The PR Guru

December 16, 2010

Ainsworth calls for drugs to be decriminalised and Apple tries to focus on creating a specific image for its iPad

In what could affect the image of the country and our government, a former minister with responsibility for drugs policy has called for the decriminalisation of all drugs.

Bob Ainsworth said the current policy left the drugs trade in the hands of criminal gangs.

Ministers have insisted they remain opposed to legalisation and Mr Ainsworth is the most senior politician to publicly call for drugs, including heroin and cocaine, to be decriminalised.

He said he realised while he was a minister in the Home Office in charge of drugs policy that the so-called war on drugs could not be won.

The Labour backbencher said successive governments had been frightened to raise the issue because they feared a media backlash.

He feels that, in the end, ministers will have no option but to adopt a different approach.

In other news, Apple has just named Flipboard (an application that gives Twitter and Facebook a magazine format) its iPad App of the Year.

Flipboard translates the web into something unique for iPad users, which is exactly what Apple wants. It also makes the Internet like a book, which is what a tablet is supposed to replace – so it seems rather fitting and handy that they have chosen this as their winner.

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November 25, 2010

McDonalds try to improve image by introducing a degree course for managers, UK snow could mean businesses need to work even harder on PR, and railway changes are bad PR for government as it is travellers who must pay

Today it has been revealed that McDonald’s is introducing its own degree course in business management for its restaurant bosses in the UK.

The foundation degree, which will be accredited by Manchester Metropolitan University, marks the company’s latest move into education, following the launch of an apprenticeship scheme 18 months ago.

Senior vice-president, David Fairhurst, says it challenges “snobbish” misconceptions about McDonald’s staff.

The degree is a customised version of Manchester Metropolitan University’s management development programme.

It will mean that McDonald’s employees will be able to get a nationally-recognised qualification without leaving their jobs.

McDonald’s is set to publish a company education prospectus as well, after it was given awarding body status two years ago, allowing it to develop and award its own qualifications.

The department store Harrods set up a degree course for its staff, in conjunction with Anglia Ruskin University.

Microsoft has its own qualifications which were awarded to about 17,500 people in the UK last year.

In worse news, last weekend was supposed to be the busiest of the year for Christmas Shopping, with the traffic free shopping day (also known as VIP or Very Important Pedestrians’ Day) taking place on Oxford Street and Regent Street in London, but people are continually being put off from going out to the shops because of the snow. Snow is threatening to make it so that retailers do not benefit on what should be an extremely lucrative time of the year.

It seems that is going to be more important than ever for the retailers to get their PR right and make it more enticing for people to go around their shops.

Lastly though, in more bad PR for the government, they have announced plans to spend £8bn on Britain’s railways; buying about 2,000 new carriages to tackle overcrowding, electrifying some lines and pressing ahead with the Thameslink programme; but it is passengers who must pay more for tickets for the investments.

So we are having to pay ourselves for the changes, which seems unfair in this time of recession, when the government could surely help to fund these plans – plus, the work won’t be completed until 2019, with a few changes coming into place in the coming months.

November 17, 2010

“Dear Santa, I don’t want any toys this year” – Why many children could be left without this Christmas…

38 days until Christmas. Probably the only other thing you didn’t want to hear today, behind the endless stories about the Royal Wedding.

But you can’t escape it…. Mickey Christmas is trending on Twitter and companies like Disney are already focusing on selling toys for Christmas.

This country is already suffering from lack of jobs and rising costs, but today it has been revealed that – because of this – many children may not be able to get the gifts they want for Christmas, which is not very good PR for the government. If we can’t get people the presents they want then what does that say about the state of the country?

Yes, toy stores – especially large ones like Hamleys in London – are already crowded with parents wanting to get their children the gifts they’ve asked for (that will never change), but it is expected that the situation will only get worse the more parents put off making the trip to get them.

One of the main problems is that toy stores can get it wrong (mostly because they have to place orders a year in advance) and can be caught out by unexpected demand – leaving parents to squabble over dwindling stocks of a must-have product.

In China, where a large proportion of the toys sold in Europe and North America are made, the toy factories have relied on a steady, and cheap, supply of migrant labour from poorer parts of the country where work has been less available.

Now, though, the supply is drying up. The government in Beijing has been investing huge sums recently to promote development in inland regions.

As salaries there have risen and more jobs become available, the migrant workforce has been dwindling, forcing the southern factories to slow production.

November 3, 2010

Gareth Thomas and Nick Clegg anger students, whilst Christine Bleakely defends Daybreak and Katie Price raises Loose Women viewers

Politicans once again come out with remarks before thinking of the consequences.

Gareth Thomas has today announced that “students will be forced to choose the cheapest course, not the one that’s best for them”, which is obviously something that he should not be saying.

The government should make sure that they do everything in their power to ensure that students can study what they want to.

It is a knock on effect on the decline in money and the increase in tuiton fees, yes, but still I think they should have at least attempted to sound more optistic and not so blatently depressing.

Clegg and Cable are being attacked, saying they are betraying students – and who can blame everyone for doing so. Our country should not have come to this.

Also speaking without thinking of the consequences is Kevin Garnett, who called Charlie Villanueva a cancer patient during an NBA Basketball game. When will these famous people ever learn that one wrong thing they say makes them trending topics on Twitter – for all the wrong reasons.

The third, and final, instance of this cropping up on my Twitter feed today is the recollection of when Kayne West said “George Bush doesn’t care about black people (during the televised concert for Hurrican Relief in 2005).” That, at the time, provided some very bad PR for the then President – but now Bush is getting his own back by publishing it in his new book.

In his memoir, Decision Points, which will be released on Tuesday, Bush says that Kanye’s comment “was one of the most disgusting moments of my presidency . . . It’s one thing to say, ‘I don’t appreciate the way he’s handled his business.’ It’s another thing to say, ‘This man’s a racist.’ I resent it, it’s not true.”

Trying to turn poor ratings into success, however, is Daybreak host Christine Bleakley – who has defended the show by saying it has been undergoing teething problems.

The average viewer numbers fell to about 600,000 – a third of the audience for BBC Breakfast.

At its launch in September, one million viewers tuned in to the morning show but the numbers have vastly reduced.

Not having to fight for viewers, however, is the ITV programme Loose Women, which today invited Katie Price into the studio. “Loose Women” is not trending on Twitter and it seems that getting her in the studio was a great decision by producers.

July 15, 2010

Coaching Programme Grants Escape Government Axe

Hi everyone,

Just wanted to give you some important news regarding the Director Development Programme, which is where the grants for the coaching programme come from.

Despite Government announcements regarding the future of Business Link West Midlands, and the need to reduce the country’s budget deficit, THE GRANTS FOR THE COACHING PROGRAMME ARE SAFE. Some grants have been cut, for example the ones for Advantage West Midlands’ leadership and management training (although the consultancy on this programme is still available).

The Director Development Programme is safe because the funding comes from a different pot.

That means you can still claim up to £1000 for unique access to media professionals, one-to-one coaching with PR specialists, help brainstorming ideas for press releases, and guaranteed media coverage worth at least ten times your investment.

However, applications for the DDP will close at the end of the year, so if you want to put that towards the coaching programme (or anything that would up-skill your company directors) you need to be making a start on that now to make sure your grant arrives in time.

Give us a call on 01782 472035/07880 733138, or email info@richardswancottassociates.co.uk for more info.

Update: other schemes to have been axed include:

  • Diversification
  • A2F – Finance for Business
  • Business Recovery Service
  • Innovation Advisory Service
  • Improve Your Resource Efficiency Service
  • Business Transformation
  • Technology at Work (ITAS)

Give Business Link a call on 0121 506 0605 for more information.

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 18, 2010

The PR gaffes just keep on coming…

Hello everyone and happy new year to all of you.

Well it’s been a great year already for PR gaffes. Snow has done its reputation no favours by making its presence felt over the past couple of weeks. And how many companies have shown how ill-prepared they are for a bit of the white stuff?

I won’t have a rant about snow though because the makers are unlikely to hire a PR man.

My favourite gaffes so far have come from the Government (didn’t they pride themselves on their presentation in the old days?) and the owners of Liverpool FC, who have shown between them how (not) to present a united front and how (not) to address your customers.

Let’s start at the top. Merely a few hours into the first working week, Labour MPs Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt joined forces to try and force good old Gordon Brown out of his job. I think the voters are about to make a pretty good job of that without your help, thank you very much.

They claimed their efforts to set up  secret ballot of MPs on the party leadership was not an attempted coup. Of course not! How could a vote on the Prime Minister’s leadership but anything but a vote of confidence?

All they’ve achieved is to drive more voters away from the party, and show how little they care about what’s going on in the real world. They would much rather fight their internal battles.

Shouldn’t Labour’s PR machine be showing us why we should vote for them at the moment?

So after that shining example of how to run a political party in election year, we turn to a classic demonstration of how a company should address its customers.

The relationship of Liverpool FC’s American directors, George Gillett and Tom Hicks, with the club’s fans has never exactly been harmonious. In fact it’s so bad the fans would rather stick with a clueless manager!

But just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, Tom Hicks’ son (the imaginatively named Tom Hicks Jr) decided to launch a foul-mouthed rant in an email to a fan.

Now we don’t know what was in the original email, of course. Sender Stephen Horner has been described as ‘a fan with genuine concerns’ by his fellow supporters. Whilst that may be true, we have no idea how he expressed those concerns.

Whether he expressed them politely or not is not the issue though. For Tom Hicks Jr to launch into a tirade, and call Horner an ‘idiot’ and much worse, is unacceptable. Can you imagine a Starbucks or McDonald’s director abusing customers like that?

Liverpool’s directors need to appreciate there is no football club without its fans. Yes, football clubs are not like other businesses due to the loyal support they receive from their fans. But they are still businesses and fans are their customers.

Thankfully, Junior has done the decent thing and resigned, but the damage has been done and if it wasn’t irreparable before that incident, it certainly is now.

I’ll be back again next month with more gaffes.

In the meantime, make sure you tune in on Friday for our interview with Staffordshire entrepreneur Mo Chaudry, the man dubbed the Original Slumdog Millionaire after leaving humble surroundings in rural Pakistan and building a £40m fortune.

Have a great week everyone!

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