Posts Tagged ‘recession’

The Pakistan Flood PR Failure

Given the scale of the flood disaster in Pakistan, it is distressing to see that the British media seems to be missing any sense of urgency about it. Any coverage seems to be being abrogated in favour of the urgent news that Wayne Rooney may have slept with prostitutes.

I am beginning to wonder if there is any racism involved here, ingrained in our reaction. The country is in turmoil, but we are busy with shaming and hounding our sportsmen. America is busy too – attempting to stave off a nut with a church to his name who wants to burn the Koran on September 11th. But the PR pressure and energy the American government is expending on saying that this bigot is wrong could surely be better spent helping the Pakistani people. We are talking about a disaster on a magnitude as great if not greater than Haiti. And yet nothing seems to be happening. Read the rest of this entry »

How to Share in a Coalition

The Treasury team stepped out into the sunshine to announce George Osborne’s raft of cuts which aim to make recovery a sure thing – a wise move, as it’s always easier to disguise bad news in good weather.

There was a fair bit of tough news to swallow all round, but what intrigued me was the way that Osborne deferred to Lib Dem Chief Secretary to the Treasury, David Laws, when it came to handing out the truly hard-to-swallow news.

This is where the coaltion comes into its own for the Tories; they have more seats and more cabinet members than the Lib Dems, but they get to share the pain equally. Should these cuts in spending create a double dip recession, as Labour predicted, the Tories will work hard to offload the worst of it onto the shoulders of their coalition colleagues, as they did today.

Jacko and the power of Twitter

Michael Jackson’s done it again, surprising all the nay sayers who had written him off as a wash-out and a has-been. He’s sold out 50 dates at the O2 arena and will, assuming everything goes according to plan, play to around a million fans over that period.

Clearly all the web chatter on Twitter and other social networking sites has helped; this has been the venue for the hardcore fans of Jacko to turn the tables on the now-isolated traditional media who had written the newly re-crowned King of Pop off in the wake of court cases, alleged child abuse and years of hiding in unspecified venues around the world.

They have clearly forgotten the sheer number of committed Jackson fans out there, who worship regardless of scandal and who are an affluent global community. The media and Jackson’s record company are quite simply out of touch with the importance of such a huge and motivated fan base – in much the same way, Cliff Richard was written off and yet still sold records and concert tickets.

OK, this residency at the O2 won’t convert new fans to the Jackson cause, but it is proof of two things:

  1. if anyone underestimates the power of social networking, they are fools – this residency was being tweeted about weeks before any official announcement was made and it was this as much as anything that drove the astonishingly speedy sales of all tickets;
  2. that there is hope for the economy – people are prepared to spend on feelgood moments such as reliving their youth by seeing Michael Jackson in concert.

Of course, it helps that Jackson – or more likely his people – have cannily kept that starting price for tickets for the concerts low. £50 to £75 is nothing when Madonna was charging well in excess of £100 for a basic ticket recently. This has brought fans from Germany, Italy and France flocking to the O2 Arena, which is surely now the world’s premiere music venue, having played host to Prince, Led Zeppelin, Madonna and a forthcoming 50 date residency from Michael Jackson

Entertainment is a potent economic driver and, if sales for Jacko’s concerts are anything to go by, it may yet help reduce the drag and friction of the recession. But there is no room at the moment to spend big on advertising in the traditional sense; any entertainment, be it rock concerts, theatre, cinema or books, needs to tap in to the word of mouth bonanza that is the social internet.

There’s a long way to run of course – the dates wind to a close early next year and Jackson is a relatively frail man. The pressure of 50 shows could really take it’s toll. But at the moment, the Jacko phenomenon seems unstoppable. I’d say that this is the first hopeful sign for the economy I’ve seen in a while. Now let’s hope everyone learns the lessons it offers.

Howard Zieff and Learning from the Past

I heard today that Howard Zieff had died – a name I’d not really encountered before, despite the fact that he’d directed a few breezy comedies like Private Benjamin, starring Goldie Hawn – but the obituaries made me sit up and take notice. It turns out that, when he started out in advertising, he was very much in the Jim Moran mold; a man who used wit to get people talking and whose campaigns kick-started the more realistic advertising and promotion of brands that has become so commonplace and important to modern advertising and PR.

Raised in the Bronx, Zieff’s major breakthrough was to use real people in the adverts he created, real people whose faces told a story every bit as clearly as the adverts themselves. His most famous advert was for Levy’s rye bread, which ran with the tag line: ”You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s.”

“’We wanted normal-looking people, not blond, perfectly proportioned models,’” he told the New York Times a few years ago. And normal for Zieff, who grew up in the Bronx, was a wide, multicultural mix. The Levy’s advertisements, therefore, featured an American Indian, a Chinese man and a black child.

“’I saw the Indian on the street; he was an engineer for the New York Central,” Zieff told the New York Times. “’The Chinese guy worked in a restaurant near my Midtown Manhattan office. And the kid we found in Harlem. They all had great faces, interesting faces, expressive faces.’”

Another of Zieff’s big, early campaigns was for The Daily News, which captured the spirit of Jim Moran on film; each advert featured a person reading the paper and becoming so engrossed that they accidentally did ridiculous things – a petrol pump attendant placing the petrol hose in his customer’s pocket rather than the car, for example.

He was also involved in bringing stars like Robert de Niro and Dustin Hoffman to the fore, thanks to his interest in strange and interesting faces rather than the perfection that was the norm of the time. Zieff, in the face of considerable opposition, created the template for a great deal of today’s advertising.

Modern advertising and PR, which has thrived on the witty, truthful and artfully homespun approach to promotion that Zieff instigated, often forgets one thing that he perpetuated, however; the determination to do something new and radical and his ability to get word of mouth out of it.

He created a buzz with his adverts using models from all cultures and walks of life, a stir that ran hand in hand with the mood of the times. He learned from the past and looked to the future, rightly assessing that in an era where Rosa Parks, JFK and Martin Luther King were changing the political landscape of America, brand promotion should not be far behind. He was always pushing at the boundaries to see where he could take his advertising next.

In an age of digital marketing and instant access to information, an age where that information is overwhelming, an age of recession, publicists and advertisers need to be taking the bold steps into new ideas that Zieff took or they are likely to be left behind.

It is no longer enough to rely on the ideas he created, which have become tropes and clichés thanks to their ubiquitous use. The past should be plundered, yes, but not for the ideas that have become stale with overuse. We should be looking at out of the box thinkers like Moran and Zieff and be inspired to think as hard, fast and wittily as they did, in the hope that we can create something new and exciting, something that will generate that holy grail of the publicity world; awed, surprised, astonished or even just amused word of mouth, something that people will talk about for years to come and that will, with any luck, become cliché in 40 years time.

Not Rocking the BRITS

Where have all the rebellious heroes of British music gone? If the Brit Awards are anything to go by, there is pretty much no such animal anymore, just a parade of no-marks who are too wary of upsetting Mastercard, the sponsors, and the TV executives to do anything interesting.

The fact that the inoffensive Welsh songstress Duffy, a fine singer if you like your music to hark back to a supposedly innocent era where everyone was happy and no one rocked the boat, has been crowned the overall winner of this year’s Brits merely reinforces the corporate sheen of the modern awards, and where no alcohol is served whilst the TV show is filmed in case of trouble. No trouble is allowed, of course, in case it interferes with the mundane business of rewarding money with more money.

As recently as a decade ago, there was an inevitability about some sort of mischievous prank being pulled at the Brits; the award ceremony could be relied upon to provide at least one instance of much-needed end-of-winter anarchy in the TV schedules, be it Chumbawamba dousing John Prescott in water and changing the lyrics of Tubthumping to support the Liverpool dockers, Jarvis Cocker waving his arse at Michael Jackson or the KLF firing blanks at the crowd from the stage before depositing a dead sheep outside the venue.

Even Mick Fleetwood and Sam Fox’s notoriously bad presentation style at the 1989 Brits seems like a paragon of rock ‘n’ roll anarchy now, in an era when all we get by way of mischief and outrage is the crawling skeleton that is Amy Winehouse abasing herself in the Caribbean.

Of course, it was Fleetwood and Fox’s reign of autocue terror on the show that stopped it from being broadcast live; the first step in a steady progression of limitations that saw the Brits become less a celebration of modern music and more of a corporate jolly at a seaside resort, shackling British rock music to the tedious format that spawned it simply by reacting violently against it: the 1950s variety show.

Watching the Brits now, it’s as if the Beatles never went to Hamburg or discovered acid, as if the Rolling Stones never scared the parents of the Baby Boomer generation. Everyone plays nicely and the nation’s passion for music dribbles away.

The Brits, and pop music in general, need adventure, excitement, mischief, stunts and anarchy. Someone needs to be rewarded for all of the above, not just for toeing the line and practising the art of appeasement with big business and the company bosses. Rock ‘n’ roll demands bad behaviour. It’s great that Iron Maiden were awarded Best Live Act – here was one band in the line up who have always pushed the boundaries of publicity, moved forward and never just caved in to industry pressure, thanks in great part to their excellent manager Rod Smallwood.

The same can’t be said for the other winners. Girls Aloud are, without doubt, a nice bunch of women who perform cheery, upbeat songs, but they have no serious agenda; they are part of a celebrity money machine that is dying on its feet as the world of high finance implodes and people discover that they want more serious, cerebral and inventive things in their lives.

Sales of broadsheets are up, The Economist is experiencing a surge in sales. In the face of coming hardship, people are bound to want their entertainment to mean something again, to have a story behind it that is more than a metaphor for the excesses of the banking world. Amy Winehouse drinking herself into oblivion is not rebellion; what the rock and pop scene needs is a good selection of agent provocateurs amongst their ranks, unsettling the stale corporate shindig that is the Brits with something a little more radical and exciting.

Good music PR cannot just rely on churning out the latest set of sound-a-likes and hoping they’ll do something stupid or crazy (within a certain set of limits) for the press. In a digital download age, where music is becoming as ubiquitous as breakfast cereal, acts that want to break through with credibility intact are going to have to think very hard about what they have to say, what their music has to say and how they want to go about promoting it.

Christmas Axe Heroes

Christmas is fast approaching and the battle to be top game dog is at its most intense, with the R word hanging over most products and retailers. Confidence is key – keep the stores upbeat and they will support the product on the sales floor. And nothing bespeaks confidence quite as well as good promotional campaign in the run up to Christmas.

Take Guitar Hero, for example; the awesome marketing power behind this much-loved computer game is undeniable and whilst one might argue that its latest incarnation, Guitar Hero World Tour, doesn’t really need to be plugged, hey, they went ahead and produced a viral campaign anyway.

And I’ve got to say I love it; it’s smart, clever and obviously has traction, given that it has accumulated 1,587,794 views, nearly 7000 comments and is clearly driving a huge online conversation. In the past I have experienced promo hubris – the belief of some brands that seasonal desirability negates the need for further marketing spend on promo.

The Guitar Hero boys, however, haven’t sat back on their Christmas laurel wreaths; instead they have worked hard with the drive to promote their latest offering. I hope they will be rewarded when the sales are evaluated. Let’s just hope that EUK warehouses are not full of the product come January.