Archive for November, 2010

“I’m eating my cookie”

  I won’t subject you to a long intro, instead sit back and enjoy this great clip. Senior executive media training should be compulsory.

 “I’m eating my cookie”

 Yes, he did lose his job.

Do playboys make good role models or more importantly good brand ambassadors?

 Here at H&K Towers apart from making sure the hole for the new CrossRail station at Tottenham Court Road is big enough we spend a fair amount of time advising clients on how to exploit and manage their sport sponsorship programmes.

So I was very interested in ITV4’s recent programme called “When Playboys ruled the World”, an insightful look into the success and excess of two of our greatest World Champions, Barry Sheene and James Hunt, which also made some interesting comparison to today’s sporting champions. After putting aside my secret desire to be them, what became clear is that the general public and therefore the media’s tolerance of a personal indiscretion nowadays is zero. Our almost voyeuristic urge to seek out the slightest news that could bring down a star borders on the feverish, but our own personal standards would seem to have dropped. While at the same time to read some of the headlines relating to our sports stars now, you would think we were back in Edwardian times.

So what is happening? Should we feel sorry for our highly paid superstars? Are we turning into a nation of hypocrites, where we expect our sports stars to be perfect, as a result freeing us up to do what we want? Do we long for the day when a rebel in the mould of Hunt or Sheene may burst onto the stage and stick two fingers up to the now established norm? These are all questions that anyone considering a sport sponsorship endorsement campaign need to consider.

More fundamentally, we live in an age where despite limitless access to information and, in theory knowledge, we no longer have the trust to believe in anything we are told and so are continually disappointed- “you mean to say a 18 year-old earning £25k a week has drunk too much and crashed his car – how could this happen? He is such a nice boy, look at that photo spread he did in Hello with his mum last week?”

Personally I believe we have lost all sense of perspective, I want my racing driving to drive really fast, I want my footballers to score lots of goals, I want my film stars to entertain me. If I want advice on how to be a father or what constitutes a healthy level of alcohol intake I will talk to my real friends and family. Unless of course you count Britney Spears and Wayne Rooney as close family and friends and in that case you probably are in trouble…

For sponsors though, the process is getting harder, the understandable desire to protect your brand means that you end up putting up walls between you and your star. The problem with that is the bigger the wall the more people will want to see what is going on. Or should you, as a sponsor, embrace their inner bad boy and roll with the inevitable punches? Whichever route you choose perspective, awareness, trust and being prepared are key to you surviving and making the partnership a success.

Now where is my Brut aftershave? I feel a night out with the ladies is required.

An online shaggy dog story

 John Lewis that doyen of the middle classes that has been a rock on the high street has managed to get itself caught in a whirlwind of public hatred and is a victim of an onslaught of online vitriol. What could it have possibly done? Scantily clad women, broken a religious taboo, questioned the validity of X-Factor? No, it is running a new Christmas advert.

It seems its new Christmas advert with the dulcet tones of Ellie Goulding and heart warming images of people buying presents for each other, had the audacity to show, for at least eight seconds, a dog living in its kennel in some snow.

This seemingly innocuous display of heart warming Christmas spirit (a little boy brings his pet dog a present) has generated over a 1,000 posts on their Facebook page and our understanding is they are under pressure to change the advert.

Is this the way the new world is going? Dogs live in kennels, always have done and always will. My chickens live outside, should I feel guilty? Should I bring them in? By posting this will I be targeted for not caring enough for my chickens and not bringing them in when it gets cold?

Social media is a great force for good and everyone should have a voice, but scenarios like this beg the question – at what point do you listen and at what point do you stand your ground?  

I for one think it is cute that the boy loves his dog enough to buy, wrap and deliver a present to a pet he obviously loves. He just doesn’t happen to want a great big shaggy dog wandering round his house.

When monitoring social media, context is everything and organisations need to have that in the forefront of their mind before they make any decisions. In this case, I think the course of action and response is clear. Brands need to know when to stand their ground and stay true to their original principles. Even if it means that some people will put them in the dog house (sorry couldn’t resist it.)

Look East

One of the benefits of this role is that other members of the team are continually jumping on and off planes to far flung places and in the place of some local chocolates bought at the airport it is always good to hear what they learnt. Recently, Catherine Cross our Director of Media Training returned from Kazakhstan from a week’s senior exec training.  Now, I hear you cry, what could I possibly glean from a country who only achieved independence from Russian 20 years ago?

Surprisingly more than you’d think.

Did you know that Kazakhstan has circa 1,500 media outlets, the majority of which have grown in the last decade? This is new media in its purest sense, but why should you care? Well these new emerging markets provide a fascinating insight into how media develops in the hot house of new technology. With no democratic print history to call upon, the country’s media has in effect skipped a generation while at the same time seeing media control shift from the state to powerful publishers with their own political agenda. Different masters, different ideologies, same pressures in striving for a free media.

So what can we learn from a media that only has a potential audience of 16 million? As one of the new emerging markets, with a surplus of oil and other natural resources it will not be long before the joys of Astana airport will be a regular topic on business travel forums.

Even more relevant for those of us involved in preparing clients for the media, my colleague’s experience really brought home how important focus and clear messaging is. With our highly developed media we are always looking for new ways to get our message(s) across in these new emerging markets where the pressure has shifted. If your message isn’t clear and focused, the journalist won’t be and the resulting coverage will be vague to say the least. Equally we are all prepared for the Paxman style of questioning, but an open-ended question with an inexperienced journalist can be just as dangerous. Drop your guard at your peril.

More importantly, research is key. Who owns the media, what is their agenda, where does your messaging fit with their overall objectives, who is their audience? These are all things that sometimes get taken for granted.

I am sure we all go through this process afresh every time we put our clients in front of the media, but sometimes it takes the cold, harsh winds of the Central Asian Steppes to bring it into sharp relief.

Next stop for Catherine is Russia in a couple of weeks – hope she has packed her big fluffy hat.

“We all just want our lives back”

As media commentators continue to pick through the carnage following the Deepwater Horizon blowout, some interesting insights are bubbling to the service. For those of you that saw the BBC’s Money Programme, one of the defining moments that shone through was a quote from Tony Hayward that.. “Maybe if I had achieved a degree from RADA rather than in Geology, things would have been different.”

Now for me that is a defining quote, what type of people do we want running these global organisations? Experts in their field who have a deep understanding of their operations? Or trained orators who can deliver impressive sound bites?

In the ideal world we would have both, but the reality is that the combination is pretty rare. For example, would you like Richard Branson to fly you and family across the Atlantic? Or (far more worryingly) step on a plane piloted by Michael O’Leary? No! All of these people, including Tony Hayward, have realised the benefit of surrounding themselves with experts in their field. In Tony Hayward’s case, you would have to argue he was let down not by his statements, but by the people who put him in that position in the first place.

The first objective for any business is to minimise the likelihood of a crisis, but incidents can and will arise and from that point on, the imperative has to be to deploy the best people to do the best jobs at the right time and place.

I for one have a certain amount of sympathy for Tony Hayward, he paid a high personal price as you would expect, but I think he came away with some new found respect for the how the media machine operates. I can pretty much guarantee the media won’t find it so easy to ambush him in his next role. Just need to remember that not everyone gets a second chance in situations like this.