Posts Tagged ‘PR’

Adore the haters

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 »

You must just show up as yourself!

Malcolm Walker and Tom Reddy how we applaud you!

Being the subject of an observational documentary is not without risk, but Iceland emerges triumphant from their series because as an organization, they don’t perform. They don’t hide.  Malcolm and his team remain unashamedly authentic whilst not taking themselves too seriously. How wise. Who would have thought that Malcolm Walker and Tom Reddy, the steady, old school ad man would be showing us the way?

We exist in a world where it is very hard to miss your own reflection. It is more vital than ever that brands know what they look and sound like! Multi channel media demands businesses can quell customer satisfaction and enquiry in real time. In this instance, only the truth is good enough. Read the rest of this entry »

Don’t destroy a good story with fact: it gets in the way of the truth.

The PR and marketing landscape has forever changed, thanks to the ever-present giant that is the internet – never was this more obvious than when I looked at my audience at the SearchLove conference, which consisted of a plethora of technophiles looking lovingly at their laptops.

Interestingly enough, I was there to speak about PR cut-through in a digital age – an age that sees the ‘scroll of death’ as a daily occurrence. However, cradled handhelds and retina displays aside; I aimed to impress that the power of story is not lost; we must simply learn how to harness the crowd within a ‘Now Economy’. Read the rest of this entry »

Daily Mail’s magic trick: former half-human Red Ed, now fully formed

So the Mail/Miliband hoo ha drags on – as I write this an argument already played out a hundred times on twitter is being hashed out afresh on Question Time. I don’t want to contribute to either side of the moral debate, but I do want to make an observation. For once, the Mail, the hymn sheet of middle England, looks out of touch, while weirdy, wonky red Ed looks positively cuddly. How did this happen?

When the Mail ran Geoffrey Levy’s piece on Ralph Miliband last Saturday, it expected some backlash. Indeed, it wanted one. Ed Miliband was apopleptic. Who wouldn’t be? The paper also will have anticipated a certain amount of outrage from what Paul Dacre usually dubs the ‘liberalocracy’. In both cases, a bit of playful disruption would have boosted the Mail’s anti-establishment image and rattled a few cages ahead of the press regulation skirmishes to come.

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Narrative by numbers: The production line of storytelling

I recently came across a post on PR Newswire’s blog ( informing me of all the ways I could use storytelling to drive my business goals. Like the narrator of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, who finds himself cast back in time upon consumption of a madeline, I was sent rocketing back to the autumn of 2011. Leveson was only just winding into gear, Mr James Saville OBE lived in our hearts still as a treasured childhood companion, and a journalist friend of mine responded to an enthusiastic tweet I’d sent with a putdown. Replying to some thought I’d tweeted, she told me: “Mark, I’m bored of storytelling.”

She was wrong, of course. Typically for a journalist, she has a tiny attention span, and was perhaps unable to see the many applications of narrative thinking in communications. I’ve been preaching about the power of stories for years, but it was only around the turn of this decade that it became generally a faddish topic. I was happy when it did – for too long, clients of mine had been unable to see beyond their next ad deadline. Finally, people were beginning to understand that communications had to be deep and rich. They had to move people, and they had to last.

The point, however, is that by 2011 the value of stories was an established idea. Interesting and nuanced interpretations of it have come since, and the theory is still being applied to many great campaigns – Coca Cola’s ‘Content 2020’ remains the most powerful development of the theme. Nonetheless, in parlance likely to appeal to my journalist friend, storytelling in and of itself is old news. Whichever new biz pixie at PR Newswire decided to run that blog grossly miscalculated. Instead of looking hip, they look tired.

Not that we should be surprised – many of PR’s big beasts are well and truly on the rocks. Their client lists remain impressive – for now – but they were built to serve a dying model. In the days before communications were targeted, and smart, and deep, they’d get you a release to the people you needed it got to, across the world, at the same time. Nowadays, they’ll do the same, but they’ll do it after your competitors have swept Reddit, or YouTube, or Facebook with a ten second video, or created a media firestorm with one perfectly placed interview. They’re production lines, built to package repeat products, and this repackaged idea should be proof of just how slowly those production lines are running.

Plato, pressure and the death of PR stunts

Plato, pressure and the death of PR stunts

Activists scaled The Shard and the Home Office brazenly paraded their views on strategically driven ad vans. Has the PR stunt died a somewhat tepid death? In a CommsChat twitter conversation, Mark Borkowski discusses bullish lobbying, the art of EQ & the importance of play via Plato.

  1. Whoops. Try again.#Iceclimb did a ‘job” for Greenpeace. The challenge is to continue the Arctic conversation #commschat
  2. @CommsChat Ice climb made an impact on the day but like a lot of stunts, not much lasting impact #commschat
  3. @eddiemay @CommsChat Agree. Although I am told there is another spectacular in the works, #Greenpeace #commschat
  4. T2: T2: Why did Lynton Crosby & Lord Bell have such a bullish reaction to the toxic headlines surrounding their lobbying brands? #commschat
  5. Questions raised over Lynton Crosby, lobbying and cigarettes
  6. @CommsChat Lynton Crosby & Lord Bell are past masters of control. – uber confident & stand by their beliefs . #commschat
  7. T3: Social has created a compression of time in comms. How do you remain sane when handling PR or publicity? #commschat
  8. @CommsChat It boils down to working for clients with high EQ. Managing expectations and being able to say no. #commschat

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Lobbying washes whiter

When, in 2010, David Cameron described commercial Lobbying as the “next big scandal” in British politics, he drew attention to a strange truth. The work of the commercial lobbyist has all the necessary triggers for popular British outrage, not least because it’s conducted by a tightly networked elite behind closed doors. Despite this, the public and the press have never quite whipped themselves into requisite levels of ire for a proper witch hunt.

The practice is as old as sin itself – even the young Churchill dabbled in the dark arts for Burma Oil – and yet, for my money, the latest revelations surrounding Tory strategist Lynton Crosby will fizzle away into inconsequence. Labour have claimed his connections to the tobacco industry (his firm, Crosby Textor, advises tobacco companies) have led to his influencing policy around plain cigarette packaging. The Guardian today reveals that the firm has advised private healthcare providers on how to exploit weaknesses in the NHS. Neither of these developments is likely to cause irreparable damage.

Aside from anything else, the arrival of a new bundle of Royal joy into our lives is likely to prove a useful distraction for the Tories. Providing front-half filler for papers across the spectrum and a plethora of photo and comment ops for leading lights of Westminster, particularly Tories, government spinners will be looking to use this smokescreen to its fullest advantage.

Besides, the lobbying industry will by definition always have the PR edge. It’s a funny thing, but Lobbyists always seem to be immaculately turned out, beautifully spoken and have a gift for communicating their point effectively, reasonably and intelligibly. It’s almost like it’s their job or something. They aren’t heartfelt apologists – and neither should they be. They’re spinners, plain and simple. The best in the business.

Last week, we saw two wonderful spokespeople for the industry. I’ve expressed my grudging admiration for Lord Bell on this blog before. His opposition to the admittedly rather tame savaging of Sarah Wollaston MP on last Tuesday’s Newsnight was a masterclass of considered obfuscation. Repeatedly he drew attention to the lack of knowledge possessed by many critics of lobbying (“you don’t have the faintest idea what lobbyists get paid,” he acerbically observed at one stage). No matter that this lack of transparency is actually at the root of critics’ arguments; he looked unflappable and reasonable.

The other spokesperson was Crosby himself, who somehow managed to secure a gushing profile in the Telegraph last Wednesday. Eagle-eyed readers may have spotted a reference to Crosby’s big tobacco connections in para 15, but before this the piece praises a seemingly impossible range of attributes. Crosby, it tells us, is both blunt and subtle. Both shrewd and plain thinking. Both controversial and well-liked. Clearly, Crosby is a dab hand at wooing journalists. MPs, too, if the party’s much-noted morale boost during the term’s final PMQs is anything to go by.

I am not arguing that it’s impossible for this to become a true scandal – the press, and The Guardian and the Daily Mirror in particular, have been dogged in their pursuit of the truth. Politicians, as politicians will, have been doing their best to help them. Appearing on yesterday’s Andrew Marr Show, Cameron dodged a question about Crosby’s influence on policy, then answered Marr’s complaint with a haughty “well that’s the answer you’re getting,” an unfortunate outing for his old alter-ego Lord Flash-Heart. I’m fully aware that I am sticking my neck out here, but short of a major personal screw up by Crosby or Cameron I can’t see this going much further.

The PR mindset – which good Lobbyists most certainly possess – is all about controlling a narrative and, most importantly, facing down a storm with calm dismissal and mild good humour. Crosby and his ilk are more than capable of riding this one out for some time yet.

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.

Sally Osman, Paddy Haverson and the Royal PR machine

Today marks a momentous day for Sally Osman, who, in June, will take on the role of Communications Secretary to HRH The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall.

Whilst researching my book, The Fame Formula, which examined the PR legends of Hollywood, a pattern started to emerge: the very best publicists in the game were not taking on the A-listers as one might expect. Although such individuals can offer a publicist great collateral, they are dangerous. The wisest publicists are always wary of stepping into warm shoes.

When Jay Bernstein – who represented names like Sammy Davis Jr and Farrah Fawcett – looked back over his career and those he could have represented, he noted that there is always a reason why someone leaves a big job, and you will be judged by your predecessor’s success.

When a brand is successful, it’s important to take a hard look at who’s representing them.

Paddy Haverson, who took on the position in 2004 was a prudent and wise PR who knew how to harness the worst of times, turning them into stimulus for fairer weather.  will be a tough act for Osman to follow – he was an inspired choice, and in the nine years he spent in the role, managed to turn the media’s perception of the Royals completely on its head. His representation was almost near-faultless.

Osman and Haverson share a great set of contacts, wonderful relations and both are clever planners and execute decisive action. Success is a result of good judgment. Good judgment comes from experience, and experience is earned through poor judgment.

I rate Sally Osman, she is a strong PR, but she has a big challenge ahead of her. She has big shoes to fill, perfecting how to say ‘no’ to numerous requests, and potentially making a lot of enemies along the way. She will know all this, and I wish her every success in the new position.