Posts Tagged ‘Now! Economy’
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.
The zeitgeist of the modern age is firmly rooted in social networks and crowdsourcing. This has manifested itself in several instances within the music industry in recent years with artists like Radiohead and Amanda Palmer turning to their fan bases for direct support. This trend has crystalised today with the publication of a recent study by Nielsen revealing the desire amongst consumers for a different kind of engagement with artists.
According to Nielsen, bespoke, alternative and rare products such as handwritten lyrics and limited edition t-shirts could provide a real source of untapped revenue at a time when the music industry needs it most.
Nielson posits that a fans who might usually spend $15 on an album would spend much more if provided with the opportunity to buy premium content, particularly content that gives the feeling of a connection to the artist.
Over 53% of the most active music buyers said that they would be willing to pay for exclusive content from their favourite band, followed by 22% of the more ambivalent music consumers. Nielson calculates that this revenue could be worth between $564m for individuals buying exclusive content from one band, toting up to as much as $2.6bn incremental revenue if they were to buy from other bands as well.
The message is clear: bands need to reach out to the crowd and make sure that they inspire feelings of love amongst their fanbase. The verb ‘to like’ has suffered from hyperinflation in the Now! Economy, and if brands want to secure their futures, they better start investing in love instead: it may well prove the only lucrative currency.
The Truth must dazzle gradually. Or every man be blind. – an interesting aphorism from the pen of Emily Dickinson.
Sipping a lukewarm soya latte served by a man wearing a comedy moustache in a breathlessly contemporary Shoreditch caff, a client declared “I guess PR is all about crisis these days”; fascinating point of view.
At the time, like the caff (no, I’m not going to name it – it doesn’t deserve the benefit of a negative riff), I put it out of my mind as yet another exaggerated view of the misunderstood craft of modern public relations. Later, while shuffling back to office, his presumption reasserted itself.
The woe of Nick Clegg and the Liberal Party is out there for all to see, and for many people to feel. Chekhov apparently once said that any idiot can face a crisis, but that it is day-to-day living that wears you down. I’d like to suggest that the daily tyranny of social media might be added to this wearing-down process. Since its inception, the yoke of responsibility has become harder to bear for most people in the public eye.
The Liberals’ immediate reaction to this crisis has been to deny all knowledge of the sexual misdemeanours occurring under their watch. Such denial of knowledge, and thus responsibility, is becoming increasingly commonplace. From the senior management at Barclays bank in the wake of the LIBOR fixing scandal, to George Entwistle as the Jimmy Savile affair blazed on, it seems that nobody in a position of power knows what is going on below them these days.
In the digital era however, hiding behind ignorance isn’t as easy as it may have been in the past. It doesn’t take much digging to find a paper trail, and chronicling wrongdoing when a scandal breaks as a means of proving or disproving guilt is becoming standard practice in the news.
The crowd’s capacity for distrust attacks the weak and sullies reputations on a daily basis, rather like the medieval stocks. Public figures are tried by social media and judged for their sins; just look for the indelible stain of rotten tomatoes as you browse the media.
The avalanche of Twitter retweets must be utterly perplexing for the political spin machine. Robust PR has always been a game of solid advice delivered by independent consultants with a helicopter vision, consultants able to look at a client’s universe from the outside in. Internal, hubristic advice can miss the obvious as it is encumbered by myopic hope. Administrators and hope-holders pray that a maelstrom will pass, despite knowing where the locked cupboards are that store the familiar hanging corpses.
It’s time to wake up. Reputation damage isn’t just caused caused by what you know and what you are able to bury. Total transparency isn’t just a sound bite, it’s a reality – and falling in the comedy cow pat is avoidable if you face the worst case scenario. It’s not what you know that breaks figures – it’s what you don’t know. True, trusted help should be centred around rigorous governance that doesn’t let matters slip.
Unfortunately, the devious and the Machiavellian are thick on the ground. I like to refer to them as Subterranean Pond Rock Scum: happy to enjoy the perks of the job, these creatures edit the work description for greater gain. Finding those authentic, true and trustworthy is extremely challenging.
The post-Thatcherite, capitalist belief in success at any cost has created a generation of individuals blessed with the ability of conversing from both sides of the mouth. They trade in the speech equivalent of a linoleum: a cheap veneer to cover rotten flooring, adept at manoeuvring away from the mess that their stupidity has fashioned. Check for smiles and laughter: these people are great at hiding the facts because the difficult stuff might threaten their position.
If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about the answers. Unfortunately, there are few defences when the tsunami hits.
So what are the key attributes required to be a modern day PR, if the gig is all about crisis? Consider this: enduring reputations are earned and must reflect proven capabilities, values and accomplishments.
The expanding digital and social media universe amplifies reputational risks and feeds off the weak and unprepared.
Business brands and individuals face intense collateral damage and need to monitor their reputations in a way never seen before. Clients require experienced, battle-hardy, intelligent support as value is derived from what is understood, more than who is influenced.
If you haven’t the stuff, the moral compass and intelligence for the Now! Economy, pass on by. PR isn’t about clipboard Nazis, Yes men and women, or fluff and bluster. It’s about bright heads and formidable experience. Ask the difficult questions and dig deep. Challenge those you trust.
I’ll leave the last word to Banksy: “Your mind is working at its best when you’re being paranoid. You explore every avenue and possibility of your situation at high speed and with total clarity.”
Do we worship celebrities? Maybe. A while ago, a smart wag who was looking for a quick column inch to help promote a book identified a psychological condition: Celebrity Worship Syndrome. An unfortunate malady has developed from this type of homage.
Certainly brands seek the endorsement of the gods of sport and entertainment, and over the years major brands have enjoyed the fruits of their investment. But the Now Economy age is challenging our appetite for the celebrity deity. Yesterday, Nike distanced itself from its iconic Blade Runner charge, Oscar Pistorius. His alleged crime, framed by an OJ Simpson-style court room soap opera, was perhaps a tragic reality moment too far.
Roping in celebrities, then giving them whopping amounts of money so the target customer associates himself with their products, is now under the microscope as never before. Some onlookers argue that it has lead to greater brand risk. The Tiger Woods meltdown is a stain and Lance Armstrong is a shocking historical footnote; but neither dropped the brand into a sewer of disrepute. Instead brands just seek a shinier version to replace the shattered and defamed icon.
Will the likes of Gillette or Nike stop embracing celebrities? I doubt it, but the process of choosing personalities will become more scrupulous and the potential benefits derived from endorsements will encounter tougher inspection.
The pressure loaded upon celebrities is a matter of brutal fact. Thrust into a harsh spot light, the lustful crowd feasts upon and then shares failure. The spectacle is a microwaved morsel inside a 24 minute news cycle; fleeting and inconsequential. Brands are naturally cautious when employing a celebrity, and by acting fast and making appropriate silences to distance themselves from a downturn, they are swiftly able to offer up a new hero to bear the yoke of burden. For a price.
The media may use a calamity to produce lurid headlines suggesting a meltdown. But the facts are clear: recent sports star crises might herald brand obituarists to reach for the quill, but it’s nothing more than rhetoric. The storm rises, the storm passes. The subsequent calm creates a happy opportunity for an agency to launch a bright, new, shining opportunity. The crowd sighs and faces a fresh champion served on a golden podium to be toasted by cheap champagne. The spin cycle of sporting heroes continues.
Autumn is a time for change. Recent weeks have seen a number of significant individuals take up prominent leadership roles: not only in Washington and the China Communist Party, but also in the major powerhouses of the communications world.
What is heartening is the fact that positions at the top are increasingly being occupied by those with a PR background. Recently, Everything Everywhere announced that Stuart Jackson was leaving his post as Director of Communications to take up a new role as Director of the Chief Executive Office. The move evinced the increased weighting that is being placed on public relations at senior management level. Put simply: boards are recognising that in the Now Economy, success begins and ends with the ability of a company to engage in a genuine, deep, meaningful two way dialogue with their customers.
This week Harris Diamond has been announced as the new CEO of global ad firm McCann World Group. Diamond has a distinguished track record- in PR. Previously top cheese at Weber Sandwich, Diamond is just the latest in an increasing number of professionals with a PR background being recruited by the advertising industry. Traditionally seen as our more creative cousins, there is a growing understanding that, in the modern world, innovative communications mean much more than making a sexy looking ad and buying some space to stick it on. In order to have traction, creative content must be generated in conversation with its audience. PRs have an understanding not only of compelling stories that capture the crowd, but also the conditions that must be in place to give the narratives they generate life in the long term, serving a brand long after a particular campaign disappears from our TV screens and billboards.
Of course, the result of this is that PRs are going to have to step up to the mark. Silos must be busted; mindless drudgery expelled from the workplace. We have thus far made poor work of defining what it is we do, and we must move to rectify this. Diamond’s job title- CEO of the Constituency Management Group- is hardly likely to elucidate matters: I’ve been given sleepless nights trying to work out exactly what the poor chap’s remit entails. We must hope that his mastery of the craft of communications shines through, and that he’s not just a bean counter in a PR person’s suit.
Speaking more widely, it is up to PR folk to ensure our skill set is fully understood; we must set our terms of engagement. We are being offered the opportunity to take our place at the top table, and we must seize it before it slips through our grasp.
The success of Innocent and Red Bull beverage brands inspired a slew of wannabe drink entrepreneurs ten years ago . Many of the hopefuls wandered through my doors looking for PR. One afternoon, two well healed young men stepped into my office bristling with an array of technicolour bottles, full of herbal fizz. A turbo charged mixture they believed would make them very, very rich. I sat with them interrogating their back story, probing for a hook which I could hang a campaign on. I believe great launch campaigns stem from the interrogation of a simple core truth, which can be expressed clearly to an audience. It’s not uncommon to unearth a story which the prospective client hasn’t realised is the killer app to create brand infamy.
On this particular occasion I struck gold. One of the guys spilled the beans. He was a personal friend of Prince Harry. It took a further twenty minutes to excavate the real treasure, the herbal tonic was adored by the Royal rat pack. However, the client refused to believe there was any value in an endorsement from a party loving Prince, who favoured the elixir as a hangover cure. This dispatched the drink to the ideas junk yard in the sky. It was to be one of many, ultimately crushed by the global drinks clients.
I guess the Las Vegas casino and tourist businesses have the opposite view of the Lad Prince. His party machine focused exceptional attention on Las Vegas this week. It’s now enjoying astonishing and unprecedented Royal endorsement, the kind of patronage money can’t buy. Perhaps another way to view this week’s rumpus is to call it a staggering PR coup – a global publicity campaign for the mischievous joys of sin city. Elvis, Siegfried and Roy, Cirque du Soliel are so yesterday. Overnight in every corner of the globe, young lads and women will be saving their cash to head for the shallow pool parties offered by the casinos to emulate the antics. Without spending a cent, the casino owners will cash in on a massive jackpot; a payout of undreamt fortunes. I can imagine the “Visit Las Vegas” bureau chiefs high fiving one another the length of the strip, reminiscent of the smart casino PR folk of the 1960s who knew a trick or two about spinning the misfortune of celebrities on the lash in Vegas.
So, what lessons can we learn from the soap opera? Two low res grainy camera phone images captured the fun and vitality of the party spirit of Sin City. A simple visual metaphor empowering an enthralling narrative. It possessed the triggers and amplifiers to generate a PR story, making it shareable, and captivating. It was funny, sexy, shocking, spectacular, illuminating, with a touch of schadenfreude. I preach about the Now! Economy, in a world in which nothing is certain, and everything is up for grabs. The Now Economy! is defined by speed, co-ownership, engagement, subjective truths polarity, celebrity and story. Communications in the Now! Economy will come to be defined by terms and tactics conventionally thought of as the domain of PR, because it is only through stories- stories that enrapture and over-ride the sceptical modern mindset- that the public can truly be excited and inspired. Harry’s tale contained all the drivers required to produce a perfect PR storm.
I expect the Prince and his minders to be more aware in the future. Lightening rarely strikes twice. But I suspect he’ll be welcomed with open arms to party in a variety of resorts across the globe. I estimated the value of the publicity generated by the Harry tale to be the region of the same return as the opening of a Hollywood blockbuster. Consider the value to the tax payer if his fun loving troupe was payed a fee to move the three ring circus into a country in need of a boost.
How about Blackpool? If the hoteliers could only build a party venue big enough for the Prince to misbehave, who knows, the fortunes of the seaside town might be rejuvenated overnight.
Sir, don’t fly off to Afghanistan, spread your mirth, laughter and outrageous antics to destinations in need of a PR boost.