Posts Tagged ‘PR’
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.
As I write this from Los Angeles, the news ticker is awash with the minutiae of the horrific bombing that took place in Boston today as marathon runners crossed the finishing line. Doctors are telling stories of innumerable injuries and amputations; eye witnesses are giving accounts of terror and confusion; the President is offering platitudes until the truth can be established, and pundits are hypothesizing about who the culprits might be.
The narrative is expanding in all directions.
At the time of writing, no one has yet come forward to take responsibility for the events, but make no mistake, this attack was designed for the 24/7 news cycle. It is no coincidence that the bomb was set to explode in front of the cameras at the finishing line on a day when international eyes would be upon the area.
Fundamentalists of all persuasions have an innate understanding of narrative and the power of the shareable story, as often the existence of their ideology depends on it. These doctrines have spread and proliferated because they are pure, stripped-down and unblighted by complication, providing simple, black-and-white answers to difficult questions that stand out in a sea of grey.
Unfortunately, terror has been a part of the fundamentalist press kit for millennia, and has secured the sure-fire spread of noxious messaging for centuries.
If you examine propaganda’s most secret causes, you will come to different conclusions: there will be no more doubting that the propagandist must be the man with the greatest knowledge of souls. I cannot convince a single person of the necessity of something unless I get to know the soul of that person, unless I understand how to pluck the string in the harp of his soul that must be made to sound. If we underestimate their understanding of the basics of PR and the battle is lost – these zealots are schooled in the dark arts.
What have Kim Jong-Un and Pope Francis got in common? Both evoke the interest of a global audience transmitting their message through an attention-grabbing communications medium.
As Easter is just past us, it’s only natural that our attentions might turn towards the Vatican at this time of year. The rise and rise of Pope Francis has been interesting to watch so far – it certainly seems that the Vatican has chosen the right man for the job.
Pope Francis has moved from strength to strength, tackling all the thorny issues facing the Holy See straight on, unafraid to confront the difficult issues at hand, speaking with frankness to the media at every opportunity. He is engaged with social media – the @Pontiff Twitter feed has doubled its following since he took office – and never misses a good photo opportunity.
Whether he has been washing and kissing prisoners’ feet or signing the cast of a girl with a recently broken leg, he has been making a proactive effort to align himself with the grass roots of the Church. He is fit for purpose and managing the repositioning of the Church well.
On the other side of the world, another new(ish) leader has been grabbing global headlines: Kim Jong-Un. The epitome of vintage totalitarian cliché, Kim Jong-Un has been throwing any conceivable toy from the Pyongyang pram to try and assert himself as a force to be reckoned with in recent weeks. The global media lap up his lame photo opps, printing his ludicrous spiel.
The world has been growing weary of his radioactive rhetoric on the political front, but he has certainly proved himself prime material for political parody since he stepped into his father’s shoes. From Seth MacFarlane to The Onion, he has shown a talent for grabbing headlines, even if it may not be in the way he would like.
The Pontiff and The Leader in Pyongyang have one thing in common: the force of personality.
I am reminded of a Goebbels axiom: “The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly – it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over”
Amidst all the high-profile outrage surrounding the Sunderland manager, di Canio’s recent declaration that he is a fascist, I have found myself wondering how a multi-billion pound industry can pay so little attention to its press machine.
The rights and wrongs of his political beliefs are probably best debated in another forum, but the simple fact is that the handling of the media circus has been highly damaging or the Premiership club.
Important political allies and backers of the team have sought to distance themselves in light of the furore; David Miliband seems to be particularly concerned about the contagion (although he is already leaving to start a career in the United States), he has made a point of stepping down from the Club’s board.
It is astonishing that an industry that thrives in the public eye is so incapable of handling its own media image. While players agents and advisors manipulate self-interests. Most of their power is used to manipulate petty transfer tittle-tattle on tabloid back pages. The reality of the work debases the concept of communication.
The correct PR path in circumstances like these is to address the question, offer an explanation and put the issue to rest. Refusing to answer means the fiasco could drag on forever: the facts of the matter are left open to debate and silence is quickly filled with noxious speculation.
If di Canio is indeed a fascist, he is failing to show radical authoritarian leadership through his PR.
There is an increasing dissatisfaction amongst the British public with traditional politics and politicians who are perceived as untrustworthy and lacking conviction. Gone are the days of revered and reviled politicians with a cult-like following. In a muddied playing field where the only political colours seem to be varying shades of brown, strong personalities are succeeding in favour of particular social mores.
In this new political era, where the differences between figureheads seem minimal at best, could we be approaching an era where personality means more than values?
Boris Johnson, who has remained a constant feature in the public eye under a plethora of different guises, has come under fire on more than one occasion for misdemeanour, yet has emerged relatively unscathed when it comes to public opinion.
The public are endeared by his bumbling Have I Got News For You comedic persona and he has an uncanny ability to rouse the crowd. Scandal after scandal, Johnson has emerged triumphant, securing his place as Mayor of London for a second consecutive term, with many a bookie taking bets that he may vie for party leadership in the future, despite denying the suggestion on numerous occasions.
However, following the Eddie Mair interview this weekend, it will be interesting to see if Johnson has been beaten at his own game. Tired and unprepared for the onslaught upon his integrity, Johnson was unable to keep up with, counter-spin, or wriggle out of, Eddie Mair’s questioning. Not since the Paxman vs. Howard interview in 1997 have we seen such squirming.
We will have to watch to see if memes develop around this to damage Johnson’s career, or whether the event will simply go further to expanding his public profile. In an interview earlier yesterday, he appeared to take the critique with good grace, stating that Mair was “perfectly within his rights to have a bash at me”. Only time will tell if the Cult of Boris will live to tell another tale.
So why has Stuart Higgins packed his bags and taken the long 12 hour flight to South Africa to wrangle one of the toughest PR gigs of the moment? Benjamin Disraeli said “One secret of success in life is for a man to be ready for his opportunity when it comes”.
Higgins is no slouch as the ex-editor of the Sun was. Having first served as Editor, Higgins is the game keeper has turned poacher. He has worked with a number of high-profile figures with great success, most notably in his efforts to humanise Andy Murray.
Some commentators might suggest the Pistorius spill would usually be a job for Max Clifford or a US juggernaut, but I’m not surprised. The job has fallen into the hands of Higgins for a number of reasons: first and foremost is familiarity. Higgins provided Pistorius with PR support for the 2012 Olympic Games, and it appears Clifford may be laying low at the moment. The US megafauna, such as Matthew Hiltzik and Mark Fabiani are probably put off by the budget, and are likely to feel greater psychological separation from South Africa than those in the UK do.
Pistorius’s fall from grace will not be judged by a jury, a process abolished by South Africa in 1969. This gritty, high-profile case will put Higgins’s mark on the international map win or lose. I wish him luck with a very tough gig.
Despite all the noise surrounding Pope Benedict’s resignation, we will doubtless see the same arcane processes in the choosing of the next Pope, highlighting all the inadequacies of the Catholic brand at a time when it is weaker than ever. Betting websites are already placing odds on who the next Pope is going to be, and the secretive internal processes framed by smoke signals will only intensify the media focus on all the negatives.
It is curious that religious figures are not doing more to embrace the popular media, crafting a popular character to lead the church into the 21st century. Pope John Paul II was always going to be a difficult media act to follow but Benedict’s resignation still comes as a surprise. Pope Benedict’s abdication provides a mixed opportunity to reinvigorate Catholic communications and to create a stronger figurehead.
Prince Harry is the ultimate recruitment poster boy for the Call of Duty generation. As a soldier Prince, he is in his element: today’s media is plastered with pictures of him in subtle battle dress, poses framed by an apache helicopter gunship, underlining his sense of purpose and presenting him in hero-like dimensions.
From Las Vegas to Camp Bastion, Harry’s headlines – both good and bad – build a modern heroic monomyth around him. He may be a professional soldier – but am I alone in preferring to read about his rock ‘n’ roll hedonism rather than this latest “I killed in Afghanistan” meme?
Hadley Freeman made an apt caricature of Harry’s media appearance in the Guardian, comparing them to “an especially sloaney university’s production of Top Gun (it’s the sunglasses)” and bringing attention to the media “omerta” that surrounds him.
Despite spending a considerable amount of money keeping Harry physically safe, the investment seems to be missing when protecting his image during his end-of-tour media commitment. Arguably, his complacent PR minders dropped their guard. However, some of these soundbites are already having negative resonance in the region he works hard to improve.
Harry uses the language of the squaddie in his interviews, comparing his experience to that of a computer game. Such comments have angered senior officials who have said it is disrespectful to those who died alongside Captain Wales.
Criticising the media was another own-goal – by now the prince should know better and should rise above the clichéd clamour. Harry is popular with the crowd, so why does he allow his cynicism towards the Third Estate create future tensions?
Harry’s comments have been a media failing for the military, diplomacy and his supporters here in the UK. As Rob Crilly pointed out in his recent Telegraph article, the fight against insurgents will be “as much about PR salvoes as it is about rockets and bullets”. Flippant comments have handed extremists a propaganda prize that will have a far more enduring sting than the inconvenience of the media junket.
Stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, and most recently, his Sydney Olympic medal, the only wheels turning under Lance Armstrong right now are those of the press machine. After months of denying the allegations placed against him for doping and being placed under a life ban, Armstrong’s missing the taste of the fame game and has turned to the Supreme Oracle that is Oprah Winfrey to try and redeem his name in a celebrity-bares-all interview.
Obviously, Armstrong has an ambition to try and get back into the public frame. He craves the love of the herd and must be desperate to reinvent this odious legacy. When someone like Armstrong has had such an extraordinary career, they can become addicted to its limelight. He is ambitious, and is already seeding memes about taking part in a triathlon.
Armstrong is currently being held back by a number of unresolved issues. To date, he has kept his head below the parapet, and but for the perseverance of a few dogged and dedicated journalists would probably still be denying the allegations now – like many big brands, Armstrong fell victim to hubris.
Some reports suggest that the Anti-Doping Agency gave Armstrong a chance to plea bargain – a move that could have been one of the most significant moves in the war against drugs that we’ve seen – however – Armstrong seems to have maintained the arrogant belief that he could beat all these charges on his own.
As the crowd have gathered force and the Livestrong campaign has distanced itself from his brand however, Armstrong has had to accept that it’s time to change tack. And change tack he has.
The Oprah Winfrey campaign has been exceedingly well-executed. The interview has been presented as “no holds bound”, with Winfrey claiming to have been “mesmerised” by the interview and to have prepared for it “like a college exam”, bringing over 112 interview questions into the round with her.
In addition to all this pre-release press, Armstrong has the added advantage of having given the interview as a pre-record from his own home. All the props he needs to fashion a comeback are there. The world is watching intently, and the journalists who have hounded Armstrong to date will be baying for answers.
Despite having all the props and the power of Oprah behind him, Armstrong gave a lacklustre first offering. Although this is to be expected in a game of two halves, the confession offered by Armstrong was sterile – offered by a personality that didn’t look particularly full of contrition. He shed no tears and displayed no visible signs of emotion. At times he appeared arrogant and self-contained.
It is time to come clean – but will the exercise reposition him? Who knows.
The PR onslaught is the start of the rehabilitation. Like Chernobyl, he is a voyeur’s toxic attraction. His brand has the radiation equivalent to about 400 Hiroshimas and it’s lonely living in the dead zone. I predict this PR exercise will inch forward and dilute a microscopic fraction of the issues. However, if he hasn’t structured a plan of epic genius, there is more chance of the Russian nuclear sire becoming habitable in the next 5 years.
If Saint Augustine were alive he might proclaim “The media hast made him for thyself , and its heart is restless until it finds its rest in it”. Because the world expected this to be a classic PR exercise the optimised event was indeed a perfect PR pitch. It might not be the best advert for Armstrong and the sport of cycling: the real winner is Mark Fabiani.
Fabiani, lawyer-cum-public-relations-strategist has represented Armstrong since July 2010, when the FDA made its initial investigation into the first doping allegations. With his business partner Chris Lehane, Fabiani has worked the some of the stickiest reputation management issues the world has seen, earning them the title the “Masters of Disaster” for their handling of the Clintons’ reputations in the wake of the Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky scandals.
Waitrose have joined the happy band of consumer brands to have a well-intentioned twitter campaign hijacked, as their #waitrosereasons hashtag found itself the source of various class-based jibes at the expense of this most well-heeled of retailers. I am still trying to work out if this was a calculated attempt to kick off a conversation. Certainly It’s part of a noble tradition, stretching back to Skittles’ 2009 decision to replace their homepage with a live twitter feed (cue a series of posts along the lines of “skittles: ANAL CUNT THAT IS GOOD”). Recently, Mountain Dew has also succumbed.
Many will applaud Waitrose, however, for turning a potential damp squib into some great column inches. Countless outlets ran significant analysis pieces, presumably as the result of a quick nudge from a Waitrose PR pixie, and the Waitrose social media team made it expressly clear- albeit in the ‘forced grin’ fashion of a doddery politician or low-status boss- that they found it all, mostly, really rather funny.
Timing wise, they’ve scored a great coup, cementing themselves firmly into the media consciousness on a Friday and thus ensuring coverage throughout the lucrative affluent shopping hours of Saturday and Sunday. There’s no doubting, too, that this was an admirable display of both flexibility and a sense of fun.
Yet at the same time, the question is begged as to whether anyone sought a long-range, helicopter view before taking this tack. Responsive and attention-grabbing it may have been, but the PR team’s actions sit uneasily with the brand as a whole, and one must wonder whether any c-suite figures would share their sense of humour. Was this a creative bit of conversation wrangling or a last-minute bolt on?
Nonetheless, the gods of evaluation are likely to applaud this as a major success: damned stats are always good for obscuring the backstory. The team should enjoy the coverage, whether it was them chasing it or no.