Posts Tagged ‘guardian’

Jurassic Ad Men: a marriage of equals or the last of a dying breed?

This week, the business and media commentariat have talked of little but the upcoming merger of Omnicom and Publicis, the second and third largest advertising groups in the world, respectively. As befits a venture which involves hundreds of the world’s most glamourous admen and women, the accompanying spin is so utopian as to be dazzling. Two central justifications are given for the operation: 1) this is not a messy acquisition but a ‘merger of equals’ and 2) as two of the world’s more forward thinking ad organisations, the merger will leave the companies better placed to innovate digitally. As far as I’m concerned, this is less a clarion call for a brave new world than the dying roars of a pair of dinosaurs.

The digital revolution was difficult for everyone, and the ad world has taken it particularly hard. Banner ads were a colossal early failure – you are, apparently, more likely to complete Navy Seal training, get a full house while playing poker, summit Mount Everest or give birth to twins than click on one. The frightening speed with which an offensive advert can be slammed over the internet has shocked a few big beasts, particularly WPP for some reason – Sorrel’s supergroup recently sparked a major kerfuffle in India. The growth of programmatic buying threatens to unleash a new wave of small, nimble companies on the goliaths, much as we saw in the world of finance with the growth of trading algorithms in the 80s and 90s.

Those succeeding fall into two camps. First, there are the new disruptors: barbarians from the tech sector not so much hammering at the gates as running in, stealing all the livestock and capturing a few toothsome peasants before the farmer even wakes up. Google is the obvious example: its display network is now eye-wateringly, pants-droppingly successful. The top 25 advertisers are now spending more than $150m each with Google. Then, there are the small challengers, who are fast and flexible enough to look at things differently. Take Curb, which has grown its revenues by 250% since its inception in 2008 because it skews its content ratios dangerously toward the offline – and is small enough to reliably check that the gamble is paying off.

While there is plausibly an advantage in pooling knowledge and resources for R and D, I can’t see it working. Just because Publicis and Omnicom are strong in media buying and technology, respectively, doesn’t mean that the two combined will form one brain capable of understanding both worlds. I’ve always had enough trouble getting 5 belligerent admen around a table to agree, let alone hundreds of them across several continents. More importantly, the model for digital success conventionally involves a small organisation developing a big idea which can then be rapidly upscaled. Attempts to hothouse creativity in the online world have tended not to come to much – a recent Guardian article, for instance, made a strong case for the government sponsored ‘Tech City’ in London being inferior to more free-enterprise equivalents elsewhere (

So is this a PR stunt? If it is, it hasn’t worked too well. The FT reports that effects on each company’s shares have been lukewarm at best, with Publicis up 0.25% and Omnicom down 0.55% following the announcement. Despite all the slick photo-ops, too, Wren and Levy, the two bosses behind the venture, are too savvy to do something like this just to get noticed.

Call me a cynic, but I smell panic. This feels like old school minds seeking solace in one another’s arms, as if huddling together with stop the nasty netfreaks from getting in. Alternatively, maybe the whole thing is a set up for some kind of horrifying Mad Men-inspired reality show, except instead of the winning smile of Don Draper, it’s the grinning visage of Maurice Levy staring straight out of the screen, undoing his shirt button by button…

A Borkowski March in Links

I’ve been in and out of the papers this month, commenting on a number of subjects, from the perils of PR spin on behalf of dictators to Sarah Ferguson’s latest misadventures by way of the redemption of Chris Brown and, since I’ve been in Poland, as mentioned in my previous blog, I hope you’ll pardon this blog being a brief monthly round up, just a collection of links. It’s still all interesting stuff, of course!

Here’s my comment in the Independent on the risks of spinning for dictators. This is an article in Marketing Week on the rise of social media. Here’s a piece from the Guardian on the redemption of Chris Brown. And finally a comment in the Vancouver Sun on Sarah Ferguson.

Because we all need a laugh sometimes…

Because it’s been an unrelenting year so far, and because we all need a good laugh, and because Victor Lewis Smith is a funny man, and because we always need reminding how awful Little Chef is, here’s Victor’s wonderful review of Little Chef from the Guardian six years ago. And here’s the link to the original.
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Churnalism and the Death of the Press Release

At long last the question of how much of our daily news originates from PR pixies is to be answered. A new website,, has been launched and its mission is to expose the extent to which articles have been lifted from press releases.

I welcome the site – it’s not something good publicists should fear. In the spirit of transparency, I’m very comfortable to declare that on occasions I’ve let my imagination run riot. Once – or maybe even twice! – I have ensured that a dismal fact has not stood in the way of making a story work. Then, in an age when there were more journalists than PR, it was tough generating ink.
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Rebel Radiohead and the Brits

Radiohead are back with a new album, The King of Limbs, and a development of the original stunt for their last album, In Rainbows, which was for sale on a ‘pay what you can afford’ basis.

Excitement has been amping up and up since the band announced the early digital download release of the album to the point where the media is saturated with information Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Ramsay: Frying Pans, Fires and Open Letters

There is a mood of incredulity in the media at Gordon Ramsay’s latest PR faux pas; an open letter to his mother in law, published in the Evening Standard. “This has to be one of the most painful letters I’ve ever had to write,” writes Gordon. “Listening to Tana in floods of tears reading your letter from you asking that she stays away from her family is so awfully wrong.”

Gordon seems to be struggling with the difference between real life and reality show life – it is bizarre to see the hard man of cookery TV exposing his dirty laundry rather than his ability to spew expletives. In terms of resolving a problem – in this case, the fallout after Ramsay sacked his father in law from the role of CEO of Gordon Ramsay Holdings – his letter is akin to sending a child into the cellar with a candle to look for a gas leak. It is hard to work out what exactly he intended to achieve by writing it.

Ramsay is emotional beast, most comfortable on TV. Why, if he must ask his mother in law to not reject her daughter, has he used an open letter to do so? If Ramsay is determined to conflate real life and docu-soap opera, surely he should be doing so on TV or, better still for all concerned, in private. Ramsay’s emotion and verbal communication skills are his prime weapon. Why, then, has he muzzled himself with a letter? Read the rest of this entry »

Putin on the Ritz: PR Russian Style

I went to the opening of The Expendables recently, in the mood for a little bit of escapism, and was bowled over by the crowd’s whooping, hollering love for Sly, Lundgren, Arnie, Bruce et al. There seemed to be more love than you could have ever expected for a formula, and a set of stars, who for the most part reached their peak in 1985, at the height of Reagan’s presidency.

Looking at reports on the latest Vladimir Putin photoshoot, however, I realise that perhaps I should not have been so taken aback; this sort of macho posturing has never really gone away. Possibly these sorts of fashions travel the world in a kind of Mexican wave – in Russia right now, the macho image is the sure way to win the love of the electorate, while it looks ludicrous here. For now, at least.

Certainly it is easy to satirise Putin in the UK or America at the moment – when he poses like a hero from Call of Duty 4 or, in a bid to show a softer side, nuzzles up to his horse, he is playing to local tastes that look utterly ludicrous to a more cynical western European and American audience. Read the rest of this entry »

Miners, Footballers and Owning the Story

Listening to yesterday’s Broadcasting House on Radio 4, my sense that the Chilean miners were set to be exploited to the hilt kicked into high gear, listening to the investigative journalist Jonathan Franklin being interviewed about his forthcoming book on the extraordinary experience the 33 men went through.

He was slick and sharp – an American who had made his home in Chile and so perfectly placed to move in and interview the men, even via speaking tube whilst they were in the mine – and made an interesting point about the rescue of the miners being a global uniting point, an anti-9/11 that made everyone happy.

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Brand and Woods: The Celebrity Rollercoaster

Another week of charting the ups and downs of celebrity, first in the Guardian, discussing the rise, fall and rapid rise again of Russell Brand, who has risen phoenix-like out of the ashes of Sachsgate to find himself on the verge of international stardom. You can read the full article here, but here’s my note of caution:

“But will he stay the course? ‘Very difficult to predict,’ says the publicist and historian of celebrity Mark Borkowski. ‘He’s had a huge amount of American fame in a very short space of time. But standup comics from the UK don’t have a good track record – not many succeed. And tucked away somewhere on his torso is a self-destruct button. America is still very small-c conservative. There is,’ Borkowski adds, ‘still time for him to mess it up.’

Talking of messing things up, I was asked to comment the effect of Tiger Woods’ meltdown on the brands that have supported him over the years. According to Paul J Davies’s article, When star power finds the rough (Financial Times, April 7th): “…the stock market value of all the companies endorsed by Mr Woods collectively lost $5bn-$12bn by the middle of December [last year].” Read the rest of this entry »

PR Spam: The New Chlamydia?

Is PR spam the new chlamydia? Certainly it’s being fulminated about an awful lot as the latest social disease that may have infected us all, although we’re too often too ashamed to check out the symptoms.
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