Thursday, 28 April 2011

If you can’t stand the heat…

Another week, another test of talent on primetime television comes to an end. But forget X Factor and BGT for now, this is a reality show that produces real stars of their profession. And there’s not a singing dog in sight.

In the battle of the inventive American, the wired Italian and the modest Englishman, Tim came out tops in the final of Masterchef 2011. I can’t say he was my favourite contestant but it was a fitting result for a brave chef who worked miracles with “unexpected food combinations”. So what next for the Wisconsin wonder, who has apparently never found the right job for him…until now?

For me the controversy over the X Factor-style auditions that kicked off this year’s series is irrelevant. This is clearly not Chef Idol or Kitchen Factor; Masterchef gives talented people the platform to turn a hobby into a career, not just five minutes of fame. And you only have to watch Tuesday’s episode for proof.

For anybody who watched the three finalists produce a three course menu with over 50 cooking processes in seven hours at Coworth Park with John Campbell, the talent was clear to see. This was the culinary equivalent of Matt Cardle writing his winner’s song, composing the melody and singing it in an opera style while performing a hip-hop dance routine. It was a genuinely impressive display of skill from three supremely talented individuals.

And whether he cooks, critiques or presents, there is no doubt that Tim will follow the long line of Masterchef winners to pursue a successful career in fine dining.

Royal Wedding Fever

Here at Willoughby PR we do love a good wedding and Friday’s nuptials are certainly no exception.

With one day to go, media coverage has reached an all-time high as businesses all over the UK try to come with their own idea that’s fit for a king....and his bride to be. But, forget the official mugs and tea towels, commemorative items from the tasteful to the tacky have been unveiled, in honour of Will and Kate’s big day.

At the top end of the market, hotels have packaged up romantic royal breaks and bars are offering cocktails inspired by the event, but at the bottom (pardon the pun) the gimmicks seem to know no bounds. If you’re feeling a bit flush there’s a loo seat cover featuring the grinning couple, for those wanting to give their own porcelain ‘throne’ a royal makeover.

Whichever of the stately offerings has got you talking, here’s a quick look, in no particular order, at the top 10 campaigns that have caused a titter amongst the Willoughby PR offices.

  1. Crown Carveries

We couldn’t compile a list like this and not kick it off without a mention for one of our clients. The UK’s only regal carvery brand created the first official ‘fork-trait’ of the happy couple, creating a ‘carrot-cature’ using all the ingredients found on one of its princely banquets – a roast with all the trimmings.

  1. Premier Inn

The hotel chain has given guests the chance to wake up as Prince William and Kate Middleton, with its ‘Royal Bed-ding’, by printing images of the couple’s bodies onto a limited selection of duvets at hotels in the capital city.

  1. Travelodge

The hotel chain is offering British couples called ‘William and Kate’ a free honeymoon package this weekend and relive their own honeymoon.

  1. Marston Inns & Taverns

The pub group has unveiled a royal wedding menu featuring dishes such as ‘Seabass Princess’ and ‘Steak Royale’.

  1. Castle Rock Brewery

The Nottingham brewery has brewed a special ale called Kiss Me Kate, which will be available on draught at Castle Rock and many other local pubs for the full month in the run up to the wedding on Friday 29 April.

  1. Pie Minister

Bristol’s PieMinister has launched a limited edition Kate & Wills pie.

  1. Crown Jewels Condoms

This gimmick offers users the opportunity to lie back and think of England, promising to combine the strength of a Prince with the yielding sensitivity of a Princess-to-be to give a royal union of pleasure.

  1. T-Mobile’s Wedding Dance

The phone company created their own version of the royal couple’s nuptials, with lookalikes of Kate, William, Charles and Camilla disco-style dancing down the aisle.

  1. Gymbox

The gym has created an exercise class to get people into shape, with help from the 56th and 57th inline to the throne. The Royal exercise class involves a dance workout to Queen and Prince’s greatest hits followed by a toning session where participants practice the royal wave.

  1. Commemorative Sick Bag

Finally, if you’re not feeling the love for this special day then one of these commemorative sick bags could be just for you. Available in royal blue or postbox red, the sick bags have been designed by British artist Lydia Leith and feature a sketch of the royal couple along with the messages "throne up" and "keep this bag handy on April 29th".

Why not tell us your favourite piece of royal wedding merchandise on twitter @willoughbypr

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Top 10 Free Digital Marketing Tools

As the landscape of communications continues to shift towards the digital realm, I have scoured various website looking for the top tried and tested tools to help those looking to dip their toe into the water.

I began a word document compiling my favourite social media and SEO tools (it’s nearing five pages long now!) and thought it would be worth sharing my current top ten – a mini digital toolkit that can help set you up right away.


A vital part of the online revolution has been the methods with which people communicate with blogs fast becoming the medium to share thoughts, news and problems. As an online marketer you cannot afford to not keep up with those that matter within the blogosphere. At 156 million and counting it is impossible to keep an eye on everything – so that’s where Technorati comes in. Search by sector, influence and brand mention.


Wouldn’t it be great if a portal could tell you how influential any website was including its traffic rank and an ouline demographic of the average user. A tool that proves invaluable for new business pitches when you’re looking at identifying targets.


Often a client is only interested in hearing how many unique visitors a website has and without access to analytics (and a hacker a la Mark Zuckerberg) it is impossible to find out – Stat Brain can be handy in offering a projected daily user figure.


Think Google for social media – type in a brand and find out what is being said on online news publications, forums and Twitter.


Everyone has their preferred method of managing social media accounts – after abdicating Tweetdeck I turned to the owl and haven’t looked back since. From the multiple account access, to tracking chosen terms and creating pretty graphs with the analytics tool – it really is an invaluable resource.


As I’m sure you already now the Twitter stats sites just keep on growing (Twitter Analyzer, Tweet Stats – I could go on!) but the thing I like about Twitter counter is the user is able to receive weekly reports with updated stats meaning that you don’t have to go looking for the information, it comes to you.

Open Facebook Search

I have to say I’m not sure the ethics of this one – but this tool gives you a sneak peak into the private network and an insight into what people may be saying about a brand – could certainly assist with proactive feedback re: customer service and so on.

Website Grader

Slightly teetering into SEO territory here, but website grader is a lovely handy tool for giving you an overview of any website highlighting where they’re excelling and areas they need to focus on. Find out how efficient their blog is, whether their making the most of their meta-data and it’ll ensure you have something to talk about at the next meeting.


It’s always worth having a look at your competitiors when reviewing search activity and this handy tool (blatant about its purpose as it’s in the title!) allows you to see how much competitors are spending on Pay Per Click, their top performing organic keywords and more.

Link Diagnosis Report

This is a tricky one as it’s only available with Firefox but definitely worth a look – see how many external links any given website has with this reporting tool. It will also highlight if the links are ‘missing’ or ‘no-follow’ so that you know which links are helping your website up the rankings.

There you have my top ten and starter kit – I could go on for ever but I suspect I would be talking to myself! Feel free to add your top tools below – it’s always useful to hear the thoughts of others.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

The London 2012 Orwellian PR machine cranks into gear!

How are ticket sales for London 2012 going? The reason I ask is that I can’t find any information anywhere. What I can hear is the sound of the 2012 Organising Committee’s Orwellian PR machine going into overdrive with it being the last day for ticket applications and all.

Apparently, according to London 2012 Chief Paul Deighton, applications have “hit the roof” and “since last Friday we have seen a high level go to a really high level”. Yes, well, thank you for that, most illuminating, but how many have you actually sold?

“We have been getting three or four times the applications above and beyond what was coming in for the previous five weeks,” says Paul. That’s all very well but if you only had half a dozen applications over the previous five weeks it wouldn’t add up to much would it?

“I think that a lot of people are ordering quite a number of tickets.” Fabulous, could you quantify that?

Dear God, he goes on and on and on with this banality. “Families seem to be ordering so they can go together.” I’m shocked, really? I thought there was a rule that children had to go to the javelin unaccompanied by an adult!

Anyone who has been in PR over the last 4-5 years, particularly those with clients in the construction sector, will know that the 2012 Organising Committee has held a vice-like grip over 2012 PR. Threats have been issued, PR people have been cowered, some of the biggest companies in the country have feared being unmasked as a London 2012 supplier.

You would think after all that, the organisers would actually provide the world with some useful information, particularly as London 2012 needs to get 25% of its revenue from ticket sales to actually pay for all of this. Well, you’d clearly be wrong!

Friday, 15 April 2011

Greed laid bare for all to see!

I spent last night reading (selectively, its 650 pages long) the US Senate Panel’s report on the financial crisis (yeah party on!).

It stands as a stark contrast to the interim Vickers report on the structure of the UK banking industry which was released in this country earlier this week.

Where Vickers was polite and diplomatic, Senator Carl Levin and his committee reach for the baseball bat. Levin describes the market in Mezzanine Credit Default Obligations (CDOs), which were made up of thousands of individual mortgages that were traded around Wall Street and further afield, as “a financial snake pit rife with greed, conflicts of interest and wrongdoing”.

Levin also believes Goldman Sachs executives weren’t truthful about the company’s transactions in testimony before the subcommittee at an April 2010 hearing. “In my judgment, Goldman clearly misled their clients and they misled the Congress.”

There has long been a suspicion that Goldman Sachs artificially pumped the market in CDOs, making a killing before exiting the market, knowing full well it was about to crash. In Michael Lewis’ words, author of The Big Short, it was the equivalent of starting a fire in a theatre, sprinting for the exit and bolting the door behind you!

The Senate report, called Anatomy of a Financial Crisis, confirms all this to be true and lays bare the conflicts of interest at the heart of the scandal, which ultimately led to the collapse of Lehmans and the global financial heart attack. In fact, for me, the best bits are not until page 648 of the report when Levin details a timeline of Goldman Sachs’ activities, helpfully labelled the Hudson 1 Chronology.

8/9/2006: "ABX (the CDO market) continues to perform well but firm thinks it has run its course and will reduce exposures”

9/9/2006: “Continuing to reduce volatile ABX position. Trading desk is working to reduce position by reducing ABX longs with shorts” (in other words, Goldman’s knowing the market was shaky bets against it by taking short positions)

19/9/2006: Planning of Hudson begins (Hudson is a massive book of CDOs – in other words, not only does Goldman’s now have short positions in the CDO market which it believes will crash, it now starts marketing the CDOs to its clients)

3/12/2006: Goldman issues (Hudson) offering circular to investors … does not inform them that Goldman’s has $2 billion short position

4/3/2007: Value of Hudson falls significantly. “I think their (investors) likelihood of getting the principal (money) back is almost zero”

15/7/07: A number of Hudson’s assets ie. mortgages are downgraded and trigger liquidation requirements

22/7/08: Hudson goes into default

This staggering conflict of interest, knowing that a market is about to crash, taking a short position in it and then encouraging your clients to get into it, lies at the heart of the financial crisis.

I have long contended that if the general public really knew what the banks (including many of those based in the UK) had really been up to, no banker would dare call for an end to banker bashing.

It's thanks to people like Levin for casting some much needed light on their practices.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

What did Rebekah know and when did she know it?

The tangled web that was the Watergate scandal, which brought down Richard Nixon, had lost most people in its twists and turns by the time the Senate started investigating in 1973, but like many complex issues it was boiled down to a single ominous question by Senator Howard Baker, “what did the President know and when did he know it?”

It would appear that the News of the World (NOTW) phone hacking scandal is now reaching a similar point when there is only one crucial question left to answer – namely what did the most senior people in News International know and when did they know it?

The collapse of the rogue reporter defence, the arrests of two senior reporters and last weekend’s mea culpa on a page 3 suggest that senior people in News International know a lot more than they have been willing to admit so far and probably far earlier. How long will its latest line in the sand, namely that only 7 or 8 people were hacked and that £20 million has been set aside in a compensation fund, remain uncrossed? My guess is not very long.

Nixon was ultimately brought down by the Smoking Gun Tape (famously illustrated by Washington Post cartoonist Herblock) on which he was heard to instruct his Chief of Staff, HR Haldeman, to tell the CIA to block the FBI investigation into the Watergate break-in. This was a clear obstruction of justice.

Bizarrely, it might be the actor Hugh Grant who has uncovered the smoking gun in this story. In a New Statesman article Grant has admitted turning the tables on a former NOTW employee by secretly taping him talking about the hacking and letting slip that Rebekah Brooks, formerly editor of the NOTW and now News International’s senior executive in the UK, knew all about it. The extraordinary transcript of the conversation can be read HERE.

The question now is whether the House of Commons Committee investigating the hacking will be able to get Brooks to appear in front of them to ask the same ominous question that Senator Baker posed nearly four decades ago.

Nixon hated the press and would have loved the way Grant has turned the tables on News International. Somewhere, he and the late HR Haldeman are smiling.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Bob and Digby fail the Sherman Test

Do Bob Warman or Digby Jones want to be Mayor of Birmingham? Both are fond of the spotlight, are regularly talked about as potential candidates and are doing little to stop the speculation.

At some point all this flirting has to stop though. If neither are interested could I suggest that they take a leaf from William Tecumseh Sherman’s book who put down a benchmark by which all statements on political aspirations should be judged. Sherman became famous as a Union General during the American Civil War, famously raising Georgia to the ground, including the burning of Atlanta during his scorched earth ‘March to the Sea’, which led to the ultimate capitulation of the South.

He was famously straight talking, once declaring that all newspapermen should be shot – an interesting take on media relations strategy I think you’ll agree. However, in order to put to rest any hopes that his supporters had that he would use his popularity in the North to run for the Presidency in the aftermath of the Civil War, he famously declared, “If nominated, I will not run; if elected, I will not serve.” Now that is unequivocal!

Both, Bob and Digby therefore currently fail the Sherman Test. One can only conclude that, in the absence of an actual statement, both are interested but are unwilling to formally throw their hats into the ring until they have taken ‘soundings’ or there is a groundswell of popular support.

It must be uncomfortable sitting on that fence!

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

It's not what you buy, it's how you use it

Around three or four years ago, the home interest press fell in love with all things green. Many rushed to dedicate a whole page, section or, in some instances, a whole magazine to the eco crusade with the determination to highlight the best of the best environmentally sound solutions for around the home.

Fast forward to today and it seems that consumers are as interested in eco products as they are about the latest kitchens and bathrooms news (a staple of almost every home interest magazine from House Beautiful to Real Homes).

And of course, every manufacturer out there is working to find an eco angle for their business or their product portfolio. If the consumer wants green, they’re going to buy green so better it’s you than their competitors. From appliances to showers, gadgets and even textiles, there are more home related goods than ever ready to boast their green credentials.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the lifestyle shift to more environmentally friendly ways of doing things but I feel the point is being somewhat missed. Just because Mrs Jones buys an energy monitor doesn’t mean she’ll actually save energy. If Mr Smith buys a shower with a flow limiter, it doesn’t guarantee he’ll save water.

To truly get the most from these kinds of products, and benefit from the cost savings and eco thumbs up that comes with them, people need to change their lifestyle. Last month at Ecobuild, I attended a fascinating seminar called ‘Sustainable design needs sustainable behaviour’ by Mat Hunter from The Design Council. What he said was so simple, it was inspired: ‘Consumers think that sustainability ends at procurement.’ Simply put, we think that if we buy an A rated appliance or a Prius car, we have done ‘our bit’, job done.

However, this is just the beginning and if we do not use these goods in a sustainable way, guess what? We won’t be doing diddly squat for the planet. It’s like saying if you buy Weight Watchers food, you’ll lose weight. Yes, you will if you combine it with lots of exercise and plenty of willpower, but simply buying their meals won’t do the trick alone.

Manufacturers have a responsibility to consider the lifecycle of a product at the design stage in order to develop something truly sustainable but ultimately, it’s the way we use these things that determine whether they are sustainable. To really get your green stripes, you need to change your lifestyle, not just what you buy.

Monday, 4 April 2011

It takes all sorts

Looking around the office, it’s clear that there is not just one PR ‘type’. Gone are the days when PR’s were all tarred with the same schmoozing brush, written off as media luvvies who enjoy nothing more than a liquid lunch (Absolutely Fabulous still has a LOT to answer for, darling).

This point has really hit home this month as WPR supported the student work placement enterprise, B-Hive, for a second year and as we began interviews for a graduate / junior account exec to join the ranks. When judging the finalists for the former, I found different potential in each hopeful vying to be crowned the PR winner. They all had different qualities, presentation styles and ideas which made it hard to compare them. All the judges had a different take or different criteria to measure them up against and what would be right for one agency wouldn’t necessarily suit another.

The same thing stands true for each interviewee we’ve seen. Different styles, different skills and different personalities. Now, I can argue for or against anything – for example, lack of direct PR experience could be seen as a negative yet the same person could offer exceptional writing skills. And that’s the trouble with just being able to pick one person. They need to offer the best mix for that agency, whilst having the kind of personality that would suit both prospective clients and the day to day team they will work with. All this from an interview? Nothing like high expectations.

In reality, sometimes the right person just comes along, but whether this is the case or not, whoever you choose, we all know only time will tell. It’s important that agencies don’t just employ the same kind of person over and over (we all like people like us but having a whole team of mini me’s is far from ideal). Every agency is different, so is every client and every employee can bring something different to the table.

PR is a profession where it really does take all sorts. The ones who like coming up with the big ideas and the ones who need to plan every detail with military precision. For those looking to get into the profession, the best thing you can do is be yourself (cliché but it’s true). PR people can often be the worst at their own PR but to really stand out at an interview or at a pitch, you need to play to your own strengths. Remember, ‘people buy people first’ so make sure you’re ready to sell yourself. Your experience or ideas will do the rest.

High fashion, high stakes

Today, I turn my blogging attention to the world of fashion. Surprised? I don’t see why, those who know me well also know that I can admire a crop-top or a crocheted stitch as much as the next man.

Anyway, I will defend myself no more, the big news is that Times fashion editor Lisa Armstrong and her deputy Luke Leitch have jumped ship to the Telegraph who are cock-a-hoop at their coup. However, there is more to this than meets the eye. Apparently, this is no mere case of the Telegraph dangling much gold in front of The Times’ star pair.

According to rumour (Roy Greenslade’s blog to be exact) both Armstrong and Leitch have become increasingly disenchanted with The Times’ paywall which has seen their readership drop and have resorted to “tweeting like crazy” to maintain their links with readers. Greenslade, in fact, describes them as “paywall refugees”.

This has happened before. When the New York Times erected a paywall around its OpEd pages many years ago the columnists rebelled. Paul Krugman, Maureen Dowd, David Brooks and Thomas Friedman etal threw their toys out of the pram and demanded the return of their readership.

Why? Because those journalists working at the pinnacle of their profession are not mere writers anymore, they are ‘brands’ for whom the weekly column is a loss-leader to get their message to the wider world in the hope that we all then go and buy their books. Think I’m kidding? Try searching any of the names listed above on the Amazon US website and see how many books they’ve each written. Brooks, for example, is currently #2 on the New York Times Non-fiction Bestsellers List.

Can we expect to see a similar rebellion over here? I’ve got news for you, we already are! Armstrong is a contributing editor to Vogue and has written multiple books, both fiction and non-fiction, all with a fashion twist.

An anonymous life behind the Times paywall is no good to her!

Friday, 1 April 2011

A licence to make money

I read a fantastic piece by Peter Stiff in the Times this week (link would be here but you’d only have to pay – that’s another blog post for another day). In it, he told how food giants are “licensing out their best-loved names for use on other types of products (in the hope that) they will rejuvenate sales of the original items, boost the value of the original brand and open new avenues of revenue growth through licensing fees and royalties.” A fascinating concept and one I think we should really keep our eyes on – Unilever have even hired a dedicated licensing manager to identify such opportunities.

Although it’s been happening for a lot longer than most people would imagine (think McDonalds McFlurrys with Cadbury’s Creme Egg or Nestle Smarties), examples such as HP Guinness Sauce (as featured on Talking Retail) and Robinsons sweets (in the Grocer) have been making a lot of noise in the retail press recently. Only this week, I read about launching Budweiser Steak Sauce in the Grocer. In particular Marmite has been a forerunner in this initiative, licensing its iconic brand for anything from plates and teapots to crisps and cashew nuts. I’ve been assured the lipgloss was an April Fool though!

I think it’s a fantastic idea, providing of course any new products live up to the ethos, quality and values of the original brand, and as brand managers see the pound signs light up, it makes you wonder what next? Spaghetti Hula Hoops? Yorkshire Coffee?