The PR Guru

April 28, 2010

PR Gaffes for April

Has Gordon Brown just blown what limited chance he had of winning the General Election?

In the PR gaffe to end all PR gaffes, he was heard on microphone calling a voter he’d just spoken to ‘a bigoted woman’, and has probably destroyed what was left of his plummeting popularity.

Gillian Duffy, a 65-year-old former Labour voter from Rochdale, grilled the PM on crime and the economy, before moving onto the issue of immigration and specifically the number of Eastern Europeans in the country.

He made the comments as he got back into his car, not realising a Sky News mic was still attached to his shirt.

Speaking later on the Jeremy Vine show on Radio 2, he apologised unreservedly for his comments – he had no choice really as the recording was played back to him in the studio – but you have to wonder how the electorate will react.

It was only a matter of time before a PR gaffe happened on the campaign trail, but somehow you knew it wasn’t going to be David Cameron or Nick Clegg who came out with it.

With the outcome still far from decided, the PM‘s outburst could mean the difference between him being involved in the next Government and not.

And while we know he has never been the most media savvy politician, surely that should have been at the forefront of his mind before he opened his mouth?

Or will he be respected more for expressing his opinion?

I think we all know the answer to that question. I bet Cameron and Clegg are wetting themselves laughing, especially with the last leaders’ debate coming up!

Of course, he’s not the only politician to have made a PR gaffe this month.

Here are our thoughts on the so called “Twitter Suicide” of Stuart MacLennan, 24, who was standing in the Moray constituency for the Scottish Labour Party.

MacLennan’s sacking as the party’s candidate follows a plethora of gaffes made on Twitter, from referring to OAP’s as “coffin dodgers”, calling Nick Clegg “a B******”, and labelling fellow passengers at Stirling train station “chavs”.

Politicians and leading figures should be wary, because once someone has committed comments to the blogosphere it is nigh on impossible to remove them from the internet.

If in doubt of the appropriateness of a comment do not use them (especially not when there is a forthcoming General Election).

Given that MacLennan‘s comments first surfaced in December of last year, the Labour Party seem to be incapable of monitoring the suitability of their social networking activity.

Why were these comments not moderated and dealt with by MacLennan‘s colleagues?

Politicians do need to work harder than ever before to both appear more human and show some individuality. Foul mouthed tirades such as those of MacLennan are entirely the wrong way to do this.

Hopefully the electorate will make their decision next Thursday on which party will run the country properly, rather than PR gaffes like these.

In either case I think the Labour Party is in pretty big trouble!

And finally, a long-awaited change of subject for our final gaffe.

Almost every modern family in the western world has one.

That unusual furry, fluffy, feathered or scaly individual we’ve come to accept as being a normal member of our close family.

I’m taking, of course, about our pets.

We spend countless hours trying to get a grasp of their complex personalities, a remarkable amount of our hard-earned cash to keep them happy.

We personalise their belongings, some of us even tuck them into bed at night.

Remember the grief you had as a child when Fluffy “ran away”?

Now imagine how that would be amplified if you found out your little friend had been baked to death in the hands of industry professionals whilst you were out running your weekly errands.

A branch of Pets At Home in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, left pedigree Shih Tzu puppy Daisy in a drying cage unattended and as a result  the dog chocked to death on her own vomit.

Not the most pleasant of endings by a long chalk.

The staff member who was in charge of the dog went on her lunch break and asked two other members of staff to “keep an eye on” the dog while she was out.

It just goes to show that having the most stores does not make you the best.

A spokesman for the company said: “We have given our condolences to the family”.

I understand that taking a life of a family pet is not an easy thing to reconcile, but surely more than an apology is due here?

With outraged comments on the Daily Mail’s website, from users demanding to know why the police or the RSPCA we’re not involved in this matter, you would think that the company would go out of its way in order to at least take more responsibly on the matter.

Here’s a prime example where taking a strong business approach is crucial.

The glitz and glamour of a whirlwind PR campaign would simply add insult to injury. A lifetime’s supply of food and merchandise for future and/or other pets just would not cut it in this case.

The only way out of this is to knuckle down, reform your training ideas and as a company, step up to the mark, and rectify your tragic mistake.

That’s it for this month. See you again in May for more cases of foot-in-mouth disease.


January 5, 2010

PR Gaffes of the Year 2009 (Part Six)

In November, the banks – and the British legal system – did nothing to improve their public standings after the High Court’s ruling on ‘unfair’ bank charges.

Maybe it’s a naive view, but perhaps the banks could’ve done themselves a favour and agreed to the payout – particularly considering our money has saved them from disaster more than once over the past couple of years.

The ruling merely added fuel to the fire of those who claim the legal system is weighted towards those with money.

PM Gordon Brown was also taking the flak, from The Sun and the Daily Mail (surprise surprise) yet again, after fouling up a letter of condolence to Jacqui Janes, mother of a soldier killed in Afghanistan.

I must admit to having some sympathy for him over this, because it should have been checked by someone in his office before it was sent out. And it also smacked of hypocrisy from The Sun, who of course have never spelt anyone’s name wrong 🙂

The highlight of the November headlines for me though was Katie Price’s stint on ITV reality show “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!”

She was looking for some much-needed good publicity – she’d taken a bit of a pounding from the press after splitting from husband Peter Andre – and decided a few weeks in the Australian jungle would help.

The reality couldn’t have been further from the truth, with thousands of I’m a Celeb viewers putting her forward for Bushtucker Trials day after day, until she walked out.

I think she seriously misjudged the feelings of the British people, which surprised me as I think she is usually quite astute. She assumed she could win people round by eating a few bugs and then come out with everyone back on her side.

What a disaster it was! In fact it’s probably been a year to forget for her, because the handling of her divorce from Peter Andre has been terrible.

My advice would’ve been to keep a low profile until everything blew over, which is pretty much what her ex did. Instead she was all over the papers, partying hard and showing off her new beau Alex Reid.

Her lack of humility and dignity has drastically affected her popularity, and her stint in Oz certainly won’t have helped. Shockingly she doesn’t seem to have learnt anything from the experience, judging from Reid’s appearance in the Celebrity Big Brother house this week.

Maybe the message will start sinking in if he’s evicted pretty sharpish?

And finally, onto December, which perhaps saw the biggest gaffe of the lot. But more on that later.

Eurotunnel will be regretting their response to the breakdown of their trains at the worst possible time – the weekend before Christmas.

It’s one thing to have a breakdown, I think that can be explained away as they’ve had a pretty good record since the tunnel opened in 1994. But five???

I was shocked by how unprepared they were though! Surely they could’ve expected a breakdown to happen at some point and have some kind of plan in place?

Unfortunately, they didn’t, and more than 2000 people were stuck in that horrible confined space, with no food, water or air conditioning – just what you want in the middle of a cold snap.

And their offer of a free journey when the problems had been sorted was hardly likely to appease. Hopefully they’ll have a better crisis management plan in place for the next breakdown.

Charlie Sheen isn’t exactly the most popular bloke at the moment either. He’s no stranger to controversy so you would think he’d know how to behave like a grown-up by now.

Allegations of domestic violence against wife Brooke Mueller will not have helped his standing. I’d be surprised if we see Charlie on our screens any time soon.

Despite those cock-ups, there is only one person worthy of the prize in December – and it’s a man who is pretty used to winning trophies.

Tiger Woods had a month to forget after his little car accident on Nov 27. Various women came forward claiming to have had sordid affairs with him over the past few years, putting his marriage to Elin Nordegren and career in serious trouble.

And the sponsors who made him sport’s first billionaire began to leave him in droves. Gatorade, AT&T, Accenture and others have all cancelled deals with him in recent weeks, and games developer EA is supposedly considering doing the same.

Yes, he has taken a big hit – one far worse than the one his Cadillac took – if only he had listened to us before coming out with all those wishy-washy media statements.

So that’s it for another year – hope you enjoyed our review! We’ll be keeping our eye on the gaffes of 2010 – of which there will be plenty – so make sure to bookmark this page and check out our updates.

Or just come back at the end of the year for our next review!

Have a brilliant year everyone, from all at Richard Swancott Associates 🙂

January 2, 2010

PR Gaffes of the Year 2009 (Part Five)

“Hey Taylor, I’m really happy for you and I’m going to let you finish . . . but Kanye West had one of the biggest PR disasters of all time!”

Yes, not content with having a reputation for egomania and humourlessness which South Park devoted an entire episode to ridiculing, Kanye West decided to annoy as many people as possible with his actions at the MTV Video Music Awards.

As Country and Western cutie Taylor Swift accepted the gong for best video, West jumped onstage, grabbed the microphone and informed the audience that Beyonce should have won.

Despite having since apologised repeatedly on various TV shows, West’s reputation is still in tatters. Even President Obama was overheard calling him a “jackass”.

Unless Kanye releases a truly fantastic album pretty soon at some point in the new year to remind everyone why he’s famous in the first place, he really might not be able to recover from this.

September wasn’t just about celebrities though; one American mother caused a serious headache for Whirlpool and their Maytag brand.

Heather Armstrong, a “Mommy-blogger” who has built up a large following online with her regular series of posts on childcare, organised a huge online campaign to boycott Whirlpool’s “Maytag” line after experiencing extremely poor customer service while trying to get her new washing machine repaired.

The drive garnered so much support that Whirlpool were forced to publicly offer to replace the faulty unit and one on their U.S. management team phoned Ms. Armstrong to apologise personally.

This is another in a long line of examples of what can be achieved by really working to build your internet presence.

October also saw the power of internet users coming into effect. Both of the major PR failures this month were driven by web-users; Twitter-ers in particular.

Everybody was shocked by the sudden death of Boyzone singer Stephen Gately; he passed away at the age of 33 just as the band were gearing up to launch their new album.

But even more shocking than Gately’s death was an article written by Daily Mail columnist Jan Moir a few days before his funeral.

In the article, Moir asserted that Gately’s death was a direct result of his homosexuality. She then went on to declare that civil partnerships were a failure and that the homosexual lifestyle led inevitably to licentiousness and drug use.

The backlash was massive; celebrities like Stephen Fry and Charlie Brooker led the charge on Twitter, Marks & Spencer and Nescafe withdrew their advertising and the Press Complaints Commission website received so many complaints that it crashed.

A similar Twitter-storm erupted over the attempts to prevent The Guardian publishing an article on Swiss commodities-trading company Trafigura.

The Guardian had intended to publish an article on a question asked by an MP about freedom of the press and whistleblowers in two cases, one involving Trafigura. The question had been asked in Parliament and, therefore, it was free for anyone to report on.

Carter Ruck, Trafigura’s lawyers, obtained an injunction to prevent the article going to print. What The Guardian did print, however, was a notice that they had been gagged and that Carter Ruck was responsible. With this information, a number of internet sources were able to infer that the article was about Trafigura.

News of the gagging order soon spread via the internet; people were incensed by the idea that a large corporation could silence the press with legal threats.

The only way to describe Carter Ruck’s actions is “own goal”.

Had they not been so aggressive in the defence of their client then the story would never have become what it did; the article would have come and gone and, had anything been picked up on, it probably would have been the reference to Barclays which formed the other half of the question.

As it is, Trafigura have now earned a place on the “evil corporations” list in the minds of many members of the public.

Sadly they haven’t earned the award for October – that honour goes to Jan Moir. Well done Jan! Perhaps spouting your horrible homophobic bile was worthwhile after all!

October 17, 2009

Update: when it’s best to keep your mouth shut

Charlie Brooker has put together an excellent response to Jan Moir’s column in The Guardian today…

To think the Daily Mail should be on the wrong end of an avalanche of complaints to the Press Complaints Commission, after the nonsense they stirred up for Russell Brand & Jonathan Ross last year.

Bet those two are following this story with interest…

Unfortunately the PCC can’t uphold our complaints, because apparently they don’t deal with third party complaints. The only complaint they would uphold is from Stephen Gately’s family.

Talking of which, if the column itself wasn’t bad enough with its blatant homophobia, then what about the timing? Stephen Gately hasn’t even been buried yet. His funeral is at midday today.

Disgusting really. Jan Moir: hang your head in shame.

October 16, 2009

When it’s best just to keep your mouth shut…

Filed under: Uncategorized — richardswancott @ 5:29 pm
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Following on from my blog the other day about Trafigura wishing they’d kept their mouth shut (or at least not tried to keep The Guardian’s mouth shut), here’s another PR gaffe from someone who really should be keeping their opinions to themselves.

Now the fact the latest outcry has been caused by an article in the Daily Mail should be no surprise to anyone. Although what is surprising is they haven’t blamed something on asylum seekers this time 🙂

But for an experienced journalist like Jan Moir to use words like ‘sleazy’ to describe the circumstances surrounding Stephen Gately’s sad death, and then go off on a rant about the ‘myth of civil partnerships’ is a little bit crass and in bad taste – don’t you think?

Again though the growing influence of social media has come to the fore – there has been another outcry on Twitter in response to her vile comments, only a couple of days after the one about Carter-Ruck.

Just type #jan moir into the Twitter search box and see what I mean.

Alongside that, a group has been set up on Facebook (and already has almost 4000 members), the article has drawn nearly 700 comments on the Mail website, and Moir has been forced to issue a statement. Although she doesn’t sound too apologetic.

Think this one might run for a while…

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