Meeting Max Clifford and Hearing his Lies

4 05 2014

Chelsea ShirtAround 20 years ago I met Max Clifford for the first time at  an industry lunch in Manchester at which he was the guest speaker.  A few years before he had been responsible for bringing about the public disgrace of the British government minister David Mellor. Max Clifford had touted the story that Mellor, a well known Chelsea football fan, had asked the actress Antonia de Sancha to make love to him whilst he was dressed in his Chelsea football shirt.  The story made the front page of The Sun newspaper.  In my book ‘Public Relations and the Social Web’ I described our conversation when Clifford told me that the story was invention.

During lunch, I took the opportunity to ask Mr Clifford whether the story had in fact been true. He laughed and admitted it was a total fabrication. He added that he had tried the same tactic with the colourful left wing labour politician Derek Hatton, five years earlier. That time the story was “leaked” to the press entirely with the politician’s consent as a way of getting publicity in order to raise his profile in advance of a hoped for TV career . The other principal difference was that Derek Hatton was a Liverpool fan. The story didn’t make the front page but according to Clifford it did appear in The Sun. After lunch and after Clifford had given a short address, questions were thrown open to the floor and a guest asked the same question that I had. Bizzarely Clifford responded by saying that he didn’t know if the story was true “but who would you believe” he asked, spinning for Britain, “David Mellor or Antonia?”  





Ryanair and The Art of Bad PR

17 10 2013

Ever since PR people first started talking about social, we have shared warning’s of the dire consequences of allowing negative stories to spin out of control online.

The first really big one was ‘Dell Hell’ when tech blogger Jeff Jarvis wrote a damning post and told the PC manufacturer to “put that in your Google and smoke it”.  That online PR train wreck contributed to Dell losing 25% of its value in the 12 months that followed.

So why would a company actively seek to create an online shit storm? This week Ryanair announced on Twitter that it wanted suggestions for improving customer service, it even used a hashtag #TellMOL (that’s Michael O’Leary).  Nigel Sarbutts of Brandalert described it as a “social media car crash” waiting to happen.  Bear in mind O’Leary who summed up his take customer service thus “people say the customer is always right, but you know what – they’re not.  Sometimes they are wrong and they need to be told so.”  Most companies accept that really poor customer service should ultimately lead to some form of recompense.  Not so MO’L who said; “you’re not getting a refund so f**k off. We don’t want to hear your sob stories. What part of ‘no refund’ don’t you understand?”

There is little doubt that O’Leary wants controversy.  Mark Pinsent, Social and content lead at Metia summed it up neatly; “If there was ever a company happy to invite and handle consumer vitriol, it’s Ryanair.”  The Ryanair boss is very much of the “no publicity is bad publicity school”. Here he is again; “Short of committing murder, negative publicity sells more seats than positive publicity”.

That said people aren’t really going to waste much time asking Ryanair to provide comfier seats and in-flight entertainment.  I also don’t think that too many people will be lulled into venting their spleen through such a bogus campaign. It will probably turn out to be a shit storm in a teacup.  There aren’t many people that can pull off the trick of turning bad PR into profit but O’Leary is a master so far.  His Ratner moment may be yet to come.





Digital PR Is Dead

26 09 2013

Yesterday I spoke at the Freshtival event in The Lowry Theatre at MediaCity UK just a stones throw from where I work.    I talked about PR in the last ten years and gave some predictions about PR in the next ten years.  I also made the argument that in 2013 Digital PR is Dead, which also happens to be my opening chapter in the newly published Share This Too.  Here are the slides from the presentation.





Burger King is McDonalds in Twitter Hack

18 02 2013

Hackers took control of the official Burger King Twitter account today and changed the name and profile picture to McDonalds.  They even went to the trouble of using the same header image as the official McDonalds account.    The hacker(s) then set about delivering a stream of bizarre messages, the first of which made it clear a takeover was in play: “We just got sold to McDonalds! Look for McDonalds in a hood near you @DFNCTSC.”  The @post is a reference to the teen hacker collective The Defonic Crew Team Screen Name Club, who hacked Paris Hilton’s T-Mobile Sidekick account in 2005.  Hackers Anonymous also got a mention.

The fact that it is Presidents Day, a US public holiday,  probably largely explains the fast food giant’s failure to take control of the situation.   It took over an hour for the account to be taken out of the hands of the hacker.  During that time the tweets carried on coming including @posts and links to various rap artists including several references to Chieff Keeff a teenage rapper from Chicago.   The account also gained nearly 20,000 to take it past the 100,000 mark by the time Twitter suspended the account.  If and when it is reinstated Burger King will have a significantly bigger social media community thanks to the hack.

Throughout the crisis McDonalds stayed silent on their own Twitter feed, but when after the account went down they tweeted in burger bar social solidarity:  “We empathize with our @BurgerKing counterparts. Rest assured, we had nothing to do with the hacking.”

If you missed it here is a screen grab from the height of the social media interception.

Burger King Hacked Twitter account

  Click the image for a larger version where you can read the tweets.





HMV Boss: How Do I Shut Down Twitter?

31 01 2013

A departing communications staff member at HMV scored a social media first when he or she began live tweeting from what was described as a mass firing of 60 employees.  The first tweet to appear said. “We’re tweeting live from HR where we’re all being fired. Exciting!!  #hmvXFactorFiring”.

The tweets kept coming for a full 15 minutes before the Marketing Director apparently discovered what was happening was alleged to have been overheard saying “how do I shut down Twitter?”  According to the live feed the Marketing Director is not one of those at risk of redundancy.  Clearly the organisation hadn’t considered the social media risks when they called the comms team down to the HR department.  The tweet stream gave a clue as to the level of senior involvement in social media when it referred to the fact that HMV had used an intern to set up the account.

The tweets then stopped abruptly and were erased from the account – apparently the Marketing Direct found out how to shut the channel down.   Business closures are never very pleasant and I hope the HR team and the remaining senior management see the rebel tweets for what they were which was a gallant last stand by employees loyal to the brand.  Anything else would be another PR disaster for the brand and any going concern that survives the cull.

For those of you that missed them here are the tweets in full before they vanished into the ether.





The Future Now at Insight Thirteen

22 01 2013

If you want to see into the near future you are unlikely to have a better chance than at the Insight Thirteen one-day seminar in Manchester this Friday (25th January).  It”s a day of looking forward to the likely developments in PR, Digital, Design, Search Marketing, Advertising, Corporate Communications and Social Media.

The Insight seminars are the real deal.  The organisers ‘Don’t Panic’ did their first conference on PR and social media in 2006 – that’s the same year Twitter first appeared – so they know about the future.  I was flattered too be asked to Insight Twelve last year.   It was  a stimulating experience, amongst the many insights were predictions on the online threat to personal privacy, the rise of non-broadcast video and domestic 3D printing.

The line-up this year is as good as ever: Stephen Waddington, European digital and social media director at Ketchum, Nicky Unsworth, MD of  the the UK’s most awarded ad agency outside London, BJL and Dawn Holmes, Head of Business Intelligence, Brother UK will all be speaking.    The Insight events are unusual in that they are difficult to categorise but I can sum up my perspective in three words. You should go.





Big Ben on Drugs

5 11 2012

You discover some extraordinary things at conferences and the CIPR Social Media Conference at Microsoft’s UK HQ was no exception. Big Ben is a major influencer on the subject of drugs, apparently. Hat tip of course to Richard Bagnall.





PR Must Stop Backing Max Clifford

1 11 2012

Yesterday the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) announced that it was going to make its membership list public – with no opt out.  At a stroke the importance of membership and the code of conduct that goes with it was elevated.  On the same day publicist Max Clifford took the lectern as keynote speaker at The CIPR’s Northern Conference in Leeds.   In building the reputation of the PR industry we scored an amazing goal then almost instantly put one into our own net.

My argument is simple.  The reputation of PR as a profession is at best average.  No individual has done more to shape the public’s impression of PR than Max Clifford, though Joanna Lumley and Jenifer Saunders have come close.   Clifford trades in deceit,  he says so himself.  He also says that he spends most of his time keeping people out of the press.  We’ve seen with Jimmy Savile how dangerous it can be when the media is deflected from scrutinising the abusive behaviour of powerful people.  The media constantly calls on Max Clifford to speak on behalf of the PR industry.   The chartered body tasked with promoting the PR profession needs to be challenging the idea that Max represents the industry – not promoting him as a keynote speaker at an annual conference.

Max is persuasive and charismatic, his media klout is phenomenal but he laughs at the idea that PR people should have ethics.  It’s a very dangerous combination. Let’s find new voices to represent PR.





Red Bull the Drink that’s a TV Channel

15 10 2012

When Neil Armstrong became the first human to step onto the surface of the moon in July 1969, an estimated 500 million people worldwide watched the event.  When Felix Baumgartner in a suit reminiscent of those worn by the Apollo astronauts, leapt from his Zenith capsule 24 miles above the Earth’s surface the audience was a mere 8 million. The difference was no broadcast channel was carrying the live footage.

Red Bull’s Stratos Channel on YouTube beat the previous record for a live YouTube broadcast by seven and a half million.  The Channel has also racked up an astonishing 367 million views in total with three quarters of a million subscribers which should serve it well with YouTube’s latest search algorithm.

The event was significant because Baumgartner broke records for the highest jump and became the first man to break the sound barrier, but the way it was viewed was significant too.  It has been true for years that you don’t need to be a broadcaster to broadcast, but this was a defining moment in demonstrating that event TV doesn’t need a conventional TV channel.   Red Bull isn’t just the sponsor it’s the media owner and that’s a much more powerful position to be in.   You can see the highlights in this 90 second round-up – courtesy of Red Bull.





Why Facebook Hasn’t Hit a Billion Users

5 10 2012

Yesterday Facebook announced that it had passed the billion mark. It made news around the globe.  This was part of a media onslaught that also included the unveiling of Facebook’s first agency made commercial.

I have serious reasons to doubt accuracy of the figure.   Earlier this year the company I work for was asked by the Student Loans Company to ascertain what proportion of their target audience were Facebook users   We guessed it would be most but we wanted to provide a robust response.

We took population data published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and matched it against age banded user data published by Facebook.  This was not entirely straightforward because the age bands that Facebook uses are not the same bands as the ONS uses.  Undeterred we found the following.

UK Population by age:

  • 20-24 – 4.31 million
  • 15-19 – 3.91 million

To get an 18-24 approximate figure we took the 20-24 figure and added 2/5 of the 15-19 figure. This gives us 5.87 million for the size of the population. Facebook data for this age group said that there were 7.33 million users.  So to answer the question that would mean 125% of the UK population aged 18-24 have a Facebook account.  The only reasonable explanation is that a good proportion of people have more than one Facebook account.  Anecdotally we know this to be true.   There are also a lot of fake accounts – 83 million according to Facebook’s own figures.

The billion user story is great for PR, at a time when Facebook really needs it.  There may be a billion Facebook accounts but I’m confident that they haven’t hit a billion users, yet.

If I’m wrong Mark, feel free to say so in the comments section below.








<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: