Horses for Courses

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MC900433800HIT

 

Well done the Creation Trust based in Aylesbury for their clever use of text messaging ( See Guardian article here ).

One of the big temptations in the communications business is to be drawn to the latest, most shiny toys to get your message across. Yet often the old ways are the best.

In this case the Creation Trust used text messaging to promote their work with great success, a positive result they would not have obtained had they used other channels like Twitter or Pinterest perhaps.

Communication is all about understanding who you are trying to reach. Understanding your publics is not however just about shaping the messages, it’s also about identifying how to reach them. Often the old ways are the best and we can even extend this back to the tools we used before the digital wave broke over the industry. Events, face to face contact, leaflets and media work all still have a role to play. Certainly they may be used alongside digital tools, but it is the focus on the audience driving the mix of channels that is important.

Some of my chums in PR think I’m a dinosaur when I question their automatic focus on digital tools when formulating a communications strategy. It’s not that I am against the new tools we have at our disposal, but that I question whether they are always suitable for the target publics. We have choices and our choices should be based on who we are trying to reach, not what we enjoy or are excited by.

Horses for courses.

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Ambush tactics

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HIT for David Cameron

MISS for ITV This Morning Show

 

The Paedophile scandal tsunami sweeping Britain at the moment got close to getting out of hand this morning when Phillip Scofield (not someone known for his investigative reporting) ambushed the PM on his “This Morning” TV show on ITV with a list of names gathered from the internet of alleged paedophiles in the Conservative party (Story here.) The reputation of one was enhanced, the reputation of the other degraded.

Schofield asked Cameron if he would be speaking to the people named, and the PM responded with a warning about “a witch-hunt” driven by unsubstantiated rumours about party members past and present named on the internet.

First of all, David Cameron scores a hit for the way he dealt with this live TV ambush. His media skills were well up to the mark this morning. When something like this happens on live TV it’s hard to maintain composure and with an issue like this easy to respond in a populist manner, yet he rightly stuck to his line that any allegations need to be directed to the Police, and pointed out very firmly that there is a real danger in picking names off the internet which may be there without any basis whatsoever. As a result he appeared in control, capable of seeing the wider picture and offered a degree of gravitas lacking in the event itself.

Second I think this is a Miss in PR terms for ITV as not only did it make the presenter look rather poor in journalistic terms (no self respecting journalist would admit to taking information from the internet at face value) but the stunt of passing the paper to the PM over the table on live TV risked the names being seen opening up the potential for legal action by people potentially slandered. (The Telegraph blurred the paper to obscure the names when re-running the footage for this very reason, and the PM himself placed it face down on the table). Furthermore, just as New Labour shunned The Today programme on Radio 4, it would be no surprise to see “This Morning” getting the cold shoulder in future from the present government.

The issue of child abuse in institutional settings is clearly a serious one, but crass, opportunistic stunts like this do nothing to shed light on the matter, nor do they treat it with the seriousness it deserves.

Taking the rap.

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MISS

 

I feel a bit bad rating the BBC’s handling of the Jimmy Saville allegations a miss – because I’ve been there and know how hard it is, as a corporate body, to take the rap for the behaviour of an individual employed by you.

Loyalty between an organisation and its staff, and staff to an organisation is a laudable trait – but it has a dark side for people working in PR tasked with protecting an organisation’s reputation.

The gradual shift of approach by the BBC in response to allegations about Jimmy Saville reflects many an organisation’s reaction to a member of staff being the focus of criticism, not about their corporate behaviour (ie their actual work on behalf of the organisation), but their personal behaviour.

The initial response is to protect the individual (in the BBC’s case an individual with a high public profile and massive public appeal who had been an employee for decades), this protection becoming more and more difficult and strained as more information emerges (as it always does in crisis situations) until they have to respond with a commitment to investigate.

Of course by then the damage has been done, the corporate body has been seen to be slow / reluctant to act and therefore becomes implicated in the story – a passive accomplice to the personal actions of the individual.

Now, clearly in the case of the BBC there are other issues – some of the allegations are said to revolve around activity carried out on BBC premises and with other BBC staff “in the know” – but the general pattern of response is a common one.

Organisations do not like to turn on their own.

Yet people who care about organisational reputation need to be able to push the pace of response, and have to be prepared to cut individuals loose early on if necessary. The truth is no organisation sets out to have staff doing the kind of things Jimmy Saville is accused of, and the organisation’s trust in him as an employee has been betrayed. In reputational terms the organisation becomes another victim.

When an allegation like the Jimmy Saville stories breaks it’s like a bottle of ink being knocked over – the stain spreads quickly and over a wide area if it isn’t blotted up at once.

What the BBC are saying now, some three to four days after the story broke, is correct – it’s a Police matter first and after they have investigated the BBC will look at their own failings. It appears as though  they have now “cut loose” Sir Jimmy.

The problem is, the stain has already spread, and there will be an awful lot of people wanting to look into a great many areas of the organisation to see how deeply tainted they are.

As always speed is of the essence in crisis comms – but it’s not just communication response time that matters in these kind of issues. It’s the will to act, and act quickly against individuals who threaten your corporate reputation, distancing the body corporate from their personal behaviour and acts that really matters.

The biter bit?

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MISS

 

On this morning’s “Today” programme on BBC Radio Four we had the interesting experience of hearing a seasoned broadcast journalist drop himself well and truly in it.

In an interview about the Abu Hamza extradition BBC Security Correspondent Frank Gardner dropped in to the interview  that, at the hight of Hamza’s notoriety,  he had had a conversation with The Queen in which she had commented on the fact that Hamza had not been arrested.

The moment he said it you knew the interviewer, James Naughtie would pounce – and pounce he did.

There was also a moment where, if you are a seasoned interview listener, when you could hear Frank Gardener’s mind saying “Oh no why did I say that”, as clearly the almost off the cuff comment was going to open a can of worms consisting of Royal protocol, journalistic respect of off the record and private comments.

Before the Today Programme had finished the comment was lead item in the news and only an hour or so later the BBC was back tracking with Frank Gardner, to apologise for revealing something which was not intended for public consumption.

A couple of PR lessons here. First it’s worth bearing in mind that even if you don’t expect something you say to a journalist to be published or broadcast, remember they may end up revealing it by accident – even years later. My advice has always been never say anything you wouldn’t want to see in print.

Second, it shows how even skilled, seasoned broadcast journalists can get caught out by their colleagues, particularly when they become commentators rather than reporters.

True Naughtie could have spotted the hole Gardner was digging and helped him out, but his nose for news was too strong – but Gardner could have spent more time preparing what he was going to say, just as I would advise any client going to do an interview.

No hacking at BBC

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The Leveson Inquiry into media ethics and intrusions into privacy has heard today from the Director General of the BBC, Mark Thompson, that when the hacking of mobile phones become known at the News of The World he immediately ordered a review to establish whether this had been the case at the BBC too.

No doubt many BBC journalists were upset to be put under the spotlight like this by management – they value their journalistic integrity extremely highly – but the Director General was right.

There are times when even the most obvious fact needs pointing out and in this case it was essential to show the BBC holds the high ground and that it could prove it’s house was in order – and to show all this BEFORE it was asked.

As my favorite quote on PR by John Rockefeller says “Next to doing the right thing, the most important thing is to let people know you are doing the right thing”.