Posts Tagged ‘TV’

How do you solve a problem like Frankie? Channel 4 joins the major leagues

Channel 4’s valiant efforts at major sports broadcasting have met two very particular challenges this week, each testing their capacity to cope with the full burden of an excitable, demanding and very very large public. It’s a classic David/Goliath situation. Channel 4, having spent a good deal of promotional budget painting itself as the rising underdog of Olympics broadcasting, the outlier set to burst in and show the turgid BBC how it’s done, has suddenly found itself with everything it wanted. Following the unexpectedly stellar status of the Olympics, the eyes of the world now turn toward the Paralympics. With them, however, comes a colossal weight of expectation. Whether C4 will weather the storm and emerge triumphant remains to be seen.

First, Frankie Boyle. The wayward Scotsman’s unique brand of Mail-baiting, arch-teenage snipery has always served Channel 4 well in grabbing a few controversial column inches and maintaining the broadcaster’s edgy comedy credentials. However, over the past few days the broadcaster has learned that relying too much on mavericks can be dangerous. When you become part of the mainstream, you’ll find yourself just as much in their firing line, and Boyle has certainly fired on the Paralympics with trademark lack of restraint.

No comment on whether his gags raised any smiles here at the Borkowski offices, but they won’t have done in some quarters at Channel 4. Whether the ‘insiders’ quoted in the press carry any authority or not, its unquestionable that suits will be debating how best to distance themselves from the comic. Certainly they must to some degree, but they’ll need to tread a fine line to manoeuvre out of the reflected ire whilst not compromising their alternative credentials or besmirching past decisions.

Then there’s the rather more deeply ingrained issue of ad breaks. ‘Thanks for warm up’ proclaimed C4’s brilliantly snarky billboards, and they were only half-kidding: the public now is more hungry for cerebral yet saccharine Olympic/Paralympic sports broadcasting than ever before. However, they’ve been raised on a diet of uninterrupted coverage. Of course, a commercially funded broadcaster might believe that it’s reasonable to interrupt coverage more than their publicly funded rival. They’re right- it is reasonable. The problem is that people aren’t. The backlash against ad breaks was inevitable and is likely to be surprisingly pervasive in the public memory of the Paralympics. Too late now, but C4 might have done more to negotiate with advertisers about an alternative to traditional ad breaks since winning the rights.

C4 hasn’t made any serious mistakes yet, and they’ve still plenty of time to make the Paralympics the personal legacy project they deserve, but they’re learning fast that it’s tough at the top. Welcome to the major leagues.

Twitter or Trad PR? Always Check the Bathwater for Babies

The past few years have seen huge debate in the PR industry around the radical reshaping of public relations. Why, asked the naysayers, would a Celeb employ a PR in an age where they can use Twitter to break stories, correct rumours, build their brand and offer coveted insights into their lives? DIY was the way forward.

I’ve always believed in checking the bath water for babies. Don’t discard the essentials especially when the proven skillset has a purpose.

This weekend saw two stories which validate my point of view. The first was the Xfactor meltdown of the Pink impersonator Zoe Alexander- auditions cannon fodder who claimed, after being thrown off the stage, she had been persuaded by manipulative producers to choose a song which lead to her ritual humiliation. Then there was Jackie Powell, Ian Brady’s mental health advocate. In the Sunday Times she spoke of being stitched up by a TV production company. After back tracking on an agreement she accused them of deliberately using her for publicity purposes, culminating in her arrest.

I do not know how much truth lies behind each of these claims, but I do know just how ruthless TV production teams can be to produce the ultimate end product. Whether you have reasonable cause to be angry or not, a seasoned PR hand who know their way around the block is essential in this situation- if nothing else, they can offer safe, reasoned counsel.

Social media has its uses- we’ve seen it brilliantly exploited lately by the likes of Tulisa, who used a frank and open YouTube clip to head her money grubbing ex off at the pass. Bear in mind, however, that Tulisa is also backed up by hefty PR muscle, not to mention a shit hot legal team. In a crisis, always look for a few grey hairs.

An Open Letter to the Folk Behind The Archers

Dear producers, commissioners, writers and other masterminds behind ‘The Archers’.

Your programme is a great institution. It keeps the cognoscenti from topping themselves over the state of British ‘continuing drama’ and it remains perhaps our finest regional accent safari outside of the RSC. I’ve been a committed advocate for years- I was even a founding member of the Eddie Grundy fan club, having been convinced by John Peel and his producer John Walters.

This in mind, why oh why do you choose to deal in archetypes, clichés and flagrant misinformation? Why must your 5 million (million) listeners be poisoned with a hackneyed view of the PR industry? This is a radio 4 show with a demographic over a certain age- line up your listeners and you’ll find more agency heads per square foot than you will in the Groucho Club. Yet the entire dairy storyline parodies and stereotypes the communications process, incorporating social media, public debate and crisis PR into its field of misunderstanding.

I’m talking, of course, about PR guru Rufus, whose agency Moynihan & Parker (a name which somehow suggests to me nefarious Big Pharma contacts- always background check your associates, Brian) is helping to quieten the buzz around Ambridge’s new ‘Mega-Dairy’.  Rufus, to be fair to him, isn’t quite a champagne-swilling Patsy or Edina, but what he is is a little bit useless. He’s all talk. He’s the kind of person who consults the ‘water menu’ for longer than it takes to choose his food.

Much as it might pain some of the core audience to admit, your show actually enjoys a rich communications heritage. Conceived originally as an information resource for farmers in post-world war II ‘austerity Britain’, if introduced today it would be adorning the cover of PR Week and swamping Twitter for days.

My own professional concern aside, is it really helpful for your programme, which once took pride in dispensing helpful advice to beleaguered businesspeople, to advise against hiring a PR firm? Is it advisable to present entrepreneurs not only as part-dickensian megalomaniacs but as bullshit-merchants as well? When the British economy comes to its knees and we’re all living off roots and grubs in the woods, I’ll make sure I choose Ambridge as the site of my makeshift toilet. For shame.


Mark Borkowski

The Early Days of Hacking

In a time when dinosaurs ruled the earth, or so it would seem to anyone born after 1989, there was a big TV name called Michael Elphick. He had a hit show, attracting millions of viewers. He’d been a party animal in his time and, for some reason, a Sunday taboid editor decided to take him down a notch. Elphick drafted me in to try and wrangle the gorilla.

This was a time when mobile phones were nothing more than a twinkle in the eye of the Star Trek props department and folk depended on land lines. A time when many, many celebrities chose to make themselves ex-directory, their number only available to friends, to protect their privacy. Read the rest of this entry »

Interesting Times for the X Factor

“May you live in interesting times,” says the old Chinese curse. Somebody seems to have willed interesting times onto the X Factor of late and much of it is to do with the ubiquity of social networking.

Cowell’s money machine TV show has always trodden a fine line between seeking privacy for its big announcements and demanding that everyone talk about the show around the water cooler, be it real or virtual, but that need for word of mouth has come back to bite the show on the backside with a vengeance in the last week. Depending who you listen to, that is.

On the audience’s side, there widespread disgruntlement on the social networks at Cheryl Cole’s dismissal of Gamu Nhengu Read the rest of this entry »

In Conversation with CIPR TV

I gave an interview for CIPR website’s recently launched TV strand, which streamed live on the internet yesterday and is now available on demand. Click here to watch it.

I spoke with Philip Sheldrake and Stephen Waddington; much was discussed, from the speed of change that technology forces on PR, how advertising is trying to muscle in on PR and what the future holds for PR.

It was interesting to get the questions straight from the people watching via Twitter – although I suspect that too many people were heavily editing my answers in order to tweet and were not listening to the points I was attempting to posit.

I suggested that PR people were too often like the cobbler whose own shoes were full of holes – we’re great at selling others but not ourselves – and this lack of attention seems to reinforce that point.

That grumble aside, there were plenty of incisive questions coming in and the show went remarkably smoothly. I’m looking forward to seeing the next interview.

No More Heroes: The media, football and built in obsolescence

Today’s edition of the Sun features an exposé of Wayne Rooney’s recent night on the tiles as his team-mates “completed rigorous pre-season fitness tours”. It is a typically irked and excitable article, chipping away at the veneer of sporting heroism that has been liberally applied to Rooney and his sporting colleagues in the past.

The article is desperate to get people fulminating about spoilt football players in the wake of England’s World Cup flop, on the assumption that these football “legends” are heroes and idols for the nation’s kids who are betraying their legions of fans by going out and being normal. They are doing nothing of the sort. Read the rest of this entry »

PR, Mad Men and the American Dream

Season four of Mad Men starts in America tomorrow night, but I managed to get a sneak preview thanks to a friend and, watching it, I realised that most of America just doesn’t know how far back the PR industry’s influence stretches. Of course, if you’ve read my book The Fame Formula, you’d know that the history PR is a far richer seam to mine than that of the history of advertising – but this is largely undiscovered and unrecognised in America.

It’s not the opportunity to win a walk-on part in the series that I’m talking about, either – although that is a fine stunt to grab attention (who wouldn’t want to get dressed up in Madison Avenue finery and appear on screen with the intensely glam Mad Men and Women?). It’s more the homage to the great publicist Jim Moran in the actual episode that piqued my interest.

In the episode, a couple of actors are hired to fight over a ham to garner attention and are then seen being bribed to blow the stunt – it’s a fairly knockabout scene, especially when the cast try to stop the actors blowing the stunt. In real life, Jim Moran staged a row between to New York barkeepers to launch Pimms in America – he had them end up in court, rowing about the perfect ingredients for a Pimms and garnered a great deal of attention for the drink.

If Moran’s elegantly twisted wit and genius is being plundered by Mad Men already, it just goes to prove my point about PR being a richer seam to mine – they’ve run out of real stories from advertising. Is it not time. then, for a truer drama looking at the heart of the American dream? One that looks at the lives of the PR men?

Will the Revolution Not Be Advertised?

It may be stating the bleeding obvious, but we all know the media is changing rapidly – every few months, something comes along that fractures the old order more and more. The latest is the iPad, one more thing in a long line of technological advances that are making it easier for brand and public to connect without the need of the old certainties.

So what will shape the future? And who will shape it? The screaming headline in PR Week warning of ad agencies encroaching on PR territory misses the point a little, I feel. A good PR agency is stronger than people think.

“Ad agencies have always been a threat,” a friend in PR admitted the other day. “WPP et al have been buying PR agencies for decades. What matters is contacts, culture, energy, creativity, bullshit and bollocks. And, of course, your last piece of coverage. And that means scum-sucking, news-junky, urban cosmopolite ambidextrous grasshoppers like us.” Read the rest of this entry »

Election Stuntwatch: The Rise of Old Media

When I was 19, the publicist Theo Cowan – this country’s first pro celebrity PR wrangler, who created the Rank Charm School, an acting school run the Rank Film company that brought the world Roger Moore, Joan Collins, Christopher Lee, Diana Dors and more – granted me an audience in Poland Street. “Keep your clients’ feet on the ground,” he told me. “NEVER let someone believe a good review!”

This is advice that needs to be handed on to Nick Clegg, after last night’s second Leaders’ Debate. He appeared to have spent the week following his remarkable showing in the first debate positively wallowing in the good reviews. Certainly his people believed the good press enough to let Clegg give Brown and Cameron enough room to make up lost ground. That said, he survived pretty well mostly thanks to the MPs’ expenses scandal allowing too many people to see the puppet strings in this campaign. Read the rest of this entry »