Archive for August, 2010

Yoda Doubles The Bet

Posted in Media with tags , , , on August 26, 2010 by Tom Leatherbarrow

Whilst I have enjoyed the summer (well I enjoyed the early summer, the last few weeks have been awful with the weather) it will be something of a relief to return to normality in terms of business announcements and general news as we move into Autumn. There’s certainly been the usual July/August lull but I confidently predict that, with the Chancellor’s Spending Review due in October and the US Mid-Term Elections due in November, there will be plenty to rant about in the coming months.

However, one story has caught my eye in recent days, namely the rumours that all of News International’s titles are to vanish behind paywalls and that includes The Sun and The News of the World. Roy Greenslade in the Guardian is intensely sceptical of this move and it certainly appears that Rupert Murdoch, or Yoda as he was once described to me by a News International employee who had to go and pitch an idea to him in New York, is upping the ante and going for broke with his paywall strategy before the rest of us have any idea whether it is working or not.

Supreme confidence based on a view of their internal subscription numbers or classic bullying tactics? Time will tell, but what is clear is that the rest of us need sight of two key metrics before we can judge whether this is working or not.

Firstly, revenue from online subscriptions. This is obviously a key number but it is important we strip out those, like a client of mine, who has a year’s free subscription to the new Times site. At the moment, News International is keeping this information very close to its chest.

Secondly, newspaper circulation figures. One theory is that News International is hoping that the paywall drives people back to the print version. If circulation numbers increase, and it’s a big ask considering The Times’ circulation dropped by circa 90,000 readers from June ’09 to June this year, then there might be some method to what they are doing.

We might get some daylight on this when News Corporation issues its fourth quarter results in early November, but don’t hold your breath. NewsCorp is an enormous beast including Fox News, 20th Century Fox, BSkyB, MySpace, book publishers like Harper Collins and international newspapers like the Wall Street Journal. UK newspaper revenue usually only accounts for about five lines in their quarterly statements.

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Lions Led By Donkeys

Posted in Politics with tags , , , on August 18, 2010 by Tom Leatherbarrow


Tony Blair’s decision to give the proceeds of his new book to the Royal British Legion follows a long line of public figures who have attempted to rehabilitate their reputations with acts of charity – the late John Profumo being the most obvious example.

However, there is another example, also involving the British Legion, which perhaps offers a lesson to Blair in his efforts. The ‘Legion’ was set up after the First World War by another man haunted by his part in the deaths of soldiers on the field of battle, namely Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig. Many have interpreted his post-war charitable activities as an act of contrition for the appalling loss of life suffered during four years of fighting on the Western Front (he was nicknamed the Butcher of the Somme) and it did much to restore his reputation by the time of his own death in 1927.

However, in many people’s eyes Haig got his comeuppance when the historian Alan Clarke completely trashed his reputation in the mid-1960s. It was Clarke, later to become a Tory Defence Minister which provided him with plenty of material for his own notorious diaries, who based the title of his devastating book, “The Donkeys”, on an infamous exchange between Generals Erich Ludendorff and Max Hoffman during a meeting of the German Army General Staff in 1915. The exchange went as follows:

Ludendorff: “The English soldiers fight like lions.”
Hoffmann: “True. But don’t we know that they are led by donkeys.”

There is some dispute about whether the exchange ever actually happened, but it’s use by Clarke was enough to trash Haig’s reputation forevermore. Blair may well be hoping to begin the restoration of his reputation, as Haig did, with his own charitable act involving the Royal British Legion, but his real fear must be what will be revealed when Cabinet papers are released in thirty year’s time, or earlier, as is increasingly likely.

One suspects that any repairs to his reputation, like those of others involved in the decisions to go to war in Afghanistan and Iraq, such as John Reid (“we’ll be in and out without a shot being fired”) won’t survive the thirty year scrutiny. Blair probably wanted to be remembered as a lion, but history may well portray him as Bush’s nodding donkey.

“I was misquoted”, the excuse nobody buys anymore!

Posted in Media, PR with tags , , on August 16, 2010 by Tom Leatherbarrow

There is an old Groucho Marx one-liner which goes “quote me as saying I was misquoted”. Unfortunately, there is nothing funny about the increasing numbers of those in the public eye who resort to this defence when their mouths run away with them.

Current US Ryder Cup Golf captain, Corey Pavin is the latest case in point. When asked by a journalist at the USPGA Golf Championship, which finished yesterday, whether he would select Tiger Woods for the team Pavin was, apparently, unequivocal. ““Of course I’m going to. He’s the best player in the world.”

However, once he was reminded that a: Woods is playing incredibly badly at the moment and b: that it’s not much of an endorsement for the other players who are hoping to get a pick and are playing much better, he started to rapidly backtrack.

Of course he didn’t directly approach the journalist or use a press conference he twittered the following: “For the record, Jim Gray misquoted me re: picking Tiger. I never said such a thing and won’t say such a thing until 09.07 [the date when the team is actually picked].

Inevitably, the journalist in question was furious, his professional credibility called into question in a very public way. Most interestingly though in a poll on another journalist’s website, geoffshackelford.com, the vast majority of people backed Gray rather than Pavin.

So I have news for those in public life who are liable to put their brains into neutral and let their mouths off the leash, like Ian Poulter (“I’m the best golfer in the world”), Michelle Obama (“If McCain wins I’m leaving America”) Glenn Hoddle (“disabled people are paying for the sins of previous lives”) and Leighton Baines, the Everton fullback (“I’m not sure I want to go to the World Cup, I get homesick”).

My message is, nobody is buying this anymore, you just need to swallow your pride and say the following: “I shouldn’t have said that, I made a mistake”.

Believe me, it will all go away much quicker.

A picture worth more than a thousand words

Posted in Media with tags , on August 2, 2010 by Tom Leatherbarrow

I had the first inkling that Time Magazine would suffer a backlash over its cover this week which can be viewed HERE, when I came downstairs Saturday morning and was told to take my hard copy of the magazine upstairs out of sight of the children.

The photo, of an Afghan woman disfigured by the Taliban, cuts right to the heart of the ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ dilemma that Obama, Cameron and others are wrestling with as we try to find a way out of the quagmire.

Even the most heartless advocate of immediate withdrawal could not help but momentarily consider the implications for Afghan women if the Taliban are allowed to take back control, which was exactly what Time intended when they put the photo on the cover.

However, on the other side of the coin lies our own history in Afghanistan encompassing three previous engagements, namely the First Afghan War (1839-42), the Second Afghan War(1878-80) and the Third Afghan War (1919) which at best resulted in a partial victory for the British and at worst resulted in total catastrophe. It must also be remembered that the former Soviet Union had three times as many troops in Afghanistan in the early ‘80s as the war coalition has now and look what happened to them.

There can be no doubt that the photo is provocative and many do not like to be confronted with our dire choices in so stark a manner. This was a brave editorial decision by Time but the right one.