Hats off to Hacked Off

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The Hacked Off Campaign, set up to draw attention to press excesses and call for a new way of regulating the newspapers, seems to have pulled off a significant coup with its campaign for greater accountability for journalists in the written media in Britain.

It’s been announced today that all the three main parliamentary parties have finally agreed a way forward establishing a new, more robust approach to press regulation (see here BBC report) and that the main thrust of the Leveson Inquiry may become a reality.

Whether the agreed way forward gets implemented is still up for question as the media are likely to fight tooth and nail for weaker oversight (much as they have now with the in-house, Press Complaints Commission which has been described as as much use as a one legged man in a backside kicking competition), however in the light of their recent activity, with more revelations still coming out about their lack of ethics in news gathering, the tide of public opinion is very much against them.

In my training I work with people ranging from business executives to academics and charity workers – I have yet to come across anyone attending my workshops who comes with anything better than a jaundiced view of journalists and what to expect from them. Indeed many come with downright hostility and suspicion. Truthful and honest reporting of the facts is rarely at the top of their expectations and it would be a salutary experience I’m sure for journalists to attend one of my sessions to see how low their reputation lies with ordinary people. So significant is this, that perhaps 30% of the work I do to help organisations work with the media is focussed on building some understanding and sympathy for the way journalists work to reduce the fear and suspicion people have of them.

The problem for most journalists (who do act fairly and ethically) is they fail to understand that the extent to which the excessive behaviour of some of their brethren has tainted the whole profession, and that the only way to regain public confidence is to clearly demonstrate that decency, truth and honesty are at the heart of their trade. Having a robust regulator is one way to reassure the public that the beast can be domesticated. But the profession has to accept that it also has to embrace these changes and adopt a more ethical approach to news gathering if it is to regain public confidence.

The truth is, straightforward honest journalists, even investigative journalists, have nothing to fear from tighter regulation and everything to gain – because once again their readers will have faith in what has been written, rather than viewing everything with cynicism.

So hats off to Hacked off – not only have they done all those who have ben abused by journalistic excess  a huge service, but they may well have done journalism itself a favour too by forcing the first steps towards it regaining public trust and support.

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A Victory out on the front line for Harry

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The decision to allow an extended interview with Prince Harry at the end of his tour of duty as an Apache helicopter co- pilot/gunner was an exercise in pragmatic media management with unexpected consequences.

After his last tour, which was cut short when the media revealed he was with his Regiment on the ground in Afghanistan, the MOD decided to take a co-operative approach, offering the media an opportunity for an extended  pooled interview to be broadcast at the end of his deployment if they stayed off his back whilst he was on duty.

Whilst there was some limited PR value for the MOD,  there is no doubt in my mind that the real hit here was that the interview did much for “Brand Wales”.

Prince Harry is someone the media ( and hence the public) have enjoyed seeing make a gaff or two – from Nazi costume at a fancy dress party to candid shots snatched in a Vegas hotel room – he has been called the “Party Prince”. Yet here we saw a young man, clearly uncomfortable with the rigmarole of the media circus imposed upon him, showing how much it means to serve his country, and to “belong” to something where he is valued for who he is and what he can do, rather than what he represents.

To some who are less familiar with the culture and language of the Army (and Officer’s Mess in particular), he might have come across as diffident. But to me this was his clear reluctance to engage except on his terms. His interview showed he holds a genuine love for soldiering, which it is clear gives him an environment in which “he can just be one of the boys”, getting on with an important job without the superficial judgement of journalists. At one pont he even alluded to the fact that the interview was not what he wanted, but part of the deal to make it possible for him to serve on the front line again.

In the business of reputation management honesty and openness are priceless assets. Whilst the interview may have been seen as a PR opportunity for the MOD the real winner was Harry himself, with his reluctant yet revealing words he has shown that behind the picture painted remotely by the media stands someone keen to be his own man.

The man who fell to earth and the brand that soared

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Red Bull scored a real coup this week when Austrian Felix Baumgartner become the first skydiver to go faster than the speed of sound, reaching a maximum velocity of 833.9mph (1,342km/h).

Felix was supported by Red Bull, the energy drink brand which has a strong track record in extreme sports sponsorship, and in a weekend when their F1 cars did well in the Korean Grand Prix it was clearly a good couple of days for brand exposure and identity.

What was striking about the free fall attempt however was the confidence shown by the brand – a less established brand might have wanted everything stamped with the logo – everything colour co-ordinated.

Red Bull however played a more subtle game – sure the capsule that took Felix up to the edge of space was called the Red Bull Stratos, and logos did appear on jump suits and parachute, but their use looked unforced, natural and above all confident.

Even the web site for the programme – http://www.redbullstratos.com/ – carries pretty minimal visual branding.

Red Bull have recognised that sometimes it’s the doing that is important in terms of brand building rather than the look – and here they have excelled themselves. The man may have fallen to earth, but the brand soared.

Olympic lessons

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With the Olympic flag now passed on to Rio we can certainly look back at a games which brought the best out of the country.

Two aspects in particular should resonate with the voluntary sector – the mobilisation of thousands of people as volunteers and the funding the games and individual athletes attracted from the private sector.

Both of these achievements were rooted in effective marketing and communication, and the way the “promise” of the games was sold to prospective sponsors and volunteers to get them involved.

Clearly most organisations don’t operate at the Olympic level, but like the thousands of Britons now taking to their bikes, spurred on by Team GB’s efforts in the velodrome, I belive many can find inspiration in how the games were delivered to help them attract support.

PR and marketing were never a bolt on extra for the Olympics – they were always central to the plan for success. Organisations hoping for growth and development in these straightened times could do no worse than follow the lead of the Olympics and set PR and marketing centrally in their operation.

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