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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.

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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.

The Filth and the Fury April 11, 2010

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Pottering about online this Sunday afternoon in my kitchen I inadvertently lit the touchpaper for a revolutionary movement. Given plans for the afternoon were no more ambitious than cooking a scampi provencal and trying to find my wallet, that’s not pretty bad going.

Reposting an old blog (‘PR’s Weak’) caused others like me to rise up with their fists in the air rushing toward the barricades, or at the very least tweet, that something must be by those of us in the PR industry with a different outlook. This was prompted by a few events in the past working week.

Someone at Cow showed me a picture this week of the PR Power Book gang bang that had prompted my ire. It was a black tie and twinsets affair and the sound of industry backs being slapped could be heard all the way to Primrose Hill.

This is also the same week that Malcolm McClaren died and there’s been ongoing interviews for hungry, young grads,execs and managers at Cow.

From a personal point of view I didn’t get into PR nor stay in it to meet celebrities, have a flashy job title or attend industry soirees where I could get the tux out. I did so because of the thrill of seeing an idea get in the news, provoke a reaction and a knowing nod and wink that the truth shouldn’t always get in the way of a good story. That point was underlined by doing work experience at The Sun as a runner for Kelvin McKenzie (I was his email on legs before email was invented).

I have never once read about McClaren in industry publications or heard discussed at soirees. There’s more to be learned about PR from about McClaren and the Sex Pistols rise and legend than there is in reading our trade publication or a three-year degree course. You can spell out the three years in three words: man bites dog. If you want to make news and create impact it really is as simple as that. Now go forth and prosper, young Pip!

Our interviews are very informal. We’ve got something special at Cow, we’re a gang, a family (though more of the Manson variety than the Waltons) and not to be messed with. Our thoughts and ideals chime – we want to know the person joining us has the character, as well as the ability, to fit in. Lovers of hierarchies, rules, status and process wouldn’t. If some agencies are run like the Royal Navy, we’re more like a pirate ship. Yo ho ho and a bottle of Havana Club 7 year.

Yet, we will ask about brand campaigns. The number of candidates who’ve spoken about their passion for PR and are yet unable to name a single campaign they admire is staggering. So many are stumped and resort to naming an ad that was on television 18 months ago. It would be nice if someone came in one day and said ‘I want to make news people talk about!’

Since 1996 I’ve worked on some of the biggest brands in the world, across number of award winning campaigns, addressed serious issues, all challenging and rewarding, but the thing I treasure most was causing consternation and outrage across the news pages and the airwaves with a story for a Power Rangers space guide for youngsters that said ‘One in three British kids think Winston Churchill was the first man on the moon’.

Interviews are also an insight into how other agencies operate. One Account Manager at an agency was advised early on that she was being too friendly and familiar with the Execs. Socialising was not advised as they ‘are not the same level’ as she. They wouldn’t respect her otherwise. Respect her for what? Detachment? Aloofness? Ability to reinforce a sterile working atmosphere? This sort of stuff all belongs with another age, if not the Gestapo.

Colleagues will respect you if you treat them as a human being, not an operative, and that means you can lower yourself to go for a bloody mary or a knees up with them and know what motivates and interests them. Professionally they will respect you if you know what you are doing and devote time to help them develop. That creates a system of mutual support and respect.

This same agency also frowned upon people chatting, laughing, not working. The result is that people work in silence and there is very little bond between colleagues.

This is, of course, missing the point by a country mile. This agency is can’t see the blindingly obvious paradox that they are supposed to be creating conversations yet are stamping it out in their own workplace. We’re an ideas business and there are no rules for creativity. Some agencies have a point-by-point template approach to being creative that must be adhered to and would make me howl if it weren’t in my own industry. Perhaps Picasso used this approach: Step 1- pick up brush; Step Two – think of the bombing of Guernica in an progressively abstract manner; Step Three – paint?

Some of the best ideas had at Cow have come not from a brainstorm, poring over consumer trends or staring in isolated silence at a screen, but over a shared pot of tea, a fag break, an afternoon tipple in the Woolpack or sat in the park. Why sit in an office on a sunny day apart from to justify the rent?

The other day my Dad watched BBC breakfast and a news item on DeBretts and Vauxhall Astra producing a ‘Thoroughly Modern Guide to Motoring Etiquette’. Steps included music play list etiquette, conduct toward other motorists and appropriate conversation with fellow passengers. ‘Now someone’s telling me the correct way to get out of a car? What bloody idiot thought of that?’ he asked as we drove to the airport. That would be me, I replied. Job done.

Consumer PR at is best is playful, irreverent, challenging, entertaining and we should be heard. Our peers shouldn’t be forced suffer in silence.

And no, I didn’t find my wallet.

Missing Children with Louis Walsh December 30, 2009

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You know it’s time to go to bed when the options coming up on the Sky + guide include ‘Missing Children: Lorraine Kelly Investigates’, ‘Roulette Nation’, ‘Real Life Wolf Kids’ and ‘Ghosthunting With Louis Walsh’.

I mean, honestly?

Ghosthunting With Louis Walsh! What about us seasonal insomniacs? We deserve better than that. Who thought sending Louis Walsh dithering in the dark talking about something warm pressed against his thigh for an hour would make good television? Seriously, who thought of that? They should be taken to account and give us the real deal so we can see Louis properly scared if that’s what he wants.

Why can’t we have ‘Parachuted into Harlem Dressed as a KKK Member with Louis Walsh’? That would be more like it and I think the nation would have a TV moment of unity akin to the Coronation. Lorraine Kelly could then investigate what happened to Missing Louis. Fucking symmetry.

Goodnight

Awaiting the hangman December 21, 2009

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Today a member of the public called for me to be hung (sic). Well, that’s a prayer i’m sure many of us have made in the past, but this particular chap actually wanted me hanged?

It seems the crime I committed was to put out a news story on what it is to have ‘Made It’ in Britain in 2009. It was all harmless stuff, accurately researched, thoroughly written-up and five national newspapers covered it.

If ever you want to know if a PR story has been bang on the money, forget your complex metrics, simply click the Daily Mail online to gauge the readers reactions. If they are indifferent, you fail, my friend.

By my measure if a story can make multiple Daily Mail readers implode with indignation, then you;ve hit the jackpot. Listen carefully and you can hear them popping in Tunbridge Wells, Cheltenham, Chobham, Stoke Poges and, dare I say it, West Byfleet. One…two…yep, there goes another one.

Even I, who thought I’d seen it all in PR and the media, was taken aback a bit by the following comment on those responsible for the research:

The amount of people in this country getting paid for producing the biggest crap possible is frankly laughable. Put them to work doing a real job or just hang them.

So said someone from Kent. It’s a bit rich really, but I’m not installing a tripwire and battening down the hatches quite yet. Only the other day there was a survey by a car insurance company saying that if he were alive today Jesus would drive a Mitsubishi. That’s appropriating a religious icon for a piece of pr twaddle (and how did they research that anyway) and I didn’t hear much of a grumble, apart from me perhaps on what a desperate end of year story that was.

It also makes one wonder whether the ire was misdirected. Surely the blame should be equally apportioned to any publication that thinks such a story is legitimate and newsworthy. And that, my friend from Kent, is exactly the same publication that you take most of your views from in the first place. If anything, blame yourself. Or we could come to a compromise and be well hung together.

People can rightly have their objections towards PR, but a call for the execution of myself and five team members (who, believe me are actually rather nice people) is a worrying development. if I was Salman Rushdie this would be all over the news right now. He had to write the Satanic Verses before a fatwa was put on his head; I wrote a two page press release. That must be a record.

So bring them on, the irate of the home counties. They probably suspect I’m a trendy, morally deviant coffee-drinking, Guardian reading, olive munching, macchiato drinking media type who lives in Islington or Clapham. How wrong they are. I live in West Byfleet.

So despite being on their side of the barricades, I say bring them on with their torches, noose and pitchforks. I’ll be waiting in my my Poggenpol kitchen for them, an espresso in hand, reading a copy of The Observer Review section and with a Cheshire Cat grin. They’ll be amazed to find just how much we get on.

Social media and the modern man November 13, 2009

Posted by normanmonkey in Blogging and social media, Media.
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Social media. Twitter. How do you explain it to someone in 1989, maybe even 1999, or even present day Ipswich? This evening, without having had any prior intent or plan to do so, I chatted with a woman in Sydney, whom I have never met or spoken to before, on what television she should buy.

Twenty years ago, a man in my situation would be going out to the hip bars and clubs, engage in conversation with attractive women he didn’t know and try to convince them to go to bed with him.

Twenty years on and I’ve just convinced an attractive woman to purchase a Samusung UE55B7020 LED TV. How would you possibly explain that as progress? Still, the one thing I had on the man twenty years ago is I had 55 inches as a selling point.

She asked me if said LED could be hung. So I typed ‘Yes, mine hangs really well’, but saw this could be misconstrued and cringed. Instead I typed I’d ‘mounted mine in the cinema room’. I sounded more wrong than the 1989. guy on the bloody make. In the end, I abandoned and attempt at an expansive answer and just typed ‘Yep’.

Twit.

The Fry’s the Limit November 4, 2009

Posted by normanmonkey in Blogging and social media, In the news, Media.
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Newspapers are in decline. I’ve had that particular finger wagged at me by the digital arm of Cow PR for the last 18 months and yes, I know sales and therefore advertising revenues are plummeting, but it’s become patently obvious with it that journalism – or lack of it – is in freefall.

Having read newspapers avidly since I was a child and lapped up headlines like ‘Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster’, the papers were always a source of joy, fascination, titillation, tits, oh and an open door to events and commentaries on what shaped the world. Now they just leave me cold. Even the tits.

I picked up a copy of the Evening Standard the other day and flicked through it in several minutes. As a free sheet it is still shamefully overpriced. The problem is there simply isn’t anything in there I didn’t already know and much more I didn’t care about.

I start each day with a double espresso and an undemanding two minute digest of weather and footballing events with Rocco at his Italian deli in West Byfleet. That’s a relatively new experience for me and one I am sure won’t wear thin too soon. The constant in my commute has always been The Sun and The Guardian on the way to work and these were always eagerly anticipated.

Of late I’ve noticed that it’s not long before I’ve worked my way through the papers with impassive immunity to their wares and found myself staring out at the backyards of suburbia that stare gloomily back at you from the edge of the railway sidings (why is there always a child’s toy tricycle and discarded paint pots in every back yard – don’t these people tidy?).

This staring out of the window despite papers being merely skimmed is indicative of one or two things. Either the papers are genuinely boring or I’ve become a manic depressive. Having, until fairly recently, gone out with the latter for almost a year, I’m certain I do not fall into that category. It was pointed out to me that my happiness was intolerable and I found that a bit hard to stomach considering I’m hardly Coco the Clown at the best of times.

No, I can justifiably say it’s the media’s fault, but it’s not just the papers, its all news media. And maybe that is what depresses me. There’s genuinely little – apart from world events – that I genuinely care about or touches me in anyway and that’s because I’m not part of a mass demographic.

Most TV news is rendered unwatchable because there is the earnest belief that events can’t be relayed, but explained with the need for whizzy graphics and an agenda that is all about infotainment, assuming the audience is comprised of idiots. A possible consequence of this approach is that it creates idiots who need to be spoonfed. There are a few quality exceptions – Newsnight, The Today Programme, QPR.co.uk (and that’s hardly a barrel of laughs the way things are going there).

The real problem began when the media was opened up to the public or ‘democratised’ to comment on events. It’s near impossible to listen to a radio phone-in without wanting to pour boiling oil into one’s ears and hope it scalds the brain to see if it can still feel, yet this has become the adopted approach of producers. We let the people eat cake and they chose Mr Kipling.

This cheap, lazy, witless approach can also be found on the likes of BBC Breakfast and Sky News (GMTV, if it were a person would be wrestled to the floor and strangled slowly by any feeling, sentient being) where we have to endure the emails or tweets from Lindsay in Dagenham or Darren in Dudley, rendering it unwatchable.

The worst words in the English language that have permeated into news media is ‘We want you to have your say’. This ghastly phrase to signal the opening of the floodgates is usually uttered by some vapid young Shaz with perfect teeth who is otherwise only fit for the escort industry to gentlemen in the Heathrow area.

Imagine how intolerable life would be if you couldn’t go more than a few yards, even undercover, for every tosspot on the street approaching and tugging on your sleeve to give you their ill-informed opinion on paedophiles, Peter Andre, the exit strategy from Kabul, their theory on the afterlife or the price of a leg of lamb. Well, it’s happening and it’s happening every time you turn on the TV and radio or open a newspaper.

For those of us whose prime goal in life is to avoid stupid people this is the pits. In the words of Sid Vicious ‘I’ve met the man on the street and he’s a cunt’. I concur. So what of social media – perhaps this is the solution, the refuge of the bright young things building a better future.

I inadvertently, yet subconsciously, neglected Facebook recently having been a fairly avid participant for some 18 months where I’d been connected to many old friends from life and exchanged in gamely banter and Wildean witticisms.

I figured that as we’re all now reconnected and such great chums it would only be a matter of time before I heard from someone, potentially to carry on the conversation in the real world over cold drinks, but not a bleedin’ sausage and that’s all quite distressing for those of us who live alone in a five bedroom house in West Byfleet.

Essentially, the merry-go-round carried on without me and not one fucker called. Except for the one or two who normally do and that’s most commonly on a Friday around closing time with an opening that begins with ‘WAHEEY!’ and ends with the sound of a phone being dropped in a gutter soon after.

So what of Twitter? I must admit I’m in my second spell and this time I ‘get it’. I enjoy the twittering banter with colleagues (though I inifintely prefer their company in Village East of a Friday) and turning on Tweetdeck is the first thing I do when I get home after dropping the coat.

None of my oldest friends are on it (Wiggy only went online at home two months ago and is now lost in a digital fleshpot of filth). Yet the Stephen Fry quitting incident sent me into a catatonic fit of exasperation as I followed it in real time on Saturday afternoon with baited hangover.

The outcome was easy to predict. He throws a hissy, signs off and hand-wringing hysteria breaks out like a virus. It was like Madeline McCann all over again, but something much more trivial (not even a Cuddle Cat to throw into the narrative).

It is a worry how thousands people felt their lives and self-worth had somehow been disrupted or severely dented because they may lose contact not only with someone famous they felt connected to, but because it gave them a sense of collective belonging. Dare I even say it, a cause. Bloody hell.

The fervour grew as tweeters realised they were becoming part of the story. Papers ran it as a story, proving the symbiotic relationship between the two to create a mountain out of a dung hill. People have such little style these days. Lives should not be led vicariously.

When I started following Stephen Fry I think I was about number 3,600 and it was a bit of a novelty, a quirk of the information age. His tweets are innocuous, harmless, pseudo Noel Coward fare but there is a stalkerish element of his followers and their hopes he might read, or heaven forfend even reply to their tweets, like receiving a locket of hair, to feeling robbed upon being deprived of updates on his movements and schedule around the globe.

The distressed individuals formed a crowd and the crowd turned nasty. What is a crowd, afterall, without heroes and villains.

This was a tipping point for twitter, its Diana moment. and made it fair game for risible comment and analysis. There’s nothing wrong with Twitter – it’s the people who consume it who will eventually fuck it up and reduce all to mush (in less than 140 characters).

In the last week I’ve ditched the papers and started reading books on the train. P.G Wodehouse is funnier than a funny pet photo in The Sun; Francis Wheen has a more incisive, acerbic take on the issues of the day than Brenda from Basingstoke and ‘Hellraisers’, an account of the exploits and of the Reed, Burton, Harris and O’Toole is far more fascinating than Fry.

I can’t Tweet back to Richard Burton or Ollie Reed to fawningly ask them what they had for lunch or how the weather is in L.A and if I could they would quite rightly tell me to fuck off. I prefer it that way.

As for the real world Wiggy just called me to discuss what went on in Whisky Mist. Oh, and to ask what the hell my blog is ‘It’s just lots of paragraphs!’. Hardly a compliment. But I prefer it that way as well.

Destiny’s Child October 29, 2009

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There’s a headline the papers missed covering the news that Sagittarians are more likely to be child stars due to their star sign.

A lot of right-minded people whose opinions I’d normally respect would dismiss astrology as having absolutely no value.  I disagree. For this PR creative, it’s the third time it has got me out of the shit when there’s absolutely no budget  to bump up client coverage and the eyes of expectancy are upon you.

Four pieces of national news coverage, all weighty, and even an endorsement of the ‘findings’ from the resident Daily Mail astronomer. Which says all you need to know about the thorough, academic rigour of astronomy.

I was tremendously flattered that Dan Glover of Mischief PR, who I know reads this blog, correctly guessed this was a Mark Perkins story upon reading it splashed across the morning papers. It had all the usual hallmarks: desperation, artistic license, a sole reliance on Wikipedia and as many celebrities who can be thrown into a press release as possible.

One hundred to be precise –  some of whom not even their own parents could say why they were famous – as it got a bit desperate to find 100 child stars toward the end. Needing numbers we were very nearly on the verge of putting Madeline McCann in which, in retrospect, would’ve increased our chances of getting in the Daily Express.

Were people actually talking about the story? I hear Johnny Vaughan was talking about it, but that’s hardly an endorsement. Johnny Vaughan hasn’t said anything intelligent thing since he woke up in a cold sweat about a dozen years ago and mouthed the words ‘Even I hate myself’ before going back to sleep and his reality resumed as normal .

Agencies have their evaluation systems and I have mine. He’s a publican called Lee and is one of my best and most trusted friends. He could recite the story perfectly and I consider that impressive as he once thought Shakespeare wrote Oliver Twist. When Lee accompanied recently me to a contemporary furniture shop he managed to openly mistake, in the presence of aloof shop assistant, the nest of tables I was looking at for a chair  (and even then he refused to back down, maintaining they still could be sat on – prompting the withering response ‘So could a fucking cactus’).

So yesterday was a good one. The papers got an excuse to run pics of Britney, Christina, Miley and Scarlett; Lee and millions like him got to look at them over his cornflakes and the shit sword of Damocles, for a brief moment of time, deigned not to dangle over my head.

And I thanked my lucky stars.

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