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PR’s Alive?! April 6, 2014

Posted by normanmonkey in Consumer PR, Media.
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flash25smThe spirit of Francis Fukuyama (now there’s a name to say after a few drinks) was summoned this week with Robert Phillips’ PR Week article entitled ‘PR is dead: Public leadership is the future‘.

After the collapse of the Iron Curtain Fukuyama famously wrote a thesis in 1992 called The End of History, not foreseeing among other things: the Balkan conflict, 9/11 and Al-Qaeda, the global financial collapse, the rebirth of Russia as an economic and military power, the tyranny of quinoa and David Moyes. And as anyone who has ever watched a Hollywood horror film will know, declaring the end or death of anything without a certificate inevitably leads to a pair of zombie hands round the throat to open the door for a lucrative franchise.

So I came into work last week expecting an eerie silence, Maddie the receptionist sobbing into a Kleenex and to be handed my P45 by a solemn faced usher as I surveyed the windswept debris of a PR agency that had been singing, dancing and telling jokes only the day before. Not so. We were alive. Rejoice.

Now there is much to laud in the article. PR, laden with many human character traits, does tend to follow the buck. Too much CSR is flawed or tokenistic. Lots of the food that is marketed as healthy is quite the opposite (low fat usually means high sugar and don’t even start me on Omega 3 bread) and so on. But PR is also about forming an argument, debate, building communities and battling it out across media and social networks and direct to consumers. That applies to anything from GM crops, the fifth runway to your choice of soap powder.

However Robert argues that this is not enough. Engagement should be replaced by public leadership and should address societal needs. This same argument has notably been applied before not only to PR but to everything from literature to pop music and, of course, politics (where his argument definitely applies, as this is an area that now consistently follows rather than leads).

We are not only dead but ‘broken’, ‘tired’ and ‘bloated’. That is a broad brush stroke that doesn’t make any exception or allow any give. Especially as every day I see work and ideas that are creative, original, bold and invariably delivered with wit and warmth.

So where does this leave the world of consumer PR that many of us work in? Consumers are pretty good judges of what they like and they vote not only with their money but their heads. It also assumes that those of us working in these fields will peddle whatever message pays the best rates and that’s simply not true. It’s in our interests to give the best advice and stop a client aiming a gun at their own foot as we’ll a) have to clear up the mess and b) get the blame for not seizing the firearm.

Will we see Hob Nobs with a conscience, organic-only Asdas or the Avon Lady quoting Antonio Gramsci on her rounds? I doubt it. Why not? Because consumers will go elsewhere to brands they can relate to and delivers them the best value. That is the flip side of progressive capitalism – you can’t enforce an argument for social change, only deliver it. People make the final decision. Businesses are free to embrace radical change but they can also go bust.

Ultimately, there are different schools and practices of PR serving different needs – all listening and responding to consumers. Sometimes PR is just about being maverick, entertaining and disruptive because that’s what excites many audiences and makes brands stand out. Paddy Power can shock at times but then it can also use its power of reach and influence to pull Rainbow Laces out of the hat when it wants. One example of many.

So is PR dead? Well, if it isn’t then Robert’s headline certainly made good copy, grabbed everyone’s attention and ignited a debate. That in itself is good old-fashioned PR, so in declaring it dead it’s safe to assume that PR is alive and kicking after all.


Smoketober October 8, 2012

Posted by normanmonkey in Consumer PR, In the news, Uncategorized.
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The writer Michael Pollan, in his polemic against the hijacking of nutrition by food marketers, advises readers to avoid all foods which are sold with health claims. (Sugar and corn syrup loaded products sold to the gullible as an essential part of you five a day). We can now add months to that as well.

I’ve smoked now for 20 years and I was on the verge of giving up. Leaflets have been seized and stored in kitchen drawers, hypnotists Googled and I even know that Raynes Park is the location of nearest Alan Carr quit group. The latter, I hasten to add is named after the ex-smoker who developed the one-day programme, not a lobby to get the comedian Alan Carr into retirement although I concede I’d eagerly sign-up to that for a fortnight and give up smoking to make it happen.

I was on the cusp, the verge, teetering so close to the edge of giving up smoking that any further I’d be in free fall. I don’t want to be a smoker all my life. It’s bad for you and I’ve ridden my luck. This will be for the good of my health. Yet, there are other causes worth sacrificing for and that is the state of the nation and respect for the English language.

If there is anything more likely to send me sprinting to the grey screen kiosk that passes for a tobacco stand gasping for air, it is being asked if I am planning to give up smoking for Stoptober. The first time of asking I hadn’t the vaguest what they were talking about and had to have the concept explained to me. Give up? For what? They’ve changed the name of October to Stopober so I will stop smoking? Not a fucking chance. I will spark up, light pyres of Marlboro Lights atop Ben Nevis and the Brecon Beacons and do whatever it takes to avoid yet another absurd soundbite movement with a creative developed by some slice in Shoreditch straight off his crack pipe.

The malignant assault on the senses started some time ago. First there was TV advertisement featuring a giant swollen red inflatable that looks like a sort of benign alcoholic’s nose with STOP written on the side of it. The STOP inflatable was rolled around a field, hugged, squeezed, photographed by some youths on their smart phones in a shopping centre, fingered by a fishmonger, cropped up in a call centre and then inexplicably appeared on a boat going out to sea, where, in any ideal world it would be punctured and sent to the sea bed with lead weights. Such wishful thinking.

This morning it wasn’t possible to listen to three John Cooper Clarke tracks in a row on Spotify without being ironically interrupted by an ad featuring a cheery array of folk with raised regional dialects (it’s the one nation coming together) talking about how much they were looking forward to giving up. They were giving up for their partner or their kids.

Well, I just surveyed my current surroundings and all I can see is Aggy, my Polish cleaner and a QPR season ticket. Hardly the call to action I was hoping for. Profound as she is with the marigolds, I don’t see a future with Aggy and  the latter is nothing but a further cause of self-harm. Believe me, if that STOP bubble had appeared outside the ground after the opening day 5-0 defeat against Swansea, people wouldn’t have been hugging it. Mind you, it could’ve done a job for us in goal.

The Department of Health marketing team clearly hadn’t factored in those of us who live alone, use South West Trains and support a team without a win all season and now facing a two-week international break prior to the next 90 minute shambles. But what we also have to face is people asking us if we have given up for Stoptober even with evidence to the contrary – a hangdog expression with a fag hanging out of one’s mouth – to suggest that no, I have not.

If all goes to plan Stoptober will be a fixture every year with increasing momentum, additional prods and prompts and little chance of escape. Put your house on the Military Wives Choir getting to number 1 with an awareness raising Stoptober cover of Smoke On The Water this time next year. Don’t forget we are less than 25 days away from the start of Movember! The possiblity that we’ll be invited the chance to do nothing to save the Gregorian calendar is ebbing with every bright spark with a marketing budget. By the end of the decade we’ll have to do something every month for something else: grow our toenails to fight piles, sing for a cyst or braid our pubic hair to replenish cod stocks.  We may be a healthier nation for such causes, but we become more irritating company for it during the cocktail hour.

So giving up smoking will have to wait for at least another month. Probably November and, for that one month, I can assure you, I shall be shaving every day.

Osama Bin Llama: rebranding al-Queda May 4, 2012

Posted by normanmonkey in Consumer PR, In the news.
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Documents seized by U.S authorities in the raid on Osama Bin Laden’s hideout and just released reveal the global terror chief was planning a change of name and strategic approach for al-Queda’s ‘tarnished’ image. This attempt to regain popularity in the Islaamic world was cut short by a bullet to the head after his position was located, but among the papers seized was a pitch documents from a leading London creative agency with ideas on how to rebrand al-Queda for a wider consumer audience.

For the the first time, we can reveal the agency document Osama had received and signed off (pending approval by al-Queda’s procurement department):

Our Platform: 9/11 is soooo over!

There’s a recession on. Budgets are down. People are tightening their suicide belts. Long gone are the  days of demolishing landmarks of US imperialism on home soil for a TV spectacular. Instead it’s all about engagement, going digital, a softer approach and collaboration with cooler third-parties than the Saudis.

And yes, we signed the confidentiality agreement. The absolute sensitivity you kept repeating re. this brief was highly stressed to Alice, our nine-year old intern.

The Stella McCartney Suicide Belt

Lets look first at one of your iconic pieces of attire. We say it’s time for a bit of reinterpretation: no one wants to be seen dead wearing something so cumbersome and bricky. Look at the design! There’s no give and it’s not in tune with modern metrosexual needs. No wonder recruitment is down!

That’s why we’ve got Stella on board to add her flair to the ultimate jihadist accessory: the limited-edition Stella 100 suicide belt, made entirely from ethically-sourced materials.

Stella has spent six months and several hundred thousand pounds taking her inspiration from Afghan rug patterns to come up with a design that is an Afghan rug pattern (We were fanning ourselves too! How DOES she do it). The suicide belt comes with an iPhone pouch, hidden make-up kit, bottled water holder and a panic button (just in case someone has a last minute change of heart and wants to be saved – cute!).

We’ve also noted from our research your old style belts tended to come apart after being worn once out on the town. What are we, Primark? So Stella has come up with a much more durable design that can be worn right through the season. This reaffirms your sustainability, ethical and premium credentials.

The Tora Bora Pop-Up Restaurant 

Pop-up is back and badder than ever before! In homage to your years spent in hiding in a mountain wilderness, we’ll create a one-week only Tora Bora dining experience by dumping  2,000 tonnes of rocks on a group of creatives and food, style and fashion writers in Shoreditch (Potters Bar is already booked up by the Zionists that week for their Seven Day War reenactment) for an experiential campaign to celebrate those glory years.

Teaming up with food alchemists Bompas and Parr we’ll serve a heritage menu of edible dirt and shrapnel, served in the dark. For an extra £50k the digital guys have put their heads together and come up with a plan to seed out a live stream to ‘share the darkness’.

If any journalist, blogger or consumer attempts to make a phone call, Facebook status update, tweet or speaks, cries or moves we cluster bomb the entire Shoreditch area. Again, we think this will be for great viral content and potentially a record number of Facebook ‘likes’ – which is what it’s ALL about in 2012!

Float an Iceburqa Down the Thames

Everyone loves ice sculptures, right. What is a PR campaign without one! That;s why we are going to float a giant burqa down the Thames with a giant Jihadist clinging onto it all the way up to Parliament. This is our way of saying: watch out, we are coming to get you.

We’ve also arranged with our Cult-cha team a post-stunt event:  the iconic iceburqa to be transported to uber cool gallery White Cube to be turned into ice cubes at an Osama video retrospective attended by Sadie Frost, Peaches Geldolf, Rhys Ifans, Geoff Hurst, Normski, ex-cast members of TOWIE and Dean Gaffney.

Content distribution and social media strategy

For a global terrorist network no one is going to take you seriously if you keep seeding out your updates via a single VHS video tape. While we admire the 80’s retro approach, lets give it a makeover. Kelly Hoppen is going to reinterpret your rock interiors to make the backdrop a bit more ‘shi-shi’ to appeal to a wider female and gay-friendly audience. On that note, lose the beard.

The Digital Guys have created their own social platform so you can engage with your followers: Faceburqa. A place where al-Queda members and Jihadists can catch-up, talk about their future plans in a secure area, share anti-Zionist material, farewell videos, Instagram pics of their hideouts, Spotify track listings and Farmville updates.

Osama Bin Llama

Everyone knows you for that long beard. Sooo 2001. Hairy is out, furry is in.  That’s why the guys in planning set about giving your organisation a quirky, cute, friendly face that will engage with adults and children alike: Osama Bin Llama.

For reasons we can’t explain but will justify later when we come to write our awards entry, we’ve created an animated Llama with a Peruvian accent who shares your quirky view on overthrowing Christian-Zionist occupation of the holy lands, but in a much more cheery, engaging manner.

Giles in our ‘Creative Lab’ has also stipulated that Osama likes golf, Angel Delight, watching Eastenders and drives a Smart Car. We did ask him why exactly and Giles stripped to his pants, doused himself in latte which he threatened to light and screamed ‘BECAUSE HE DOES!’ before going into a rocking foetal position under our fussball table. That’s good enough for us. Such. A Genius.

Budgets and KPIs

Budgets are attached but only a ballpark figure to the nearest million. KPIs will be discussed upon appointment.

Confidentiality and speak soon!

So as you’ve probably gathered we are phasing you out in the rebrand. While you’ve stressed confidentiality and we are given to believe this is a sensitive issue on your part. Your secret is safe with us and we haven’t spoke to anyone about this brief outside our all-agency meetings and client meetings.

However, we must also stress that we have spent a lot of time on this and are sensitive about these ideas being shared. Given these ideas and creative approaches are utterly unique and we take our genius very seriously we have also CC’d in a number of governmental and legal departments to enusre that should you undertake them independently.

Ma’a salama!

How to get into PR and stay in it: luck, sweat and tears March 20, 2012

Posted by normanmonkey in Consumer PR.
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It’s the time of year when those young enough fortunate to have a future ahead of them ponder the big decisions in life such as what university course to take or, approaching graduation, what career to opt for – and whether this should be PR. Last Friday I got two emails at work out of the blue concerning both matters.

It’s important to offer whatever help or insight is useful to someone finding their way if others more able don’t have the time. Leon is just about to graduate with a finance degree and wanted to know how to get into PR and make a success of it; Natalie had a number of questions what degree to choose for a career in PR.

Apparently my replies were useful (no other agency director replied to Leon) and Natalie has kindly allowed me to reproduce our exchange – which included a big crib from my response to Leon – so if it’s of any further use I’ll share  some advice from the experienced but the unwise on what may help get you a future in public relations.

It’s fifteen years since I saw my first piece of coverage (in Forecourt Trader) working in-house for a retail wholesaler to a Director of Cow today. It also forced me to recall my first ever interview with a major London agency (Red) where I was close to being escorted off the premises but still got the job.

Since then I’ve seen my fair share of award winning campaigns, front-page splashes, frustration, jubilation and disaster. Nothing here is set in stone and other PRs may have their own take but if someone can learn from my mistakes they will go far:


To whom this may concern,
In the future I would like to work in PR, and I love the work your company has done and achieved. I was wondering if you would be able to help me choosing the right studying/career path in order for me to make it successful in the PR industry. I have four university offers ˆ Bournemouth (PR), City (Cass business school ˆ Business Studies), Durham (Marketing) and Lancaster (Marketing Management).

Do you think studying a solely PR degree would be an advantage or does it not matter which degree you study as long as you gain valuable work experience? Would studying in London be more beneficial? Does university reputation and degree matter to you when you employ new staff and what do you look for when employing someone to work for your company?
May I ask how you entered the PR industry?
Sorry about all of the questions, I have wanted to go into PR for a while and am trying to gather professional advice so I can make the right decision to ensure I am going on the right path.
Thank you for your time, I hope to hear from you in the future.
Yours faithfully,
Natalie Hopkins

Hi Natalie,

Like a lot of people around my age (late-30’s) I came into PR by accident. The original intention was to be a journalist. I’d done work experience at The Sun and The Guardian, had a decent prose style and wanted ultimately to be the Washington correspondent of the BBC. I ended up shadowing someone in wholesaling trade PR (exciting stuff – key magazine contacts included Convenience Store, Retail Newsagent, Frozen Food Weekly and Asian Trader) specifically because he’d been a journo. He pointed out to me that PR utilised basic journalism skills, but paid better. I was sold.

After a year of working with him in a box office in Croydon, learning the craft, listening to endless monologues about his failed marriage and building up a portfolio of coverage I’d generated I applied for a job at the lowest rung on the UK’s then most successful, award winning agency at Red.

I did a unspeakably bad interview and was rejected without hesitation. Not having a clue about agency culture and following my father’s advice I turned up in a three-piece suit when everyone else was wearing combat trousers and trainers. I was so nervous I asked the MD in mid-stumbling interview if he minded if I smoked and to this day can still see his lower jaw trembling in shock.

Instead of returning back to frozen food chiller press releases in Croydon I decided to show that I could actually manage a crisis, apply creativity and turn a negative situation into a positive outcome. This was done by writing a letter, an assessment of my interview performance by means of parody that was brutal, damning and completely accurate. I got the job. A week later my clients included Microsoft, Guinness and Prudential. I was up and running.

Times have changed. I’m not entirely sure there were PR degrees in place when I first started thinking about a career. Then it was mostly press releases, phones, faxes, the occasional event or photocall. Now it’s all about engagement, particularly with social media as a priority channel.

But you still need content, an original idea / narrative to create impact. That’s a rule that hasn’t changed since the day the printing press was invented and it’s no different with Twitter or Facebook. The medium is not the message, but just another channel of delivery.


If you want to work in PR these days a PR degree helps. You’ll learn a lot and you’ll also get a placement. You’ll also learn a lot of irrelevant stuff.

Doing a dissertation on how to handle to BP oil spillage is great in theory, but the reality is often disillusioning for a many PRs who start thinking they are going to be dealing with a global crisis and then find themselves on the phone to Take a Break pleading with them to feature a toilet wipe or packet soup in their next issue. It’s a long way to the top (but if a person can’t get a new packet soup in a women’s weekly that writes features about quick lunch solutions can they be trusted with a client’s oil slick? I doubt it.)

While it will give you excellent grounding, you’ll probably learn more about PR if you are lucky enough to have a good agency in your first job to teach you the basics.

Truthfully, getting your foot in the door for the first job is not about the three-year degree but how you cut it in a 40 minute interview: confidence, understanding of brands, how media works and what motivates different consumer audiences or stakeholders. An employer isn’t actually considering what you did in the past, but what you can do in the future.

Do whatever course appeals to you. We have people here who did English, History, Photography and Journalism, Marine Biology, Sociology (that one must’ve slipped through the net in retrospect).

Make sure it is going to be something that you will most enjoy and find fulfilling now, rather than solely something that may benefit you in a few years time.

For the record, all the offers you’ve got are great options. Our last three grad appointments all went to Bournemouth, had a whale of a time, know how to work but enhanced the social mix (an off the record tip is being sociable and going to the bar with colleagues never did anyone’s career any harm). It’s maybe coincidence they went to Bournemouth, but they tapped me up on Twitter at times we highlighted vacancies and did the best interviews. They’ve been brilliant since.

Studying in London

It shouldn’t make a difference to getting a career. It’s bloody expensive for starters, but choose your Uni for the course and the other opportunities it offers. I went to Reading and did American Studies, liked the look of the campus and had a phenomenal social life to treasure to this day. I also thought I worked hard at the time, but it compared to nothing than when I actually started work.

Your email comes at a good time. On Friday a graduate asked me for advice how to get a job in PR and what it took to make it a success. Life can be hectic, but I was feeling philanthropic  and thought about it in detail to reply. Here’s a crib from what I wrote to him (below) and may be useful now, but possibly more so in three or four years from now when you’ve got your First.

I’ll sign off from here. Hope it helps and feel free to email me if you have any more questions.

Cow PR

Decide why you want to be in PR

Some come into it thinking it will be parties, events, canapes, celebrities and networking are rapidly disillusioned. Yes, they may be AT the parties but chances are there will be an Account Director or a client screaming at them for most of the night, blaming them for anything that goes wrong. The celebrites, if they bother to turn up on time or at all, invariably turn out to be ‘challenging’ and the PR will still be there cleaning up the debris when the last guests to leave are in bed or at Boujis.

The people I know who have made a success of it came into it because they had a good work ethic, liked a challenge and, when the opportunity arose, to do work that actually has an impact, makes a difference, gets talked about and wins awards and makes their clients happy. They understand brands, media and most importantly the basic psychology of what motivates different consumer groups.

Most client or new business briefs when deciphered represent a problem or a riddle that has to be solved, a muddied landscape that needs sorting (sales are down; the competition has a superior, cheaper product; we’ve hired a celebrity that no one cares about etc etc). One is rarely in the privileged position of being handed a task of a campaign or launch for something that will make instant news, already has excitement building up around it, massive brand loyalty or has the endorsement of an A-list star whom you have at your disposal to do whatever you want. It’s about using your wits in most instances, adapting to the challenges because the textbook formula on how to be successful doesn’t exist.

This is no bad thing. The best work is when you are working with the underdog, the challenger, the unknown, the brand that isn’t so entrenched in heritage or it’s code of behaviour that you actually can’t do very much creative with it.

Know what PR is

This seems like me being patronising, but it’s a true reflection of many people who we meet at interview stage. In other words, familiarise yourself with the PR work other brands are doing. Typically when asked about PR campaigns they admire a candidate who isn’t up the grade will ring the alarm bell.

It’s remarkable how many people will do one of the following things:

  • Tell me about one our own campaigns – showing the  extent of their research (let alone understanding of the industry) is whatever  they saw on the home page of our website
  • Give a flawless description of an advertising campaign
  • Respond with a blank

Know your media and brands
This is obvious but not always applied – even by senior practitioners who can go stale. Read newspapers, online news, marketing, trends and innovation sites and blogs, follow agencies on Twitter, but most importantly look at agencies websites where their best work is showcased.  The older one gets the more one can learn from junior colleagues. The same follows for brands. It’s likely to come up in interviews about brands that you’d like to work for and why.

Decide what type of agency you want to work for

Consumer or corporate? Global, small, start-up, in-house? Fashion, FMCG or tech clients? There’s also agency culture to factor in and the sort of career you want. A lot of agencies do conventional work and that pays just as well, if not better, has less risk. They get third parties to do their news generation, broadcast, social media and they handle the client and do the planning. However, some of us like to wake up in the morning and hear an idea we scribbled down on a torn piece of paper on the bus a week ago talked about on TV after a bad night’s sleep wondering whether their creative hunch has paid off. That’s where the buzz is.

The most important thing is to take any job and acquire any experience you can. Get a foundation, learn the basics and plan your next move from there.

How to get in

Build relationships on Twitter
I’m the worst networker in the world. I like to get on with my work, hang out with my colleagues and then go home to my friends. However, Twitter has been a saving grace to build relationships, exchange thoughts, sick jokes and a rapport with people in PR and other creative fields without having to set a date and a venue agreeable to both (as used to be the case). Get a presence on Twitter, follow like-minded people. It would’ve been inconceivable five years ago a 21 year old aspirant who is trying to get a job in PR could exchange views on football, fashion, food, trends or bitch about a celebrity with someone who might run an agency that employs hundreds of people. Now you can.

We don’t use recruitment agencies at entry / executive level. If a recruiter contacts me and says ‘I’ve got a creative, dynamic person with lots of initiative who is desperate to work at Cow’ I ask ‘Well why didn’t they contact us then?’.

PR’ing yourself
If you were your own client, how would you approach the brief of getting a job in a creative business that sees CVs every day (and very few that say or do anything different or new). Think what is actually going to  make you stand out and appeal to an employer. Be different to stand out, but be subtle – ambition is a splendid, but there’s nothing more annoying than someone thinking that work is a game of The Apprentice. Overconfidence or being ’IN YOUR FACE’ is probably rightly interpreted as arrogance. Humility, nuanced subtly and understatement is a wonderful thing.  An employer is looking for someone with potential and the desire to learn, they aren’t expecting the complete package. However, different approaches though will appeal to different employers with different agency cultures.

The important thing is: don’t say it, show it – Most CVs say “I’m passionate, I live and breathe brands, I’m creative, I’m dynamic, have a great visual eye and understanding of media”. An approach to an agency is an opportunity to bring those words to life.Give an employer a reason they want to know more or, even better, can’t turn you down.

That bit is up to you. Good luck.

The Odd Couple (and Kimberley with the scar) January 15, 2011

Posted by normanmonkey in Consumer PR, Friends, Home.
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My older, twice-divorced, cab driving cousin has come to stay with me for a while, at least until ‘things calm down a bit in Egham’. I’ve already established that should he ever go on Mastermind his specialist subjects would be Arsenal FC, Northern Soul and the names of the all girls on the free to view Babestation stations. Dedicated viewing means he knows them off pat and can even provide a running commentary into their levels of filthiness and surgical history: “Look at her, Kimberley that is, all pumped up…oh she’s got the old scar down there n’all…Lets see who else is on…Lindsay! Oh no, she’s had them reduced! what’s she gone and done that for?!”

There’s been a bit of a  kerfuffle, lets put it that way, a fallout over something or other that needs to be settled or as he was explaining to me the other night with the TV set to Arsenal in the background: “I don’t know what I’d do. I’d have to move ‘ouse, I’d ‘ave to move out the area, that would mean having to change my job, not seeing so much of my kids, all my life is there….HE WAS NEVER OFFSIDE!…OH REF!….Did you see that?…HE WAS LEVEL!…so, yeah it’s really bad…I can’t believe that. The left back played him on!”.

That’s my family all over. Older generation aside, we’re littered with black sheep and I, at the very least, come in pastel shades of grey (my cousin was impressed when I showed him pages four and five of from a tattered News of the World featuring a woman I once dated). Still, he and I have always got on extremely well,  enjoyed each others company and its been good to have someone to come home to of an evening  even if to the outside observer this incongruous pairing of mini-cab driver in hiding and PR Director seems like a well crafted Pinter play. Whilst he has now embraced Waitrose, my predilection for books, ‘posh soup’, no bread,  fine wine, The Guardian, foreign films, skimmed milk and unopened mail has been heartily, and possibly justifiably, mocked. Meanwhile, I’ve noticed my consumption of lager, takeaways and Kimberley with the scar has rocketed in the past week.

Having easy going company has been welcome as it’s been a grueling time on the work front. Another fortnight at the coalface, albeit this one of the Chilean variety and no sign if a drill boring its way to us from daylight above.  January is always like that. After a week or so off we returned to four pitches in six days. Ideally a pitch requires a minimum of two weeks to crack the brief, discuss strategic approaches, develop creative tactics and then produce a presentation, so coming back on January 4th dotted with the remnants of festive tinsel and still giddy with the echoes of Jingle Bells ringing in our ears was always going to be a shock to the system at the best of times, but especially under these circumstances.

What keeps one going is the knowledge that it will all settle down again by February. No one dared venture to Village East despite it being the end to a long slog of a week, a combination of detoxing and desire to recharge, no one that is except Martin and I.

We’d felt that after refusing to leave the office on Friday night until we’d properly cracked a brief and by that coming up with an idea that we loved and that would fly rather than a nice set of ideas that would do, we’d earned an Espresso Martini or two. On seeing us and hearing of our stint our drinks were kindly provided on the house by management, meaning I arrived home jubilant and uplifted with the late turn of events to the week and pitched the new PR idea to my cousin on my return. ‘I don’t have a clue what you are talking about’, he said, ‘But I admire that you get paid for coming up with that sort of thing…now stop talking bollocks and have a beer’.

Norman Monkey The Brand January 12, 2011

Posted by normanmonkey in Consumer PR.
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If only I could apply the same determination, dediciation and focus to my personal life as I do in my professional (which has of late, it must be conceded, not permitted for much of a personal life), then I’d be Aristotle Onassis. I’d also not be awaiting a letter from the DVLA informing me how much I owe for not paying my road tax and I’d also have a white carpet that, thanks to red wine, didn’t look like the Marquis de Sade’s bed sheet.

PR is all about problem solving. Make something famous, talked about, loved, even if it’s inferior to what else is on the market. My god, if I knew the answer to that I wouldn’t have been reduced to signing up to Match.com in the summer. On occasion, such as this evening, there is cause for an ebullient mood because I believe I may have cracked a very difficult brief. On other occasions problem solving often comes about from creating a problem that didn’t before exist and selling the problem in at the same time as the solution (lets call that the smallpox vaccination approach to marketing – the brand giveth the pox and the brand taketh away).  Then there’s the other times where a client has a genuine problem, mired in the shit, and it’s your job to work out how to extricate them if not smelling of roses, then almost certainly not smelling of shit.

So far I am managing to make a living out of this, but it is starting to occur to me that maybe I should hire myself as a client because outside the office I am dans le merde (is that even correct?). It’s the only logical solution to get myself out of the constant minefield of buff envelopes, ex-girlfriends who complained about my lack of free time (Village East and QPR and the post-trauma and fatigue of both is as much a factor as anything work related) and red wine stains that set in.  It’s only a matter of time that I spill red wine on the unopened buff envelopes containing despairing complaints from exes that I compound all my flaws in one.

If I were a client I may suggest a total overhaul in my comms strategy and make myself more accessible. Answering the phone, let alone being available for face to face interaction would be a start. Another would be to open the aforementioned buff envelopes. Early on in the proceedings the DVLA were sending me polite reminders but now there’s an angry red aspect to their communications and by which time its all too late to pick up the hints (the awkward irony should not be lost that I also lead campaigns for a leading motor brand reminding other drivers of exactly this kind of thing). As for the red wine it’s all about spatial awareness in as much as remembering firstly not to place a full bottle of Barolo on the carpet and secondly not to knock it flying whilst dancing like a tool to Bowie of a Friday night. If I had the budget, there;s definitely the case for a total brand overhaul and some third party partnerships with mineral water, the V&A and football teams that haven’t gone 11 years without a win in the FA Cup.

It was also revealed at work today whilst exercising my professional capacity into purchasing behaviour (people don’t want to be observed purchasing the cheapest if in aspirational surroundings)  that even though I required a white wine to remove the red stain I steadfastly refused to be seen buying a bottle of Blossom Hill white wine in Sainsbury’s in Cobham. At least, when everything else is unravelling due to my own ineptitude, its surely reassuring to know that I still have principles that are upheld. Even a stained carpet deserves to be doused with a bit of the good stuff and I was happy to help out with the leftovers.

A sentiment enough to send a sensitive soul to Beachey Head


Tangled Up In Briefs November 4, 2010

Posted by normanmonkey in Blogging and social media, Consumer PR.
1 comment so far

Like most people, certainly those whom have accompanied a girlfriend on a shoe shopping expedition, own a QPR season ticket or been stuck in a room with a social media ‘guru’, I’ve contemplated my own death.  It could come at any moment, purely by chance or some act of my or someone else’s stupidity. Chances are that it will be long and lingering and I still wouldn’t have got round to collecting that rug and I ordered from Habitat one weekend.

I hadn’t suspected, though will be on future guard, I could be killed by my own scarf entangled in the door of a West Byfleet mini-cab. Fortunately I managed to bang on the side just as he was about to pull away.  Tonight was almost my night and rest assured from someone who knows, it’s not a dignified way to end another 12-hour working day, let alone expire.  My very own Isadora Duncan moment and no one would’ve been there to witness it. Instead my decapitated body would’ve been found by a neighbour and I imagine they’d have written a letter to my house complaining about bringing down the area by not having the decency to use the correct bin.

It has been that kind of day, hovering somewhere between life and death, as I’d been to Slough. All that’s left is to slump at the keyboard listening to Graham Taylor talk in geriatric parables on Channel 5 Football as I type with a cup of tea to face another day. November heralds a frantic six weeks of preparing 2011 campaigns for your clients and it can be taxing on the temperament. Today Gloria and Talullah even went to the lengths of lighting candles at my desk and playing whale music, really, they did, but even then any hint of calm was blown away as I nearly set myself  alight.

Everything happens all at once, new clients, potential clients and you are effectively writing the script of success and failure for the coming year. It’s energetic, all-consuming and done with the warning that ill-conceived ideas will come back to haunt you down the line so it requires application, attention to detail and a lot tea because are effectively laying your own professional minefield and will have to retrace those steps over the coming year.  I’ve seen scenes at other agencies where there are a number of inquisitions as to “Who the HELL…?”‘ thought that was a good idea (terrorist reenactments, replacing the face of Big Ben with a giant crisp packet, or changing the natural laws of physics, that kind of thing).

Someone once told me of an experience at an agency they’d just joined where there was a tactic in the time line that involved Nelson Mandela doing a dance. They’d even budgeted it at £5,000. That’s the same price as Michaela Strachan and you won’t even get a dance for that. (Lest we forget our peers  at one agency some time back who actually did go through with the idea of a Jack the Ripper display at the London Dungeon using ‘real life prostitutes’ – that made national news alright, but unfortunately for them the words ‘misogyny’, ‘gratuitious’ and ‘exploitation’ weren’t in the key messages)

In the course of research we were assessing the social media strategy of a client competitor today.  I was particularly taken with the link to a Twitter feed on their homepage which led to their Twitter account and consisted of a grand total of zero tweets and one follower. It’s a start, I suppose.

To my annoyance I didn’t check whom that one follower was. What keeps them hanging on in there in hope they might get a tweet from a fast moving consumer good? And what could this fast moving consumer good ever have to say for itself? That  it’s good with chicken? Or, like all of the women winked on me when I trialled Match.com, permanently to be found on the shelf?

A driving school had a slightly more substantial feed, but came across as being like a pervy Uncle at a family barbecue. Asking young people what music they liked, their favourite festivals and did they know a good place to watch a sunset? All to a wall of absolute silence, but on they persisted.  ‘At least they are trying to do something’, said Gloria, but by the same measure, so is pissing into the Grand Canyon and thinking you’ll get a swimming pool.

On the note of chatting into a digital wilderness, that’s somewhat rich coming from a person blogging about being choked on his scarf in a residential street in West Byfleet.  Goodnight.

A Place in The Sun September 9, 2010

Posted by normanmonkey in Consumer PR.
1 comment so far

The front page of PR Week today featured a picture of two self-consciously earnest looking gentleman with black thick rimmed glasses who stared into the lens as if they were about to gravely inform you Basildon had been destroyed by a single explosion. And they’d caused it. Because they could. And it was all done by telekinesis. So we should take them seriously because they can read our minds and make us submit to their whims. We don’t know what their next move is going to be, but it will involve world domination so prepare to be dominated.  PR, you see, is a very serious business.

As first in at work today and with a copy of PR Week in the mail, theirs were the first other faces from my industry to greet me. Then, for want of a juxtaposition, our lot started to shamble in with their stories, diatribes, trite observations, put downs, insults, embraces and rapid fire innuendos. Stick them in front of a respectable trade magazine photographer, it would be impossible to get them to keep still, let alone look serious. They’d almost certainly pout or probably much worse. Yet, open the papers today and our handiwork is all there from the Daily Star to the FT. Something must be working and and we do so with a nod and a wink.

You’ve got to admire the talent pool in the office. A survey of the shop floor looks more like a remake of the Dirty Dozen (make that two dozen), not so much just  the waifs and strays of the PR industry that no one else can handle, but a handul too much for decent, right-minded society as a whole. Yet they get the job done with tenacity just like Telly Savelas in the war film referred to – even if it does mean a few scars and scrapes on the way.

One cast member whom regular readers of this blog will identify rather quickly set off for a week-long holiday to Portugal on Monday afternoon with a sneer, a nod and a ‘See ya!’ Later that evening he missed his flight, blew his top and had to be escorted out of Terminal 3 by security. He then booked a flight for the next day, went home, overslept, dashed to the airport, missed that one for good measure and was back in the office today as if nothing had happened. One thing you can be sure of the chaps on the front page of PR Week: not only board their plane before those on Speedy Boarding, they do so dictating in the captain’s ear the precise destination to fly to or face the cunning consequences, especially if they lose their wi-fi signal in the process.

Meanwhile back at Ground Zero, there is the struggle to compose oneself writing a strategy document as a gay Welshman acts out the latest new boutique for Bermondsey Streeet called Dooshenfist (‘Hello, Douchenfist, how may I help you?’) which in a split second and flick to a Teutonic accent transmorphed into a German footwear brand:

– Vot is zat you are vearing?

– Zis iz ze new Dooshenfist sandal for ze Autumn season! Isn’t it amaze, ja!

Not despite, but because of this chaotic, frenzied atmosphere the creative output and the results appear to be hitting new heights. One can think of some former colleagues who’d be turning in their alphabetically ordered progress report at all these goings on. For a start, they would require translation to understand half the stuff being talked about and then carried out in a stretcher when they did.  They too will always be first on the flight out and the front page photo while we instead will have to content ourselves at our desks with our place in The Sun.

I’m done now with the office for a week. There’s the matter of an early Sunday morning Gatwick flight to Marbella – and therefore the distinct possibility, going by our current form,  that I’ll be staring out at the drizzle from my desk come Monday morning. Cows it seems, like the adage about pigs, just aren’t meant to fly.

Put on dog on it July 22, 2010

Posted by normanmonkey in Consumer PR, In the news, Media.
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When a cab driver looks at you in sympathy and asks you eyeball to rear view mirror ‘You just finished doing a night shift’, it’s a bad sign that maybe one is not looking one’s best. Especially when you are forced at 7.30a.m to reply that you are actually on your way into work. Had I not mentioned it, he may have otherwise solemnly driven me to Harley St and waived the fare in sympathy. Yet, for all the wretched hours of coming up with the elusive ‘big idea’ or solutions to a new brief, all our woes may be over.

In future every PR tactic that goes out of our office will have the words ‘…for dogs’ fastened on it. PR is that simple. Put a dog on it and people start to fizz and gurgle and before you know it the phone rings from News at Ten.

It’s less than a week since I stood on Wandsworth Common overseeing a photo shoot shivering with two Great Danes and an ice cream van. Since then the first ice cream for dogs has ‘gone global’. There’s been BBC Breakfast, Chris Evans, This Morning and The One Show tomorrow. Film crews from France and Mexico on Saturday. Forget the global economic meltdown, we got ice cream vans for dogs. No doubt people are pausing from their struggle for survival in Burkina Faso to talk about the K99 ice cream van with the chicken and gammon flavour.

They can’t get enough of the first ice cream van for dogs. You know what George Osborne should have done with the Emergency Budget? Put a dog on it. The England World Cup squad? Put a dog on it. Raoul Moat….should have put a dog on it. BP? Well, it’s worth a punt! An English Heritage castle is in the news today because a man was arrested having sex with a dog on the site. That castle needed a boost. They know.

Meanwhile I can barely type due to a trapped nerve in my neck. The result is that I can’t raise my head from a lowered stoop and most women suspect I am looking at their cleavage.

While this may be convenient it is certainly not the case. Except for the girl in the Vietnamese cafe on Bermondsey Street. Then again, judging by the looks of things at lunchtime Dan Turner had also trapped a nerve in his neck around the time it came to him placing his order and who can blame him. Having tried Nurofen Plus, Anadin Ultra and Chateauneuf du Pape (finally, in desperation, all at the same time) I’ve given up. If all else fails I’m going to put a dog on it.

Corrupted file July 6, 2010

Posted by normanmonkey in Consumer PR.
1 comment so far

This is the post-pitch crash. A few hours ago, my colleagues and I were extolling the virtues of how we intend to transform a brand with all the enthusiasm of puppies rolling in freshly mown grass. After the adrenalin has gone, and a train journey from Bermondsey to West Byfleet thrown in for good measure, I find I’m choosing a vastly inferior wine simply because it is screw cap and doesn’t require me to operate a bottle opener.

The blog has been neglected because there has been a tremendous amount of work to do in the last week and an important pitch. It started badly at the weekend when there was still much work to be confronted. Working at the weekend provokes all sorts of negative feelings and irrational behaviour, like suddenly finding Wife Swap USA compelling viewing.

Waiting to see how a quivering pile of lard and prejudice in New Jersey reacts to being told he’s got to make the bed seems like the definition of high drama and I’m inexplicably drawn to it, pitch brief in hand, mouth agape, like watching the toppling of the Twin Towers for the very first time.

On Saturday with the World Cup in full flow, shops distracting me by doing things like selling newspapers and the sun ablaze I told myself what was really needed was a significant burst tomorrow and perhaps things would be best progressed if I had The Last One round for balmy evening drinks.

Even now, a few days on, my hand may still bear the marks and swelling from the mosquito bites as I merrily quaffed on Saturday night, but do so in the knowledge that the little bastard would’ve been reaping what he’d sowed come Sunday morning. Of course, on Sunday morning that was little consolation to my creative and strategic processes.

A deadline of order was set for 3pm sharp. At 3pm sharp it was decided that work could only be initiated by the making of a cup of tea. That twenty minutes later I should find myself driving to Waitrose in order to buy a gingerbread man I’d decided would be an absolutely essential accompaniment to that cup of tea shows the level of procrastination the pitch preparation can drive a man to – even if it’s to a distant supermarket specifically for a children’s biscuit.

After tea and gingerbread the discovery the document on the memory stick was corrupted and the only recent version was on a hard drive in an office in Bermondsey made for an unsettling reaction. From the ensuing breakdown, after tears were mopped from the floor and some formidable teamwork, we got to where we are today. Even a note from Iliana to say she was too ill to clean – most probably a case of PTSD following the all-night Cow party here the week before – didn’t derail me from my course.

Today we pitched for the market leader in sweet spreads that I’d not even heard of a month ago. All of a sudden we’re all leaping about like charismatic preachers as if the pitch document has been delivered to us by the hand of God and we’re spreading the good word. Everything flowed, everyone played their part and it was good to see a pitch team at the top of their game and I not requiring a gingerbread man to be coaxed into life.

In the course of typing Holland have gone 3-1 up in the World Cup semi-final and I’ve just received an invite to watch the final from the sedentary comfort of Amsterdam from someone who should know better. I’m off to check flight prices. Unless Forlan produces something miraculous in the next few minutes, we can all be rest assured that there will not be much of an urgent surge toward Powerpoint come next Sunday.