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.

Miliband’s Dad – should Ed bring back MailWatch?

Posted in Media, Politics with tags , , , on October 2, 2013 by Tom Leatherbarrow

Daily MailI suspect there is a lot of debate this morning (at least there should be) amongst PRs about how they would have advised Ed Miliband to respond to the Daily Mail’s attack on his father.

PRs are naturally conciliatory. God only knows I’ve taken it in the teeth often enough and not bitten back, but I think I would have been tempted to in this case.

PR wisdom is that you should never take on the man with the microphone, in this case Mail editor Paul Dacre, but there is plenty enough historical evidence to justify a more robust response.

A university friend of mine once wrote to former Senator Lloyd Bentsen (he of the great put down to Dan Quayle “you’re no Jack Kennedy”) to ask him what went wrong with the Dukakis campaign in 1988 as part of the research for his MA. Incredibly the late Senator replied and said the big mistake had been not biting back hard enough when the Bush campaign and right wing media laid into them in the spring of 1988 when they had a double digit opinion poll lead.

Clinton learnt that lesson in 1992 with his rapid rebuttal techniques only for John Kerry to forget it again when faced with Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

New Labour also learnt the lesson with Alistair Campbell initiating MailWatch in the late 1990s as a rapid rebuttal to anything derogatory  that appeared in that day’s paper. Ultimately, under pressure from Blair who wanted a more conciliatory stance and the Mail itself (“if you can’t take it don’t dish it out”), Campbell stopped, but was tempted on more than one occasion, according to his diaries, to bring it back.

Which brings us to Miliband. In my book the response is a hit both morally and politically. I’m not sure you can let that sort of thing lie but he gains in two ways.

Firstly, he looks a more sympathetic figure this morning and not the policy wonk he has always been portrayed as. Secondly, he dominated the news cycle on Tuesday wiping the Tory Conference out.

As for the Mail, misjudgement does not sufficiently cover it. Jonathan Freedland in today’s Guardian says it offended the British sense of fair play, but if I was in charge at The Daily Mail and General Trust, owners of the newspaper, I would be more worried by the Twitter response, which was not anger, but ridicule, and that is much, much worse

NSA leaks could put a slow burn under Silicon Valley business plans

Posted in business, Politics with tags , , , on July 15, 2013 by Tom Leatherbarrow

facebook_google_apple_logosYou could be excused for struggling to keep up with NSA leaks story which has been running for the past month or so.

If, like me, you are only now catching up with this, here is the story so far in a very abridged form. Edward Snowden the former US National Security Agency operative has revealed to the world that the NSA has been collecting, in bulk, meta data from search providers such as Google and Yahoo and also Facebook, Hotmail and anything else they can get their hands on, from Americans and non-Americans for years.

We also know, courtesy of the Guardian, that Skype has been compromised as has Outlook, whose encryption was unlocked even before official launch. The scale of the operation is staggering and is global – the French and Germans in particular are furious.

How have they got away with this? That is a good question, particularly in light of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution which asserts the rights of people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizure.

Whilst the Founding Fathers may not have had the internet as a primary focus of their concerns for individual liberty it is clear that, in the modern world, search and seizure of information has as much to do with meta data as it does with paper.

The diplomatic implications are enormous, as are the potential implications for the big technology companies like Microsoft and Google who have been handing over the information (although they claim it has been under duress).

Web users are fickle and can quickly switch their allegiances to new social media or search providers with the click of a button. In fact, we might already have a clue to what the ‘Silent Majority’ of web users think of the ‘co-operation’ that has been offered to the NSA.

Zero tracking site DuckDuckGo for example, which pledges not to track or store data about its users went from serving 1.7 million searches per day at the start of June to three million within a fortnight.

The nightmare for the big players, Google in particular, is that the revelations accelerate the fragmentation of search which is already occurring in the States. The April 2013 ComScore results suggest Google lost 0.6% market share during the previous year to its rivals, which may not sound like a lot, but does demonstrate a clear trend and could potentially be worth billions in lost revenue.

It is too early to say what long-term effect these leaks will have on web users but, if the future is zero tracking, there are a lot of technology companies out there that will have to radically rethink their business plans.

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