The PR Guru

December 31, 2009

PR Gaffes of the Year 2009 (Part Three)

Apologies for the delay with this update, I succumbed to the dreaded lurgy this week.

Anyway, moving swiftly on to May’s PR disasters, there are a few to choose from. Pigs were continuing to get a bad rep for spreading their swine flu around.

And Silvio Berlusconi was back in the news after his wife filed for divorce, after claims the 72-year-old had attended a young girl’s 18th birthday party.

With his usual dignity and humility, he subsequently blamed the story on his political opponents in the Italian media, and bizarrely claimed his soon-to-be-ex-wife had fallen into a trap!

Perhaps he should have been more contrite and apologised for his behaviour?

But by far the biggest story of May 2009 – and the obvious winner of the prize for this month – was the MPs’ expenses scandal.

Using documents leaked by a civil servant, the Telegraph revealed over the course of several weeks that the British tax payer had footed the bill for:

  • toilet seats,
  • bath plugs,
  • biscuits,
  • teddy bears,
  • a duck house (my own personal favourite),
  • chimney sweeps,
  • a moat-cleaning,
  • porn,
  • dry-rot
  • and a partridge in a pear tree (sorry, I’ve still got my Christmas head on).

Perhaps the most galling element of the whole story was the insistence by many MPs they had done nothing wrong. Many, including our own favourite Alan Duncan, still feel they did nothing wrong.

Well perhaps that’s true, according to the letter of the law, but did they not think such crass waste of our money might grate with us, just slightly?

I have no problem with our money being used to pay for the spending associated with holding the highest office in the country. I have no problem with them having a second home, if their constituency is a distance away from London.

But duck houses??? Moat cleaning???

Whether this has done untold damage to Westminster’s reputation remains to be seen. I suppose we will find out at the ballot box next year. But it’s not exactly endeared MPs to the rest of us, has it?

On the plus side at least they have won our tinpot prize for May.

June was also a good month, with Sir Fred Goodwin kindly agreeing to reduce his pension by £200,000 per year (although he kept his £2.8m lump sum and his £2.6m bonus, and will still rake in £345,000 pa), and scores of Government ministers resigning.

And WHSmiths embarrassingly ruined their Father’s Day gift displays by suggesting ‘The Crimes of Josef Fritzl’ as a possible present! Perhaps they thought of it as a ‘How Not To…’ guide.

But the winners for June had to be the French. Some might say they are a walking PR disaster and deserve a category all of their own! I could not possibly comment on that 🙂

However, they certainly did themselves no favours this summer. Not content with refusing to invite the Queen to their D-Day celebrations at the end of May, they were also on the receiving end of an hilarious snub from President Obama!

News came out in June that the President and First Lady, in France attending those D-Day celebrations, declined a dinner invitation from their French counterparts, Nicolas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni.

Relations between the two leaders have not been great, since Sarkozy privately criticised Obama’s supposed lack of knowledge on climate change, but this is unlikely to improve them – to the amusement of those of us looking in.

It capped a bad couple of weeks for Sarkozy, pilloried by his own media for his snub to Queen Elizabeth, and while he had no part in this himself, he can have this prize as a little consolation.


October 13, 2009

Is all publicity really good publicity?

There is an old adage which says ‘all publicity is good publicity’ – in other words just getting your name in the paper, whether it’s a positive or a negative story, is a good idea.

Is that really the case, or is it more a case of ‘no news is good news’?

I’d say the reality is somewhere between the two. A lot of stories can be presented as a positive one for your company. Even the bad ones.

For example, take a story about turnover. If a company has had a record year, turnover is usually expressed in actual figures – and why not? We don’t reward ourselves enough in business when we hit or beat those targets!

Alternatively, if a company has had an average year, turnover is often expressed as a percentage. That’s because the majority of people will not bother to find out what it equates to – assuming the figures are even submitted to Companies House.

It can also be reported as a percentage if you’re a small business, starting from a lower base. You could say your turnover has grown by 100%, even if you’ve just gone from one customer to two!

I jest of course, but this is perhaps why PR has a bit of a bad reputation for ‘spinning’ the story, and why PR agencies in Staffordshire and elsewhere are often distrusted. You could say PR has an image problem 🙂

Anyway I am drifting off the point slightly here. Yes, many stories can be presented in a good light. But not all.

In a way I would hate to be the PR person for Royal Mail, Trafigura or even our MPs at the moment. All three have done themselves absolutely no favours this week.

On the other hand, anyone experienced in crisis management could make an absolute fortune with these projects!

They would certainly have their work cut out with the Trafigura job. It’s rare that something backfires so disastrously as their attempt to stop The Guardian reporting from Parliament this week.

It’s known as the Streisand Effect – a company tries to stop news coming out, but by doing so immediately makes the story bigger than it would’ve been.

I think what it’s also shown is that social media like Twitter are beginning to find their feet and play a major part in reporting and making the news. Without the outcry on Twitter over the gagging order, Trafigura‘s lawyers Carter-Ruck would never have had to back down.

You may wonder why a PR man is waffling on about press freedom, in the light of what I said earlier about the presentation – or some might say the manipulation – of stories.

It’s quite simple though really. The PR industry needs the media as much as the media needs the PR industry. One can’t exist without the other.

But more importantly without press freedom, or something close to it, we can’t function as a society.

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