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.)

You’re Zucked!

Proof, were it needed, that Facebook is eeeee-ville.

Well, OK, it’s not actually proof, per se, and it’s not actually Facebook, per se, it’s more a bunch of opinions about the loathsome whelp who started it all, Mark Zuckerberg. Who, incidentally,  sounds like a genuinely unpleasant nerd with few ethics and a touch of the pulling-the-legs-off-flies Asperger’s about him. 

(But that’s just my tuppence worth and I am happy to state – for the record – that it is in no way based on fact or personal experience and is merely a conclusion drawn from available material and thus only probably bang on the money.)

Anyway, if, lazy, slothful, comatose blog snorkellers mine, you were (for once) to follow the link that I’ve posted, you’d find yourself inside the head of one Jason Calacanis, who definitely has a downer on the Zuckerbergster. And, if half the things he’s saying are half true, then perhaps he’s right. (Although he does go on at quite some length, implying that he may have an axe of a personal nature to grind.) 

I was taken with the term ‘You’re Zucked’ which appears to describe the state of having had your ideas stolen by someone, or having been screwed over by a business partner. Apparently, his behaviour has been so bad that those in the know are now calling for a boycott of ‘book, and have decreed that ‘book is seriously uncool.

(Mind, if ‘book really has 400 million users and is the third largest country in the world by population, I think it may take a little time for this uncoolness to filter down. I also cannot help but thinking – what did you expect? His Zuckness is an entrepreneur and a businessman and you don’t get anywhere by being nice and holding the door open for people. But maybe that’s me.)

My worry is that if ‘book goes down – what hideous creature will rise in its place? See – I don’t believe the social media hippies and I don’t believe in the inherent goodness and niceness of all and sundry. There’s always someone who wants to make money and screw everyone else – and if it’s not the Zuckerburger, then who (or what) is waiting in the wings?

Maybe we should be careful what we wish for. (Or, as I’m speaking for myself, what I wish for.)

Quiet in here, isn’t it?

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.


Before anyone has a pop – while, yes, I am having a rant and poking fun at the expense of the industry (specifically the CIPR – of which I am a member), there is also a very serious message underpinning this post. And why – blog snorkellers mine – would I waste time in delivering the message? So here it is.

We, sad sailors on this ship of fools that we call communications, are supposed to be sensitive to shit. With me so far? Part of our function, and a part that fills the fee coffers of so many of of our finest agency purveyors, is counselling clients (internal and external) on how to present themselves. What to say. What not to say. What to align with. What not to align with. What to embrace. What not to embrace. We are supposed to point out the pitfalls of courses of communications action and – most importantly – recognise when it is best to keep your head down and just say nowt.

So it is with mouth-dropping incredulity that I read this. For you lazy bastards who never click on a single link I post, it’s a story about the Northumbria Police Force who entered the CIPR (Chartered Institute of Public Relations) PRide Awards (even the name makes my skin crawl), and won an award, with their handling of the fallout from a fatal crash in which one of its officers drove into, and killed, a 16-year old child. The officer was doing 94mph in a 30mph zone without lights or a siren, and he was jailed for three years.

Now. Where to start. CIPR PRide Awards judges – what made you think that it was a good idea to consider this for an award, never mind actually naming it a winner? Northumbria Police Force – who amongst your communicators was so thick-skinned, blind and self-centred as to think that a pathetic PR award was more important than the feelings, grief and privacy of a family missing a daughter? Did no-one involved in this predict the (yes, inevitable) fallout?

Once again, the PR industry gets a shoeing in the national media and the stereotype of the airheaded, oblivious PR practitioner gets a bit of reinforcing.

We’re our own worst enemies. Let’s try and tighten things up shall we, and bring the same rigour that we claim to apply to our client work to bear on the communications we do on our own behalf. Let’s try and be – genuinely – a profession.

And not just a cheap fucking joke.

I’m Michael – Fly Me

British Airways – what a shambles. A once-proud organisation inevitably succumbing to the terribly British tendency to take something good, and solid, and FUBAR.  (See Sly Stallone and Kurt Russell in that meisterwerk of the silver screen, “Tango and Cash”.)

Mind, this time round, you have to give some credit to ‘Wee’ Willie Walsh, who – it must be said – is not doing a completely rubbish job – of the communication of it, anyway. His tactics, of dividing and conquering and picking off elements rather than addressing the whole, seem to be paying dividends.

For the first time, it seems that media sentiment is not wholly against BA’s management. It seems that, perhaps, the tide is turning against those on strike or threatening to strike. What the truth of the matter is, I don’t pretend to know, but the way public perception is being handled is excellent.

And the latest strike-quelling tactic – the threat of appointing Michael O’Leary as CEO – is a stroke of genius.

(OK – it’s not true – but it is very funny.)

Facebook And The Daily Mail – Two Of My Favourite Things

As you may know, the Daily Mail is having a go at Facebook for leaving its younger members open to abuse by older – how shall we say – more predatory members. The gist of the story was that someone posed as a 14-year-old girl, and, “within 90 seconds, a middle-aged man wanted to perform a sex act in front of me”.

Now, as this piece from a BBC blog rightly says, there are a number of issues with the story. First, because of the way Facebook works, it’s practically impossible for it to have happened. Second, the someone who posed as the girl a) didn’t write the piece b) sent in corrections to the piece which were ignored and c) was using another social medium anyway.

Daily Mail issues an apology – but the paper being what it is, it was small and on page 4. But an apology nonetheless.

Regardless of the rights and wrongs, however, the story does throw up (yet another) issue with social media. It’s open to abuse. We’ve all heard stories about various people’s Twitter feeds being hi-jacked and messages sent to all their followers, proposing the sale of under-the-counter medications or the perusal of overly-endowed women with no clothes on. It started with spam, and now this stuff is becoming more insidious. It simply underlines the complete lack of any sort of control or regulation – which is what you get (or don’t get) when you’re dealing with media that can be accessed and utilised by absolutely anyone, regardless of proclivity or state of mind.

I suppose it’s a question of what sorts the wheat from the chaff? And if you’re a large brand or big organisation looking to leverage a social media strategy for a commercial end – you may think that you’re wheat, but how are you going to prevent someone turning you to chaff? You won’t know about it until it’s happened, at great cost to your corporate reputation. Is it, after all, a risk worth taking?

But back to the Facebook/Daily Mail standoff – I do think the paper has a nerve. Complaining about the danger posed by things presenting themselves as things they are not. I mean – I read the Daily Mail once, and was completely taken in by the way it presented itself as serious journalism. It was only much later that I realised I’d been conned, and that it was simply trying to take advantage of my naivety.