Hats off to Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho – a true media operator. Where rivals babble incoherently about “games of two halves” or, at best, indulge in bland 1970s-style trash talk, Mourinho understands that the battles played out in the media can be just as important as those won or lost on the pitch.
After he dominated the sports pages last weekend with his assertion that Chelsea are a “little horse” in the Premiere League title race – a comment he later admitted was a “mind game” – we thought we’d put together a list of what brands can learn from the master.
The artist formerly known as the artist formerly known as Prince is on our fair shores at the moment, reminding me of what a roller coaster it was to work with him 15 years ago. His set on Tuesday night at the Electric Ballroom in Camden may have seen only 1,000 fans in the comparatively tiny room, but the excitement it has generated has been huge. The singer has refused to reveal details of other venues on his tour, presumably preferring to keep fans guessing via Twitter clues, as he did before the first show.
A pure showman with relentless dedication, Prince has much to teach brands about exciting the crowd time and again.
1. Know your limits
There’s nothing wrong with ambition, but there’s a difference between extending your audience and overreaching it. Prince is and really always has been a cult proposition, and he knows it. A performance to 1,000 rabid fans with queues snaking round the block is preferable to an anodyne arena tour in terms of driving interest. Often, stirring your core demographic up to fever pitch works better than prompting a lukewarm response from a wider audience – though beware of becoming trapped in the ghetto.
2. Let the work do the talking
There was a time when Prince went in for stunts (remember the squiggle?). No more. Tuesday’s gig was, by all accounts, an old-school slice of hard, unadulterated funk. It was delivered straight to the fans with no interviews and no nonsense. Brands can learn from the ecstatic response: what you produce, not what you say you produce, is what matters in the Now Economy.
3. Different, but the same
Prince’s latest jaunt to London is supposedly not just another solo tour, it’s as frontman of an all female band 3RDEYEGIRL. Obviously nobody buys this; I’ve yet to see a single lead photo of the gig which actually includes the women. That said, a little confusion as to Prince’s current musical status is a clever way of bringing mystique to the artist-fan relationship, nowadays too often ruined by over-familiarity. By varying their approaches to their audiences while keeping their core narrative the same, brands can stave off boredom and maintain interest.
4. No distractions
For a hypersexualised male diva who is rumoured to be of alien origin, Prince has kept himself remarkably far from scandal. Aside from personal fallout, the impact of salacious headlines on a superstar’s career is to divert attention from their art. All at once, the person onstage is not a conduit for the music of the spheres, they’re a slightly grubby man. Few brands will have to deal with a sex scandal in their time, but they can learn from Prince’s focus; think twice before embarking on any project likely to provoke media controversy. Usually, the short term gain isn’t worth it.
5. Leave them wanting more
Prince’s arrival was calculated to leave audiences gloriously unsatisfied. A period of uncertainty was followed by a flurry of astonishing activity, as Prince not only popped up in his intimate nighttime appearance but supposedly played in the living room of the still-relatively-hip Lianne La Havas. Then, all at once, just as the headlines hit, he vanished again. Whether you’re planning to unleash a set of blistering funk classics or release your latest deodorant on the world, learning to master the controlled burst of publicity is a must for any brand manager.
So Scarlett Johansson has parted ways with Oxfam. The actress, who has served as an ambassador for the humanitarian group for eight years, quit yesterday over a “fundamental difference of opinion” (read: PR disaster waiting to happen). Johansson has recently signed as brand ambassador for the drinks-fizzinator (possibly not a real word) manufacturer Sodastream. It seems Oxfam’s support for marginalised Palestinians sits badly with Sodastream maintaining a factory in the occupied West Bank.
This is the PR meltdown that never happened; thanks to careful stewardship (and, one imagines, a lot of hair-pulling and arse-kissing behind the scenes), everyone has emerged positively reeking of roses. Painting the split as a “difference of opinion” was a genius move. It allowed Johansson to highlight her belief in “building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine, supporting neighbours working alongside each other, receiving equal pay, equal benefits and equal rights”, rather than any belief in receiving lots of cash for sponsorship deals. Similarly, it provided Oxfam with a platform to highlight its views on the perceived injustices happening in that part of the world. Sodastream, meanwhile, got pictures of Johansson sucking seductively on a drinking straw on virtually every news site known to man.
All PR pixies concerned are to be applauded, for ’tis not always thus. In 2012, skincare brand Nivea dropped Rihanna as its brand ambassador because new CEO Stefan Heidenreich decided that gyrating about in lingerie on a brand-sponsored tour didn’t quite square with the beauty company’s family image. Coming at a time when Ri-Ri was constantly making headlines for partying too hard, it didn’t look great for her, but it perhaps looked worse for the brand, who temporarily appeared stuffy and churlish. A 2011 survey by Ipsos Mori found that 23% of Americans and 19% of Britons said that Tiger Woods’s well-chronicled misdemeanours made them consider boycotting products he had endorsed.
Spare a thought, too, for the poor celebrities; it’s not only brands who can find their image damaged by dodgy dealing on the other side of the partnership. The Kardashian sisters found themselves lowered in the public estimation (if such a thing were possible) after they endorsed the ‘Kardashian Kard’, a prepaid card aimed at young adults. Backed by Mastercard, the Kard’s huge fees led Former Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal to declare: “Keeping up with the Kardashians is impossible using these cards.” The sisters terminated the deal in 2010.
Oxfam and Johannson’s well-judged parting of ways carries a lesson for brands operating in the Now Economy. In an age where fans can be mobilised in huge numbers and at frightening speeds, hypocrisy just won’t wash anymore, and both sides did well to separate amicably before pro-Palestine activists’ Twitter campaigning got too ugly. We at Borkowski wish Oxfam all the luck in the world when searching for a more suitable partner; we reckon Justin Bieber might have a few free spaces soon.
“Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought” Albert Szent-Gyorgyi
Someone recently said to me “the more I read, the less I know”. Profound. In a world where technological advances were supposed to make life simpler, the reverse seems to reflect the truth. The world is more complex, undefined, rushed. Decisions are taken without hesitation in the race to keep up with social channels and serendipity is increasingly a thing of the past, despite what we are repeatedly told. Serendipity requires time. The one thing we are very short of. And we seldom have a big idea anymore. Instead we have ‘notions; and a notion is but the teeniest of concepts.
The point is that big ideas add value to any business. Obvious. Yet many businesses regard ideas with suspicion. Real ideas have dimensions and are resilient and flexible. Outside of some connections, where ideas really spring from is unpredictable. The only thing for certain is, ideas don’t come when called! To get to them it is necessary to clear the mind. This requires a step away from technology and to look up and around, be curious and open minded. The opposite then, of the behaviour of most businesses. Try as they might, there is a fundamental problem with businesses trying to marry creativity and commerce! The trouble is for this to work, they have to lose the fear of making mistakes and this requires a step away from viewing situations in conventional terms and avoiding creating problems that don’t actually exist. This is a dynamic system we are dealing with and it poses some interesting questions.
2014 promises to be the year of wearable tech. CES in Vegas will show a smorgasbord of new and innovative ideas and the promise of the ultimate connected life for consumers. But does this mean that businesses will become more dependant on data driven decisions? Will there be a rush to keep up and grab the upward line of the adoption curve? And will this add to the burden and confusion? The trouble with data and technology is that they doesn’t allow for ambiguity – the very nature of human beings. Data has its value of course, but we must not become complacent and rely on it. Instead at Borkowski.do we are sticking our necks out and recommending the reverse.
A goodbye to allowing the data to decide and a warm welcome back to reflection, intuition and judgment!
After all, reflection, is key to producing quality decisions and the foundation block to build strong leaders.
But the speed of disruption is so intense, it is stripping away all confidence.
Let’s look up from the technology and proliferation of ‘information’ for a moment. Great leaps forward come from asking the right ‘big’ questions. That’s why we should start our thinking with NOT knowing any answers! Competitive companies will be those that offer products and services minutely shaped by the unique ideas and perspectives of every single one of their customers. Companies that fail to grasp this new reality will ultimately be squeezed out of markets by those that do.
Experience, though of great value, all too often fails to change the world. We must embrace the great unknown, listen, reflect and fashion solutions that are unique. Let’s not be fooled by fashion, tamed by reason or trapped by experience, but work with clear and open mindedness.
That means celebrating people and ideas from wherever they come, rather than seeing things entirely from our own perspective, and developing a unique and clear point of difference.
Welcome to 2014. The Now Economy requires us to sit still, demand more time to think, reflect and innovate, to avoid making the same mistakes of the past few years.
I don’t usually do awards ceremonies. I’d generally rather be making a new campaign than remembering the last one. However, as the end of the year finds Borkowski towers in a reflective mood, I thought I’d put together a brief collection of 2013’s standout PR moments—the ones that made us gasp with astonishment, and the ones that made us groan in horror.
Most gloriously over the top viral stunt
I’ve actually already blogged about this one [link: http://www.markborkowski.co.uk/supernatural-pr-fear-that-fans-can-love/] but it’s stuck with me. In order to promote the remake of classic teen-angst ‘em up Carrie, the movie’s PR team set up a hidden camera stunt to end all hidden camera stunts. A new York Cafe was rigged with booby traps, and an actor was planted at a table. Following an altercation with another “customer” (actually a stuntman), the actor appears to wreak havoc with her psychic powers, terrifying several genuine customers. A video of the event went viral.
In some ways, there was nothing groundbreaking about this, well-executed as it was. Still, as I acknowledged at the time, the team deserve huge props for finding a clever way to engage with movie audiences outside of the traditional press junket snore-machine.
Oh, the wretched topic of death, such a frustrating interloper, especially at Christmas, damn you. Alas, there is no point in pretending that we improve with age. In his colossal autobiography, Ben Hecht expressed the ageing process thus: “the years diminish us, time rots our body, cools our blood, darkens our brain, and, like a furtive embalmer, prepares our bodies for the winding sheet.” All too often, humans exit the process prematurely; on Saturday, the uber-agent, my old friend Addison Cresswell, checked out at the height of his power, just as Santa was coordinating the settings on his SatNav. Addi’s death was heartbreaking for his loved ones, sad for his legions of friends and acquaintances.
Bad news travels fast: Addison’s demise percolated through Facebook and Twitter like a ruptured reservoir of sadness. Folk etched moving epigraphs on a host of social sites, a community stunned into stupefaction. This unexpected shock unified the comedy universe, many finding solace celebrating his memory. Some were immobilised by a deepsense of loss; others recognised a more remarkable full stop to a significant chapter. These flickering chronologies passionately accumulated into a string of lyrical memoires about his largesse and contradictions.
Beyonce’s new iTunes record—the singer’s album broke a million sales in six days on Wednesday—should be a lesson not only to pop stars but to anyone with a message to get across. The singer released the album entirely without prior fanfare, tossing it onto iTunes with a casual insouciance. It was a masterclass in cutting through the general PR melee and of course, a conscious purpose of control.
Beyonce’s people have said the release was all about talking directly to the fans without interference from the media. A fun idea, but not likely to be of much use to artists who’ve not had millions of dollars spent on their promotion over the years. The more important point to draw from it for PR pixies is how shouting loudly just doesn’t work any more. Nobody can hear!
The sorry tale of Nigella Lawson and Charles Saatchi should teach us some valuable lessons about the climate we operate in these days as businesses and brands. In this story we have a clear example of how a 24/7 news agenda fuels turbo charged and emotional reactions from the crowd – #teamnigella – and enough sympathy (for now at least) to skew any real perspective.
Not only that, but we also see how quickly brands are able to react to the idea of being written off. A skill that is becoming increasingly valuable in the furnace of media opprobrium. Kate Moss, BP, Ryan Air, Elton John, Virgin Trains and Twitter are all example of “brands” who have recovered from attack and moved on. The vicissitudes of the age did not crush these mass market icons. Why?
Well we are a “transmissive” society. Consumers don’t look up from the mesmeric power of their devices, so many are onto the next brand or story after they have erroneously dismissed the brand in trouble. In other words, we actually don’t enter into a dialogue. We don’t look up. We fail to discriminate in the moment as we digest the mass of information. This lack of consideration and reflection results in the transmission of undigested information. It’s a never ending circle for a moment or two. Then momentum changes…
Get your story straight before you pick up the phone:
Always true, this one, but especially nowadays when a journalist might be live tweeting your conversation as it happens. A plaintive ”off the record, right?” just won’t cut it.
Get the right team for the job:
Today’s PR industry incorporates dozens of diverse skills. Make sure you wow clients at pitches with a few carefully selected specialists.
Catchy wording goes a long way:
Whatever you’ve heard, copywriting isn’t a dying art. In an age where consumers write more every day than at any point in recent history, a great line or memorable name can make all the difference to the way your message spreads.
Never underestimate the power of a freebie:
However sophisticated your audience might think they are, nobody can resist a freebie. With the growing popularity of the ‘freemium’ model first thrust into the mainstream by online games company Zynga, getting people to buy your product is increasingly about giving a bit of it away first.
You can’t hide your corporate ties:
When The Simpsons got Banksy to direct their intro, he used the platform to critique the shady practices of the US merchandising industry. Not everyone is an anti-capitalist megastar, but they do all now have platforms, and no matter how edgy you pretend to be, they’ll expose you for who you really are given half a chance.
Prepare your client before a live TV appearance:
Even the most boisterous boardroom warrior is capable of clamming up in front of the camera. Now that 24 hour news and online bulletins demand a near constant supply of pithy soundbites, be sure to run through likely lines of questioning and prepare a script before sending your boy or girl out there.
Numbers are your friend:
Word a survey carefully and it will say whatever you want it to.
Never underestimate the inspirational power of a maverick:
Your rival may be sloppy, derivative or unethical, but if they’ve got a charismatic frontman they may have the edge. Seek out inspirational individuals within your client’s business who can give their brilliance a human touch.
Don’t try and jump on every bandwagon that comes along:
If you don’t provide “innovative interactive solutions”, don’t say you provide “innovative interactive solutions” on your website.
Sometimes, simple really is best:
A great message speaks for itself.
Last week, the PR buzz was all around Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary and his uncharacteristic mea culpa. This week, another combative consumer brand is filling up feeds across the globe: Miley Cyrus and her encounter with some of Amsterdam’s finest.
Cyrus’s ‘outrageous’ awards ceremony performances are fast becoming a fixture in our lives. Regular, horrifying and compelling, they scratch an itch that some cultures tended to with a vestal virgin, a serrated knife and some geometric architecture. It seems as if Cyrus doesn’t do something a bit ‘youth culture’ every week, usually at a three-letter award ceremony you’ve never heard of before, the sun will cease to rise. This time, for those pretending they don’t read MailOnline, she lit up what appeared to be a joint during a performance at the EMAs on Sunday.
Props to the pixies behind her – it was well thought through. Where twerking with Robin Thicke was calculated to rile up the world’s lefties, this latest stunt taps into the grand old tradition of fuddy-duddy moral panic. Read the rest of this entry »