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How do you choose a jury for Morrissey?

posted by Peter Roberts

It has just been announced that former front man of The Smiths, Morrissey will have his libel case against the NME heard before a jury.

 The case is based on an interview given by the singer to the magazine in 2007, which he claims was “twisted” to make him appear racist.

The case is not expected to he heard until next year, but what struck me in light of these developments was the likely process to best select an objective jury panel. Clearly, this is no slur on juries per se, but an illustration of the feelings aroused in most of us by artistes and their work. The questioning of potential jurors could be hugely entertaining, but largely inconclusive. It will probably be easy enough to weed out those who have strong views – either way – for the singer, but what of those, and I include myself, who are burdened by what I’d call our cultural prejudices? I know nothing about One Direction for instance, who are most probably a likeable and hard-working bunch, but there’s something in the name that strikes – pardon the expression – a wrong note in me. I would do my best to remain impartial if the poor things were in the dock, but they occupy a place in my heart alongside the likes of Steven Seagal and Pixie Geldof which I’m afraid to say consigns them to a perennial state of irrational dislike.

The libel hearing will make for great theatre; I hope they manage to find the right reviewers.

The importance of assessing corporate risks before the crisis

posted by Peter Roberts

Home economics has undoubtedly taken on a new meaning in recent years with the launch of a legion of online ventures that are making money from what I’ll grandly label people’s ‘residential asset base’ – basically, rooms, driveways, garages, gardens – you name it.

Airbnb is such a site – it’s a private room rental service, which has, over the past week, generated a fair amount of coverage for the wrong reason. Last month, a blogger detailed the damage to her home, including holes through walls and burnt possessions, after she rented out her property via Airbnb. You can read more here. The site has since announced a $50,000 guarantee to its hosts for theft and vandalism.

What I find of interest from a crisis management perspective is the CEO’s admission that they got it so wrong. “We felt paralysed, and over the last four weeks, we have really screwed things up” said Brian Chesky. The corporate candour is laudable, but effective preparedness plans would have prevented  the reputational fallout.  “We weren’t prepared for the crisis and we dropped the ball. Now we’re dealing with the consequences” added Chesky.

Discerning businesses will regularly gauge the risks they face from both an internal and external perspective and draw up appropriate contingency plans. Airbnb has, rightly, now introduced a more robust customer relations service, including a dedicated hotline. Airbnb’s creditable admission should, I hope, serve as a wakeup call to those other organisations who have yet to grasp the significance of a full and frequent assessment of their  business.

posted by Peter Roberts

BP held their annual general meeting yesterday. It was their first since the Deepwater Horizon tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico. The one image that dominated the coverage was that of a syrup smeared Diane Wilson. She’s a protestor and the syrup looks convincingly like crude oil. Wilson was one of many protestors locked out of the meeting at London’s Excel Centre, and subsequently proved to be the focus of much of the media’s interest.

BP did what any responsible business would be expected to do when it comes to protestors – keep them out. As a BP spokesman put it, “We have a responsibility to run an orderly meeting that allows our shareholders to vote on resolutions and engage with the board.” Quite so; BP is a big commercial enterprise and its priorities, it would appear, are with its key stakeholders. Well, that’s the way it reads. However, what price to the company of letting the same protestors into the meeting – a bridge too far? Probably for attending shareholders, but how about its own brand values – possibly? Yes, there will be heckling; maybe some commotion, but in its efforts to address its current corporate reputation such a move could be extremely productive; presenting a business that’s inclusive, accountable and understanding of broader concerns. It’s with such boldness that public perception will, albeit slowly, begin to change and it’s with such boldness that leads the ‘man in the street’ to start thinking that enough’s enough with these protests, let’s move on, instead of what many are probably now thinking which is these people have been hard done by.

Is the recession making us smarter?

posted by Peter Roberts

Figures from the latest Audit Bureau of Circulations would suggest that the tough times are proving to be a healthy catalyst for our mental wellbeing.

As a nation, we appear to be jettisoning the ribaldry of the lads’ mags for a different form of stimulation, as extended by those titles, WH Smith would collectively label, Current Affairs.

What’s the evidence? Weekly heavyweight, The Economist grew circulation in every region it operates worldwide in the first half of the year, while news ‘collage’, The Week saw growth of 6.7% year-on-year. Furthermore, David Goodhart’s Prospect enjoyed a jump of over 10% compared to the same time last year. What more, Private Eye posted a 0.5% increase year-on-year, while The Oldie showed growth of 9.1%.

Meanwhile, in the more tabloid corner, trade is positively sluggish.  Bauer Media’s, Zoo, was down by 27.9% year on year. Its older stable mate, Loaded lost 26.3% of its sales year on year, while IPC’s Nuts had wilted by 22% over the same time period.

So, there you have it – we’re swapping girl bands for Milibands, or are we? It is, of course, something of a specious argument, but probably holds a grain of truth in light of the usual pattern of self-improvement at times of uncertainty.

Corporate manslaughter guidance results in bigger risks to reputation

posted by Peter Roberts

The Sentencing Guidelines Council has just announced that companies convicted of corporate manslaughter will face fines upwards of £500,000.

The fines will apply to all companies found guilty in the courts from this week, even if the actual incident happened some years ago. You can read more here.
 
The guidelines recommend fines from £100,000 up to hundreds of thousands of pounds be imposed for offences that cause death.

The move clearly means additional scrutiny of corporate health and safety practices and for individual directors, managers and other employees there is the threat of up two years in prison.

If such penalties are to be avoided, the safety culture within the place of work, quite fundamentally, needs to be deemed as critical as any another aspect of the business. This will be a gargantuan communications task for many organisations, who have not only tended to marginalise this part of the operation, but are often composed of a mixed workforce including contractors and joint venture partners, which makes the process harder.
 
Naturally, organisations can help themselves pre-empt such scenarios and a critical first step is to identify the threats – both inside and outside the business – a company faces. This formal risk audit is something we spend a lot of our time doing at Hill & Knowlton. Corporate threats take on different forms pending on the organisation, from waste disposal practices, to haulage policies; pressure groups to flooding.
 
For help in reviewing any threats that your organisation may face, please get in touch with us by clicking here.

Chris Evans – a promotion too far for the BBC?

posted by Peter Roberts

There’s been much wailing about the promotional airtime afforded by the BBC to Chris Evan’s new breakfast show on Radio 2.

The latest critic has been former Capital Radio and Virgin Radio presenter, Steve Penk.

You can read more here.
 
While I have some sympathy with Penk’s misgivings about the BBC’s cross-promotion, the debate does highlight the preciousness of editorial coverage, especially for the BBC. Fundamentally, we arrive at the question of whether Evans’ move in the schedule constitutes a new story?

The BBC’s news outlets, including BBC 1 and BBC News Online, previewed the presenter’s arrival with expansive reports.

Is this wrong? For many of the audience it is.

As is the case with reports pertaining to the latest Hollywood blockbuster, or a much publicised product launch.

However, for many individuals there’s a greater significance in football’s transfer market than the machinations in Westminster, and affairs in Albert Square, rather than Tiananmen Square.

This, of course could be overlooked if it wasn’t for the numbers who are interested, and any discerning television editor will be keeping abreast of audience engagement in such stories. Marry that interest with the fact that viewers are paying their licence fee and you have a difficult call to make.