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.





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.





Twitter, Branding and the Batman Bird

18 06 2012

Just under two weeks ago Twitter revealed a ‘tweaked’ redesign of their iconic bird logo (image 1).  They rolled out some brand guidelines that  included usage rules that stated that you should not ‘rotate or change the direction of the bird’ (image 2). Some eagle-eyed twitter users noticed that when you rotate the bird anti-clockwise by 90 degrees it looks oddly like Batman (image 3).

As well as updating the bird, Twitter is aiming to rid the web of the huge range of twitter icons; the boxed ‘t’, the variety of birds and  the lowercase bubble script ‘twitter’ (Pico font with an adapted ‘e’ if you are interested).

The announcement highlights the difficulties in controlling a brand image in an inter-operable and collaborative web.  Brand guidelines are endemic in the culture in large organisations, but the ability to enforce rules on the use of the brand logo is much diminished.   Five years ago a phenomenon emerged where people were reinterpreting the logos of iconic brands as if they were new web brands.  Logo 2.0 interpretations took these identities and played around with them.  My favourite was ‘Quakr 2.Oats’.

It will be interesting to see how successful Twitter is at controlling its brand identity in a world users as well as corporate  communications departments make the rules.





Contagion’s Bacterial Billboard Goes Viral

14 09 2011

For years agencies have offered and clients have demanded advertising campaigns that will “go viral”.  Roughly translated as we have money for a creative execution but no budget for media.   Agencies and clients don’t decide if videos go viral, audiences do that. Here however is a real ‘viral’ clip or more accurately ‘bacterial’.  It was created to promote the film Contagion.





10 other reasons for ‘The News of the World’ closure

12 07 2011

Although the hacking scandal was the catalyst for the closure of the News of the World, it was far from the only reason.  Here are 10 other factors that probably played a part in the News Corporation decision to the stop the presses.

1. They had been planning a 7 day a week tabloid anyway and The Sun is a more powerful brand than The News of The World.  A managing editor for the 7 day combined paper was already in place before the scandal broke.

2. To reduce claims about competition and help the BSkyB bid.  Even just a week ago the most likely barrier to the bid for full control of BSkyB was one of media plurality.  By ditching a huge circulation title they provided a counter to the claim that they controlled too much of the UK news media.

3. Money The title paid half a million in compensation and costs in the Max Moseley case.  There have also been a series of out of court payments over hacking and other matters in recent months and there’s little doubt these were escalating.  Perhaps there was a fear that the paper despite its circulation would make ever-increasing losses.

4. News Corporation is a global concern and its global reputation is more important than the fortunes of one British newspaper.

5. To deflect attention from the embattled Chief Executive on News International, Rebekah Brooks. It may have been a motive but it didn’t work.

6. Showing muscle. Murdoch is ruthless and wanted to seize the agenda and demonstrate that he was in control.  It showed they were capable of changing the game.

7. It was no longer the UK’s biggest selling newspaper. It’s circulation had fallen below 3 million and for the first time in decades The Sun was on average outselling the NOTW.

8. To protect friends in high places Andy Coulson’s associations with convicted criminals was already on record.  Further discussion would be uncomfortable for the prime minister and the Murdochs.

9. It’s over for newspapers.  An exaggeration maybe but consolidation of UK newspapers was long overdue.  Media experts have been predicting that titles will go for years.  News Corporation is a bigger company.

10. They know there were far worse transgressions and the brand was toxic. Now we know that too.





Quora and How to Become the ‘Next Big Thing’

5 01 2011

A brief glance at my twitter feed at any point of the day yesterday and someone, somewhere was signing up for Quora.

Anxious not to be left behind in the social stampede, I followed the herd.  What I found was a nicely designed if fairly unremarkable social utility that feels like the love-child of Twitter and Yahoo Answers, with a bit of Digg DNA thrown in for good measure.  I actually quite like it, but so far I’m waiting to be convinced that the information I can get from posting questions on Quora isn’t available from a combination of Google and a bit of social search on Twitter.

What did stand out was the sudden surge in interest.  It isn’t simply that I move in geeky social circles, a quick look at Google search numbers shows that searches for Quora have increased ten fold since Christmas.  I know that no two social sites are the same but it has taken me over three years to amass a meagre 99 Facebook friends. My band of brothers and sisters on Quora hit three digits in a few hours.  Something had to be going on.

A quick trawl suggests that third-party recommendation from a trusted source is as powerful as it ever was and perhaps more so amongst those eager to discover the ‘next big thing’ in the social sphere.  Step forward one Robert Scoble; American blogger at Scobleizer, technical evangelist, author, former technology evangelist and oracle to 156,775 followers on twitter.  On Boxing Day he blogged ‘Is Quora the biggest blogging innovation in 10 years?’ effectively endorsing the site as the next big thing.  PC Magazine, Techcrunch, TNW and FastCompany were amongst the many media outlets that piled in.  Even the UK’s conservative ‘Daily Telegraph’ opined that ‘Quora will be Bigger than Twitter’.   Searches for Quora bear out the hypothesis that it all kicked off on Boxing Day.

Time will tell as to whether the early adopters stick with Quora and if the current flood of  interest is enough for the site  to break through in to the social network stratosphere.

Bear in mind also that Quora only went public in June.   For now it’s all about the hype and proof if proof were needed that if you have something to launch, the right kind of endorsement is still an crucial part of the mix.





Jaffa Cakes and the New PR

4 01 2011

As I type Jaffa Cakes is a trending topic in the UK on Twitter. Why? Well mainly because as ‘cakes’ rather than enhanced biscuits they are exempt from the UK 20% VAT rate that comes into force today.

The manufacturer McVities classed its Jaffa Cakes as cakes, but in 1991 this was challenged by UK Customs and Excise and the case ended up in court.  McVities argued that Jaffa Cakes were miniature cakes showing that biscuits would normally be expected to go soft when stale, whereas cakes would be expected to go hard, something that an out of date Jaffa is inclined to do.   The court ruled that the Jaffa Cake is a cake and therefore VAT free.

What has that got to do with PR (new or old) I hear you cry.  Well PR has always used news hooks and the VAT hike to 20% is a on of today’s headlines.  The social web picks up on quirky stories particularly where there is a contentious debate at the core e.g. Jaffa; cake or biscuit?  There is no doubt that if a product trends on twitter it will shift a few packs from the shelves, particularly if there is a price advantage central to the news story.

So have McVities done anything to fuel the social media debate?  Actually although there is a well followed Facebook page, the biscuit, sorry cake, manufacturer has been surprisingly quiet on the subject.   I think they’ve missed a trick.  There was plenty that they could have done; they could published details of their 1991 legal arguments on Facebook,  engaged in debate using the (apparently dormant) twitter account or simply issued a press release that would have fueled the debate both off and on-line.

The PR industry has always known how to make the most of a news story.  The new PR means that you need to be ready to do that not just through conventional media but through social channels.  That you way you can have your cake…





Social Strategy First Crisis Second

30 11 2010

It’s incredible how many of the major organisation with the best social media strategies got there in the wake of a crisis.  The most obvious example is Dell.  First there was Dell Hell and then there was IdeaStorm and a comprehensive on line communications and commercial strategy.  My anecdotal experience entirely supports the idea that even now most major organisations don’t formulate their social media communications strategy until they have experience a royal kick in the digital arse.

It really doesn’t have to be that way.  In the words of Henry George Bohn “wise men learn by other men’s mistakes, fools by their own”.   The Chartered Institute of Public Relations is hosting ‘Reputations in Flames’,  in London next Monday 6th December. The one day conference will explore the risks that businesses and organisations are exposed to via social networks.  I have the honour of chairing the event and there are some must see speakers.  Euan Semple will cover the fundamental changes that have occurred, Dominic Burch, Head of Corporate Communications at Asda will explain why social media monitoring is a necessity, not a ‘nice to have’.

Luke Brynley-Jones, Founder and CEO, Our Social Times will look at the tools that are available and Guy Esnouf, Head of Public Relations, Public Affairs and Community Relations at  E.ON UK will highlight how social media can be effectively used to communicate with stakeholders during a crisis.

The afternoon session features Marshall Manson of Edelman and Helen Nowicka, Managing Director of Shiny Red.   It is a real opportunity to learn from people who know.  Better to be prepared than to have to learn on the job.  Oh, and the slogan on the t-shirt?  It says “the crisis and me are friends on Facebook”





Should Advertising Regulate in Social Media?

1 09 2010

Today the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) announced that it extend its remit to cover “marketing communications in other non-paid-for space under their control, such as social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter”.  The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) has decided to extend the digital remit of the ASA and has today published a document detailing the new remit and sanctions.

I have some serious and personal concerns about the document.  In justifying the extension of its remit ASA refers to 3,500 complaints in 2008 and 2009 about the content of organisation’s websites.  How does this relate to social networks or social media?  Throughout the document there is constant reference to “other marketing communication” (sixteen times on 14 pages) with only a very loose definition of what constitutes “other marketing communication” suggesting that it is concerned principally with the primary intention “to sell something”.  Marketing communications is so much broader than that.

The plan is to carry out a review of guidelines in 2013, two years after the implementation of the extended remit.  This shows a fundamental misunderstanding and disregard for the speed of change on-line; for example in two years Twitter went from zero to 10 million tweets per day.  Spotify, which is fundamentally changing the music business, is less than two years old.

There is also a contradiction in terms of definition.  The guidelines exclude “press releases and other public relations material” and yet the definition of “other marketing communications” includes items that could be considered to be public relations material, for example the promotion of unsolicited (or solicited) consumer endorsement.

I would endorse all of the objectives of the CAP code with regard to the prohibition of misleading advertising, the protection of children and social responsibility.  The intentions here are good there is no doubt of that.  I just can’t help feeling that in regulating the social media space, bodies that concern themselves with advertising and have advertising in their title feel more than a little out-of-place.








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