Posts Tagged ‘media’

Ketchum PR

Following recent reports into Ketchum PR’s involvement with Russia, we thought we would take a deeper look into how the PR giant works its magic worldwide. This is not the first time that the PR behemoth has struck controversy, yet they continue to go from strength to strength. What is their secret?

First and foremost, Ketchum PR is not afraid to get its hands dirty. On more than one occasion, the company has brushed up against United States Federal Law for being involved in “covert propaganda”, usually upon instruction from the US Government itself. Whether promoting government-backed health insurance plans such as Medicare, or pupil premiums to help disadvantaged children under the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind Act, Ketchum has shown it is prepared to do everything necessary to get its client’s message out in the open.

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Public Relations the Dark Alchemy of the Social Age

The attack on the soldier on the streets of South East London was truly terrible.

The two men who carried out the attack coveted one thing: the oxygen of publicity for their cause. And boy, did they get it. Today’s papers are entirely dominated by sensationalist headlines and language that does nothing to encourage calm consideration of the causes of the crime and how we work to prevent this happening again. The natural response to an incident of this nature is to think of the perpetrators as ‘monsters’ and ‘butchers’, but our national newspapers referring to them in such terms only serves to heighten emotions at a time when sobriety is required. Editors and journalists, however, know we will be kept hooked to our screens, and so they play into the hands of the perpetrators, inciting anger and providing terrorist networks with dynamite for their recruitment campaigns.

It calls to mind the 9/11 Twin Tower attacks – that world changing event where Al Qaeda demonstrated their terrible mastery of the media by carrying out an attack that not only caused death and destruction on a massive scale, but also, by destroying the symbol of US Capitalism, presented a shockingly simple visual representation of their attack on the ‘Western’ way of life. In the aftermath, as the US-led retaliation built up, various news media reported on “The Propaganda Battle”, even using this term.

A few years ago, I invited a former military information officer into the agency to talk about the influence of digital media in the so-called ‘War on Terror’. He explained the central position social networks play in the recruitment of terrorists, positing that, in the battle for the hearts and minds of Muslims, once a person is introduced to a radical group, media is used as an indoctrination tool. The internet is well-suited to publicity of any kind, and terrorists have long been using it to promote their goals. Terrorism is an example of asymmetric conflict, in which the terrorist organization is the weaker party. Terrorists, as small sub-state actors, have less power than the nation-states that they are fighting against, which forces them to use unorthodox means to achieve their goals. But the increasing reach and accessibility of the media has given them an extraordinary powerful megaphone. They don’t need huge financial resources or masses of people. They simply require the will to carry out acts of cruelty that defy normal human experience, creating narratives that we are compelled to relay.

It is disappointing that, even in the aftermath of Leveson, editors are demonstrating so little care in how they report. The mainstream media still plays the crucial role in defining the public opinion that is amplified on social media. There are times when the pursuit of an easy buck must be set to one side. With the EDL on the streets and mosques under attack, what we need now is not the sordid satisfactions of inflammatory headlines. Our media has the chance to foster dialogue and prompt a compassionate response to the incident. They must seize the opportunity to prove the central role they can play in a healthy democracy.

Royals have to draw line in the sand – but it’s a high-risk move

This piece originally appeared on

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.

Vladimir Putin and the pitfalls of the personality cult

Vladimir Putin inspired worldwide scorn and a few great photoshops this week when he announced his plans to aid the migration of some unfortunate birds with the help of his trusty hang glider and a superhero-esque costume. In some sense, people are right to laugh- Putin is a crazed autocrat, so mad on his personality cult that he is to an extent divorced from the realities of the media.

And yet, we might consider an alternative, somewhat disruptive viewpoint. There is something here the western media are missing. A Russian friend of mine recently remarked to me that it’s difficult for an outsider to grasp the necessity of projecting an image of macho power to maintain dominance in mainstream Russian society. In mocking Putin we are implicitly denying the fact that this is a serious means of holding on to some serious power.

What’s more, scoff all you want but you can’t deny Putin’s achieved some kind of result. In the wake of the Pussy Riot scandal, his brand was about as toxic as a politician’s can get. Now, he’s a laughing stock abroad- probably one step up from a tyrannical monster- and at homeamongst the less vocal majority of Russian society, his masculinity is re-affirmed.

What builds a personality and makes an icon is unpredictable. Twenty years ago it would have been extremely difficult for a person with severe disabilities to enjoy national treasure status, now our newspapers are full of smiling paralympians. The result of sustained, progressive public perception changing work this may be, but it goes to show that, when it comes to the motivations of the crowd and the drivers of fame, you really can never say never.

There’s a lesson here for CEOs. Don’t behave quite like Putin, but accept that building an inspirational brand involves activities which might sound ridiculous or unachieveable to the naysayers. Sometimes, it really is best to shut out the critics and go your own way.

A Major Record Deal

At Borkowski towers we took in John Major’s statesmanlike Leveson testimony with bated breath, gathered around a single laptop like blond-mopped 30s tots listening timorous but resolute to the velvety tones of Churchill on the wireless, the glow of the screen illuminating our haggard faces like a ray of hope stealing through the curtains of ignorance which mask the grubby windows of press transparency.

Eyes locked in half-closed intensity, hair cemented into the iron permanence usually seen, nay felt, only in the ancient standing stones of the Earth’s wild corners, he dids’t bestride the narrow courtroom like a colossus. His views on civil service-led regulation were heartfelt, his words on the plurality of the media erudite, his blue-wash tie-shirt combo possessed of all the gravity of a pre-Veritas Robert Kilroy Silk.

After about 5 minutes, we came round and remembered that John Major’s face, demeanour and clothing repel the human attention span so effectively that his aides have to wear protective eyewear when preparing him for speeches. We thought we’d help the poor chap out with some alternative visuals better suited to a fickle and feckless 2012 audience. Behold the result.

Chisora/Haye- newest casualties of the sports media machine

The Chisora-Haye post fight Brew-ha ha over the weekend was a stark reminder that the world of Boxing provides us with the clearest and noisiest examples of the many pitfalls open to the young sports star. The scuffle between the two men has seen papers of all stripes filled with talk of the ‘disgrace’ in which they’ve left the sport.

Of course, if boxing can indeed be discredited by an out of ring scuffle, its name is already irredeemably muddied. The Guardian and the Mail both took the opportunity to run in one form or another gleeful summaries of past dust-ups, from Tyson and Lewis back to the racially-charged mid 80’s scrapping of Mark Kaylor and Errol Christie. It’s now pretty difficult to talk about the noble sport of the pugilistic gentleman with a straight face.

Where once the great showman Muhammed Ali used pre show/off-ring hype like an artist, whether to catch George Foreman off guard in the Rumble in the Jungle or whipping up long term media coverage around his rivalry with Joe Frazier, the practice has become cheap and often counterproductive.

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The Future of Journalism is the Future of PR

I bumped into someone the other night who described themselves as a ‘media relations director’ for a PR firm. It got me thinking- in my agency’s previous incarnation I employed someone in a similar role, and was generally pretty pleased with the results. However, with the role of PR in relation to the media- and the media itself- changing at a frightening rate, the existence of such a role led me to think about the changes in modern journalism, and their meaning for the PR world.

The death of print journalism in its current form is a fact- the industry is in freefall. This continuous groundswell, augmented by the firestorm of Leveson, has turned the public- by and large- furiously against the journalistic profession. As the prevalence and standing of conventional print media declines, the PR industry will necessarily morph over years and decades into a hybrid beast, incorporating networking, influencing and social media as its key tenets.

Media of all kinds are almost by definition dominated by curiosity and novelty, with timeframes set by miniscule attention spans. Yet despite the undoubted importance of considering what’s next, we mustn’t forget the importance of what is, what we have already. While I’m aware there are many in the industry ready to gleefully welcome a lobotomised, castrated press, I can’t imagine anything more tragic.

From a PR perspective, no amount of saccharine, tame coverage can beat the engagement and story value brought by a great independent journalist getting behind you. A journalist willing to blandly spew out whatever a PR tells them may bring column inches for the client, but their copy won’t generate actual conversation. A fantastic journalist who gets truly excited by the recommendation of a trusted publicist will be the one to make or break a meme.

Aside from anything else, those with dedication to fact and authenticity- and the training to pursue it- will always be needed as mediators. Even in a world dominated by the chattering of the masses, someone needs to be present to sift through the torrent of useless information to find the gold, not just in terms of the truth, but in terms of what’s genuinely exciting, truly valuable.

Death of a Journalist- and a New Era for Her Profession

In an inquiry Room at the Royal Courts of justice, a tortuous inquisition plays out the last moves of a decades long confrontation. Sagacious commentators suggest we’re watching the inexorable death throes of a once proud profession. Journalism puts up a brave fight, but the lustreless altercations at the feet of Lord Leveson project an inevitable futility.

As editors faced the muzak, a genuine tabloid legend’s coffin was making its way past a sea of solemn faces inside a dimly lit church in SW15. Mournful voices drowned out by the perpetual clang of a tolling bell heard moving tributes celebrating the life of ‘Smoking’ Sue Carroll.

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Starting a business? Keep your eyes forward and your ears tuned to what’s real

“The media wants overnight successes (so they have someone to tear down). Ignore them.”

So writes .com marketing legend Seth Godin in his piece “The Secret of the Web”. He’s totally correct. As anyone who has ever striven to realise an original idea knows, not only the media but those with the power in business and in society are professional cynics working to a very small time scale. If you want to create something real, you’ll have to spend a lot of time ignoring those who take your lack of results as proof of failure almost as soon as you’ve started.

It’s a thought that conmingled in my head over the weekend with the triumph of the pathetically named but surprisingly talented ‘Little Mix’ in this year’s X Factor. The audience got behind this somewhat rag-tag bunch because they got about as close to representing truth and single-minded determination as it’s possible to on the X Factor.

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Leveson and the Obscurity of the Media (following on from my thoughts on Radio 5)

Ah the double-edged sword of technology: yesterday I managed to spark a very interesting debate during a Skype interview for Radio 5’s ‘Double Take’ regarding the Leveson inquiry. However, just as things were getting interesting- and before I could voice some of my key points- the connection was cut and I was left stranded in my home office.

The debate proceeded, the media machine turned, and I was powerless to change or influence it, or to explain my true point in any audible way. See any analogues?

The problem that the hacking scandal and the Leveson inquiry have thrown up is that, for most people, the media acts in just this way but writ large. It tantalises the average person as it touches on their daily lives, yet it is ultimately a mysterious and unalterable process to them.  When Jane Garvey asked me to clarify what it was I do this was brought home to me- would she ask the same of a solicitor or accountant?

The squabbles between the media and the famous are elevated to epic battles in the eyes of the public, who witness them through a filter. The reality is that this is a procedural question as complex and unromantic as its equivalent in any business. With tabloid journalism now largely driven by showbiz, and the public’s appetite for stories as ravenous and insatiable as ever, certain questions need to be asked and decisions made. However, they need to be made in a measured and demystified manner.

It would be better both for the media and for those in the public eye (who most often suffer the same banal problems as the rest of us) if the voodoo was stripped away.