Posts Tagged ‘twitter’

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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All That Twitters Is Not Gold: The Challenge of Taming the Social Herd

This week, the British media’s obsession with Twitter reached a new zenith. Unfortunately for the social network, however, this was no love in. Instead, after feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez drew attention to vicious slurs and threats made to her via the site at the end of last week, commentators have been up in arms, arguing whether Twitter is doing enough to prevent or punish this kind of abuse. The company’s response has been instructive for new media brands: what to do when you’re called upon to control a free for all?

The behaviour of Twitter spokespeople has been much criticised. During her initial revelations, Criado-Perez attempted to contact Twitter’s head of journalism and news Mark Luckie, whose response was to make his tweets private. Others have pointed out that Luckie was probably not the best point of first contact, but a savvy PR would have advised him to send her a gentle message pointing to the correct individual before locking his account.

Subsequently, Twitter pulled together a more substantial response. Not only have they promised to institute a ‘report abuse’ button – which will simplify the process of telling administrators about acceptable conduct – they also sent a spokesperson on to Newsnight, in the shape of ‘head of trust and safety’ Del Harvey. How the former will play out remains to be seen – there are strong arguments for and against the idea. Nonetheless, it was a sign of decisive action, something which is crucial in a crisis situation especially as other voices like that of Stella Creasy MP are added to the mix. Harvey, on the other hand, left much to be desired in her performance, coming across as insincere and being accused by Gavin Esler, the interviewer, of talking ‘corporate gibberish.’

Looking at the case in context, I wouldn’t be too quick to condemn Twitter. Another digital behemoth, Reddit, was called out for its facilitation of sexist and violent imagery last year, when Gawker Reporter Adrian Chen reported on the activities and identity of notorious troll Violentacrez. The organisation responded petulantly, arrogantly, and with little moral sense other than a few half-baked statements about freedom of speech. Twitter do appear to be taking the case seriously. That said one could question both their airy West Coast tone and their reported lack of concern over the complaints of less high profile users in the past.

I do, however, think there are lessons to be learned here. One important point is that the morality of the herd hasn’t changed wildly over the past few decades. Sitting in Silicon Valley or Tech City surrounded by hyperintelligent libertarians and unstoppable utopians, it might be easy to forget that most people’s priorities are pretty simple: comfort, security, freedom from confrontation. Secondly, there’s a lesson about multi-national communications. Del Harvey made the timeless mistake of forgetting the prevailing culture in the country she was speaking to. Despite our proud history of satire and vibrant media, us Brits aren’t nearly as in favour of unfettered free speech as our US counterparts.

Lastly, and perhaps most crucially, Twitter need to do more to avoid being perceived as silent mediators. While their policies on abuse are already relatively robust, they clearly aren’t doing enough to demonstrate this. Whether they like it or not, Twitter is now a brand with a personality, an organisation which – partly due to its recent spate of interesting executive appointments – is seen to have views separate from those expressed by its users. If it wants to start moving in media circles or working on major innovations, it needs to accept the responsibility that comes with that. From now on, responses to complaints must not only be swift, they must be vocal, morally justified and transparent.

iBaby: Clarence House’s latest must have toy

Royal Baby


Photo Credit: Andre Camara

So there we have it; the conclusion of the greatest product launch campaign Britain has ever seen. No, Apple didn’t bring out the iWatch while you weren’t looking. I’m talking about the latest release from modish mass market lifestyle brand Clarence House. In order to promote the latest instalment in their Cambridge range, the brand’s PR pixies arranged a years-long campaign, incorporating a wedding-based stunt, a boat party, several celebrity world tours and a much-hyped mystery unveiling. The whole thing is enough to make an old hand like me exhausted, but will it pay off?

A good bet for an early health-check is to look at the social media traction. Twitter have run a blog (link: deconstructing the ‘royalbaby’ hashtag which will make encouraging reading for Clarence House’s analysts. Following the official launch announcement (timed daringly late – 8.35pm) twitter action reached 25,300 tweets per minute.

Clarence House kept a handle on the conversation throughout. Their announcement included a series of tweets revealing tantalising product details (including the all-important weight, usually considered to be a crucial detail in the sector) which provided food for discussion for consumers. They also arranged supporting tweets from brand-appropriate influencers, including the Daily Mail and the British Monarchy. The brand will also be pleased that they’ve ironed out creases in their social media machine. Their 2011 ‘Royal Wedding’ stunt – which garnered great trad media traction – sparked criticism from some commentators for its strikingly negative reception among 33% of British Tweeters (link:

Speaking of trad media, the launch marks the jewel in the crown of Clarence House’s much lauded press and broadcast strategy. Over the past few years a team of advisers including Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton, Paddy Harverson and most recently Sally Osman (a canny acquisition from Sony, another big selling entertainment producer) have run a PR campaign which stands as a benchmark for taking advantage of a weakened media.

For decades, the rambunctious British press, heartened by a progressive public spirit, painted the brand as unfashionable and outdated. It took particular joy in the infamous malfunction of the popular Princess Wales model (though it showed contrition after forcing that product from the market). Now, with newsrooms collapsing, broadcast getting puffier by the day and commentary fracturing across cyberspace, Clarence House has realised the media has a use for the brand values its products offer: pappy nationalism, quirky political incorrectness and soft-focus shots of brunette women in dresses. Only British Daily The Independent dared to cover the launch without a hefty forelock tug, and analysts predict 90% of independent readers are sandal-wearing teachers who hate fun, love and freedom.

However, the real test will come in the value for Clarence House’s shadowy parent company Brand Britain (BBinc). BBinc have great success with their own stunts, including an innovative experiential advert-cum-sports party last summer, and they’ll be watching to see if Clarence House, which is a pricy and strategically complex asset, can still deliver the goods. One study last year valued Clarence House at £44bn, largely due to its popularity in foreign markets, but others disagree. On BBC breakfast this morning republican campaigner Graham Swift claimed that Visit Britain predict a near-zero change in tourism revenues if BBinc were to scrap its venerable property.

What’s more, we’ll need to see how the product matures. When, for the first time, it appears before the public to demonstrate the functionality we citizens have paid for, how will it work? When it looks at the array of camera flashes and hungry eyes, at the waving celebrity bandwagoners and the grasping politicians, what will it do? Will it stand firm, or will it falter? Will it understand that while it feels like it’s flesh and blood, it’s really manufactured? Only time will tell.

The Starcom Invasion of the Twittersphere

There was a news break from the FT on Monday which reported “Starcom Mediavest Group has signed a huge advertising deal with Twitter” representing hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue over multiple years for the tech company.

Wisely, Twitter and Starcom declined to discuss the financial details of the agreement. According to the FT, it includes special perks for SMG when buying ads on Twitter and leveraging the tech platform’s data for its clients like Procter & Gamble, Walmart, Microsoft and Coca-Cola.

Do they care or wonder what Twitter users feel about this level of manipulation?

For those who enjoy Twitter, many are motivated by owning and sharing their story and ideas in the freewheeling universe. As various pop psychologists have posited, the instant gratification of these platforms is so great that it is having an impact on some users ability to connect outside the space.

We are becoming psychologically, emotionally and cognitively hardwired for connection.

Connection, along with love and belonging, is why there is an addiction to the medium. I spoke to a friend who is a Twitter obsessive: he told me it gave him purpose, and meaning in his life. It is taking the place, in certain and perhaps even many cases, of a life philosophy, or a religion.

To extract its true worth, smart operators will engage with Twitter on its own terms: understanding the need for dialogue, ingenuity and creativity to fully harness its power. Subtle tactics are quintessential when integrating  the medium. Unfortunately, boomers steam in bent on its exploitation.

I am frustrated by the colourless chatter assessing and comparing the trends in PR and social media. In fact it’s so self-defeating when the conversation gears toward  comparing disciplines with a metric of old boomer influenced media. The ideas produced by the marriages of new and old media agencies  to reach younger communities are unobtainable media driven visions of perfection. Let’s hold up the reality against the fictional account of perceived success, originated to win awards and mega festivals like the Cannes Lions.

I am wary of nostalgia, it is a dangerous form of comparison. Think about how often we compare our lives and working existence  to a bleary memory that our sepia tinted view of the past has so completely edited that it bears almost no relation to the truth.

Consider this: the moment advertisers try to take ownership of a new medium its decline is assured.  The real influencers get clever and begin searching for the next trend. Applying the old rules and methodology of communications to the new world of parallel influence only expedites the irrelevance of marketers. Scrutinising  the news about the perceived success that global brands and their agencies are having in Facebook and Twitter: clever positioning of exploitative ideas is just an attempt to garner awards. Nonetheless the smart money is invested in a contemporary medium to capture and bewitch the mavens.

Justin Bieber, Anne Frank and the hidden blessing in a Twitter travesty

Justin Bieber fell foul of public opinion earlier today following comments made after a visit to the Anne Frank Museum saying that he thought Anne Frank was a “great girl” and that he wished she too were a “belieber” (term for a Justin Bieber fan).

Although defensiveness is an immediate reaction to the atrocities of the Holocaust, there is perhaps a blessing disguised in this misguided 19 year old boy’s comments. Whilst his remarks may seem flippant in the light of the atrocities suffered by Frank and countless others during the Holocaust, what is perhaps more striking than the 19 year old’s light treatment of history is the Twitter reaction to it. When Anne Frank started trending on Twitter, it was not a result of the united voice of people defending her; it was the united voice of uninformed young people rising to the defence of their idol.

Whilst it might be a travesty that so many young people did not know who Anne Frank was this morning, we can at least be assured that a proportion of the 37,000,000 individuals said to follow the singer will know about her by the end of the day.

Loose tweets sink fleets

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.

Rules for the Conduct of Public Life

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.”

Never Mind the Mayans, Here’s the Apocalypse

Whether or not the Apocalypse is approaching this Friday is speculation that I will leave to the Mayans. As life flashes past us, however, the approaching end of year provides a good opportunity to contemplate the changes that have happened in our world over the course of this past year and some of the PR dilemmas generated by a tsunami of negative memes.

As we have been quaffing the dregs of the Diamond Jubilee and delighting in the now-distant memory of the success of Team GB, a strange transformation has been taking place in the celebrity sphere. Celebrity culture has been punctured by the Post-Savilegate Twitter Trials that now drive the media agenda.

Whether we are looking at the names of those implicated in Operation Yewtree or Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell’s scuff with the Metropolitan Police, it is the ire of the crowd that has dictated, and continues to dictate the narrative – and in some cases – the outcome of the story. Where the old vanguard festers in its own corruption, there is growth, but not of the kind we might anticipate.

Where the post-World War Two working class would turn to professions such as boxing, football or music to seek fame upon the Yellow Brick Road, in recent decades we have seen the emergence of people seeking fame for fame’s sake. The value of culture has been undermined by a sugar rush driven by ten years’ worth of reality TV. Further proof of this generational lust for fame and overarching cultural shift came in the form of an interview earlier this week with Rylan Clark, the X Factor’s latest pantomime Dame. In Rylan’s words, “I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to be famous. I didn’t know what I wanted to be famous for. I didn’t care. It was about being, not doing.”

But reality TV and Twitter cannot produce the kind of culture we export around the world. As luminaries argue over the future of the Arts post eBacc, they miss the point. The first question we should be asking is why this type of culture has slid so far down our list of priorities. I can point to one word: ‘elite’.

The word ‘elite’ has become a political power word that plays upon British class sensibilities. What we forget is that the word is not always about exclusivity, but about quality – and the UK is in possession of a cultural elite of which it should be proud.

The daring production and creativity showcased in the Olympic opening ceremony was a brilliant example of this, showing that a risky idea could reinvigorate the nation. It reminded us of just what Brand Britain has to offer in terms of quality of thought across all disciplines. Writing about the event, Frank Cottrell-Boyce reminded us of GK Chesterton’s old adage: “The world shall perish not for lack of wonders, but for lack of wonder.”

I fear that this prophecy might be the actual Apocalypse we are awaiting. While we laud the efforts of our artists and thinkers at a time when the world’s eyes are upon us, we have failed to create the right circumstances to sustain this creativity in the future. The likes of Danny Boyle were supported by a subsidised sector and institutions that many would now consider ‘elitist’.

The fact that these institutions have failed to defend themselves from such criticisms is a PR disaster not only for these institutions, but ultimately, for all creatives and potential creators of culture that we celebrated this year.

Our EU neighbours don’t appear to suffer from the same problem although they too are feeling the bite of the downturn. Where Angela Merkel is frequently seen at the opera and Germany has increased Arts spending by 8 per cent despite spending cuts, in the UK we continue to peel and pare the Arts out of existence.

While we may be able to reduce Shakespeare to 140 characters, we could never get Shakespeare from 140 characters, and though we may enjoy Rylan’s exploits, I don’t think he could get close to igniting the nation in the way Danny Boyle did.

If I could have one Christmas wish, it would be for our politicians to stop being too embarrassed to stand by culture and support it for fear of being branded ‘elitist’. The Arts are for everyone, and nothing embodies this better than the volunteers who worked tirelessly to create the opening ceremony this summer. Unlike the ultra-ambitious fame junkies like Rylan Clark (though he too has his place), they were not chasing Fame for Fame’s Sake, but Art for Art’s sake: for the people, to be shared by all.

In a world driven by the Twitterati, I can only hope that we start to see some real support for – and investment in – the Arts. If we run away from away from our cultural heritage, what will be left to export? Financial services? Well, we’ve seen where that’s got us.

The most challenging PR brief for 2013 will be how to rehabilitate elite culture and save it from damnation.

Harnessing the Girl Power: Social Media’s Impact on the Theatre Crowd

Last night, I went to see Viva Forever with Krista Madden, the lady behind the highly influential Handpicked Media network. It corrals the best digital talent, from a hemisphere of independent networks of fashion, beauty, and lifestyle blogs.

These are the people that grew up with the Spice Girls. In their youth, they lived and breathed Union Jack dresses, platform trainers and girl power V signs. I asked her to pop along to see if she thought the show connected to the generation that was touched by Girl Power.

Krista tweeted after the show: @Beautyanthedirt: Anyone who didn’t want to get up and dance at the end of that is dead inside #vivaforever – happiest audience I’ve even seen!

Ever the man looking for a chance to promote a brilliant meme I retweeted the response to the show. It wasn’t long before some old dinosaur from ad land counter tweeted a wretched broadsheet review of the show. He’d read the review, and concluded the show probably wasn’t for him. He was probably right- he certainly wasn’t the target demographic. But the exchange served to illustrate a truth about how audiences engage with theatre in the 21st Century.

The forces of new media and the accelerators which now motivate the crowd for a show like this are not necessarily swayed by print media. The broadsheets, who would once have made or broken a show of this nature, no longer maintain their grasp on the fortunes of the West End. Productions like Viva have the power to transcend the star rating system and connect directly with the fans that hunger for them. Just look at We Will Rock You- still going strong more than a decade after being pretty universally panned by the crits. The 21st century enables theatre goers to express their delight in an ecosystem of conversation and influence.

I embrace the energy of the Now Economy, but I am no digital evangelist. Old and new are symbiotic, and we should avoid throwing out babies with the bathwater. Traditional media still has a hugely significant role to play. But leave the dancing in the aisles to those who really do want to spice up their life.

Waitrose and the twitter storm: happy accident or calculated hit?

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.