Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Facebook is here to stay as trust in the channel increases

According to the latest corporate social responsibility report from Havas PR, communities are increasingly using Facebook as a source of local news, and the channel is gaining trust.

This means that despite the recent talk of Ello taking over, Facebook users in the UK aren't showing signs of abandoning it anytime soon. In fact, nine out of ten people claim they'll still be using the channel in two years' time.

I believe that although the results are good for the long term ambitions of Facebook/social media, it reflects the move to an older demographic and an increase in local community pages. Rather than compete with this, newspapers can take advantage through setting up strong and engaged pages which direct people to their site and paper.

The level of trust in local media for the second year running is a big selling point, and their advertisers would do well to notice it, in my humble opinion.

Check out the video for the full report.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Ken Clarke PR comments show industry reputation still suffers

Ken Clarke, the big old Tory Beast, used his leaving party platform on Radio 4's Today Programme this morning to fire a warning to incoming Government Ministers to beware the 'lightweight sloganeering of PR men'.

Whether this means PR women are OK, I'm not so sure, but what it does show is that almost 20 years on from the birth of the 'sultans of spin', the PR industry is still regarded by many, including those in Government, as a hindrance to democracy and lacking in gravitas.

There's no doubt that 'spin' became a badly received four letter word during the end of the Blair years, as things can only get better gave way to dodgy dossiers and briefing wars.

Since then, the PR industry has been through a golden period where every organisation wanted their own Campbell-like operation, to some leaner times during the recession. During this period the sector fragmented and went through some very grown-up changes, now having two industry bodies with increasing national influence, to offering some of the very best training and opportunities for young people.

But all that is really a side issue to the point here, which is that 'PR' is still received by many as warmly as a cold cup of tea: it is a toxic phrase.

Part of that is because the communications industry is so vast that mainstream media and Joe Public wouldn't know where to begin to describe it, so the tabloid default sticks in the same way it does for 'public sector worker', 'freelancer' or any number of often lazily described professions.

But we still have to recognise that too many people within the industry are actually lightweight. Too many dinosaurs remain with their 2012  like jargon and inability to offer people anything other than a regurgitated marketing handbook.

The effect of this is that it often leaves 'PR' people somewhat lacking in confidence around the board table. Sure, they know how to get a message across (at least they should do) but ask them to pinpoint exactly how their work adds to the bottom line and they fold.

There's been too many 'the death of PR/the death of SEO/the death of lists about the death of' articles that I don't need to take that route, but it is clear that one of two things need to happen.

The Ken Clarke generation needs to retire and make way for impressive younger operators, especially women, who will win the public's respect through their professional and transparent modern two-way communications (I read that in a PR manual...).

Or, the P and the R need to quietly slip out for a drink one Friday afternoon and not come back. Its family move on and come Monday morning they are shacked up with digital communications in an integrated three bed semi in Richmond.

I'm not sure which one it will be, but I can assure voters that the squeezed middle won't suffer because of it, as we're all in this together.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Response to Floods Shows Public Relations Doesn't Have to Be a Dirty Word

'So then, what do we do about the floods?'
A question heard throughout boardrooms of businesses across the UK this past month. After one of the cruelest winters imaginable for thousands of families, big organisations were compelled to respond, not least because they too had been affected.
It is at times like this that public relations can really earn its money. Not in the hastily arranged 'wallies in wellies' photo opportunities (hello, Ed, Dave, Nick - how many sandbags did you fill?) but in the ability to advise decision makers within organisations of a simple truth:
Actions speak louder than words.
From supermarkets and clothing retailers, to mobile phone operators and white goods sellers, there have been thousands of businesses who have worked with, and without, the Government to help people, whether that be on a national scale, or supporting local communities.
Throughout the past few weeks, there has been a refreshing lack of advertising crowing about what a great effort companies have made, a dearth of staged-managed photo opportunities (the Royal family can be excused as a different case), and any media coverage has been truly 'earned' rather than sought.
Let's face it, many people see PR as a dirty word, but public relations is more than the knowing wink of the spurious survey, or the bikini-laden park bench work-out of a reality Z-lister with a new weight-loss DVD to flog.
It's about understanding and working with those people affected by an issue, regardless of their place in society, and knowing that communicating through action is just as important as rhetoric.
It's in the setting up a flood relief fund, as one major supermarket has, or in the donation of time and goods to local people whose lives have been turned upside down.
It's about knowing the good that this 'CSR' does for a brand locally and nationally, and not being ashamed by it. Of understanding that people are sophisticated enough to judge for themselves and that if you avoid exploiting disaster, and invest in the human condition, this judgement can be a positive one.
The floods continue to be terrible and the worst may be yet to come - but PR is part of the positive response, and we should be proud to work in an industry that can react like that.

First published at Huffington Post UK

Monday, 11 November 2013

Theresa May says BBC is undermining local newspapers

Speaking at the Society of Editors conference, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, has accused the BBC of undermining local newspapers.

According to the Home Secretary, the BBC's online local news sites are a juggernaut which eclipse local newspapers and create a culture where local people don't need to buy newspapers.

I don't agree with this assertion and here's why:

- Here's the site for BBC Manchester where I live. You will immediately see there are three headline stories, four links to other regions and six links to stories from local newspapers. In other words, the BBC is giving links to local newspapers while carrying little in-depth local news. It's performing an aggregation function and offering little in the way of in-depth local reporting as competition

- The people who access newspapers online are a different audience than those who purchase a newspaper. The editor of Trinity Mirror North East told me this himself recently. To help grow the two together newspaper websites are offering more news from smaller areas within a city. They need to make the advertising or paid for model work to fund this, but the challenge here is also to make businesses aware of the continued power of regional and local advertising...

- Which brings me on to my next point.  According to YouGov research into CSR and local communities commissioned by Havas PR, 67% of people trust local newspapers and two thirds of people still buy a local newspaper. This level of trust and popularity hasn't been affected by the BBC for more than a decade, so why the panic now at a time when the BBC is actually linking to those sites?

- If the Government is actually serious about supporting local newspapers it should start by discussing support for journalists in terms of training, investment in jobs and incentives for publishers who invest in journalism, not strip the products down because they aren't making their advertising models work in light of competition on the internet

- Advertisers are going elsewhere than local newspapers, correct - but they aren't going to the BBC, so yet again Theresa May is confusing the issue here by being too broad-brushed in her assessment of the situation.

I welcome the Home Secretary's comments as a chance to draw attention to local newspapers, but not as a cheap way to bash the Beeb.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Why I hate the Great British Bake Off

After much flirting, crying, icing and, finally, baking, Frances Quinn has been crowned The Great British Bake Off winner. 

The surprise BBC Two hit from 2010 has gained even more viewers this year and saw off a terrible copycat from Simon Cowell, earning it a slot on BBC One next year - which also guarantees its demise, naturally.

Now I have an admission to make - I think the show is turgid and my heart sinks when Mrs Welsh puts it on. 

I would rather watch re-runs of John Major in Prime Minister's Questions than be subjected to Paul Hollywood, who must have the most bizarre rise to fame as any man could have.

The Twitter chaos when the show is transmitted is mind-blowing, nobody seems to watch it any way but live and it's like someone has taken Twitter and dumped it in 1995. I half expect Mr Blobby to walk in with his home made Blobby buns.

I also can't decide if it strikes a blow for sexual equality with the male baker helping the mainly female cast achieve stardom in this male dominated TV world, or if it is some sort of secret misogynist plot, concocted after TV chiefs realised their wives were too busy watching X-Factor and not making them enough cake.

And there's the thing about cake, I like eating it, not looking at it. Bring me some cake, Hollywood, damn you.

But despite all this it has given the Beeb a format success that the more expensive The Voice failed so miserably to do.

It catches the British eccentricity and its success all over the world shows why people continue to flock to our great isles to capture this unique mix of politeness, imagination and creative rebellion.

I admire that and the BBC for having the guts to commission it.

So I'll have a slice of cake after all, Mr Hollywood.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Labour uses Audioboo to announce Ed Miliband energy prices freeze plan

Labour has used Audioboo to break the story of Ed Miliband's plan to freeze energy prices until 2017.

It plays some dispiriting music to talk about price rises under David Cameron (no mention of Cleggers) and is in contrast to the chirpy 'Britain can do better' message in his actual conference speech.

I personally think releasing detail like this distracts from the actual speech, but I like the Audioboo format and think it is a powerful advert which will damage the Coalition.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Stonewall and Paddy Power campaign scores with Everton

Everton have become the first Premier League club to support the 'Right Behind Gay Footballers' campaign by gay-rights charity, Stonewall, in association with online bookmaker, Paddy Power.

It's left the Premier League 'disappointed' and complaining, gently I might add, that the charity didn't go directly to them.

Instead, it has worked with rebel footballer extraordinaire, Joey Barton, and controversial master of stunt marketing, Paddy Power, to encourage players and teams to sport rainbow laces this weekend.

The Premier League has, in private, expressed doubts of the suitability of a bookmaker to support this campaign and questioned why it wasn't a part of it.

And that's exactly why it is a great marketing campaign.

Targeted at anti-authority figures such as Barton and Paddy Power, Stonewall has managed to give the brand some street credibility, and juxtaposed this against a Premier League and Football League which it has to be said haven't exactly pioneered gay rights in the league - there are currently no gay footballers in the league, out of 5000...

This has allowed the campaign to have an edge of rebellion and it was a great PR move by Alan Myers and the team at Everton to throw their weight behind it first.

This issue will take generations to fix, a cursory glance at the comments underneath some of the articles is evidence of that, yet the media coverage received at least puts it front of mind and moves the debate on.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

The evolution of modern consumer PR

Marketing managers, ever wondered how PR geniuses create the strategic plans which result in the 'coverage' your brand craves?

This diagram spills the amazing secrets of success. It is believed to have been obtained using PRISM...

Probably missing an option for a shortage of bras...

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Recent guest blog posts

Been quiet on here recently but I've done some guest blogs elsewhere, including research based posts for Huffington Post UK, and thought I'd share the links:
Hope you enjoy.


Friday, 17 May 2013

David Beckham - master of the PR stunt

Is it not strange that desire should so many years outlive performance?

Henry IV, 3.4.283

Goodbye, David Beckham, master of the PR stunt and first modern global English sporting brand. From Goldenballs to golden locks, tattoos to missed penalties, you will be missed on the pitch. Yet, off the green grass, things will be strange only for their familiarity.

Brand Beckham is well publicised and SFX, then Simon Fuller, have helped the Beckhams create a niche market in happy family sporting icons; a brand not reliant on sporting success but shrewd endorsements, CSR and choosing the right moment, be it the 2012 Olympics or when not to put your name to a doomed musical.

This will undoubtedly be Beckham's epitaph, his gift not to the game but to the individuals who followed him, From Wayne Rooney to the next big thing, he has made English footballers a market force again, something not seen even with players of a higher quality, such as Gazza.

So why has Beckham's PR been so successful? Firstly, he understood the power of pictures to move around the globe faster than words. Not one for naval gazing interviews, his team knew when and where to ensure the right picture was taken. The finest example of this was when a local Manchester photographer who had always been respectful to Beckham was, allegedly, given a tip-off to be at a certain place and time one deserted Sunday morning. There he happened to get the shot of Becks with a rather large plaster on his forehead, following a heated row with Sir Alex. The photographer was rewarded with a shot that would be sold around the globe and Beckham said everything he needed to about his relationship with the manager, without ever uttering a disrespectful word.

One gets the sense Alex Ferguson would somehow have appreciated the gesture, he himself often using the silent but deadly approach to getting his point across - most recently demonstrated with Wayne Rooney being benched against Real Madrid.

Beckham never relied on this understanding and marketing team, though, he always worked hard. Gary Neville, his closest ally, often commented on his after hours practice and relentless approach to self-improvement.

What he showed was that even though his performances had long deserted him, Beckham was able to sustain a place at the top of world football for ten extra years through sheer desire. A desire to win, to build his image, to be remembered.

In the end, it was this lofty ambition was marked him apart. A gentleman, a fine sportsman and a good-looking man with an eye for a PR opportunity.

David Beckham won his place at court by seducing those who mattered. He gained glory in battles, despite not actually winning the fights himself, such as his 'redemptive' penalty against Argentina in the 2002 World Cup.

Yet desire is more than most can apply to their careers and it carried him through to win the game almost single-handedly against Greece in 2001. It was a performance fitting of the man, through its drama through to the conclusion.

People mock Beckham, they are foolish to do so. He has opened the door for many young men from poorer backgrounds to market their modest abilities and achieve superstardom in modern pop culture.

For all this is good, bad, and indifferent, it could not have been achieved without a unique desire.

Goldenballs always had balls.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Ed Miliband's 'new settlement' is a direct response to Tony Blair but it's Lord Heseltine he should listen to

Ed Miliband's call for a 'new settlement' is a direct response to criticisms from Blairites this week and shows that the Labour leader is clearly worried about the damage caused by those who have accused him of turning Labour into a protest party.

Today's proposals tackle employment, tax, housing and regional businesses. It's an attempt to re-light the Labour flame after Ed Ball's poor ratings and the intervention of the former PM which has caused Labour to become weird and introspective while the Tories have handled the death of Baroness Thatcher with aplomb. It says a lot about the state of Labour that Polly Toynbee warned this week about Blair 'making the same mistake' as Thatcher in interfering with the leadership after he has left.

Out of the policies it's the talk about regional banks which I would look to focus on if I were Miliband. I've mentioned before about Lord Heseltine's regional regeneration strategy and today he's urged LEPs to 'revolt' against central Government to demand finances and power. For me, these can have a greater impact than regional banks which will undoubtedly face regulative and trust issues.

As small business lending fails to take off, LEPs will fight the regional battles and gain traction with their regional media and public. Talk of a regional fight is exactly what people want to hear, they care little for devolution or credit ratings in the whole (the issues are too complicated for many voters), they are concerned about the local economy, jobs and prospects for their families and children.

I've been working on a project in work with YouGov, looking at how people view their communities, and there is massive appetite for getting disadvantaged people into work locally, sharing expertise and injecting cash into local communities.

Nationally Ed Miliband might not have time to become as popular as he needs to be, and to do so he's probably going to have to play yet more personality politics. But if he wants to truly impact Labour's vote regionally he could do worse than side with Lord Heseltine and start asking Ed Balls to talk more serious regional economics. It means Labour can build localised policies and not get caught up about the national 'who cuts what, how fast?' picture.

The irony that I'm referring to Lord Heseltine leading the way for regional economic policy in the week Baroness Thatcher's funeral was held, is not lost on me. Yet Labour could do worse than follow the old war horse's lead in this instance.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Margaret Thatcher's death leaves gaping hole in politics

I was born and bred in Liverpool. So the news that Baroness Thatcher, Britain's first woman prime minster, has died brings up a raft of emotions. Many will discuss her career and legacy in great detail and frankly I'm not adding anything to that debate, but I'm going to side-step the politics and think about why she had the impact she did.

What I do remember, vividly, is being about seven years old and the playground on fire with Chinese whispers that 'She's quit!'. That was in 1990 and we didn't talk about politics much on the playground, and I don't remember her being in Top Trumps - yet everyone knew about 'Maggie'.

From Right to Buy and The Falklands, to the closure of coal miners and denationalisation, her legislative programme was bold, divisive, relentless and created a divide between London and the rest of the UK which has since grown at pace beyond wildest expectation, the City becoming the Emerald Castle to the rest of Oz.

What marked her as a politician though, was character, she was 'not for turning' and she galvanised the Conservative party in a way which transcended in a way not seen post second world war. And she did this as a woman, a trailblazer for the modern boardroom and a shatterer of glass ceilings. It's no coincidence that many accused her of having blood on her hands, Thatcher echoed Lady Macbeth's unrelenting ambition, right up to the point of her career's end and the ghost of Heseltine.

Compare her no-nonsense style, her cut-glass tongue and merciless march of capitalism, with the bland  'middle ground' of today. Standing next to her, Cameron, Clegg and Milliband resemble the Spitting Image caricature of John Major. Ironically, this too is because of Thatcher. Her unpopularity in the North, the divisions that remain in the Conservatives to this day, all acting as a lesson that to survive beyond Thatcher a leader had to walk the middle ground. John Smith's death arguably denied Labour its modern era equivalent and instead New Labour is now the template for gaining and retaining power.

She's still being attacked for decisions she made in 2013, yet hundreds of other politicians since have made unpopular and unwise decisions and hid behind civil servants, the media, or special advisers, deliberately alienating themselves from the aftermath of their work. In many cases it's unclear whose policies belong to who.

I'll miss Baroness Thatcher. The fierce hate her name provoked in some, the tales of how her policies destroyed towns, the loyalty and free market leader others declared her to be. She defined her principles and she acted upon them, so be damned those who disliked her way of doing things.

You knew where you stood with Maggie. Even a playground of scouse kids. if David Cameron visited the school it would no doubt be a bland stage managed photo.

We'd have egged Maggie's car -and she would have shut down our school. Those were the days.

RIP Baroness Thatcher.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

'Where Are We Now?' - David Bowie's unfussy single launch is perfect PR

It is all about Mr Bowie at the moment so I have penned a short note for The Drum on his perfect PR - do have a gander...

'Where Are We Now?' - David Bowie's unfussy single launch is perfect PR

Thursday, 3 January 2013

AC Milan player walks off pitch due to racism

Taking a stand against racism in sport is oft-discussed but rarely practiced  so you have to respect the former Portsmouth and Spurs player, Kevin Prince-Boateng, for walking off the pitch during a football match due to racism from an Italian crowd.

If you haven't seen it yet, you can see the video here at ITV news.

It's about time a player took such action and while the game was a low-profile friendly and won't have the impact it would have had in a similar league match, the act could well serve to inspire other players to take a stand, or act as a deterrent for the idiots in the crowd.

It caps off a bad few days for the beautiful game, after a poll of professional players by Four Four Two Magazine revealed drug taking, homophobia and racism was rife in the game.

It's not the first time this year football has suffered and with the contrast between London 2012 still glaringly obvious, there's work to be done by the FA, clubs, players and sponsors to rebuild the game's wider image outside of core fans.

Globally, the racism issue is a much tougher nut to crack, and the actions of the Milan player are an important step in tackling such thuggery.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Leveson Final Report

David Cameron and Nick Clegg are at odds over today's final report by Lord Justice Leveson in a scenario which could set the battleground ahead of the next General Election.

I think this is a clear attempt by Nick Clegg to seize a march on David Cameron and signal the end of the internal cold-war which has seen the two leaders refrain from any major public policy disagreements.

His decision seems simple enough. The less-popular of the coalition partners, Clegg is attempting to tap in to perceived public disgust at the actions of the press and go against traditional liberal values in backing a statutory solution to upholding press regulation.

It's a dangerous move as for months now, newspapers such as the Daily Mail and The Sun have been running editorial against Leveson, and this could have resonated with some readers who will not want press freedom to be diminished.

There's also the danger of an accusation that this is a post-expenses opportunity for politicians to ensure the press don't embarrass them again - this is an angle which Clegg's detractors could well use against him and any other supporters of legislation.

For this reason I think the Prime Minister is sensible to welcome the findings but urge caution over protecting the freedom of the press . I believe this will protect him somewhat where Nick Clegg's motives will now be under more scrutiny and he faces yet another test of his leadership.

So while Nick Clegg has sounded the starting gun for the race to the next election, it could well prove to be a false start.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Result of the 2012 US Presidential Election?

There's 48 hours to go and President Obama and Mitt Romney are putting the finishing touches to their increasingly frantic campaigns.

I've been fascinated by coverage of the election both in the US and here in the UK as I think it draws a lot of parallels with the last UK General Election.

There's a world-wide weariness with politicians that stems mostly from the omnipotent global financial crisis (as Gordon Brown would say) but is also evident in a youth moment who have the technology to help see beyond propaganda and take a global look at local issues.

Whether it is the Arab Spring, the Russian elections, or the last Australian and UK elections, there is one common theme: voters disconnected with the ruling elite. This manifests itself in uprisings, riots, social acrimony and a blanket of online cynicism.

President Obama was meant to be  the man to smash apathy and reconnect the world. This was a preposterous platform but one born of hundreds of millions of dollars of campaign money as much as hyperbole regarding the first black US President.

Now Obama's platform has been shattered by the reality of the US system of checks and balances which squeezes the life out of each and every President who tries to take on the dual legislative system without a majority in the upper and lower houses.

Lacking the luck or legislative skill of Clinton, Obama has become distant to voters and openly disenchanted with the lack of support he has compared to four years ago.

His perceived and apparent mistakes, battles with the Republicans and disinterested first TV debate mean that even endorsements, like this from the New Yorker, are tempered with faint praise and openly criticise his mistakes.

Personally I think Obama has done a good job in the worst of circumstances. Yet there is no denying Superman has lost his cape, he is merely mortal like that famous seen when Christopher Reeve gets punched in the cafe after surrendering his powers to save Louis Lane.

Bleeding, it's up the President to embrace the global apathy and seize the opportunity to over-deliver in a second term which would have significantly reduced expectations.

Yet to do this he has to overcome the overbearing reality which strangled the message of 'Hope' before it was even truly born.

It's going to be compulsive viewing.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

An idiot's guide to Ed Milliband's conference speech

I don't know about you but I find that analysing conference speeches can be a bit long-winded. So here's my idiots guide to Ed Milliband's conference speech in Manchester:

- I went to a comprehensive school, I'm normal - not like the Tories

- I understand why you ditched Labour - but the Tories and Lib Dems have let you down

- We're the new One Nation party

- Gove is ruining your children's future

- Cameron lied to you on the NHS

- I love my family, David and I are great mates

- Did I mention One Nation?

Clearly this speech was to launch Labour's One Nation land-grab of Disraeli's old mantra and, secondly, to help people 'get to know' Ed and improve his reputation among the fabled 'ordinary voters'.

In some ways the speech was frustrating as Labour have learnt from David Cameron's 'who needs policy in opposition'  success, meaning the quality of debate will be stifled until nearer the next election.

I don't blame Ed for this though, as he clearly wasn't reaching the 'squeezed middle' he talked about last year, and his more relaxed and less geeky style today certainly will have reassured many Labour members who were nervous they backed the wrong horse.

Out of all the above points there are two attacks Labour will need to focus on for the One Nation campaign: education and the NHS.

Michael Gove and Jeremy Hunt, lampooned directly by Ed Milliband today, will now be painfully aware of the size of their target on their back as Ed Milliband becomes the hunter, rather than the lame duck leader he was painted as.

I bet Cameron will try and discredit One Nation as an old Tory idea in his speech  - and if he does, Ed has got him rattled.

It seems a win-win situation...but it's never that simple and Tony Blair was the master at nullifying the conference speeches of his rivals - Cameron will be looking to him just as Ed has looked to Disraeli.

Cross-dressing politics at its finest.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Nick Clegg tuition fees apology won't stem PR tide against him

Doug Guthrie, Dean of the Washington School of Business, argued that courageous and creative leadership requires an ability to admit mistakes.

This argument lies in the perceived value of authenticity, something Nick Clegg was striving for last night. It is not, however, quite as authentic to own up to a mistake a year later at a time of a record low in their approval ratings.

Nick Clegg's 'unprecedented' apology comes at a time before conference when the Lib Dems are granted a few days in the limelight, yet this attempt to draw a line under his biggest clanger will fall flat.

With a timing more cycnical than a 2am chat up line, Nick Clegg is going to seem just as desperate. He could have delivered this line before the night truly got going - or before he become patsy for his senior coalition partners.

There is, undoubtedly, a part of Clegg that belives this approach will enable him to regain trust, yet it doesn't help that in previous interviews he said he had nothing to apologise for - and he also failed to show contrition over the new £9k university fees.

After a summer of sport where the only boos came from George Osborne, Nick should thanks his stars he wasn't paraded at the Olympic stadium in such a way - there would have been a riot.

It's a shame, really, as the Lib Dems have flown to close to the sun and been badly burnt. It's going to take policy and actions, not words, to begin any sort of fightback. Thus, if Nick was really sorry, he should say it with a brave new policy idea - but it seems the think tank is empty after his failed gamble on AV and Lords reform.

So, let's just say 'I don't agree with Nick'.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Olympic PR at London 2012

This article in Time magazine is well worth a read as it sheds light on the international PR campaigns being waged by nations around the Olympic Park in London to drive tourism and business tourism.

Indeed, Switzerland is just one example of how elite sporting events are seen as perfect PR opportunities for countries as it allows them to take diplomatic risks knowing their home nations might be more forgiving than usual if they are spotted sharing the view with a non-ally nation.

Forget the sponsors and the fast-food, the high stakes PR at the games is underway and Syria looms large in the backdrop.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Is the press losing its influence?

Tonight I attended an excellent Gorkana PR debate on the question, 'is the press losing its influence?'

The panel really was special, the best I have seen for an event of its kind. Chaired by Greg Dyke, it consisted of The Rt Hon. David Davis MP, Andrew Neil, Sue Douglas and John Lloyd (author of the book, What The Media Are Doing to Our Politics, the subject for my MA dissertation).

Greg Dyke opened the debate with some statistics from a new YouGov poll in the wake of Leveson.

Apparently (excuse the figures I jotted them down and will check for accuracy when public) 82 percent of people think the press are out of control, 44 percent think they have lots of influence but 44 percent think they have less influence than 10 years ago - a mixed bag, perhaps indicative of the complexity of Leveson and the fallout from the hacking scandal and how the wider public understands this issue.

On that note Greg Dyke reminded us that the Daily Star is the only print title to have not seen a major decline in readership, which drew raised eyebrows from David Davis MP. (Davis has occupied a peculiar space since 2008 and it struck me many of his former Cabinet colleagues would gladly swap roles with his luxurious, not quite the tormentor in chief, position.)

Andrew Neil, the consummate performer, spoke brilliantly all night. He quickly established John Lloyd as his sparing partner, once amusingly dismissing Lloyd's statistics on the Scotsman's former readership by pointing out 'I used to run the paper, you know'.

Neil felt that digital media had actually enhanced the reach of some titles, citing the Guardian throughout as a now international brand - a point David Davis used to question why more of the press didn't invest in the brand (maybe they can see a role for us PRs, after all?)

The challenge, all agreed, was monetising this and Neil became visibly frustrated that the Alan Rusbridger has this reach yet refuses to believe a payed content model is the answer. Envy, I suspected.

The panel agreed that local newspapers were dying and didn't share the view of celebrity questioner, John Stapleton, that the trade (not a profession, we're all electricians, yelled Neil) was missing the upbringing of sitting in courts holding local government to account. As for weak nationals, Sue Douglas shared the frustration that titles which should have left the marketplace were kept on life support by investors looking for a slice of the establishment pie.

PRs, alas, didn't escape, and we drew some piercing glances from the panel when Greg Dyke pointed out that there were more PR people than journalists. Pity they didn't expand on this to discuss the challenges that make people enter this industry, but I understand time was precious.

Andrew Neil was, at least, more scornful of 'fact-free over-payed, waste of space opinion columnists, whom he felt should be replaced by investigative reporters. One for Charlie Brooker to discuss, that one.

On the subject of tabloids it was pointed out by Sue Douglas-who is rumoured to be keen to start a new newspaper- that they must embrace new media opportunities to drive commercial revenue and all agreed tabloids were at risk as diversification meant the worlds of sport and celebrity were no longer owned by the red-tops.

Sadly, the debate didn't then discuss Twitter as a serious force for breaking new ground. I felt this was a missed opportunity. For instance, David Davis claimed single story criticisms had little influence but he failed to consider what if this story was shared by influential Tweeters or bloggers. The panel claimed journalist live in an 'analogue world' well I have to say it seemed most of the panel did too, bar Andrew Neil.

The last part of the debate looked for signs of where the unhealthy press/political relationship may have started. No consensus was reached but David Davis correctly mentioned New Labour's admiration for Clinton's election campaigns.

New Labour and Cameron both came under fire but their examples were then used to show how the press was losing influence; from the 1992 'it was the Sun wot won it', to the last election where 75% backed Conservatives, yet Cameron failed to win a majority.

Phone hacking itself was defended by Sue Douglas who claimed if it was integral to a matter of huge public interest and the the journalist would be prepared to go to court, then it could be justified.

Leveson didn't sit well with the panel who derided David Cameron for creating it - although the smirk on David Davis' face betrayed his enjoyment at certain witnesses being called to account - 'LOL' said Andrew Neil, to huge laughter.

Neil finished by claiming he would like the result of Leveson to be a code of conduct enforceable by independent people. David Davis was not in favour of a statutory regulator, a point all agreed upon.

In the end Leveson nearly brought a tear to Sue Douglas' eye but, as John Lloyd pointed out, it had been one hell of an insight for the rest of us.

And, with that paraphrase, I bid goodnight - once I have set Leveson to record on Sky Plus.