‘Mark My Words’
We are struggling to come to terms with the news that Lord Beckham of Ongar and Leytonstone has packed away his Adidas Predator LZ boots. His like will not be seen again. His footballing and soccer achievement is extraordinary: who could forget the stunning injury-time free-kick booking England a place in the 2002 World Cup finals salvaging a 2-2 draw against Greece?
The announcement of his retirement has been beautiful managed. No leaks; just a huge surprise, hijack the news agenda (much to the chagrin of PRs with non Beckham related stories to tell). Golden Balls has proved yet again that he possesses a miraculous gift for wrangling the media. The squeaky voiced, blond curtained young hopeful has matured into a personality of considerable substance, a man at ease with public scrutiny.
We don’t know yet what the grand plan for continued world dominance is, but rest assured there is one. Becks could easily become a sporting politician, a fashion icon or a powerful charity champion. It’s a mark of his PR genius that he has not declared a future direction, instead his minders have cleverly fostered an atmosphere of fevered speculation. Hours of radio, acres of newsprint and tens of thousands of tweets wonder about future direction for Brand Beckham, creating the perfect backdrop for whatever he announces next. By leaving the Game, Beckham won’t have the usual tactic of refreshing public interest by joining a new club available to him. But his hype machine rises above this, and it’s certain that his new endeavours will be tacitly exploited for maximum effect.
Beckham has established himself as a great British brand with proven worth. The media needs Beckham, and the brand needs the oxygen of publicity more. Let’s hope the confidence of the last 5 years will sustain. Some find the dwindling interest in stars of yester year hard to stomach. Brand Beckham must proceed with care. Desperate, ill thought tactics, or, heaven forbid, poor stunts and rash licencing will damage the fabric of success. The time and effort to fix any short term deals is likely to be expensive.
So, enjoy the flattering eulogies while they last. The first step into the brave new world is the hardest.
As the sun sets on the news that Sir Alex Ferguson has decided to hang up his fabled hair dryer, it is time to consider the lessons the PR industry might learn from his departure. Undoubtedly, Sir Alex was a remarkable leader, true he forged a unique brand personality but his move to take control of his exit underlines another aspect of his genius. Despite the growing conspiracy theories circulating about the real reason for his resignation, the man was in ultimate control of his departure. The manner and timing of his exit is an exemplar. Leave at the top, offer few words: sit back and watch the feeding frenzy of positive opinion.
It’s prompted me to consider this question: do PR agencies tend to hang on too long to once successful accounts? It takes true bravery is to resign an account whilst an agency is at the top of the game, and I’d contend, the act is the mark of a fit, vibrant and purposeful PR business. You know how it feels: going in to see a long standing client, bored before even entered the meeting because you’ve lost your motivation. So often the inspirational, game changing activity is done in the early days of a relationship. Your flash of genius might last longer – Sir Alex’s lasted 26 years – but the time will come when you aren’t doing your best work anymore. Creativity stagnates. But you cling on to the lucrative fee, ritually processing the work.
Having the balls to resign the client, allowing another agency to refresh the brand, shows that you are fully in the driving seat of your work. It’s an act that will of course be accompanied by feelings of terror. Radical resignations test the profit margin. There is the fear another consultancy might just do a better job.
But I say, kill the Ego. Time spent finding fresh work is much better investment of your company’s resources. PR folk love the thrill of the new – that’s why we inhabit a world powered by the 24 minute news cycle – and we delight in nothing more than having our mettle tested by a new challenge. A business that is constantly faced with new goals, opportunities and obstacles to tackle is a healthy one.
Sir Alex may be gone, but his name will maintain cult status long after he disappears from the public eye. PR agencies should look to his example.
Our so-called obsession with celebrities is as old as the cult of saints. But the adoration of flimsy celebrity effigies is now facing a stark reality check, thanks to the revelations of Operation Yew Tree.
I am appalled yet weirdly hypnotised by the carousel of failing celebrities. Disgraced household icons, once the essential popular entertainers of a generation, are now nothing more than rotten old television symbols reduced to dust; broken beings, who now have to be purged from the public eye.
A couple of years ago I took part in a documentary for US TV on the price of fame. For anybody familiar with my writing on the sticky web of notoriety, you will know that history indicates that celebrity often comes with a very high price.
For the documentary I was asked to meet two young fame hungry wanna-bes. Their claim to a parabolic trajectory was a simple conceit, they were identical twins. Blood brothers with the will to do whatever it took for the riches and frenzy of renown.
Ironically both were bright lads: one a budding mosaic artist, the other studying to be an architect. However, the long haul through university and arts school held no allure. During a challenging hour of filming, my dismal attempts to diffuse their misplaced adoration of the god of fame failed to cut through. They wanted it now and at any cost because the perceived lifestyle was far too delicious to disregard. The life plan was set in marble.
The late great fame merchant Jay Bernstein generously gave me a huge amount of his time when I was researching my book,The Fame Formula. He had a thing or two to opine regarding the human lust for notoriety .
I arrived on his lavish Beverly Hills doorstep to seek the detail of his alchemy; few knew more about fame mungering. Philosophically he positioned the view that fame was a curse. He was in the winter of his life and perhaps his age encouraged greater honesty. He thought fame was not worth the price. He proffered a view that the success holds a putrid underbelly, which the entertainment industry hides.
“Few managed to deal with the downside which often crept up to extinguish the fierce lifestyle. We allowed stars to get away with it, behave badly because they were who they were. We allowed them their peccadillos, for God sake they were box office. Hell, why would we want to lose a client. The studios handed down the instructions to indulge the hedonism and would pay for the cover up”.
The falling star will not put off the wannabe seeking the trappings of fame. The idealistic tradition might have deteriorated, ecstatic worship has indeed dissipated, but the recognition of the toxicity of fame has only temporarily dulled.
But it’s time to recognise the value of more meaningful existences less glamorous yet more worthy for society’s benefit. Yes, there is a primordial desire for acclaim, however the ego must find a way to be supported, to sit more comfortably alongside other, less destructive impulses.
Those who have allowed the criminal indulgences of a generation should take responsibility for remaining silent. The “untouchable” talent has in the past bred the concept of “too valuable to lose”. Entertainment history has covered up the power stars who didn’t abide by the same rules. Obfuscating and shifting focus away from the monstrosity of fame does nothing to challenge its future trajectory. The frenzy of renown will morph, then find a new value. Perhaps those who are in the engine room should consider its value and purpose before it suffocates the real joy of human endeavour.
As for the twins, I’ve no idea what happened to them, and Google offers up no clues. I guess they never achieved their dream of international stardom. They are probably all the better for it.
The BBC crowned Liverpool player Luis Suarez the king of football controversy yesterday afternoon following the FA’s announcement that they have handed him a massive 10 match ban.
The scandal has had scribblers on the sidelines outraged at football’s reputation since. Left, right and centre, commentators have been clamouring to declare that football’s reputation is in the gutter – but is it?
The truth is that football’s reputation has been in the gutter for decades. Biting, spitting, headbutting, rioting, racism, rape and homophobia have riddled the Professional Game for years. Not to mention the number of super injunctions players have taken out against wives and girlfriends. These super injunctions – which come with a hefty price tag – are part of wider attempts by the industry to use financial muscle to prevent the real extent of players’ malfaisance.
Let’s face it: there are very few role models in football. There have been a few wonder boys with brilliant branding, and international superstars who have made formidable efforts to improve prospects for their home countries, but on the whole, the interest isn’t there. The culture is tainted from the top down and it will take a lot more than an FA ban to rectify things. With so much money to be exploited, does anyone care? The CSR and faded campaigns trying to polish the sport are nothing but fig leaves.
Football’s 1992 move into television sparked a wave of commodification that inverted the sport’s culture. Football is about money now, not values. Multimillion pound sponsorship deals inspire a culture of short-term agency. The real stories that affect football are those about management changes, player transfers, new signings, sponsorship and digital television deals – not fidelity, etiquette and corporate social responsibility.
As I write this from Los Angeles, the news ticker is awash with the minutiae of the horrific bombing that took place in Boston today as marathon runners crossed the finishing line. Doctors are telling stories of innumerable injuries and amputations; eye witnesses are giving accounts of terror and confusion; the President is offering platitudes until the truth can be established, and pundits are hypothesizing about who the culprits might be.
The narrative is expanding in all directions.
At the time of writing, no one has yet come forward to take responsibility for the events, but make no mistake, this attack was designed for the 24/7 news cycle. It is no coincidence that the bomb was set to explode in front of the cameras at the finishing line on a day when international eyes would be upon the area.
Fundamentalists of all persuasions have an innate understanding of narrative and the power of the shareable story, as often the existence of their ideology depends on it. These doctrines have spread and proliferated because they are pure, stripped-down and unblighted by complication, providing simple, black-and-white answers to difficult questions that stand out in a sea of grey.
Unfortunately, terror has been a part of the fundamentalist press kit for millennia, and has secured the sure-fire spread of noxious messaging for centuries.
If you examine propaganda’s most secret causes, you will come to different conclusions: there will be no more doubting that the propagandist must be the man with the greatest knowledge of souls. I cannot convince a single person of the necessity of something unless I get to know the soul of that person, unless I understand how to pluck the string in the harp of his soul that must be made to sound. If we underestimate their understanding of the basics of PR and the battle is lost – these zealots are schooled in the dark arts.
For those who have climbed life’s greasy pole of ambition, nothing is quite so wretched as past indiscretions. This week, Paris Brown, Britain’s first youth police crime commissioner, has joined ranks with Paolo Di Canio, facing a flurry of public outrage in light of flippant, childish comments made that have been picked up and elevated in status by the media circus.
All thought and passionate energy is meaningless when hidden from public scrutiny, however, embarrassing remarks made by a past self can become particularly noxious to a person once they become a target caught in the cross hairs of media snipers.
In this new age of accountability, hosts of petty, gnawing vices cling like worms to the corpse of a reputation that has been targeted by the modern communication swirl. Personalities see their regurgitated comments thrown up like a foul smell, a constant reminder of mistakes past.
One must never lose time ignoring the sins of the past: self-scrutiny and a sharp memory are essential attributes for a public life forged in the white heat of the 24/7 media cauldron. Complaining about these forces, or worse, ignoring those who cause discomfort, is futile. The modern age of PR demands high scrutiny and a sharp vivid memory. Perilous public social banter leaves an indelible mark on record, and is available for those who seek to undermine; faults are held in the ether and can be released at any time for maximum damage.
Past failure becomes an unfortunate foundation for the person behind the public mask. It’s a sad truth that the greatest trouble is thrust on the least prepared. Expect more negative headlines to surround public figures who have enjoyed the rough and tumble of social banter, without reference to the rules of the Now! Economy.
We should all hypothesise about the future and take greater care about our conduct on Twitter and Facebook. The Ancient Greek philosopher Epictetus once said, “The greater the difficulty the more glory in surmounting it. Skilful pilots gain their reputation from storms and tempests.”
All those thrust into the public eye should consider a reputation audit before embarking on a new career. Many fail to grasp the enormity of their past. In the length of time it takes to update a tweet or Facebook status, a life can be turned upside down.
What have Kim Jong-Un and Pope Francis got in common? Both evoke the interest of a global audience transmitting their message through an attention-grabbing communications medium.
As Easter is just past us, it’s only natural that our attentions might turn towards the Vatican at this time of year. The rise and rise of Pope Francis has been interesting to watch so far – it certainly seems that the Vatican has chosen the right man for the job.
Pope Francis has moved from strength to strength, tackling all the thorny issues facing the Holy See straight on, unafraid to confront the difficult issues at hand, speaking with frankness to the media at every opportunity. He is engaged with social media – the @Pontiff Twitter feed has doubled its following since he took office – and never misses a good photo opportunity.
Whether he has been washing and kissing prisoners’ feet or signing the cast of a girl with a recently broken leg, he has been making a proactive effort to align himself with the grass roots of the Church. He is fit for purpose and managing the repositioning of the Church well.
On the other side of the world, another new(ish) leader has been grabbing global headlines: Kim Jong-Un. The epitome of vintage totalitarian cliché, Kim Jong-Un has been throwing any conceivable toy from the Pyongyang pram to try and assert himself as a force to be reckoned with in recent weeks. The global media lap up his lame photo opps, printing his ludicrous spiel.
The world has been growing weary of his radioactive rhetoric on the political front, but he has certainly proved himself prime material for political parody since he stepped into his father’s shoes. From Seth MacFarlane to The Onion, he has shown a talent for grabbing headlines, even if it may not be in the way he would like.
The Pontiff and The Leader in Pyongyang have one thing in common: the force of personality.
I am reminded of a Goebbels axiom: “The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly – it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over”
Amidst all the high-profile outrage surrounding the Sunderland manager, di Canio’s recent declaration that he is a fascist, I have found myself wondering how a multi-billion pound industry can pay so little attention to its press machine.
The rights and wrongs of his political beliefs are probably best debated in another forum, but the simple fact is that the handling of the media circus has been highly damaging or the Premiership club.
Important political allies and backers of the team have sought to distance themselves in light of the furore; David Miliband seems to be particularly concerned about the contagion (although he is already leaving to start a career in the United States), he has made a point of stepping down from the Club’s board.
It is astonishing that an industry that thrives in the public eye is so incapable of handling its own media image. While players agents and advisors manipulate self-interests. Most of their power is used to manipulate petty transfer tittle-tattle on tabloid back pages. The reality of the work debases the concept of communication.
The correct PR path in circumstances like these is to address the question, offer an explanation and put the issue to rest. Refusing to answer means the fiasco could drag on forever: the facts of the matter are left open to debate and silence is quickly filled with noxious speculation.
If di Canio is indeed a fascist, he is failing to show radical authoritarian leadership through his PR.
The world’s problems start with Cy- this week, from cyber-attacks to Cyprus. Big data is the fetish of the day, and the former story proved an ample smoke screen distraction from the thousands of lives left in the lurch by the latter.
We love a good story, and while we grow weary of yet another rag to add to the smouldering pile of recession-related, economic downturn articles, there’s nothing like a good tech conspiracy story to distract the masses from the troubles that be.
In years passed – I’m thinking particularly of the immediate post-war period here – the propaganda machine was well-oiled by a team of mechanics with a strong sense of nationhood or loyalty to the Crown.
As traditional structures of social cohesion break down – the kinds that would encourage individuals to willingly keep to a strict code of omertà – the State propaganda machine has had to adapt.
In light of technological advances, this machine has become more robust than ever. Controlling the truth the public are exposed to has become a sophisticated PR spin exercise: tight, rigorous structures of PR infantry are the gatekeepers to the State’s secrets ensuring our heads are turned firmly in the opposite direction to where the action is taking place.
There is an increasing dissatisfaction amongst the British public with traditional politics and politicians who are perceived as untrustworthy and lacking conviction. Gone are the days of revered and reviled politicians with a cult-like following. In a muddied playing field where the only political colours seem to be varying shades of brown, strong personalities are succeeding in favour of particular social mores.
In this new political era, where the differences between figureheads seem minimal at best, could we be approaching an era where personality means more than values?
Boris Johnson, who has remained a constant feature in the public eye under a plethora of different guises, has come under fire on more than one occasion for misdemeanour, yet has emerged relatively unscathed when it comes to public opinion.
The public are endeared by his bumbling Have I Got News For You comedic persona and he has an uncanny ability to rouse the crowd. Scandal after scandal, Johnson has emerged triumphant, securing his place as Mayor of London for a second consecutive term, with many a bookie taking bets that he may vie for party leadership in the future, despite denying the suggestion on numerous occasions.
However, following the Eddie Mair interview this weekend, it will be interesting to see if Johnson has been beaten at his own game. Tired and unprepared for the onslaught upon his integrity, Johnson was unable to keep up with, counter-spin, or wriggle out of, Eddie Mair’s questioning. Not since the Paxman vs. Howard interview in 1997 have we seen such squirming.
We will have to watch to see if memes develop around this to damage Johnson’s career, or whether the event will simply go further to expanding his public profile. In an interview earlier yesterday, he appeared to take the critique with good grace, stating that Mair was “perfectly within his rights to have a bash at me”. Only time will tell if the Cult of Boris will live to tell another tale.