Public Relations – Products You Cannot Spin?

Following on from yesterday’s commentary on things you wouldn’t spin, I came across something to day that made me think about things that you cannot spin, not matter how hard you try, and that, eventually you simply have to give up on and view as a lesson learned.

There is, I believe, a temptation for every communications practitioner to believe that everything can be promoted – that there must be a defining something somewhere, that there is a story hidden behind the hopeless exterior and (because we are all horribly insecure) that if we can’t spin it, then someone else will.

This prevents us from taking the obvious path, the one that would save us time, effort and sometimes cash, the one that involves us telling the prospective client that their lovely whateveritis simply isn’t going to fly. That it is, in fact, a horrible turkey, and that they should pack up now and go home. As I’ve said before, I can’t help but thinking that our industry would be in a better state if we weren’t so eager to say yes to everything (I’m generalising, obviously) and if there weren’t quite so many snake-oil salesmen around (and there are, there are) who have little in the way of pride and will counsel anyone on anything if it means they can submit an invoice at the end of the month.

(And before anyone has a pop – I am not making this up – I have seen it happen. I have worked in places where it was obvious that the prospective client was a hopeless basket case, and that the day we achieved significant results for their product or service would be the day that Satan puts on his gloves and scarf and skates to work – there’s a photo opp – yet we still took the brief, still took the cash and accepted the horrible, embarrasing sacking when, inevitably, it was a disaster.)

Recently, on a social network, I came across a bloke looking for help in devising a PR strategy for a new wine product. Now the wine marketplace is a crowded one. It’s price sensitive. It’s difficult to get traction. It’s even more difficult if your wine is made from pomegranates.

Luckily, I think I got to bloke first – I explained to him what he could do to publicise his product and I also explained to him why he’d be wasting his time – that it was unlikely ever to be more than a niche product which might, if he was lucky, become a fashion accessory or a fad for a very, very brief period. I also warned him about the snake oil salesmen and – hey presto – no sooner had I posted the advice, than there were two further posts, offering to help him make his product the new Jacob’s Creek. (I’m exaggerating slightly.)

My second example comes from many moons ago, when I was but a stripling PR person. One of my clients was the generic food promotion agency of a particular European country – while working for them we were not supposed to give one particular brand prominence over any other, however we were entitled to approach the brands that came under this organisation’s umbrella about their specific needs. And they were free to approach us. To cut a long story short, one day I took a call which turned out to be a request for assistance in the promotion of lard.

I didn’t say ‘no’ immediately – mainly because my director was one of those who simply saw the fee opportunity and not the world of pain that would have to be endured to get to the fee, or the inevitable loss of the fee opportunity as we failed to satisfy the client’s expectations. Lard, you see, is lovely – it is – but unfortunately it’s got a bad image, it’s got lots of calories, it contributes to raised blood cholesterol levels and it doesn’t look very nice. OK, I knew my food then, and there’s not doubt that I could have leveraged some coverage for it. But achieving the brief to increase levels of lard consumption across the board? Sorry. I’m good – but no-one’s that good.

Finally I manage to prise my director’s twisted little fingers away from the prospect of the fee, and we said no. And, because I haven’t noticed lard becoming a staple feature of my, or anyone else’s, diet, I can only presume that no-one was able to do a better job of it than the one we didn’t, in the end, decide to do. 

And so to today – and well done, my blog snorkellers, if you are still with me. Today I was alerted to this fantastic and immensely disturbing product. Ladies and gents – if you haven’t had it already, I give you – Meatwater!

This has a genuinely repellent fascination about it, and I for one will not be trying it any time soon. And yet, and yet, I can still see why someone thought it would be a good idea. Anyway, in brief, here’s one that makes you think about the whole ‘would you, wouldn’t you’ deal. For what it’s worth, and on balance, I wouldn’t. I’ll go further and nail my colours to the mast and say it will, sooner, rather than later, disappear without a trace.

If they’re listening, however – the blog’s not been updated, the Twitter feed’s not updated and, as far as I can see, one of the most important things about Meatwater – what actually goes into it – isn’t featured on the site. This says to me that the actual manufacturers don’t really care that much about it, which makes me think that longevity is something this product hasn’t got.

Let’s face it – Innocent Drinks it ain’t. But thinking laterally – as Innocent have recently launched their veg pots (in a break from fruit-only tradition), maybe there’s something they might consider doing in this arena.

And as I’m not a snake-oil salesman, I’ll let Meatwater and Innocent have this counsel for free.

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