Snakes and Ladders

Hey, blog snorkellers – whassup?

Just a quick one – yesterday’s rant about a certain global PR concern and its lack of control over its own blog (social media + no control = the chocolate cupcake of cock-up) – well, two things.

First – they’ve not taken the offending post down. They must have seen me linking to it, they probably read my comments – a bit of action here, people, please. Actually – bugger off – don’t take it down, it wasn’t a bad post. Just edit bits of it. And you know which bits I mean. Go on – do it now.

Second – a further post on the same blog. Now this is genuine genius. Brilliant. Honestly.

Tell me – would it be too difficult to hook up Author 1 with Author 2? My feeling is that everyone would benefit.

So Many Pitfalls, So Little Time…

And, as I’m not exactly overburdened with spare time myself right this instant, I’ll get straight to the point, dearest blog snorkellers.

Regular snorkellers of this blog will know where I stand. (What’s that? ‘Just to the right of Genghis Khan’? See me afterwards, Blog Snorkeller Minor.) Social media, while not exactly evil (in themselves), are much overrated and are certainly no great shakes in the big MacDonald’s Happy Meal that is marketing and communications. But they are potentially dangerous – which is why I have always advocated tight controls on, and careful monitoring of, their use in a corporate context. There is, sweet reader, massive potential for you and your brand to be sitting, waiting, at home for Mr Fuckup to call.

My other pet bugbear (I breed domesticated bugbears – small, furry, friendly and – if you keep them well fed – they won’t eat your children) is the lack of real talent in PR. Enthusiasm maybe, talent, not so much. And the appalling lack of basic skills. This has always been the case mind, but, for god’s sake, if you can’t write, what are you doing here?

So imagine my delight when I come across this.

Oh yes, people, a blog on behalf of a big PR agency. And they’ve let some hapless staffer loose ‘as part of the foodie contingent of the H&K blogging bunch’. And she can’t write – “Although the initial instinct is that there can be nothing less festive than a pot noodle, it begs to differ that the mere intrigue of such a flavour will generate sales on its own.”

So – it’s a twofer! I’ve got a PR person who – while undoubtedly enthusiastic – is in need of some training, and I’ve found it through the medium of social! (Well, a blog is social media, isn’t it?)  

Serious questions, mind. Who’s moderating the H&K blog, why didn’t they spot this and why doesn’t the company have a more stringent policy in place? Far, far worse – this is a global communications company. They’re supposed to be good at this shit. Much reputational damage on the wold, I’d say.

(I really do hope I’ve haven’t left any typos in this. Now really would not be the time.)

Serving Mammon In His Communications Department

Yesterday I praised Lucas van Praag, Spinmeister-General at the Vampire Squid, for his audacious strategy of actually instigating an FSA investigation to shift the focus from the bank’s nausea-inducing profits and bonuses.

I was wrong – according to this piece by Jason Karpf (a four-time champion on the game show ‘Jeopardy!’) (which is, I can only presume, where the hapless contestants have to escape from a cage full of hungry jeopards? No?), this truly epoch-making piece of lateral communications thinking comes from Texas-based PR firm, Public Strategies.

So well done to them.

Mind, lest Mr van Praag be diminished in our eyes, here’s a piece from something called New York Magazine which compiled a list of the Praagster’s best rebuttals. I will leave the last word to @manic_impressive, who commented on the article:

“Dude, Goldman is just so much better than all of us.”

Doing God’s Work – And Serving Mammon

Goldman Sachs, after a bit of a PR disaster last year (‘doing God’s work’, they were, apparently, according to that nice, humble and eminently charming Mr Blankfein) has taken what I consider to be the correct course of communications action – kept its head down, kept schtum and got on with its raison d’etre, which is the making of frankly obscene amounts of wonga. I’m not going to talk about its first quarter results – do the light clickdango here – but suffice it to say that amongst other little frissons was the figure of $5.5bn that they’ve given to their staff. Equivalenting to some $100k per employee, including the blokes who clean the loos. (No of course they didn’t – you figure it out.)

One of the recipients of some of the Goldman’s cash fallout – quite a lot, I am told by unreliable sources – is one Lucas van Praag (apologies to Mr vaan Prag if I got his name wrong), Director of Corporate Communications of the Sachs Parish. It should be said that, following last year’s PR shambles, some did wonder whether he’d actually earned his money.

So did I – until I read this. It takes a genuinely skilled exponent of the spinmeister’s art to come up with the idea of leaking the suspicion of fraud in order not only to initiate an investigation by the FSA, but also get none other than Gordon ‘Wingnut’ Brown lobbying for it.

It’s a stroke of genius. So Goldman Sachs gets investigated – worse, it’s found guilty of misleading investors in the area of toxic stocks. It gets fined. It has to lose the middle-ranking member of staff that (apparently) landed it in the mess in the first place.

But – but. The fine will be but a fraction of its profits. One gets the feeling that the middle-ranking member of staff is persona non grata anyway and is already washed and in the laundry basket waiting to be hung out to dry. The loser in the whole toxic stocks issue was RBS – hardly the most popular or stainless of financial institutions.

No. On balance, all this investigation will succeed in doing is making people see that nice Goldman Sachs as the underdog, unfairly pursued – nay, scapegoated – for something that could have happenend to anyone. And while people are thinking this, they won’t be thinking about the telephone number profits and fat bonuses that have never stopped being a part of the Goldman’s culture.

Mr van Praag – there’s another big sack of money waiting in your office for you. Enjoy.

Corporate Reputation – Toyota And The Need For Purpose

I am very fond of the internet. (Even though, obviously, I don’t know all of it.) It’s mostly the way that things just crop up, without one necessarily looking for them, which provide insight into, and opinion on, stuff that is instantly resonant and relevant. There’s always someone out there in webworld who sees the connection between events and best practice, in any field, or sector, or discipline, even when you haven’t. Everything I’ve just said here is, of course, stating the obvious – that’s what you’d expect from the feral communities engendered by the net – and it’s not that which astounds. No – it’s the serendipity with which the net throws things one’s way – almost as if there was some sort of a fate lending an ethereal hand.

Most likely, it’s to do with quantum. Algorithm’s gonna get you.

Anyway – here’s a piece that I think is splendid. It’s from a blog called Decision to Lead – Expanding the Practice of Leadership and it’s by a lady called Frances Frei, who is (according to the blurb) ‘Harvard Business School’s resident expert of service excellence’. Which, to my mind, gives her a bit of gravitas.

The piece is about the whole ongoing Toyota situation of which we are all aware, even if we’re not sure how many cars have been recalled and what, exactly, they’ve been recalled for. Mechanical bloopers, shall we say. Frances comes at it from the angle of what I will call ‘corporate religion’ and what she calls a purpose. You can read the post yourselves, dear blog snorkellers, but Frances posits that Toyota lost its focus on its corporate purpose of ‘improvement’ – improvement of its product and improvement in the way its product was constructed. From the pursuit of this purpose came business success – sales and profits. Toyoat lost its focus – or rather its focus shifted, from improvement as a corporate purpose, to sales and profits as goals in themselves. As these became the goals of the company, so corners were cut, so the pride and motivation of the workforce became less – and it was then but a matter of time before what happened, happened.

It’s a great lesson – shame that it takes a global product recall, and its affect on the consumer, to teach it. The lesson is that businesses and organisations that have true longevity, that are the ones that enjoy enduring success (in the form of sales and profits), that are the ones that engender respect and admiration in their stakeholders – these are businesses for whom sales and profits are not goals in themselves. They are function of the bigger corporate purpose – the mission, the vision, the intent, the corporate religion – whatever you’d wish to call it. With a clearly defined and articulated purpose comes pride and motivation and – yes – reward for the people that make the business or organisation run.

(PS. Lest I be accused of being an unreconstructed, irredeemable hippy, I know that there are industries and business sectors where the purpose is nothing more or less than profit, and the people who are involved in them are wholly subsumed in the pursuit of the purpose – banking, mostly. I will be hippy-ish, mind, and ask whether we’d be in such a global economic bind right now if, perhaps, the bankers had had another purpose, other than sheer greed.)

(PPS. The need for corporate purpose has been around forever. I say this to prevent anyone trying to tell me that it’s part of the New Age of business, where everyone has a voice and everyone’s voice is important, which has been brought about by that life-changing, world-shaping phenomenon, social media. Horse droppings.)

Public Relations – Owning The Media Agenda?

Here’s an interesting piece from O’Leary Analytics in Ireland, who’ve done some work on the media profile, and the coverage achieved by, Ryanair – purveyor of ostensibly cheap, yet somehow slightly threatening, airline travel to the masses.

Their conclusion is that the team at Ryanair, love ‘em or loathe ‘em, actually ‘own’ the media agenda – by which I understand that they manipulate it to their own ends.

Which is fair, and probably true – but what is genuinely interesting here and a real lesson for all communicators is not that Ryanair own the media agenda, but how they have achieved that ownership.

Until I saw O’Leary’s work on this, I presumed that it was the force of personality of (Wee Angry) Michael O’Leary, the airline’s head honcho, a man with a real flair for charm, diplomacy and stakeholder relations. (No, of course he hasn’t.)

But it’s not. What it is, is the company’s fearless willingness to court controversy and – most importantly – to isolate the stories (or make them up, if necessary) that are certain to create that controversy. There’s also no doubt that success and profitability are key imperatives that run throughout the business and occupy everyone’s mind. (Take the case of the Ryanair ‘we’ll make people pay for using the toilet’ story – started as a PR stunt, now seems set to become a reality, presumably because there’s a few euro to be had out of it.)

If you look at the peaks of Ryanair coverage, they’re mostly around stories that are completely calculated to grab media attention – and they’re not all positive. A set of bad results? Discount fares some more! Halve your order for new aircraft? Give some money back to shareholders! Even if it’s bad news, Ryanair do not seek to hide it – no! It’s just another opportunity to court controversy – to take control of the media agenda.

No – lest I be pilloried here – I’m not saying that this works for all companies in the same way it works for Ryanair. Ryanair is happy to have a devil-may-care, abrasive, unsympathetic, non-customer-centric image – O’Leary (Michael, not Analytics) would be the first to say it’s all about keeping prices down – that’s all that matters (in tandem with making some money for the shareholders, obviously). Not all companies – in fact very few companies – would wish to be seen in the same way.

But that’s not to say that we can’t all learn something from the Ryanair example – adapt their mindset and way of doing things to suit our own set-up, and our own corporate culture. And in so doing, maybe get a greater level of control over our media’s agenda.