about exclusivity, but about quality – and the UK is in possession of a cultural elite of which it should be proud.

The daring production and creativity showcased in the Olympic opening ceremony was a brilliant example of this, showing that a risky idea could reinvigorate the nation. It reminded us of just what Brand Britain has to offer in terms of quality of thought across all disciplines. Writing about the event, Frank Cottrell-Boyce reminded us of GK Chesterton’s old adage: “The world shall perish not for lack of wonders, but for lack of wonder.”

I fear that this prophecy might be the actual Apocalypse we are awaiting. While we laud the efforts of our artists and thinkers at a time when the world’s eyes are upon us, we have failed to create the right circumstances to sustain this creativity in the future. The likes of Danny Boyle were supported by a subsidised sector and institutions that many would now consider ‘elitist’.

The fact that these institutions have failed to defend themselves from such criticisms is a PR disaster not only for these institutions, but ultimately, for all creatives and potential creators of culture that we celebrated this year.

Our EU neighbours don’t appear to suffer from the same problem although they too are feeling the bite of the downturn. Where Angela Merkel is frequently seen at the opera and Germany has increased Arts spending by 8 per cent despite spending cuts, in the UK we continue to peel and pare the Arts out of existence.

While we may be able to reduce Shakespeare to 140 characters, we could never get Shakespeare from 140 characters, and though we may enjoy Rylan’s exploits, I don’t think he could get close to igniting the nation in the way Danny Boyle did.

If I could have one Christmas wish, it would be for our politicians to stop being too embarrassed to stand by culture and support it for fear of being branded ‘elitist’. The Arts are for everyone, and nothing embodies this better than the volunteers who worked tirelessly to create the opening ceremony this summer. Unlike the ultra-ambitious fame junkies like Rylan Clark (though he too has his place), they were not chasing Fame for Fame’s Sake, but Art for Art’s sake: for the people, to be shared by all.

In a world driven by the Twitterati, I can only hope that we start to see some real support for – and investment in – the Arts. If we run away from away from our cultural heritage, what will be left to export? Financial services? Well, we’ve seen where that’s got us.

The most challenging PR brief for 2013 will be how to rehabilitate elite culture and save it from damnation.

Harnessing the Girl Power: Social Media’s Impact on the Theatre Crowd

Last night, I went to see Viva Forever with Krista Madden, the lady behind the highly influential Handpicked Media network. It corrals the best digital talent, from a hemisphere of independent networks of fashion, beauty, and lifestyle blogs.

These are the people that grew up with the Spice Girls. In their youth, they lived and breathed Union Jack dresses, platform trainers and girl power V signs. I asked her to pop along to see if she thought the show connected to the generation that was touched by Girl Power.

Krista tweeted after the show: @Beautyanthedirt: Anyone who didn’t want to get up and dance at the end of that is dead inside #vivaforever – happiest audience I’ve even seen!

Ever the man looking for a chance to promote a brilliant meme I retweeted the response to the show. It wasn’t long before some old dinosaur from ad land counter tweeted a wretched broadsheet review of the show. He’d read the review, and concluded the show probably wasn’t for him. He was probably right- he certainly wasn’t the target demographic. But the exchange served to illustrate a truth about how audiences engage with theatre in the 21st Century.

The forces of new media and the accelerators which now motivate the crowd for a show like this are not necessarily swayed by print media. The broadsheets, who would once have made or broken a show of this nature, no longer maintain their grasp on the fortunes of the West End. Productions like Viva have the power to transcend the star rating system and connect directly with the fans that hunger for them. Just look at We Will Rock You- still going strong more than a decade after being pretty universally panned by the crits. The 21st century enables theatre goers to express their delight in an ecosystem of conversation and influence.

I embrace the energy of the Now Economy, but I am no digital evangelist. Old and new are symbiotic, and we should avoid throwing out babies with the bathwater. Traditional media still has a hugely significant role to play. But leave the dancing in the aisles to those who really do want to spice up their life.

The Royals Must Not Let Their Zygote Be Seized by the PR Zeitgeist

The only thing more nauseating than morning sickness has to be the wearisome and banal Royal baby chatter that has been assaulting my senses this week.

It hasn’t just been politicians and celebrities clamouring over crowds of well-wishers to be the first to congratulate the Royal couple; the pranksters are back in town and have broadcast news of the microscopic monarch quite literally around the world.

Even Prince Charles ran with the antipodean caper, quipping that he might in fact be a radio station when stopped by inquisitive journalists on Thursday.

Rest assured that this is a very early present for the PR industry. PRs will be peddling their wares and attaching products and brand events onto the media charabang at every opportunity. Sales speak stronger than sentiment, and the baby care PR pixies have been stat-spinning like a tribal dervish overcome by super-strength hallucinogenic cacti.

It’s not just the PR pixies either; the nation’s press barons have been roused from the last chance saloon into a swirl of sycophancy, each trying to prove their devotion to the Royal household. God save K-Midda, redeemer of hacks.

It’s astonishing how the young royals are capable of detracting the public’s attention from almost anything. The appeal of the royal brand is utterly captivating and is capable of seizing the interest of then nation even in the most unlikely conditions: Christmas? Benefit cuts? Leveson? Sex scandals? Never heard of ‘em.

The PR and marketing world know a good thing when it hits them and are adept at leveraging candy floss from the nation’s Good News Bible. Unfortunately, we are all too keen to gorge on the glycaemic rush.

The pages of The Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph have been sprinkled accordingly with a hearty helping of product placements, and Emma Bridgewater is already sending out a royal flotilla of gurgling memorabilia our way.

There is a positive side to all of this, however. Despite the Duchess being denied the opportunity to make the announcement herself, this has been an excellent platform for public service PR. Pregnancy Sickness Support has had the opportunity to inform the public about the severity of the condition and has provided advice on how to deal with the symptoms.

If Ms Middleton’s symptoms are indeed an indication of twins as the hearsay suggests, then the double trouble may be of a constitutional nature. Although the new ascension legislation is a move in the right direction, it’ll be interesting to see what will happen if the new year heralds the birth of twin royals of different genders.

On Tuesday, Grace Dent remarked in The Independent that the media’s treatment of women has not changed much since Diana’s days. Ms Middleton hasn’t had the chance to announce her pregnancy herself, and the only qualities that she has been celebrated for have been her dress sense, marriage and now, her pregnancy. If the monarchy want to continue to appear future-facing and innovative, it would be wise not to fall into this trap.

Since their wedding, Wills and Kate have been unable to escape the spectre of the Royal Bête Noir, Princess Diana. While their happy union has created a new image for the Royal Family, it is inevitable that the press will start to draw comparisons.

As I remarked in June, the royal zygote is going to prove the next step in what is likely to be another turbulent chapter in the history of the monarchy. While this immaculate conception has proved a fitting finale to bring the Jubilee year to a close, the Dynamic Duchy will have to put in a lot of graft if they want to continue to capitalise from the success that they have had this year.

I wonder what the odds are on the ultimate PR stunt coming to fruition in the form of Queen Diana I?