Archive for the PR Category

“We’re just chucking stuff out there and hoping something sticks!”

Posted in Marketing, PR, social media on October 23, 2013 by Tom Leatherbarrow

The startingSKMBT_C28013102309560 point for our latest research was a conversation with a commercial director of a major supplier of valves and other equipment to industry.

As the conversation turned to PR support for a new product launch he came out with the quote I’ve been using ever since to convince clients, and potential clients, of the need to integrate PR into their wider marketing activities, pull people into them and provide real measurability.

“Our marketing has to change,” he said. “We’re just chucking stuff out there, direct mail, adverts, PR, catalogues, and hoping something sticks.”

This was by no means a criticism of his marketing director. Both realised, as do a lot of B2B marketers, that the web was going to force them to change their marketing strategies.

Essentially both were asking themselves the same questions that many are asking. “How can I get real measurability to prove marketing’s worth?” “Is our marketing selling the value-add message, such as technical support, advice and consultancy, not just product?” “Is there a better, more cost-effective and measurable way to fill the sales funnel?” “Can social media enable us to engage with potential customers more directly?”

The truth of the matter is that many B2B marketers are on a journey. Moving away from “just chucking stuff out there” towards more inbound and content-based marketing, which empathises with the customer not just sells to them.

We wanted to find out where B2B marketers are on that journey. The results of our research suggest that B2B marketers, far from being conservative and “stuck in their ways” are taking a very strategic approach, evaluating and measuring not just jumping in with both feet. By way of evidence 46% of respondents regard their current social media stance as “cautious, still considering.”

Yes, there are obstacles in the way, not least the fact that many B2B marketers do not regard their company websites as being in a fit state to drive traffic towards, but these obstacles are not regarded as being insurmountable.

Perhaps the most telling statistic is this: 91% of respondents say their use of social media will increase in the next five years.


British Gas – “Freezing pensioners not prices” – the WPR view

Posted in PR with tags , , on October 18, 2013 by Tom Leatherbarrow

British GasYesterday British Gas held a Twitter Q&A with Customer Service Director Bert Pijls. Carrying out an activity such as this on the day they announced a 9.2% hike in heating prices might be considered by some to be naïve. BG later came out and said that the Twitter Q&A was held because of the price hike, rather than in despite of it. Therefore we’d suggest that rather than just naivety, British Gas showed extraordinary arrogance too.

The Social View – Stephen Graham Account Manager

Almost 11,500 tweets were sent yesterday using the hashtag #askBG, as the Twitterati mob mauled British Gas in 140 character blow after blow.

Perhaps naivety could have been forgiven. We’ve seen many a big brand come a cropper on social media before. However, the belief that a 9.2% hike in energy prices could have been argued out of on Twitter was misguided. When a public backlash is anticipated there needs to be a well-rehearsed PR crisis plan in place, and more often than not it shouldn’t include a Twitter Q&A – certainly not in this instance.

To make matters worse, BG ignored a lot of the tweets. It would always have been impossible to respond to the hoard of messages they received but rabbits and headlights do come to mind. Certainly, if the majority of questions are not answered in a Twitter Q&A, it’s also hard to deem it a success, or useful at all.

Too often big brands will trip up on social media when it comes to a PR crisis but there is more to this story than just mistaken tweets. Whilst I’m not sure that British Gas will be able to fill their social media manager role any time soon, there is a Corporate Communications team at British Gas HQ that need to hold their hands up…


The Political View – Tom Leatherbarrow Head of B2B

The most extraordinary thing about yesterday’s social media car crash was not that British Gas took to Twitter to defend themselves, but that the decision seems to have been taken without any regard for the macro-political environment in which BG is now operating.

Like it or not Ed Miliband has put energy prices front and centre in the whole cost of living debate and it isn’t going to go away. Maybe a year or 18 months ago you could have used social media to appear open and engaging but not now.

Yesterday, BG made themselves look foolish, the Prime Minister weak, the Energy Secretary pathetic and Ed Miliband look like the Champion of the People. Not bad for one day’s work.

Sometimes in PR, the best tactic is to say nothing and yesterday was one of those days. I suspect there will be many in BG who are just keeping their heads down today, confident this will all blow over when EDF and EON announce their rises in the next week or so. Well they’d be wrong.

British Gas is still the dominant gas market player and winter is coming on. Every OAP death which has even the whiff of an old person turning down the heat or turning it off is going to be crawled over by the media now.

BG may think it has weathered the storm, but this may only be the beginning.

It’s going to take a lot more than charity bike rides to pull the police out of this PR mess!

Posted in PR with tags , , , on October 16, 2013 by Tom Leatherbarrow

Andrew MitchellYesterday’s report by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) accusing the officers involved in Plebgate of a lack of honesty and integrity (how polite), drew the usual response from the force involved, namely no disciplinary action against the officers.

To be fair, I suppose that makes a nice change from retiring the officers involved on full pension, a la Norman Bettison.

There is a wider issue here though, namely as former MP Chris Mullin, who knows a bit about bringing the police to account, put it: “If they can do this to a Cabinet Minister, what would they do to a black lad from Brixton?”

The impression I get from the higher echelons of the police is that the recent setbacks (The Hillsborough Independent Panel Report, Ian Tomlinson, phone hacking) are just that, setbacks, which can be easily dealt with by putting on an open day, organising a charity bike ride or visiting a local school for the photo opportunities.

The British do not riot (well not often) or take to the streets. In 1848, when practically the whole of Europe was ablaze with revolution, the British stayed at home.

However, the police should not interpret the lack of banners or street protests as a sign that the British public are still onside. In conversations I’ve had, I detect that a lot of people are sitting at home in front of their TVs muttering, “I’m not happy at all with this”.

That is the reputational problem the police face today and it is going to take more than a few nice stories in the local paper to fix it.

The Papal Conclave: my vote goes to Cardinal Collins of Toronto

Posted in PR with tags , , , , on March 13, 2013 by Tom Leatherbarrow

Cardinals Attend Final General Congregation

I got in last night just in time to see black smoke coming out of a chimney on the Sistine Chapel, signifying that the great and the good of the Catholic Church had failed to reach agreement.

It’s a tough choice, not least because it’s a tough job.  The next Pope apparently has to be God’s representative on Earth; an outstanding theologian; chief executive of a global organisation and be armed with the patience of a saint, which, apparently, he has every chance of becoming one day.

But I can’t help wonder whether the new Pope also needs better PR skills than his predecessors?

On Channel 4 News last night, Jonathan Rugman door-stepped Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto coming out of his hotel in Rome, cassock in hand, making his way to a taxi to take him to the conclave.

“How long do you think this is going to take?” asked Rugman.  “Well, in 1200 it took three years, they had to take the roof off wherever they were [to get the Cardinals to make a decision],” Cardinal Collins replied.  “I’d hate to do that to the Sistine Chapel; you’d wreck a lot of good art.”

Cardinal Collins made me laugh and it’s a long time since anybody in a cassock did that (not intentionally anyway!).

I turned to my wife and said.  “I’d vote for him, he seems like a nice bloke.  He’s personable, approachable, humble and can laugh at the world.  Catholicism needs somebody like that.”

As he opened the door of his own taxi, Cardinal Collins waved happily and delivered a blokish farewell to Rugman and his camera crew, “See ya guys.”

Alas Cardinal Collins is not one of the bookies’ favourites.  Apparently, the front runner is Cardinal Odilo Scherrer, a conservative with strict views on everything from contraception to what you should eat for breakfast.

He doesn’t sound like much fun does he?

That hole, Prime Minister, is a credibility gap!

Posted in Politics, PR with tags , , , , , on April 17, 2012 by Tom Leatherbarrow

Troubling times for the Coalition with a series of ‘presentational’ or PR gaffes that have led to the inevitable headlines that the honeymoon is well and truly over.  Pasty-gate, charitable giving, jerry cans and the Granny Tax not only provide plenty of headlines, but also give the Eds (Miliband and Balls) an opportunity for a photoshoot at Greggs.

However, it would be wrong to blame the Government’s PR for this (although one suspects the No.10 communication team has had a bit of a roasting recently).  The sense I have is that something more strategic is going wrong.  Charitable giving appears to cut directly across the Big Society programme.  Whacking pensioners threatens the “we are all in this together” reasoning behind the austerity programme (and I suspect threatens to drive a large percentage of those who actually bother to vote into the arms of UKIP).

Next up, I suspect, is the Green Deal.  According to the Sunday Telegraph there is currently a battle royal going on between the Treasury and the rest of the Coalition about the Government’s flagship environmental initiative.  The Chancellor and a number of other Conservative MPs want it scrapped.  The Deputy Prime Minister on the other hand made a major speech last week, which can be read HERE, telling us all that it would revolutionise how we heat our homes.  Scrapping it would be rather uncomfortable for a Prime Minister who came into office promising to be the “Greenest Government Ever”.

Now, the Green Deal isn’t perfect and privately many across the building sector (and many MPs) will express deep reservations.  I specifically recall one former MP telling me that even a slight move in interest rates in a northward direction will turn the scheme from a ‘Pay As You Save’ scheme into a ‘Pay As You Pay’ scheme.

The point is, this has the potential to be the latest gap between PR and policy, what the American writer Walter Lippmann would have called a ‘credibility gap’ where rhetoric fails to match reality.  Whilst I do not expect the Green Deal’s demise to bring down the Coalition, the yawning gaps that keep appearing all have a corrosive effect and can perhaps explain Labour’s current position in the polls.

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!

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.