Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Gary and Robbie as a duo don’t relight my fire

Like many I was up earlier than usual last Thursday, avidly listening to Radio 1’s Chris Moyles’ show from 7.30am just to get my first listen of the eagerly awaited single from Gary Barlow and Robbie Williams, Shame.

I should probably admit straight away that I am a mahoosive Take That fan...always have been and always will be. And whilst there have been a number of other love affairs throughout my humble 30-something years – the likes of 911, Ultimate Kaos, PJ & Duncan, 3T, New Kids On The Block, Blue, Westlife, Backstreet Boys, and more recently JLS to name but a few – Take That has always been THE favourite, dominating my bedroom walls as a teenager and still to-this-day occupying box upon box in my parents loft, packed with all sorts of paraphernalia from t-shirts, photos, pencil cases, perfume and even sandwich boxes(!!).

The 13th of February 1996 was the first time my heart was officially broken, with my sister and I publicly sobbing in our school playground upon hearing the news that our beloved TT were splitting up. But, less than a decade later and with spine-tingling excitement my faith in boy bands was restored as they announced their comeback. There was lots of talk back then about whether Robbie should have joined them, but I was secretly pleased that the four had decided to come back alone... in my eyes he was still a traitor and they were going to be so much better without him.

And so much better they were! Better dressed with new make-your-knees-go-weak chiselled good looks and tracks that put them straight back at number one. Robbie’s career on the other hand was on a totally different track with story-after-story of his strange Scientology beliefs and obsession with extra-terrestrials. So it was with doubt that I watched Gary and Robbie attempt to lay to rest their demons and put their feud behind them.

This new friendship all seems a bit too convenient for me. Robbie’s ego thought he was better than the other four, that without him the boys would crash and burn, but in fact the new era of TT is better than ever.

Maybe I’m getting cynical in my old age but with his own career crashing down around him surely the pound signs flashing in front of his eyes were too tempting when he saw how successful the guys were doing?! In fact I’m surprised it took him this long to try and work his way back in.

Shame is due for release in a few weeks time, but it’s the video that has really captured the media’s attention, with the duo starring in a Brokeback Mountain-style scene that shows their new-found admiration for each other, prompting The Sun to label it ‘tongue-in-cheek as they poke fun at their rekindled "bromance"’.

But have you heard the new song? My sister and I couldn’t wait to talk about it over lunch at the weekend and we were both agreed...it is a shame! It’s a shame that this song only features Gary and Robbie, it’s a shame that we have to wait until November to learn whether I’ll eat my words and wish that all five of them had actually been reunited years ago.

But, without doubt, the biggest shame of all is the song. Don’t get me wrong I like it – anything Take That related will always be a hit with me – but, well, I was expecting more. It’s just too ‘safe’. The Daily Mail claims Radio 1’s listeners thought the track had a very similar guitar chord sequence to the Beatles’ song Blackbird. But I’d have thought the pair would relight their friendship with something a bit more upbeat, proving that without doubt Take That still rule the world.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Yoda doubles the bet

Whilst I have enjoyed the summer (well I enjoyed the early summer, the last few weeks have been awful with the weather) it will be something of a relief to return to normality in terms of business announcements and general news as we move into Autumn. There’s certainly been the usual July/August lull but I confidently predict that, with the Chancellor’s Spending Review due in October and the US Mid-Term Elections due in November, there will be plenty to rant about in the coming months.

However, one story has caught my eye in recent days, namely the rumours that all of News International’s titles are to vanish behind paywalls and that includes The Sun and The News of the World. Roy Greenslade in the Guardian is intensely sceptical of this move and it certainly appears that Rupert Murdoch, or Yoda as he was once described to me by a News International employee who had to go and pitch an idea to him in New York, is upping the ante and going for broke with his paywall strategy before the rest of us have any idea whether it is working or not.

Supreme confidence based on a view of their internal subscription numbers or classic bullying tactics? Time will tell, but what is clear is that the rest of us need sight of two key metrics before we can judge whether this is working or not.

Firstly, revenue from online subscriptions. This is obviously a key number but it is important we strip out those, like a client of mine, who has a year’s free subscription to the new Times site. At the moment, News International is keeping this information very close to its chest.

Secondly, newspaper circulation figures. One theory is that News International is hoping that the paywall drives people back to the print version. If circulation numbers increase, and it’s a big ask considering The Times’ circulation dropped by circa 90,000 readers from June ’09 to June this year, then there might be some method to what they are doing.

We might get some daylight on this when News Corporation issues its fourth quarter results in early November, but don’t hold your breath. NewsCorp is an enormous beast including Fox News, 20th Century Fox, BSkyB, MySpace, book publishers like Harper Collins and international newspapers like the Wall Street Journal. UK newspaper revenue usually only accounts for about five lines in their quarterly statements.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

A Star or A Farce?

Another year, another rise in exam pass marks. Based on current trends, everyone who is able to get up in the morning and navigate their way to the school hall will be walking off with an A by 2093.

A quarter of everyone who sat A Levels this year, got awarded an A. Well done them. What I don’t get then, is why the standard of Graduate job applicants seems to be falling at the same rate as A level pass rates are climbing?

I am not saying this to be nasty, or to defend my own rather ropey A-Level results (GCSEs were marvellous though). I am saying this for the sake of my family. For the people that see me open another email sent late at night from pinkandsparkly@hotmail.com, who begins her quest for a career in PR by writing, “I hope your well.” You hope my well is what? Full? Nicely renovated? The actual well that featured in Ding Dong nursery rhyme?

After polite enquires about the state of my garden feature, they go onto tell me that they have always wanted a career in pubic relation’s. Nice touch - suggest I familiarise myself people’s nether regions for a living and then stick an errant apostrophe in for good measure.

I could go on and, as I find myself in quite a bad mood on this autumnal August day, I will. People that don’t use capitals in my name. People that have recently graduted from University. People that have spoke to many PR agency’s already - all of them get on my goat.

It’s fantastic that these people can tell me why Ferdinand married Isabella, the difference between Igneous and Sedimentary rock and the cause of the Potato Famine – but it would be better if they could actually string a sentence together. They would then be able to actually get a job to pay off their vast swathes of university debt that we hear so much about.

The reason that I am so cross, is because I get the distinct impression that this isn’t the fault of the students. More and more of them seemed to be a bit like well trained monkeys. Teachers have got a handle on how to get decent A Level pass rates, and grammar doesn’t feature very highly in this – so they skip that bit out and go straight to lesson titled, “Past Exam Papers. Hints and Tips”.

As a result, British businesses have to go back to school and teach students the fundamentals of English Language before letting them loose on clients and customers. What a complete and utter waste of everyone’s time.

Surely, the point of education is to equip the youth of today (and now I really do sound like my Grandmother on a bad day) with the skills they need to just get on in life? Unless you intend to make a career out of pub quizzes (which, whilst fun, wouldn’t chip away at the Student Loan very quickly), under the current system, you are going to struggle.

I am being a bit mean here as there are some brilliant graduates out there – and we have been lucky enough to employ quite a few – but I feel mean when I shout down my computer at yet another graduate with an inane hotmail name and total lack of dictionary knowledge. No, they can’t hear me but they aren’t going to get a job in public relations (or even pubic relation’s) for that matter – and what’s the point of all those A-grades then?

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Lions Led By Donkeys

Tony Blair’s decision to give the proceeds of his new book to the Royal British Legion follows a long line of public figures who have attempted to rehabilitate their reputations with acts of charity - the late John Profumo being the most obvious example.

However, there is another example, also involving the British Legion, which perhaps offers a lesson to Blair in his efforts. The ‘Legion’ was set up after the First World War by another man haunted by his part in the deaths of soldiers on the field of battle, namely Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig. Many have interpreted his post-war charitable activities as an act of contrition for the appalling loss of life suffered during four years of fighting on the Western Front (he was nicknamed the Butcher of the Somme) and it did much to restore his reputation by the time of his own death in 1927.

However, in many people’s eyes Haig got his comeuppance when the historian Alan Clarke completely trashed his reputation in the mid-1960s. It was Clarke, later to become a Tory Defence Minister which provided him with plenty of material for his own notorious diaries, who based the title of his devastating book, “The Donkeys”, on an infamous exchange between Generals Erich Ludendorff and Max Hoffman during a meeting of the German Army General Staff in 1915. The exchange went as follows:

Ludendorff: “The English soldiers fight like lions.”
Hoffmann: “True. But don't we know that they are led by donkeys.”

There is some dispute about whether the exchange ever actually happened, but it’s use by Clarke was enough to trash Haig’s reputation forevermore. Blair may well be hoping to begin the restoration of his reputation, as Haig did, with his own charitable act involving the Royal British Legion, but his real fear must be what will be revealed when Cabinet papers are released in thirty year’s time, or earlier, as is increasingly likely.

One suspects that any repairs to his reputation, like those of others involved in the decisions to go to war in Afghanistan and Iraq, such as John Reid (“we’ll be in and out without a shot being fired”) won’t survive the thirty year scrutiny. Blair probably wanted to be remembered as a lion, but history may well portray him as Bush’s nodding donkey.

Monday, 16 August 2010

“I was misquoted”, the excuse nobody buys anymore!

There is an old Groucho Marx one-liner which goes “quote me as saying I was misquoted”. Unfortunately, there is nothing funny about the increasing numbers of those in the public eye who resort to this defence when their mouths run away with them.

Current US Ryder Cup Golf captain, Corey Pavin is the latest case in point. When asked by a journalist at the USPGA Golf Championship, which finished yesterday, whether he would select Tiger Woods for the team Pavin was, apparently, unequivocal. ““Of course I’m going to. He’s the best player in the world.”

However, once he was reminded that a: Woods is playing incredibly badly at the moment and b: that it’s not much of an endorsement for the other players who are hoping to get a pick and are playing much better, he started to rapidly backtrack.

Of course he didn’t directly approach the journalist or use a press conference he twittered the following: “For the record, Jim Gray misquoted me re: picking Tiger. I never said such a thing and won’t say such a thing until 09.07 [the date when the team is actually picked].
Inevitably, the journalist in question was furious, his professional credibility called into question in a very public way. Most interestingly though in a poll on another journalist’s website, geoffshackelford.com, the vast majority of people backed Gray rather than Pavin.

So I have news for those in public life who are liable to put their brains into neutral and let their mouths off the leash, like Ian Poulter (“I’m the best golfer in the world”), Michelle Obama (“If McCain wins I’m leaving America”) Glenn Hoddle (“disabled people are paying for the sins of previous lives”) and Leighton Baines, the Everton fullback (“I’m not sure I want to go to the World Cup, I get homesick”).

My message is, nobody is buying this anymore, you just need to swallow your pride and say the following: “I shouldn’t have said that, I made a mistake”.

Believe me, it will all go away much quicker.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

I recently discovered the joy that is BBC's 'The Thick Of It'; fly on the wall style documentary that follows the 'fictional' Government department of social affairs and citizenship (SAC). Jumping from one crisis to another in each episode, the realism of the programme leaves you feeling like you are really seeing the inner workings of the various Governmental departments.

Malcolm Tucker, believed to be based upon spin king Alastair Campbell, is a pure legend. Harsh talking, toy throwing, fear inducing Director of Comms acting as the PM's enforcer and crisis manager who takes no prisoners. The way that he handles each new and even more fantastical PR problem that his ministers seem to wander into on an almost masochistic basis is something truly to behold. Bluffing on what facts he has and bending the truth at his whim, Malcolm manages to get the 'Government' out of sticky situations too often to count.

He may be a fictional character, but the acting is so superb and the scripting so believable, you feel that you are really seeing the inner workings of our minsters' offices.

Having been on a crisis management training session today, I was well and truly in the mood to watch more of this series as after all, it can't get any worse than what happens in the episodes... can it? Whereas 'The Thick Of It' seems to show the PR team just getting through by the skin of their teeth, in the real world, forward planning is crucial in trying to nip potential reputation disasters in the bud, before anything even happens.

Sure, it would be great if we could all look into a crystal ball and foresee every eventuality that our clients could encounter - be it the result of an irresponsible comment (see Gerald Ratner and Topman's David Shepherd - http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/top-man-brand-director-says-his-suits-are-for-hooligans-678357.html) or a product fault, national disaster or other unfortunate eventuality.

Alas, such a useful instrument has not been invented so we are left with the need to imagine the worst case scenario and plan the steps needed to be taken should it ever become a reality.
This kind of 'expect the unexpected' ethos is central to today's society, where negative press often seems to be the only press and where companies can be held accountable for almost anything, regardless as to how tenuous the link may be. And as PR professionals, we are the ones with whom the buck often stops so they only way to ensure we aren't on the back foot before we begin is to scope out the potential pitfalls and, as ever, keep our fingers firmly on the pulse. After all, prevention is always better than cure.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

O’Neill departure leaves Villa fans singing the blues!

As the dust settles on Martin O’Neill’s departure, the rumour mill is going into overdrive. Who will replace the fiery Irishman? What forced him to quit? Was he as popular as we thought?

Apparently according to the Daily Mirror, players toasted their gaffer’s resignation by texting each other pictures of champagne bottles – sparking debate about O’Neill’s relationship with his squad, something which has always been considered exemplary.

But whilst there may be some truth in the players falling out with him, most of the fans seem sorry to see him go. Pictures on Midlands Today last night showed how he was greeted by thousands of optimistic Villa fans when he was appointed 4 years ago, and it certainly takes a hell of a lot for Villa fans to be optimistic about something!

After a fairly successful reign which included regular 6th place finishes, another season in Europe and Carling Cup final and FA Cup semi final appearances last term, most Villa fans were still very much in support of O’Neill. But the question remains, will they ever really know if he jumped before he was pushed, whether he had lost the dressing room, or if mild-mannered American owner Randy Lerner just didn’t have the transfer cash to keep him happy anymore.

The Birmingham Mail seems sure that Lerner’s failure to back O’Neill in the transfer market for the first summer in his four year tenure was the straw that broke the camal’s back. After all, he was given £40m last summer, and with just 3 weeks left until the transfer window slams shut Villa are yet to spend a penny, while prize asset James Milner is certain to leave for big spending Man City, and other first termers Emile Heskey, Ashley Young, John Carew and Luke Young have all be linked with moves away from Villa Park.

After steady improvement under O’Neill, you have to fear for the club a little, no manager with 4 days until the big Premier League kick off, no new players in while stars look set to leave, and the teams around Villa all looking to improve. I can only see Villa taking a few backwards steps now, unless Lerner makes a big statement of intent with a high profile managerial appointment – Van Basten or Hiddink, perhaps? I just don’t think Curbishley, Southgate or Zola would appease the oh so pessimistic Villa faithful.

Once a new boss is selected, one question will remain, who is the real Villain of the piece? O’Neill for leaving a club he calls ‘magnificent’ in the lurch a few days before they face West Ham, Lerner for pulling the plug on the transfer pot, James Milner for leaving? One thing is for sure, the potential for staunch rivals Birmingham City to overtake Villa as the Midlands highest place team since the Premier League began is now higher than ever, and that will leave a far more bitter taste in the mouth than O’Neill’s surprise departure.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Just How Public Would You Go?

The BBC has written to me at home. It was a hand written envelope with a personal note inside from a BBC researcher inviting me to take part in a documentary on people’s attitudes to money and how they spend it.

She assured me that the BBC has “ an impressive track record for producing high standard documentaries.”

My first thought was that I might be an ideal participant …professional executive with penny pinching ways that hark back to my student days when “ The Pauper’s Cookbook “ was my bible. Eyebrows might rise at my efforts to grow my own, recycle and my personal clothes allowance is so small most women would gasp in amazement.

Certainly not what you would expect from a PR exec!

But why put myself through this? Do I really want people sitting at home knowing what my money habits are?

Celebrity trivia is so at the forefront of media content today - who would have thought 5 years ago The Sun would have put as the main front page story, as it did last week, that Lily Allen is “preggers”?

We are being lured into a culture of exposing every aspect of our lives ….be it on twitter, facebook or national TV.

From my experience broadcast programmes have largely written the plot before filming starts and the “guinea pig” simply has to fit into the strands of the story.

So while I may make fascinating TV fodder, I’ll give this one a wide berth.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

The Media That Pays For Itself

This week a number of influential bloggers (including Wadds, Gedd Carroll and Stuart Bruce) all took to their screens to fly the flag for the media they pay for. Keen to still be able to read a Sunday morning paper in a few years I thought I too would like throw in my 10 cents for the media that is easily worth the cost.

The Guardian iPhone App £2.39

For a fraction of what they could charge, this app allows all users the access to daily news as acknowledged by the newspaper. Its user friendly capabilities have landed it a firm place on the app ‘must-have’ list and the Guardian revealed back in January they have already enjoyed over 70k downloads – a total which may have doubled since then.

Many have questioned how the app will pay its way in the future and a lot of the app users have been quick to defend the longevity of the app stating that they would happily pay an annual subscription fee to enjoy the facilities it offers.

Anyone with an iPhone looking for a news app that loads quicker than any other and boasts features that will keep you coming back to check every hour simply must invest.

PRWeek (via CIPR membership)

As all PRs would tell you, it is important to keep abreast of industry news – not only so that you have enough material to keep the conversation going at a networking event where you’ve enjoyed one too many Cabernet Sauvignons but because you never know what you may stumble upon.

New business can come from the oddest of places and PRWeek ensures all subscribers know the ins and outs of the latest brand ventures and recruitments. It’s also a must read for all looking to see who has made the highly coveted top 150 and always nice to know what those within the industry have been up to.

Sunday Times £2

When the Sunday Times became a £2 paper four years ago, big doubts were cast as to whether any paper could live up to such a strong price point. However, four years on and the paper is going strong with a circulation of well over 1 million. There’s something quite satisfying about heading to the corner shop for a paper and returning home with what feels like a brick of knowledge in your arms.

I truly feel the Sunday Times offers something for everyone be it the ingear section for car enthusiasts, the culture supplement or the Style magazine – it’s one of those papers where no pages go left unread.

Wired Magazine £24 per annum

Ever been to one of those dinner parties where it’s your job to bring a fact that no-one has heard before? If you’re out of ideas I urge you to turn to this zany fact-filled magazine.

With a brilliant website and twitterfeed to match (and help me get my daily fix) if any high end quality magazine can survive the current struggling media landscape I believe Wired can. Learn about ideas, technology and business or why orangutans are energy efficient.

With a true stand out factor and a readership of almost 50,000 the quality journalism you get back from this mag is more than worth the reading fee – give it a go today.

Birmingham Post

Anyone located within the Midlands will tell you all about the necessary changes to this regional paper, which saw the print schedule turn weekly and the editorial team heavily cut down as Alun Thorne was called upon to lead what was to be branded a very different ship.

The paper still boasts a very good read with all you need to know about business, property and regional news packed into one bumper 7-day edition. With a good website to match and option of daily subscriber email updates it feels like the Birmingham Post has always been delivered the way it is now – a system that works.

So, whilst I am quick to often talk about the shift of the media landscape and how the modern times demands more from a newspaper brand than ever before (I know I live to see a nice website and twitterfeed as a minimum) I will still happily put my hand in my pocket for the media – as long as it continues to pay for itself.

Monday, 2 August 2010

A picture worth more than a thousand words

I had the first inkling that Time Magazine would suffer a backlash over its cover this week which can be viewed HERE, when I came downstairs Saturday morning and was told to take my hard copy of the magazine upstairs out of sight of the children.

The photo, of an Afghan woman disfigured by the Taliban, cuts right to the heart of the ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ dilemma that Obama, Cameron and others are wrestling with as we try to find a way out of the quagmire.

Even the most heartless advocate of immediate withdrawal could not help but momentarily consider the implications for Afghan women if the Taliban are allowed to take back control, which was exactly what Time intended when they put the photo on the cover.

However, on the other side of the coin lies our own history in Afghanistan encompassing three previous engagements, namely the First Afghan War (1839-42), the Second Afghan War(1878-80) and the Third Afghan War (1919) which at best resulted in a partial victory for the British and at worst resulted in total catastrophe. It must also be remembered that the former Soviet Union had three times as many troops in Afghanistan in the early ‘80s as the war coalition has now and look what happened to them.

There can be no doubt that the photo is provocative and many do not like to be confronted with our dire choices in so stark a manner. This was a brave editorial decision by Time but the right one.