The PR Guru

September 12, 2012


I’ve been working on a presentation this week, which I’m giving to members of the FSB in Stafford on Monday.

As part of that I’ve been considering which people/companies in the spotlight have good PR and which have terrible PR.

In no realm of society is this more relevant than politics and over the past couple of days we have seen examples of both.

There are things we, as business owners, can all learn from those on the corridors of Westminster (and across the Pond).

In my view, a skilled politician will show strong leadership, maintaining courage in the face of opposition and conviction in their beliefs.

They will have a track record of delivery, and experience in their field.

And they will have excellent timing, being able to capture the mood of the country and exploit the weaknesses of their rivals.

Take Boris Johnson, for instance, and compare him with Nick Clegg.

A YouGov poll in today’s papers says that if Boris was PM, the Conservatives’ poll ratings would be six points higher than they are now, putting them virtually level with Labour.

This is despite the economic climate and the mood of the country before the Olympics and Paralympics.

Boris has played a blinder, let’s be honest, and even though he appears to be a bit of a buffoon it’s only because he allows himself to appear that way.

His stock has risen dramatically and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him back in Parliament when his stint as Mayor of London ends.

But why is he so popular at the moment? He ticks all the boxes for me – he’s shown courage in his convictions, taking the PM to task after the reshuffle and the third runway at Heathrow last week, for example.

He has been in politics for many years and now has the reflected glory of London 2012 helping him.

And with his various speeches (including at the parade on Monday), he’s been able to engage with us and make us smile – something David Cameron struggles with.

By contrast, Nick Clegg had to change a speech after a draft, describing opponents of gay marriage as bigots, was leaked.

This made him look weak and indecisive – if that’s what he believes he should have the courage to stick to it and deal with any controversy which follows (which in my view would have been minimal).

He also appears to have some enemies within his own party – someone leaked the original draft to the media – and again that undermines his leadership.

He is suffering, more than Cameron, and more than the likes of Vince Cable, from compromising his beliefs to rule in Coalition with the Conservatives.

That’s not to say Cameron and the rest of the Government don’t look weak – in fact the opposite is true, and the situation gets worse with every U-turn.

And this is not a partisan blog either – Ed Miliband and Ed Balls have exactly the same problem.

They either suffer from perceptions of weak leadership (Miliband) or a poor track record from the last Government (Balls).

So what can we learn from this in our own businesses?

Well, good PR is about strong leadership – showing confidence in our decisions.

It’s also about demonstrating experience and a good track record, so talk about your successes, and take pride in them – it shows you know what you’re doing!

Have a strategy in place – the most successful companies know exactly what the mood of their target market is, and develop a product or service to suit.

And above all, don’t take yourself too seriously – add some humour to your marketing and you will engage more with your audience.

Develop a PR and marketing plan which follows those basic guidelines and you won’t go far wrong.


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.

December 3, 2010

Frank Field makes PR Gaffe by saying that a child’s chances in life are determined before they start in education

Labour lawmaker Frank Field has caused outrage today by saying that the upbringing of a child affects the amount of money and social standing of the individual when they get older.

Comments against these remarks on Twitter include saying that they are old fashioned, that parents should take responsibility for children and not the government, and that it should never be stated that a child’s chances in life are determined before they start primary school.

After all, children have to go to school and if they are intelligent and hardworking then they do have options open to them.

The government is being urged to introduce parenting classes in Britain’s junior schools, after the report by Frank Field suggested the government should focus on the first five years of a child’s life.

The report also proposed spending money on projects aimed at the under-fives rather than increasing welfare payments. It said the level of nurture parents provide is more important to a child’s prospects than their jobs or incomes.

October 1, 2010

A new ‘PR Gaffe’ as Ed Miliband announces that he is not on son’s birth certificate

There is always a new PR Gaffe every time we see the news and the latest one is that the new Labour leader, Ed Miliband, admitted he was really embarrassed, because he is not named on his son’s birth certificate. Obviously, the press are scrutinising everything about Miliband and his life at the moment, because of his recent rise in status. Something was bound to come out.

Ed Miliband’s circumstances ironically fit in with Labour’s view that unmarried couples should be treated on a par with married ones. However, the new Coalition government seems to have abandoned this, but we think that Mr Miliband should have a vested interest in resurrecting this issue.

The new Labour leader admitted that he made a mistake by not realizing that he had to go to the registry office in person, to be registered as the father of his son, because he and Justine Thornton are not married. He seems to be unafraid and very confident that he can speak to the press about the way he genuinely feels without having to sugar-coat things. However, he does seem to be coming across in a controversial way.

Some of the other very controversial things he has said to press include the fact that he is an atheist and that he is sure his marital status will not affect his run for Prime Minister.

Mr Miliband could go to the Council Offices any time to register his name on the Birth Certificate, but has yet to do so. If he chooses to do it now he is the Labour leader then it could generate some positive PR from this Gaffe. Let’s hope he makes the right choice.

July 21, 2010

Tory politician calls us the ‘lazy Stoke underclass’

When will politicians learn how to use Twitter? When will they realise their tweets go worldwide? It’s not a chat with a few mates in the pub, you can’t just say whatever you like and expect no backlash.

The latest Twitter gaffe has come from Conservative councillor Ashley Howells, who has slammed the people of Stoke, tweeting “not in the junk food fuelled calorie intake of the lazy stoke underclass! Look at obesity. Work slim down stop whinging” in response to another tweet about David Cameron’s “Big Society” announcement the other day.

Now Ash is clearly not the brightest spark, as he sits on Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council, and area which suffers from the same problems as Stoke and little more than a stone’s throw away from the people he is insulting.

But he should probably keep his opinions to himself.

All he’s done is show how Conservative councillors from rural areas (he represents Loggerheads and Whitmore on the Staffordshire/Shropshire border) view working class voters, and has done nothing to improve his party’s chances of electoral success in the city.

It’s not just an affliction the Tories suffer with though. Remember the gaffe by Stuart MacLennan, Labour candidate for the Moray constituency in Scotland, during the general election campaign? He was sacked for calling his elderly fellow train passengers ‘coffin dodgers’, commenting on his preference for a ‘slave grown, chemically enhanced banana’ over his Fair Trade one, and saying something altogether more offensive about David Cameron (which can’t be repeated on a family blog, but I’m sure a lot of people agree with).

Should people of such limited intelligence be allowed to run for positions of power?

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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