‘THE FAME FORMULA or In Search Of The Sons Of Barnum’
Whether it’s the Adidas Olympics, the lazy brand leveraging notions, the mobile space, even the Costa Book Prize, over the last decade we’ve become used to the venues and events living in symbiosis with the corporate giants. Many of these relationships have been mutually beneficial, allowing for the growth and survival of one party, whilst providing advertising, sales, and moral kudos for the other. Few, however managed to leverage love.
The problem comes when brands try to recreate this somewhat organic mechanism out of the other, with sponsored award ceremonies, festival hospitality media and D-list kettling areas letting off puffed-up hot air and hype.The public are wisening up to it.
Whilst we may not begrudge a brand’s advertising if it has saved a cherished venue or funded up-and-coming talent, the call for authenticity is growing ever louder in the Age of Transparency. We can even see it in our architecture, with blocks of concrete increasingly being swapped for panes of glass. As communication avenues have opened up between brands and the public, so the public’s need for real, dialectic interactions has grown.
As Labour conference fades away and the Tories’ own outing cranks into gear, I begin to long for silly season. After a month-long balm of survey stories and rubbish stunts, followed by a month of stultifying wonkish mumbo jumbo, I have found myself not hailing the return of ‘real news,’ but instead feeling mystified as to why our news agenda remains dominated by the same Westminster routines.
Conference should be quite a modern affair. The idea of political parties leaving their neo-gothic bubble-wrap and venturing forth amongst the red/blue/yellow blooded members of their organisations is, in theory, exhilarating. Ideas could pass back and forth, up and down. Ed could talk to some people who haven’t read the complete works of Hegel, Cameron could talk to some people who sometimes do some reading. Nick Clegg could talk to some people.
Justin Bieber fell foul of public opinion earlier today following comments made after a visit to the Anne Frank Museum saying that he thought Anne Frank was a “great girl” and that he wished she too were a “belieber” (term for a Justin Bieber fan).
Although defensiveness is an immediate reaction to the atrocities of the Holocaust, there is perhaps a blessing disguised in this misguided 19 year old boy’s comments. Whilst his remarks may seem flippant in the light of the atrocities suffered by Frank and countless others during the Holocaust, what is perhaps more striking than the 19 year old’s light treatment of history is the Twitter reaction to it. When Anne Frank started trending on Twitter, it was not a result of the united voice of people defending her; it was the united voice of uninformed young people rising to the defence of their idol.
Whilst it might be a travesty that so many young people did not know who Anne Frank was this morning, we can at least be assured that a proportion of the 37,000,000 individuals said to follow the singer will know about her by the end of the day.
Today marks a momentous day for Sally Osman, who, in June, will take on the role of Communications Secretary to HRH The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall.
Whilst researching my book, The Fame Formula, which examined the PR legends of Hollywood, a pattern started to emerge: the very best publicists in the game were not taking on the A-listers as one might expect. Although such individuals can offer a publicist great collateral, they are dangerous. The wisest publicists are always wary of stepping into warm shoes.
When Jay Bernstein – who represented names like Sammy Davis Jr and Farrah Fawcett – looked back over his career and those he could have represented, he noted that there is always a reason why someone leaves a big job, and you will be judged by your predecessor’s success.
When a brand is successful, it’s important to take a hard look at who’s representing them.
Paddy Haverson, who took on the position in 2004 was a prudent and wise PR who knew how to harness the worst of times, turning them into stimulus for fairer weather. will be a tough act for Osman to follow – he was an inspired choice, and in the nine years he spent in the role, managed to turn the media’s perception of the Royals completely on its head. His representation was almost near-faultless.
Osman and Haverson share a great set of contacts, wonderful relations and both are clever planners and execute decisive action. Success is a result of good judgment. Good judgment comes from experience, and experience is earned through poor judgment.
I rate Sally Osman, she is a strong PR, but she has a big challenge ahead of her. She has big shoes to fill, perfecting how to say ‘no’ to numerous requests, and potentially making a lot of enemies along the way. She will know all this, and I wish her every success in the new position.
Trendy theatre goers are bartering their kidneys with scalpers in exchange for seats at the Book of Mormon show, which are proving harder to find than a 1787 bottle of Chateau Lafite.
The response of the Mormon church has been phenomenal. I am so impressed that it has decided to provide the show with airtime oxygen by creating a fully-fledged advertising campaign to rescue the church’s reputation from under the wheels of this satirical entertainment juggernaut.
Both parties are set to prosper from the sharp focus of the debate. More importantly, the media and onlookers can get involved with the rough and tumble of it. However, it’s clear that those who have just returned from a desert island will be heading to the Prince of Wales box office rather than the local London Mormon temple, which Joe Public is not allowed to enter.
It’s increasingly rare to see West End show publicity enter the news pages these days. Producers struggle to market new productions outside the traditional ghetto in a creative way. They seem more comfortable to go through the usual promotional gears without deploying the plethora of modern communication practices employed by other entertainment genres.
Back in the age when Thatcher was still in her role as the Nation’s blue rinse authoritarian headmistress, dispensing her tough love on the populace, I was an infant publicist at the Theatre Royal Stratford East.
The theatre staged Barrie Keeffe’s ‘Mad World My Masters’. The action revolved around the humiliation of a City tycoon who got an erection every time Thatcher was mentioned. I remember a spectacular Maggie Cabaret rich with theatrical irreverence. To generate publicity, I persuaded a local to pose as an outraged punter. He called up the rabid Right to Prod the Soft Belly of Outrage.
Sure enough, it wasn’t long before a bunch of outraged Tory politicians were turning up in the national papers and on the radio as Rent a Gob, condemning the production. Few thought it might be an idea to see the show. The flurry of outrage put the show on the news agenda, and, more importantly, the publicity sold plenty of seats.
These days politicians from the Left and the Right are far too canny to be drawn into debate.
My mentor, the director Philip Hedley, was a brave and risk-taking maverick to allow this type of provocation, particularly as it was goading the grant hand which fed the theatre.
It’s a shame that, presently, we don’t have pronounced political divisions for a publicist to play with mischievously. Instead, we suffer a bunch of fence-sitting, power-hungry, career politicians happy to inhabit No Man’s Land.
Where are the maverick politicos and theatre impresarios? Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.
Before even gobbling down her first kangaroo gonad, Tory Nadine Dorries has unleashed a storm of criticism for her decision to appear in televisual Hades I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, with David Cameron yesterday backing her suspension from her duties as MP. A rash of politicos have been quick to follow suit.
But let’s not be too quick to dismiss her stunt. It’s a bold move, and I applaud her bravery. As we know from her outspoken stance on abortion in 2011, Dorries’ is not a woman afraid of the limelight. Appearing in a show like this takes guts, and it is heartening to see a politician willing to take a risk, particularly in a week that has seen political paranoia ramped up to the max in the wake of Savilegate, resulting in the retrospective inquiry into the allegations of child abuse in North Wales.
She has taken advantage of an opportunity to bring her brand to a younger generation who feel disconnected with politics. Play her hand well, and she could genuinely change the way an apathetic public think about politicians, or even prompt them to think about them at all. In the jungle, she will have a space to air her views in terms the man in the street will relate to- and with 16 million watching, it is a platform not to be sniffed at. Whether the timbre of her stance on sexual politics will resonate with ordinary people remains to be seen.
It’s a high risk move. She has perhaps underestimated the power of the edit. The ultimate winners will of course be ITV, who have once again served up a compelling cast of those blinded by fame and ambition; a collection of individuals worthy of Greek tragedy. Gifts from reality TV producers are rarely what they seem and should be handled with care.
As far as Dorries goes, the proof of the pudding will lie in the eating. Will she have the personality, wit and humanity to survive and prosper in the jungle? Or will she ultimately prove as unpalatable as a scorpion’s scrotum?
Yesterday I took part in the Taming Tabloid Tittle Tattle debate at the brilliant Battle of Ideas at the Barbican. Roy Greenslade and I, loosely defending the right to celebrity privacy, took on Jo Phillips and Patrick Hayes, arguing the case for unrestricted press freedom. I say loosely because what emerged through the very wide ranging discussion was an understanding across the board of the complex nuances of the argument. Phone hacking, naked royals and plebgate were all deftly handled by the able panel, and the ghost of Jimmy Savile was predictably present at the table. I won’t attempt to encapsulate the entire argument- the Battle of Ideas will be posting the full debate on their youtube channel in due course- but a few points are worth drawing out.
Jo Phillips illustrated the tabloid obsession with celebrity when she spoke about her experiences working on the media strategy for Live8 in 2005, and the challenges of striking the balance between focussing press attention on the stars and the rather more serious messages motivating the campaign. The charities involved were concerned that too much attention was being paid to the celebrities. But of course, celebrity sells. It was the stars that gave the campaign its extraordinary reach around the world.
Celebrities are the gods of a secular age. This isn’t driven by the editors, it is driven by the readers who will buy extra issues in their thousands when a particular star appears on the cover. Although the revelations of Leveson may have caused editors to think twice about publishing stories such as the recent Kate Middleton pictures, they seem to have had almost no discernible impact on the reading habits of the Great British public themselves. It was ever thus- I told the story of one of the old ‘penny dreadfuls’ in the 19th Century that published an illustration of ‘life on the moon’, selling 20,000 copies. When the image was inevitably outed as a fake, the title in question was able to print another 40,000 copies due to popular demand. Truth, and ethics, have rarely been the determining factor in our buying choices when it comes to newspapers.
But do we really believe that fame and privacy are incompatible? Have our fabulously wealthy, pampered celebrities entered into a Faustian pact? There are, of course, those celebrities that pursue fame at any cost. It is harder to have sympathy with those that happily profit from the public airing of their dirty laundry: the recent playing out of the Alex Reid/ Chantelle Houghton break up springs to mind. But others chose to manage their fame in a more private, dignified way- as a sometimes wanted, sometimes unwanted, side effect of a career in the public eye. Leveson has revealed the depths to which certain tabloid journalists have sunk in pursuit of sensation. Even those that believe in the unqualified good of a free press must be troubled by Sienna Miller’s account of being pursued down a dark alley by a group of camera wielding men, or the treatment of Charlotte Church’s mother by News of the World after her attempted suicide. This is not simply publishing stories that the individuals concerned might prefer to keep under wraps. In numerous incidents what is being described is concerted campaigns of intimidation and bullying.
Patrick Hayes highlighted the emphasis placed on intrusion into celebrity lives when, in his view, this is a phenomenon common to all of us in the modern world, citing the increasing infringement on private life by the state. Perhaps tabloid intrusion into the private lives of public figures has set a precedent for the way in which we all live now. These are two sides of the same coin: if we are concerned about one, we have to be concerned about the other. Hence the imposition on our privacy by the state is hardly a compelling argument for allowing tabloids to disclose so much of celebrities’ lives to us- unless the former is viewed as an unqualified good.
Roy Greenslade offered the concluding comments, arguing that, as a national newspaper editor, there were occasions when he was faced with compelling reasons to step outside a normal ethical framework. He believes that when a story is genuinely in the national interest, it is justified for a newspaper to do whatever is necessary to uncover it- even if that means breaking the law. But the end must justify the means. And when tawdry but ultimately inconsequential stories about Max Mosley’s sex life traumatise his family to the extent that his son commits suicide, it is rather difficult to argue that anyone is served by the means.
IKEA, the Swedish lifestyle and furniture goliath, suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous criticism on Tuesday after it emerged that the company airbrushed images of women from the Saudi edition of its consumer bible.
Not surprisingly this decision has created a mega PR storm in a flat pack. Will the hue and cry harm the blue and yellow consumer icon with an estimated brand value of over $11 billion? Speculation suggests the gaffe is akin to a Soviet information ministry official airbrushing Trotsky from Politburo publicity. But is this a brand wounding blow? Or just another example of brand hubris?
Ikea’s crisis management is in fair shape; it acted quickly in an attempt to extinguish the negative chatter by offering a full mea culpa. Noticeably, the vacuum is temporarily plugged, although the social media sites perpetuate the embarrassing mistake. Its on-going actions will be studied with some interest. Hopefully they’ll take greater care and not ignore the warning.
A lesson learnt, earlier in my career when representing the likes of Cirque du Soleil and the Bolshoi Ballet, both companies of world renown, is that it isn’t always easy to translate a global brand to the local idiom. The brand ethos and global marketing assets sometimes disengaged with a local audience who didn’t buy into a homogenised corporate entertainment approach. The Saudi example proves that as Ikea expands it must take greater care to elongate the IKEA clichés across cultures. Many brands are focused on this issue, tuning their offering to suit local sensibilities. But that doesn’t mean blindly adhering to a simplistic reading of a region’s values. It means cultivating a sophisticated understanding of the native terrain- with investment in deep research- in order to foster an approach to communications that genuinely chimes with the needs and desires of local people, while remaining true to the heart of the brand.
The shrinking media universe continually proves brand mishaps are consumed with glee. Perhaps IKEA needs to do some long and hard thinking about the gospel of the flat pack. “Happiness is not reaching your goal. Happiness is being on the way.” This was the Ikea founder, Ingvar Kamprad’s message to his co-workers. It was written in the mid-70s and yet has echoing resonance when considering the airbrush SNAFU.
Waitrose have joined the happy band of consumer brands to have a well-intentioned twitter campaign hijacked, as their #waitrosereasons hashtag found itself the source of various class-based jibes at the expense of this most well-heeled of retailers. I am still trying to work out if this was a calculated attempt to kick off a conversation. Certainly It’s part of a noble tradition, stretching back to Skittles’ 2009 decision to replace their homepage with a live twitter feed (cue a series of posts along the lines of “skittles: ANAL CUNT THAT IS GOOD”). Recently, Mountain Dew has also succumbed.
Many will applaud Waitrose, however, for turning a potential damp squib into some great column inches. Countless outlets ran significant analysis pieces, presumably as the result of a quick nudge from a Waitrose PR pixie, and the Waitrose social media team made it expressly clear- albeit in the ‘forced grin’ fashion of a doddery politician or low-status boss- that they found it all, mostly, really rather funny.
Timing wise, they’ve scored a great coup, cementing themselves firmly into the media consciousness on a Friday and thus ensuring coverage throughout the lucrative affluent shopping hours of Saturday and Sunday. There’s no doubting, too, that this was an admirable display of both flexibility and a sense of fun.
Yet at the same time, the question is begged as to whether anyone sought a long-range, helicopter view before taking this tack. Responsive and attention-grabbing it may have been, but the PR team’s actions sit uneasily with the brand as a whole, and one must wonder whether any c-suite figures would share their sense of humour. Was this a creative bit of conversation wrangling or a last-minute bolt on?
Nonetheless, the gods of evaluation are likely to applaud this as a major success: damned stats are always good for obscuring the backstory. The team should enjoy the coverage, whether it was them chasing it or no.
This piece originally appeared on Scotsman.com
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are right to be taking this course of action – they’ve got to draw a line in the sand.
They are boosted certainly by the current mood of the media in this country. I suspect that ten years ago we would have seen lots of long-lens shots and there would have been a few more brutal editors around, but things have changed.
Going to court sends out a signal, but if you’re going to embark on this sort of agressive legal action, then you need to try to win – and that’s going to be incredibly difficult.
Had they not taken this action, I don’t think that would have been the end of it. Part of the rebuilding [of the Royal Family’s image] has been to be available, but it’s also about using legal muscle when they need to. I think that if they fail to draw a line in the sand, it would signal a new era for the paparazzi.
Clearly, these pictures have been taken, they exist, but they need to try to stop it happening again. They’ve got the public with them on this. The majority of the British public think these photos are a step too far. But to those in other countries they are fair game – there’s a price on this couple’s head.
The royal wedding was a PR triumph, the American tour was a triumph and the jubilee celebrations were a triumph, but that success is a double-edged sword.
Clearly, this wasn’t a safe place for them to have gone on holiday – that was a mistake. They have been helped in this country by the changing view of the Royal Family and the neutering of the media due to the Leveson inquiry, but for the world’s paparazzi they are still A-list celebrities.
By allowing these photos to be taken, someone did not do their job properly.
There is so much affection towards them as a couple and there has been a lot of rebuilding the Royal image. It’s a shame they have not really considered the ruthless nature of the paparazzi and the lengths they will go to in order to get that picture.