My Man of the Year

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on December 19, 2014 by Tom Leatherbarrow

YEAR Review Politics 42

It’s time to reveal my high achievers of the year, those individuals that have made a real contribution or, frankly, just made me laugh. As usual, and I make no excuse for this, politicians dominate proceedings, but don’t let that stop you reading on.

Whether you agree with Nigel Farage or not, you have to admit that there is no other politician in the British Isles who could have pulled off his Ryder Cup advert for Paddy Power. He then followed it up with an appearance on Dom & Stef meet Nigel Farage in which the booze guzzlers from Gogglebox asked him all the questions the man in the street would like to ask him and then (unintentionally) poured wine all over his trousers. All of this while inflicting two bloody noses to the Conservatives in successive by-elections.

There is a serious point here though – both TV appearances will have reached sections of the electorate that have tuned out conventional politicians who still rely on the Sunday Politics and Andrew Marr to get their messages over. For this reason, if no other, Nigel is my Communicator of the Year.

Barnstorming Speech of the Year was delivered by Gordon Brown in the Scottish Referendum campaign. He may not go down well in West Sussex but he remains highly respected North of the Border and can justifiably claim to have made a significant contribution to saving the Union – which is more than Cameron, Miliband and Clegg did. One suspects he has one more ‘big job’ in him, perhaps at the IMF or World Bank.

My Journalist of the Year was a close fought race. Dan Hodges in the Telegraph deserves praise for forecasting eighteen months ago that Miliband was on dodgy ground. But the accolade must go to John Harris of the Guardian whose video tour of the country, both North and South of the Border during the autumn by-elections, graphically illustrated the alienation that many feel from Westminster politics.

My Legal Eagle of the Year is Michael Garcia who, in his own understated way, speared Sepp Blatter and FIFA by disowning his own (abridged) report into the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding process.

My Photo of the Year is the kid who got bored with the idea of meeting the President of the United States in the Oval Office and instead decided to dive headfirst onto the sofas. You just know his mortified parents, moments after this shot was taken, screamed at him, “Will you stop it!” That boy will go far.

However there is one outstanding candidate for Man of the Year. In 2014 he lost a Referendum campaign and resigned his party’s leadership. But it was also the year in which he gave a bloody nose to the Establishment, saw a massive surge in membership for his party and has put devolution and the British Constitution front and centre in the forthcoming election.

The ‘Westminster Parties’, as he likes to call them, barely had time to give thanks for his resignation before he declared that he was going to stand as an MP in May, presumably because he knows that his party could hold all the cards in the coalition negotiations that will start on May 8th. My Ma

My Villain of the Year

Posted in Man of the Year with tags , , , , , on December 18, 2014 by Tom Leatherbarrow

Mahmood

We’re back! After a year’s hiatus for no other reason than sheer exhaustion this time last year, by popular demand I am resurrecting my annual heroes and villains blog (yes, some people really do like reading this rubbish, I’m as surprised as anyone!).

Politics as ever throws up its fair share of villains and this year has been no exception. The Prime Minister deserves a bucket load of something unmentionable being poured all over him for his blatantly partisan and tribal reaction the day after the Scottish Referendum result. Faced with a moment that called for healing and statesmanship, the PM’s call for English votes for English laws was an act of supreme self-interest which did neither him nor the United Kingdom any good.

However, one politician has stood head and shoulders above the rest this year for sheer pigheadedness and blatant violations of international law (as if that ever mattered!). Vladimir Putin’s invasion of the Crimea set off an international crisis, resulted in a passenger plane being shot down, has all but collapsed the Russian economy and caused a run on the rouble. Well done Vlad!

On the sporting front it hasn’t been a vintage year. One suspects it will be some time before we get another Tiger Woods and the fire hydrant circa 2008 scenario. However, American golfer Dustin Johnson has attempted to lower the bar this year, being forced to take a sabbatical from the US Tour due to allegations of cocaine use and multiple infidelities with other tour player’s wives. He has, unwittingly, also provided my quote of the year, courtesy of his former coach who said, “Dustin’s so dense, light bends around him”. Excellent!

I really can’t let this year go by without bringing up the World Cup and Roy Hodgson. Even before he had got to Brazil, the England manager, who should have an Adidas boot permanently sewn into his mouth, had insulted the locals in Manaus. That was just a foretaste though for the appalling performance of his team during the failed group qualification campaign. Given more than 18 months to work out a plan to cope with Italy’s Pirlo and then Uruguay’s Suarez, he resorted to flailing his arms around on the touchline while offering both players acres of space in which to inflict maximum damage. How much longer are we supposed to put up with this man and how much longer will sycophants like Henry Winter in the Telegraph keep defending him?

I try to avoid celebrities, but this really has been a vintage year for talentless people being given the oxygen of publicity and invading my television. Claudia Winkleman’s enforced absence from Strictly Come Dancing, which led to the temporary inclusion of Zoe Ball, only served to highlight how awful Tess Daly is. It spoke volumes when #Keep Zoe Not Tess started trending!

However Tess’ awfulness is nothing compared to a woman who regularly appears on morning television. Katie Hopkins (why is this woman on my TV?) has this year insulted Kelly Brook, Peaches Geldof, Kym Marsh, the Palestinians, breastfeeding mothers, Jessica Ennis, Stereo Kicks and the obese, whilst praising the police officer who shot Michael Brown. She has, in fact, almost singlehandedly invented the term “professional troll”.

However, my irritating celebrity of the year is Jeremy Clarkson, a man rapidly making the journey from national treasure to outcast. The whole number plate fiasco in Argentina really was the final straw. “It was a coincidence” says Jeremy. Yeah right!

Nevertheless there is some good news for celebrities this Xmas. When the Tulisa Contostavlos drug trial collapsed, few suspected that up to 24 separate cases which hinged on evidence given by the News of the World’s Fake Shiekh would be reopened by the Crown Prosecution Service. To cap it all, Panorama revealed his real identity by plastering his image all over national television – which hopefully will put a stop to his career for good.

In fact, few people have done more to damage the journalistic profession, so my villain of the year is former investigate journalist (and I use that term in its loosest possible sense) Mazher Mahmood.

For Christ’s sake Ed, put your hands in your pockets like everyone else!

Posted in Politics with tags , , , on May 27, 2014 by Tom Leatherbarrow

Labour Party Leader Ed Miliband Speaks At The Scottish Labour conferenceI’ve had enough. I’ve tried to give him the benefit of the doubt.

I’ve tried to place policy above superficial appearance. I’ve tried to take solace in the fact that he’s got some of the big calls right – phone hacking, bankers, the Daily Mail.

I even had some sympathy with the whole bacon butty cock-up. And I have to say, if asked, I wouldn’t know how much we spend at Chez Leatherbarrow on our weekly shop either.

But what I cannot forgive is Ed Miliband’s hand gestures, they are driving me to distraction. Who speaks to a member of the public, teacher or nurse with their finger-tips pressed together like they’re thinking through the Theory of Relativity?

Oh and the voice coaching and believe you me there has been voice coaching. The average speaking rate is somewhere around 125 words per minute. By my reckoning Ed is down somewhere around 70-80 and all it does is make everything he says sound intensely patronising.

Meanwhile, Nigel “Man of the People” Farage is on a celebratory pub crawl through every watering hole in Southern England. Nigel is the very epitome of a man at ease with himself. No forced hand gestures here, mind you he can’t as he usually has a pint in one hand and a fag in the other.

And then there’s the one liners, they’re the best bit. My favourite was the one after the Eastleigh By-Election, “We’d have won but the Conservatives split our vote”. Even my Dad, who is a Pro-European, wine-loving, baguette-eating Francophile, currently residing in the Limousin, thought that one was funny.

Nigel’s legacy may well be something like that of the 1950s French politician, Pierre Poujade, whose populism coined the phrase, ‘Poujadism’, which is still used today whenever a politician blatantly courts public opinion. Expect ‘Faragism’ to take a similar place in the UK’s political dictionary.

Mind you, Ed has tried populism as well with his Fuel Price Freeze, fat lot of good it did him. Perhaps if he just put his hands in his pockets?

 

 

New Troubleshooter is a welcome antidote to The Apprentice

Posted in business on April 11, 2014 by Tom Leatherbarrow

New Troubleshooter

At last a watchable programme about business.

Last night’s New Troubleshooter with Lord Digby Jones shooting from the hip was the best bit of business TV since … umm … well the last Troubleshooter series in the mid-1980s probably!

Now admittedly the standard isn’t high. Leader of the pack in recent years has been The Apprentice which portrays business as some sort of primeval, dog eat dog, survival of the fittest examination, involving haring round London in Black Cabs and performing idiotic tasks at Waterloo Station.

If these people are, to use the late David Halberstam’s phrase coined for the whizz-kids of the Kennedy Administration, the ‘Best and the Brightest’, then we really are in trouble.

Instead, last night, we had talk of balance sheets, cash statements and working capital. Sounds boring? Well actually, it was quite compelling.

When His Lordship asked the young Finance Controller for the cash flow implications of increasing the stock levels in the business and the poor chap had to admit that he didn’t have a clue, my wife shifted uncomfortably in her seat. The attempts at convincing the MD of the need for some demand forecasting had me rolling my eyes.

I’m old enough to remember the original Troubleshooter with the late Sir John Harvey Jones, former CEO of ICI. He too proved that business can make good television.

I vividly remember him walking into the stockroom of a small brewery which was jammed to the rafters with bottles of beer.

“What’s going on?” he asked. The MD looked to the floor. “We’ve not been able to sell it at current prices,” he admitted.

Sir John turned to him and said: “Sell it for whatever you can get. You need to turn this lot into cash. When I next come in here I want to see this place empty.” That’s where I first learned that lack of cash can pull a business under just as quickly as lack of sales.

Last night wasn’t perfect. I’d liked to have found out whether the company did ever produce a forecast and the results of their intellectual property application in regard to their new branding.

But, it was a much-needed start. Let’s hope the BBC sees fit to commission a second series

“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.

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