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.


November 15, 2010

I’m A Celebrity – is Gillian McKeith playing a PR game?

The latest Gillian McKeith-related story from the jungle is that her daughter Skylar (who is 16) has told the Daily Mail that she does not like to see her mum being put under so much stress.

McKeith has attracted the wrath of television audiences and fellow contestants, having been nominated for six bushtucker trials despite her list of insect phobias.

Fellow I’m A Celebrity contestant and X Factor singer Stacey Solomon was so concerned by the incident that she tried to convince McKeith to quit; but Gillian won’t because she believes that if she does her television career would be over.

Previous Gillian news, includes the fact that she smuggled banned food products into the Australian jungle in her underwear, breaking strict rules by hiding items including rock salt, garlic powder and soup in secret pockets she had sewn into her knickers. She had earlier been caught with contraband when she slipped salt in to her campmates’ food, resulting in her jungle jail privileges being removed.

This deception is only going to serve to make the public hate her more… a twitter page has been set up mocking the nutritionist here.

Another story from the series was that sprinter Linford Christie was forced to step up to the challenge of a bushtucker trial, after Gillian McKeith fainted live on air.

The thought of taking part in another trial was too much for the famous nutritionist who dramatically collapsed on live television after being told that the public had voted for her to take part in a seventh task.

Hosts Ant and Dec quickly cut to an ad break and then revealed that Gillian had been excluded from the task on medical grounds.

However, McKeith seems to be on the completely wrong programme. She has a phobia of water, heights, insects and more, which is why viewers chose to pick her for the tasks in the first place.

This is why some viewers have begun suggesting that her fainting episode was nothing more than a ploy to get out of doing the task.

Those who voted 50p a time for Gillian to take part in the bushtucker trial will get refunds, ITV confirmed last night.

Linford Christie stepped up to the task instead, after receiving the second highest number of votes – and managed to win 12 out of a possible 13 stars.

November 11, 2010

Student protests continue – with fears poppies at cenotaph could have been attacked at Whitehall on dayx, following previous breach of Tory HQ

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg called on students to reconsider the coalition’s tuition fees plans before they take part in a day of protests, which is currently underway.

“Examine our proposals before taking to the streets. Listen and look before you march and shout,” says Mr Clegg.

A student protest two weeks ago resulted in an attack on the Conservatives’ headquarters building. Many students across the country protested about the massive increase of Tuition Fees, from just over £3000 per year to £9000 in some cases.

A Police chief admitted that he was caught off guard by the mayhem.

Prime Minister David Cameron this morning criticised police tactics during the riots and called for the full force of the law to be used against violent protesters.

He said: “I was worried for the safety of people in the building because I know people who work in there, not just the Conservative Party but other offices as well. So I was on the telephone. I wanted to know what was happening. I wanted to know that people were safe.”

He added: “People who assault police officers or who smash windows or who break property are breaking the law and yes, those people I hope… will be prosecuted. They should be.

A mob of around 300 had caused damage estimated at £1 million to Millbank Tower in Central London before officers regained control.

The Met said 50 suspected rioters have been released on bail until February pending further inquiries.

At one point officers resorted to issuing warnings on twitter that rioters faced arrest.

This is bad PR not just for students but also for the Police for letting it get out of control.

Today, it was thought that the Cenotaph in London could have been targeted by the protestors as they made their way down Whitehall, but it has been confirmed that not a single poppy was touched – despite rumours that they had been put on a fire.

Protestors did, however, charge the police for the right to pass them, supposedly to pay their tuiton fees in what has become known as dayx.

And, similarly to the protest the other week, the government – namely Michael Gove – have said that the protests have been hijacked by extremists – just as was suggested in the breach of the Tory HQ.

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.

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