Archive for January, 2012

Coalition splits: fact or media strategy?

Posted in Banking, Politics, PR with tags , , , , , , , on January 30, 2012 by Tom Leatherbarrow

I listened to Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Rachel Reeves, speak at a lunchtime meeting at KPMG in Birmingham on Friday on the state of the British economy (she thinks George, as you would expect, needs a Plan B).

Anyway, amidst some interesting perspectives on the economy and the UK’s relationships with the rest of Europe, she made a very interesting point about the current travails of the Labour Party. “It is” she said “very difficult to get your case heard when all the media talks about is potential splits in the Coalition.”

This got me thinking, because there appears, at the moment, to be very little downside for the Coalition when a split story appears. Firstly, split stories highlight the separate identity of the Liberal Democrats. What’s more these stories play into the hands of the Tory leadership who are able to say to their more radical parliamentary colleagues “look, we’d like to be more radical but the LibDems won’t let us!”

Furthermore, the Westminster lobby loves a good story about rows and tantrum throwing, much more than a story about policy (yawn!). Finally, and most importantly, from a Coalition point of view, talk of potential splits drowns out what the Opposition has to say on any given issue. Why go looking for a contrarian view when a good row is served up to you on a plate!

So, I ask the question, are these splits factual or are they part of an overall media strategy? I’m beginning to err on the side of the latter. Last week the Deputy Prime Minister basked in good headlines for his championing of the abolition of the £10,000 tax band, which provoked much ‘analysis’ from Westminster commentators suggesting that the Chancellor would not be best pleased. By Friday, it turned out that the Treasury had approved the Deputy Prime Minister’s speech in advance.

I’ll let you decide for yourself!

PS: a quick take on Stephen Hester’s bonus. The big political issue here is not whether Stephen deserves it or whether he feels sufficiently incentivised by his £1.2 million base salary. No, the big issue is that the Prime Minister talked of ‘moral markets’ and giving power back to shareholders over remuneration whilst allowing Stephen to pocket a £963,000 bonus whilst in charge of a nationalised bank.  That is a credibility gap!

Rupert doesn’t get the internet, but it doesn’t stop him hating it!

Posted in business, Politics with tags , , , , on January 19, 2012 by Tom Leatherbarrow

Good to see Rupert Murdoch in the news again, tweeting away with a careless abandon that must be giving News Corporation’s communications people a nervous tic every time another little missive pops up.

Rupert’s latest 140 character musing involves his current bête noir, namely Google, who have previously been described by Rupert and his lieutenants as “leeches”, “pirates”, “bloodsuckers”, you get the drift!

A few days ago Rupert tweeted the following, “Piracy leader is Google who streams movies free, sells advts around them. No wonder pouring millions into lobbying.”

Now Rupert is a little bit confused here as Google obviously does not pirate or serve pirated content and certainly doesn’t sell advertising on it. All Google does is help you find the content, pirated or not.

However, never one to let facts get in the way of a good story (a little Leveson allusion there readers!) Rupert ploughs on. “Just been to Google search for mission impossible. Wow, several sites offering free links. I rest my case.”

Oh dear, memo to Wendi: You really do need to wrestle that keyboard off him!

Now I’m not in the habit of making fun of octogenarians but there is a wider point here. Currently going through the US Congress is a Piracy Bill which is going to attempt to put all sorts of restrictions on the web and filesharing (you may have noticed Wikipedia and other sites blacked out yesterday in protest). The main drivers of this bill are big business, namely News Corporation, the music industry etal who are being hammered by “free” information on the web.

The suspicion is that these corporations however are trying to protect increasingly bankrupt business models, such as buying a CD or reading a newspaper, when new models are being called for. In the same way that the flying shuttle tore up the rules and ushered in the Industrial Revolution, the internet is creating a new era of information sharing.

Rupert however, clings to the past and a world where the only source of information is News Corporation. His ideal customer is someone who reads The Times, watches Sky News and 20th Century Fox movies, listens to a Murdoch radio station and reads a book published by Harper Collins – possibly not even aware that these media are all owned by the same company. And, crucially, Rupert uses all these different media to cross-reference and link to each other.

The internet is breaking up this cosy little world and one suspects there is no going back unless Congress cannot see through the motives of big business.

Tough times in retail and the rag trade is only starting to put its numbers in!

Posted in business with tags , , , , , , on January 13, 2012 by Tom Leatherbarrow

It’s been a fascinating few days for retail watchers as the high street puts out its Christmas numbers and we are assaulted by a flurry of like-for-like statistics with clear winners and losers already becoming apparent.

Various reasons have been put forward by the losers for poor performances, including savage discounting by competitors and shoppers using coupons for food purchases. The one excuse we haven’t heard much of yet is the impact of online shopping, but we got a glimpse of what could be carnage next week when a flurry of clothing retailers get their numbers out.

The Halfords numbers, which came out yesterday, include a 10.8 per cent dip in like-for-likes in its car enhancement sector. For those of us who are not fluent in ‘Halfords-speak’ this apparently means that the company has seen “satnav sales fall off a cliff”, according to the Guardian.

Well, I’m not surprised. Anecdotally, I can tell you that I went into Halfords before Christmas to buy a satnav for my better half and was quoted circa £120 for a Garmin model with no Continental European mapping (that was another £55!). I got a slightly smaller Garmin model on Amazon with full Continental European mapping for £69. Ouch!

My guess is that the retail sector is bracing itself for more clothing numbers which are due soon. Certainly, the JD Sports numbers were not great yesterday and that is a bad sign for a company who are normally very on the ball when it comes to anticipating high street trends and maintaining gross margins through the Christmas period (although I notice Ted Baker are up 15 per cent!).

It should be an interesting few days!

What Liverpool should have done!

Posted in PR, Sport with tags , , , , , on January 4, 2012 by Tom Leatherbarrow

Two things have concerned me about the Luis Suarez / Patrice Evra racial abuse case which has been all over the sports pages.

The first can be dealt with quickly. Liverpool’s responses have been abysmal. Both statements released by the club, one in the immediate aftermath of the verdict and the other yesterday following the decision not to appeal, have been knee-jerk, ill-thought through and bad tempered.

Either senior management at the club have no faith in their PR people and are drafting statements themselves or PR people at the club are not being listened to. My suspicion is that the club needs a communication function with the gravitas to stand up to some very big personalities and move communication beyond keeping the Liverpool Echo happy. Best advice in both cases would have been for short, carefully-worded statements, not the haranguing diatribes that were released.

I vividly remember being involved in a hostile bid situation about 10 years ago. Our client hurriedly called his team of advisers together in order to draft a response to another initiative by the activist shareholder. The CEO, totally fed up by this point, started dictating a stinging response for issue to the London Stock Exchange, egged on by his lawyers and stockbrokers. My colleague and I, increasingly uncomfortable with all of this (we were mentally writing the next day’s headlines) managed to drag out the drafting until 6.30pm by which time it was too late to issue the response that day. By the next morning, calmer heads had prevailed and a three line statement was issued.

This is what should have happened. In an ideal world, PR people, particularly those in-house, should be acting as the company’s policemen, anticipating events and pouring oil on stormy waters. It is one very good reason why PR should never come wholly under the control of marketing, but that’s another blog!

My second issue involves procedure. Everyone in this case admits it has been horrendously difficult, involving language barriers, cultural issues, race and tribal loyalties. For the Football Association to throw a Queens Counsel into this mix, in the form of Paul Goulding QC, whose every instinct is to prosecute by any means within the law, was like adding petrol onto a fire.

What this case needed was dispute resolution, in the form of arbitration and conciliation, to move two parties with entrenched positions to some sort of agreement about what happened and crucially what was, and was not meant, during the exchanges, which were in pigeon Spanish, between the two players.

The FA may well be patting itself on the back this morning, but nobody, least of all my football club, comes out of this episode well.