Thursday, 29 November 2012

Leveson Final Report

David Cameron and Nick Clegg are at odds over today's final report by Lord Justice Leveson in a scenario which could set the battleground ahead of the next General Election.

I think this is a clear attempt by Nick Clegg to seize a march on David Cameron and signal the end of the internal cold-war which has seen the two leaders refrain from any major public policy disagreements.

His decision seems simple enough. The less-popular of the coalition partners, Clegg is attempting to tap in to perceived public disgust at the actions of the press and go against traditional liberal values in backing a statutory solution to upholding press regulation.

It's a dangerous move as for months now, newspapers such as the Daily Mail and The Sun have been running editorial against Leveson, and this could have resonated with some readers who will not want press freedom to be diminished.

There's also the danger of an accusation that this is a post-expenses opportunity for politicians to ensure the press don't embarrass them again - this is an angle which Clegg's detractors could well use against him and any other supporters of legislation.

For this reason I think the Prime Minister is sensible to welcome the findings but urge caution over protecting the freedom of the press . I believe this will protect him somewhat where Nick Clegg's motives will now be under more scrutiny and he faces yet another test of his leadership.

So while Nick Clegg has sounded the starting gun for the race to the next election, it could well prove to be a false start.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Result of the 2012 US Presidential Election?

There's 48 hours to go and President Obama and Mitt Romney are putting the finishing touches to their increasingly frantic campaigns.

I've been fascinated by coverage of the election both in the US and here in the UK as I think it draws a lot of parallels with the last UK General Election.

There's a world-wide weariness with politicians that stems mostly from the omnipotent global financial crisis (as Gordon Brown would say) but is also evident in a youth moment who have the technology to help see beyond propaganda and take a global look at local issues.

Whether it is the Arab Spring, the Russian elections, or the last Australian and UK elections, there is one common theme: voters disconnected with the ruling elite. This manifests itself in uprisings, riots, social acrimony and a blanket of online cynicism.

President Obama was meant to be  the man to smash apathy and reconnect the world. This was a preposterous platform but one born of hundreds of millions of dollars of campaign money as much as hyperbole regarding the first black US President.

Now Obama's platform has been shattered by the reality of the US system of checks and balances which squeezes the life out of each and every President who tries to take on the dual legislative system without a majority in the upper and lower houses.

Lacking the luck or legislative skill of Clinton, Obama has become distant to voters and openly disenchanted with the lack of support he has compared to four years ago.

His perceived and apparent mistakes, battles with the Republicans and disinterested first TV debate mean that even endorsements, like this from the New Yorker, are tempered with faint praise and openly criticise his mistakes.

Personally I think Obama has done a good job in the worst of circumstances. Yet there is no denying Superman has lost his cape, he is merely mortal like that famous seen when Christopher Reeve gets punched in the cafe after surrendering his powers to save Louis Lane.

Bleeding, it's up the President to embrace the global apathy and seize the opportunity to over-deliver in a second term which would have significantly reduced expectations.

Yet to do this he has to overcome the overbearing reality which strangled the message of 'Hope' before it was even truly born.

It's going to be compulsive viewing.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

An idiot's guide to Ed Milliband's conference speech

I don't know about you but I find that analysing conference speeches can be a bit long-winded. So here's my idiots guide to Ed Milliband's conference speech in Manchester:

- I went to a comprehensive school, I'm normal - not like the Tories

- I understand why you ditched Labour - but the Tories and Lib Dems have let you down

- We're the new One Nation party

- Gove is ruining your children's future

- Cameron lied to you on the NHS

- I love my family, David and I are great mates

- Did I mention One Nation?

Clearly this speech was to launch Labour's One Nation land-grab of Disraeli's old mantra and, secondly, to help people 'get to know' Ed and improve his reputation among the fabled 'ordinary voters'.

In some ways the speech was frustrating as Labour have learnt from David Cameron's 'who needs policy in opposition'  success, meaning the quality of debate will be stifled until nearer the next election.

I don't blame Ed for this though, as he clearly wasn't reaching the 'squeezed middle' he talked about last year, and his more relaxed and less geeky style today certainly will have reassured many Labour members who were nervous they backed the wrong horse.

Out of all the above points there are two attacks Labour will need to focus on for the One Nation campaign: education and the NHS.

Michael Gove and Jeremy Hunt, lampooned directly by Ed Milliband today, will now be painfully aware of the size of their target on their back as Ed Milliband becomes the hunter, rather than the lame duck leader he was painted as.

I bet Cameron will try and discredit One Nation as an old Tory idea in his speech  - and if he does, Ed has got him rattled.

It seems a win-win situation...but it's never that simple and Tony Blair was the master at nullifying the conference speeches of his rivals - Cameron will be looking to him just as Ed has looked to Disraeli.

Cross-dressing politics at its finest.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Nick Clegg tuition fees apology won't stem PR tide against him

Doug Guthrie, Dean of the Washington School of Business, argued that courageous and creative leadership requires an ability to admit mistakes.

This argument lies in the perceived value of authenticity, something Nick Clegg was striving for last night. It is not, however, quite as authentic to own up to a mistake a year later at a time of a record low in their approval ratings.

Nick Clegg's 'unprecedented' apology comes at a time before conference when the Lib Dems are granted a few days in the limelight, yet this attempt to draw a line under his biggest clanger will fall flat.

With a timing more cycnical than a 2am chat up line, Nick Clegg is going to seem just as desperate. He could have delivered this line before the night truly got going - or before he become patsy for his senior coalition partners.

There is, undoubtedly, a part of Clegg that belives this approach will enable him to regain trust, yet it doesn't help that in previous interviews he said he had nothing to apologise for - and he also failed to show contrition over the new £9k university fees.

After a summer of sport where the only boos came from George Osborne, Nick should thanks his stars he wasn't paraded at the Olympic stadium in such a way - there would have been a riot.

It's a shame, really, as the Lib Dems have flown to close to the sun and been badly burnt. It's going to take policy and actions, not words, to begin any sort of fightback. Thus, if Nick was really sorry, he should say it with a brave new policy idea - but it seems the think tank is empty after his failed gamble on AV and Lords reform.

So, let's just say 'I don't agree with Nick'.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Olympic PR at London 2012

This article in Time magazine is well worth a read as it sheds light on the international PR campaigns being waged by nations around the Olympic Park in London to drive tourism and business tourism.

Indeed, Switzerland is just one example of how elite sporting events are seen as perfect PR opportunities for countries as it allows them to take diplomatic risks knowing their home nations might be more forgiving than usual if they are spotted sharing the view with a non-ally nation.

Forget the sponsors and the fast-food, the high stakes PR at the games is underway and Syria looms large in the backdrop.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Is the press losing its influence?

Tonight I attended an excellent Gorkana PR debate on the question, 'is the press losing its influence?'

The panel really was special, the best I have seen for an event of its kind. Chaired by Greg Dyke, it consisted of The Rt Hon. David Davis MP, Andrew Neil, Sue Douglas and John Lloyd (author of the book, What The Media Are Doing to Our Politics, the subject for my MA dissertation).

Greg Dyke opened the debate with some statistics from a new YouGov poll in the wake of Leveson.

Apparently (excuse the figures I jotted them down and will check for accuracy when public) 82 percent of people think the press are out of control, 44 percent think they have lots of influence but 44 percent think they have less influence than 10 years ago - a mixed bag, perhaps indicative of the complexity of Leveson and the fallout from the hacking scandal and how the wider public understands this issue.

On that note Greg Dyke reminded us that the Daily Star is the only print title to have not seen a major decline in readership, which drew raised eyebrows from David Davis MP. (Davis has occupied a peculiar space since 2008 and it struck me many of his former Cabinet colleagues would gladly swap roles with his luxurious, not quite the tormentor in chief, position.)

Andrew Neil, the consummate performer, spoke brilliantly all night. He quickly established John Lloyd as his sparing partner, once amusingly dismissing Lloyd's statistics on the Scotsman's former readership by pointing out 'I used to run the paper, you know'.

Neil felt that digital media had actually enhanced the reach of some titles, citing the Guardian throughout as a now international brand - a point David Davis used to question why more of the press didn't invest in the brand (maybe they can see a role for us PRs, after all?)

The challenge, all agreed, was monetising this and Neil became visibly frustrated that the Alan Rusbridger has this reach yet refuses to believe a payed content model is the answer. Envy, I suspected.

The panel agreed that local newspapers were dying and didn't share the view of celebrity questioner, John Stapleton, that the trade (not a profession, we're all electricians, yelled Neil) was missing the upbringing of sitting in courts holding local government to account. As for weak nationals, Sue Douglas shared the frustration that titles which should have left the marketplace were kept on life support by investors looking for a slice of the establishment pie.

PRs, alas, didn't escape, and we drew some piercing glances from the panel when Greg Dyke pointed out that there were more PR people than journalists. Pity they didn't expand on this to discuss the challenges that make people enter this industry, but I understand time was precious.

Andrew Neil was, at least, more scornful of 'fact-free over-payed, waste of space opinion columnists, whom he felt should be replaced by investigative reporters. One for Charlie Brooker to discuss, that one.

On the subject of tabloids it was pointed out by Sue Douglas-who is rumoured to be keen to start a new newspaper- that they must embrace new media opportunities to drive commercial revenue and all agreed tabloids were at risk as diversification meant the worlds of sport and celebrity were no longer owned by the red-tops.

Sadly, the debate didn't then discuss Twitter as a serious force for breaking new ground. I felt this was a missed opportunity. For instance, David Davis claimed single story criticisms had little influence but he failed to consider what if this story was shared by influential Tweeters or bloggers. The panel claimed journalist live in an 'analogue world' well I have to say it seemed most of the panel did too, bar Andrew Neil.

The last part of the debate looked for signs of where the unhealthy press/political relationship may have started. No consensus was reached but David Davis correctly mentioned New Labour's admiration for Clinton's election campaigns.

New Labour and Cameron both came under fire but their examples were then used to show how the press was losing influence; from the 1992 'it was the Sun wot won it', to the last election where 75% backed Conservatives, yet Cameron failed to win a majority.

Phone hacking itself was defended by Sue Douglas who claimed if it was integral to a matter of huge public interest and the the journalist would be prepared to go to court, then it could be justified.

Leveson didn't sit well with the panel who derided David Cameron for creating it - although the smirk on David Davis' face betrayed his enjoyment at certain witnesses being called to account - 'LOL' said Andrew Neil, to huge laughter.

Neil finished by claiming he would like the result of Leveson to be a code of conduct enforceable by independent people. David Davis was not in favour of a statutory regulator, a point all agreed upon.

In the end Leveson nearly brought a tear to Sue Douglas' eye but, as John Lloyd pointed out, it had been one hell of an insight for the rest of us.

And, with that paraphrase, I bid goodnight - once I have set Leveson to record on Sky Plus.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Charlize Theron in front page wrap of Sunday Telegraph

A funny thing happened when I went to the newsagents on Sunday. I was looking for the headline in the Sunday Telegraph but I could only see the heavily airbrushed glistening skin of Charlize Theron, the actress I had seen the previous day in Prometheus.

The reason was that, for the first time ever, The Sunday Telegraph had allowed Dior to wrap its front cover to promote a new watch.

This struck me as odd and more Metro than a quality Sunday broadsheet.

Money, as ever, talks, and it seems as though the Sunday Telegraph's marketing team have been able to convince that the revenue from this is a price worth paying.

To my mind it seems less innovative and more desperate, there must be a high element of risk associated with such a move.

I'll be interested to see how sales fared on Sunday and whether the Telegraph received sufficient revenue and positive feedback to make this a more regular feature.

I suspect not.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Samantha Brick is attractive - to the Mail Online

Journalist Samantha Brick wrote a piece for Daily Mail Online today claiming women hate her 'for being this beautiful'.

What another piece of genius from the Mail Online.

Complete and utter link-bait, in fact they can have another one here. 

The Mail Online differs from its print sister in that it focuses on a constant stream of celebrity stories-and very revealing photographs- that provide a quick gossip hit for (mainly) women across the UK but also in America where it is now frequently drawing traffic, to the extent that it is now bigger than the BBC news website.

It shares its DNA with old Sunday lifestyle magazines such as Femail, of course, and Fabulous and it puts entertainment at the top of its agenda. Its politics remains Conservative, a one stop shop to find Britain has gone to the dogs - yet it is executed in a way that this feels secondary to the mass of consumer friendly entertainment it produces on an hourly basis.

The left hate it but love to link to it. Its columnists find themselves trending because no publicity is bad publicity and advertisers flock to it. 

If you work in consumer PR you can't ignore the Mail Online is often the best place to break a story as it understands how integrated content can make a better online story, it offers the full package.

So here's to Samantha Brick and her latest round of 'is she for real' controversy. You've earned every penny of your French retreat -  I look forward to disagreeing with you sometime soon and providing more links to help the Mail's digital advertising rates.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Google+ for businesses and brands

I recently attended the Communicate Magazine discussion on Google+ for businesses and brands.

My interest in Google+ centers around its true impact on search and I have wondered if Google+ will go the way of Google Wave or whether it will be a sort of SEO blackmail which means it simply has to be adopted.

Speaking to early adopters and power users at the event the consensus was that G+ will succeed because of this but mainly as it is leading 'social search', the marriage of old SEO and social media.

For PR people this is a great opportunity as social search means we can improve the way we channel our content and the role this plays in ethical, organic search - especially the ability to claim clients' content via rich snippets, which is very important for brand building.

I also think, and there were some good examples of this from panelist Lee Smallwood, that the ripple effect of G+ will make evaluation of social campaigns easier and complement Google analytics well. The idea of seeing where your content has been shared and how influential these advocates are is simple but presented well.

Overall I left the talk enthused about getting to grips with Google+ and I've made a Google doc with my abridged notes if anyone wants to get a feel for the conversation.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Kenny Dalglish's gaffes show managers need PR people in the dug-out

Football isn't a game anymore, it's a business. A report from Deloitte this month showed that the world's top 20 football clubs had defied the economic downturn and had grown their revenues by 3 percent year on year.

As a fan, and supporter of cash-strapped Everton, I find this statistic appalling and yet more evidence that the game has, as the Judge at the Harry Redknapp trial mused last week, 'lost its way'.

Yet this post isn't from me as a fan, I'm giving my thoughts as a PR professional based in Manchester.

And my professional opinion is that it's time to safeguard managers for their own sake and have communication professionals advise them on how to respond to controversial incidents that occur during a game.

This season we've seen managers make damaging remark time and time again, culminating in the shambolic Kenny Dalglish Sky Sports interview following the Man Utd versus Liverpool Premier League match on Saturday.

This whole process, as I've stated from the start, has been a massive PR disaster for Liverpool FC but the climb-down by Kenny Dalglish and Luis Suarez has come too little and too late.

For man of Dalglish's standing at the football club to be continually fed to the media lions during an episode that he has not handled himself well in, is unfair on the manager and damaging for the global brand of Liverpool FC.

We live in an age of 24/7 social media, a competent PRO can spot a trend at any time on any issue using a smart phone. How can the manager not have been informed of his player's mistake and the appropriate response after the game?

Yet Dalglish was left to face the cameras and embarrass himself and his club, an incident his reputation may never recover from.

If this were a matter of diet, would the football club let Kenny cook the squad's pre-match meal? Would they have him file the accounts? No, they have professionals to that. Yet, in football, communications professionals do not advise the manager during match day on the touchline - the one place they need strong counsel the most. (This isn't conjecture, I have spoken to people within the game before writing this post.)

As I write this, I imagine the uproar of sports writers lambasting a PR man for trying to kill the integrity of reaction, the soul of the game. I agree, it shouldn't be the case.

Yet the media pressure on these men is not the same as it was in the 80's and these clubs are brands now in the same way Coca-Cola and McDonalds are, you can't hide from that fact.

Reactive comments can cause damage to a club's intangible assets or, as in the case with Roberto Mancini and Carlos Tevez, to the balance-sheet. Mancini could have been advised to hold fire on reacting to Tevez after the game and a deal could have been done behind closed doors which would have seen City sell the player without the manager losing face.

The minute the whole world knew he had allegedly refused to come on against Bayern Munich, however, the club had to back their manager and endure a public depreciation of a valuable asset - one they were unable to sell at the price they wanted in the January transfer window.

There are many other examples to reaffirm the need for comms to make a move from the marketing department to the match set-up, further fuelled by media offering managers quotes from their own players on Twitter (as in Alex McLeish's case).

A football manager should make the decisions for their club and be the master of their dug out, but they deserve the best advice. And, to me, the new media pressure means that managers need one more space on their subs bench in order to protect their reputations and that of their football clubs.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Teflon David Cameron

'Teflon' David Cameron has done it again - latest Ipsos Mori poll figures show his highest ratings for the best part of two years. This is in stark contrast to the floundering Ed Milliband, wounded by a Union backlash to the Opposition support for the public sector pay freeze.

It's intriguing that the Prime Minister can continue to do well in the polls at a time when the country has faced a remarkable period of civil unrest, Union protest and rising unemployment.

Does it mean that the protesters are not getting their message across, or are in the minority?

I don't think protest movements are failing to get their messages across. They have had mountains of press coverage and real cohesion on social media, ensuring strikes like the NUT one had record attendees this summer.

Rather, it shows Cameron's skill is picking his moment to surface, letting his lieutenants fight the fires while he picks the battles the Daily Mail will support.

As to who can engage the disconnected middle ground I think it's clear that the disconnect is between those affected by the public sector cuts and those who aren't. The language of the 'middle ground' isn't pro-Government or pro-anyone, it is the language of 'working through the recession and looking after number one'. Thus as much as the protest movements are doing a good job in making their voice loud, they struggle to have that voice listened to as the middle ground isn't receptive.

It's difficult for any interest group or political party to become champion of such a difficult to define middle ground but Cameron is clearly finding more drives hit the green then Labour is. And as much mud as Ed Milliband or the protesters throw at the Prime Minister, it's just not sticking to 'Dave'.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Luis Suarez, racism and Liverpool FC's reputation

Liverpool Football Club has made a huge PR gaffe in their handling of the Luis Suarez racism charge.

The FA has not charged Mr Suarez with being racist but for providing unreliable evidence and for 'damaging the image of English football around the world'.

The Kopites have obviously challenged it so vigorously as they believe it is one man's word against another and feel they are victims of an overly harsh ban issued with no concrete evidence. A clash of cultures, they say.

Here lies the problem. This defence, led by their manager Kenny Dalglish, is so preoccupied with the defence of the player's reputation that they've allowed the club's to suffer.

With a global following unparalleled by very few clubs in the world, Liverpool FC has a duty of care to uphold the highest standards in the game and act as ambassadors for the sport. They have won many awards for their work - including racism.

By attacking the FA for attempting to uphold the 'Kick It Out' campaign, they are in effect undermining efforts to stamp out racism.

What they should have done straight away, is held their hands up and issued an apology to the FA, to Patrice Evra and to their fans. They could have then explained the offence wasn't intentional but a clash of cultures. 

Perhaps Suarez could have met with Evra to launch a new programme to help foreign players coming to England understand the culture and here and educate them. This would have shown a level of contriteness by the club and the player and could have led to the ban being reduced.

Instead, they have ended up sounding very much like disciples of David Brent, stumbling around racism so tactlessly that they give the very impression they were trying to avoid.

The club should have received better PR advice. Put the club before the man and be contrite. Then you can salvage the player's reputation and turn the situation around.