Mirror SockPuppet & the Real Sophie Wittams

September 28th, 2014 by Rob Brown

Ex Tory Minister Brooks Newmark is a fool at best, but his entrapment via social media sets a pretty low bar for journalism. A supposed freelance journalist created a fake Twitter account in the name of ‘Sophie Wittams, a twenty something Tory PR girl’, and started to pursue MPs with a view to persuading one of them to drop their trousers on WhatsApp. Mr Newmark duly obliged. The reporter was “carrying out an undercover probe into claims by sources that MPs were using social media networks to meet women”. In this case though it seems that it was “Sophie” who was trying to meet MPs rather than vice-versa. The Twitter account has since been deleted but I found the cache and you can see it here.

We know very little about the journalist responsible other than that he used a fake ID and profile picture. There has been lots of speculation as to whose picture has been used. A number of tweeters have suggested that it is Lisa Kimble, but the G+ account looks fake. A little more likely is Maria Stotskaya a 24 years old Russian with a VKontacke profile that uses the picture.  I’m pretty sure the picture is actually of a Swedish model called Malin Sahlén. A reverse search of the image leads to her WeHeartIt page. The original has been removed but there are lots of other images of her and the likeness is pretty strong.

Sophie Wittams Malin Sahlén

What is far more interesting of course is the real identity of the journalist behind the “Sophie Wittams” Twitter account.  The web leaves lots of clues even if you attempt to erase them.   There are certainly staff at the Mirror who know. Reporter Matthew Drake who was bylined on the Mirror article must be an individual close to the source. There has also been convincing speculation that Sophie is in fact Guido Fawkes Reporter and Sun contributor Alex Whickam. He appeared to know about the sting before anyone else and has written about being on the receiving end of unwanted attention from MPs.

Update – 11.15pm, 28.09.14 

The Swedish model Malin Sahlén has confimed that the picture used was of her and that it was used without her consent “I am shocked and it is unpleasant that the picture was used without permission…I do not want to be exploited in this way and that someone has used my image like this feels really awful”. 

Update 2 – 8.10am 30.09.14

Media journalist Steve Hewlett named Alex Whittam as the reported behind the sting on Newsnight last night (Monday 29.09.14).

About Rob Brown

Rob Brown has worked in PR for over 20 years and for over fifteen years held senior PR positions within three major global advertising networks; Euro RSCG, McCann and TBWA. He launched his own business ‘Rule 5’ in MediaCityUK, Manchester in November 2012. Rob is the author of ‘Public Relations and the Social Web’ (2009), blogs for The Huffington Post and is joint editor of 'Share This Too' (2013).

Murdoch and The End of Press Power

September 18th, 2014 by Rob Brown

The Sun Front Pages

There has been an enormous amount of speculation in the final days of the Scottish Independence debate as to whether Rupert Murdoch would use the front page of The Scottish Sun to back Alex Salmond’s Yes campaign. Bruised by the phone hacking scandal, the newspaper mogul appeared to be set to back Scottish Independence and aim a missile at the Cameron premiership. The BBC’s Andrew Neil, who is a former editor of The Sunday Times and confidant of Murdoch tweeted: “He thinks the hacking scandal was revenge of the British establishment on him. Break up of Britain would be his revenge.” Neil also reported that Murdoch and Salmond spoke a week ago about a swing in the polls in favour of independence.

Up until 2009 The Sun had consistently backed the winner in UK general elections but by that year, press power was already visibly on the slide. In 1992 after Kinnock lost to Major the headline screamed “It Was The Sun Wot Won It’, Tory MPs acknowledged that The Sun contributed to their election triumph and Kinnock himself blamed the paper for his failure to win the election.  Today the sun has finally set on that level of power and influence.  The Sun’s front pages in both England and Scotland reflect the mood of the public without attempting to influence it.  The Scottish Sun echoes the uncertainty of the vote with its blank page and in the rest of the Union a story about Prince Harry and his girlfriend makes an unsubtle nod to the overwhelming sentiment south of the border.  Whatever the outcome we should celebrate the end of an era where one man can change the fortunes of a nation by deciding on a headline.

About Rob Brown

Rob Brown has worked in PR for over 20 years and for over fifteen years held senior PR positions within three major global advertising networks; Euro RSCG, McCann and TBWA. He launched his own business ‘Rule 5’ in MediaCityUK, Manchester in November 2012. Rob is the author of ‘Public Relations and the Social Web’ (2009), blogs for The Huffington Post and is joint editor of 'Share This Too' (2013).

Moto 360 – the 1st Mainstream Smart Watch ?

March 19th, 2014 by Rob Brown

Motorola today unveiled a Smart Watch that people actually might wear.  The secret appears to be that it actually looks good.  The Moto 360 will work with all smartphones using Android 4.3 or higher.  Unlike most devices on the market, it’s round, like a real watch. “When you go back through modern civilisation time is represented by a circle” said design chief Jim Wicks design chief. It comes with leather and metal straps too.

During a somewhat delayed Google Hangout (embarrassing when time is literally of the essence) we could see Jim swiping the watch to manage the user interface and if the stills are anything to go by the user experience and the design aesthetic both look good.  The information is contextually relevant so when you are using maps it will help you see where you are going and it has voice activation.  “We are creating a device with mass appeal” said Wicks.

In fact the Moto 360 appears to do most of the things that Google Glass has promised minus obvious drawback of looking like a “glasshole”.  The other plus being that watches are glance-able.  It appears that the technology developers have finally come to the realisation that wearable tech will only be worn if it is well designed and looks right.

There’s no price available as yet or indication of the battery life although a good life and imaginative approach to charging have been hinted at . The Moto 360 will be available in globally in Summer 2014.

Here’s the full interview with Jim Wicks.

 

About Rob Brown

Rob Brown has worked in PR for over 20 years and for over fifteen years held senior PR positions within three major global advertising networks; Euro RSCG, McCann and TBWA. He launched his own business ‘Rule 5’ in MediaCityUK, Manchester in November 2012. Rob is the author of ‘Public Relations and the Social Web’ (2009), blogs for The Huffington Post and is joint editor of 'Share This Too' (2013).

The Prince of social media

March 6th, 2014 by Tim Hudson

Prince and 3rdEyeGirl - Manchester 21st Feb (2)

Prince and Social Media are two things which have been hard not to notice and have caused quite a stir in the UK recently.

Prince has been in the country performing a series of ‘pop-up’ concerts, promoting a forthcoming album and, if speculation is to be believed, working on some summer festival deals.

It’s not just the concerts themselves, taking place in small venues in London and Manchester, that have reasserted Prince as a man who stands out from the crowd in both talent and approach, but the way those concerts have been promoted.

As Econsultancy’s David Moth points out, “the ‘guerilla’ shows are part of Prince’s policy of avoiding middlemen and traditional marketing.”  Famously (infamously, perhaps), Prince has given away new albums with UK newspapers and was part of a long and well-documented dispute with his former record label, Warner Bros. over creative ownership and control.

And so, no one was really surprised that the man who once said “the internet is dead” promoted the recent spate of gigs almost entirely through Social Media, not only prompting queues thousands-long outside the venues but also gaining print and broadcast media coverage, most notably through Woman’s Hour and Newsnight.  As noted in The Sunday Times’s profile, “when a current affairs news show takes notice, you have got an event.”

Prince’s management and PR duties fall to CEO of Kikit Ltd. and Entrepreneur of the Year Nominee, Kiran Sharma, and the aptly named Purple PR.  Ms Sharma was very visible throughout the campaign, using her personal Twitter account to make announcements and share comments from fans and Prince’s current band, 3rdEyeGirl.  The PR company, however, seemed almost invisible.  And that’s where the success of the last few weeks lies.

The perception was that Prince and his troupe had arrived in the UK and were looking for some small venues to play, with no real planning.  On the red carpet of The Brit Awards, a member of 3rdEyeGirl said, “we don’t know until the morning where we’ll be playing that night.”  This sent fans into a frenzy, connecting via Social Media from across the UK to try and dig out and share any vital information on the gigs.  The hashtags #princewatch and #princearmy appeared, seemingly from the fans, and a fan-run account @PrinceWatchUK was set-up specifically for this purpose.

Kevin Costner was once told “if you build it, they will come” and here was an excellent example of this at work.  The hashtags trended, there was 24 hour engagement and this all seemed to be coming just from the fans, with a few pieces of input from Ms Sharma and 3rdEyeGirl (for example with official YouTube clips from the gigs).

Clearly there was more going on behind the scenes than was presented.  In order to move that many people around London, let alone the UK, this had to be well-planned.  There’s even been suggestion that, on the night that tickets rose from being £10 to £70 and fans created the #10poundprince hashtag as a backlash, prompting tickets to be reduced again, it was actually Purple PR hard at work creating some trickery to gain yet more attention.

Whatever mastery was at work, this was a unique event, promoted in a unique way.  This was a utilisation of modern media, the like of which has not been seen before, purely relying on the word-of-mouth generated by Social Media output to sell-out each show played and generate a huge amount of valuable mainstream exposure. (They even turned Manchester Town Hall purple for the occasion!)

What has all this done for Prince’s reputation?  Certainly there has been upset from those who don’t regularly use Social Media; has he alienated a large amount of people?  Those who are disabled and unable to queue all day outside gigs have also been challenged by his tactics.

I would suggest that Prince’s team will be more likely asking the question, “Has all this helped us achieve our goals?”  If those goals were indeed to pre-promote the new album and secure that lucrative summer deal then only time and album sales will tell.  For a few days near the end of February, though, one didn’t have to look far (be it online on the radio or on the newspaper rack) to read word of Prince, hear his new music and see fans going crazy!

About Tim Hudson

Tim Hudson is an Accredited PR Practitioner, a member of the CIPR North West Committee and is currently based in-house at Cheadle Hulme School. Tim has seven years’ experience in the education sector and specialises in copywriting and social media.

Is Zuckerberg a Human Rights Champion?

August 21st, 2013 by Rob Brown

Mark Zuckerberg has just released a white paper announcing a plan to connect 5 billion more people in the developing world to the Internet. It’s called Is Connectivity a Human Right?

Internet.org, is a partnership with six other companies, Ericsson, MediaTek , Nokia, Opera, Qualcomm and Samsung to “develop joint projects, share knowledge, and mobilize industry and governments”. The plan is to get the world online and that means connecting two-thirds of the global population who are not yet connected.

Zuckerberg is well placed to lead such a charge but is he right to claim the mantle of human rights campaigner?  Whilst cogently argued the paper is didactic.  It lapses into the repetitive style more commonly asscociated wth propaganda and the last five paragraphs before the conclusion all begin with the words; “This is good…”.

The Facebook founder may be strong on connectivity but is he credible on human rights? His former colleague Charlie Cheever, who went on to start Quora has said; ”I feel Mark doesn’t believe in privacy that much, or at least believes in privacy as a stepping-stone. Maybe he’s right, maybe he’s wrong.”

Maybe privacy isn’t a right but a privilege.  Either way as Robert Hofs says in Forbes today “I can’t help wondering why these companies feel the need to trot out such idealistic concepts. Ultimately, there’s only one reason all these businesses are involved with this project: money”.

About Rob Brown

Rob Brown has worked in PR for over 20 years and for over fifteen years held senior PR positions within three major global advertising networks; Euro RSCG, McCann and TBWA. He launched his own business ‘Rule 5’ in MediaCityUK, Manchester in November 2012. Rob is the author of ‘Public Relations and the Social Web’ (2009), blogs for The Huffington Post and is joint editor of 'Share This Too' (2013).

Social media cafe Manchester – smc_mcr – logging out

July 30th, 2013 by Jon Clements

Social Media Cafe Manchester – or smc-mcr as it morphed into – came along at the right time to meet a ravenous appetite for digital communications.

But now, it’s no more.

I’m grateful to Tom Mason for bringing the news to my attention and for his affectionate “eulogy” to this rather modest and yet highly influential fixture in Manchester’s calendar of digital creativity. For the definitive insight into why smc_mcr is logging out, check out co-founder, Martin Bryant’s post on the smc_mcr website itself.

So, what made it special?

In the digital sector – one that has now become big business for learning seminars, training courses, day-long conferences, etc – smc_mcr offered collective insight from real-life practitioners (often early adopters of digital technologies and communications platforms) at no cost to the participants whatsoever. All those great brains in one room, willing to pass on their knowledge because, well, they were passionate about their subject and the sharing ethos seemed to meld well with the social media milieu.

At times, smc_mcr was unapologetically and hilariously shambolic in its structure and organisation. But that was more than compensated for by the wealth of interesting people and topics you could expect to encounter over a couple of hours on a Tuesday night, once a month.

On a simplistic level, it was networking with people you also had a relationship with online; but it was really so much more than that.

And, it supplied a regular flow of great material for PR Media Blog which, at the time, was itself trying to make sense of the ever-quickening revolution in digital communications.

Normally, an institution coming to an end is a sad affair. But smc_mcr has done its job, if ever it had a “job description”. It wasn’t its style to have some sort of “manifesto”; that would be far too bloody organised.

 

About Jon Clements

Jon Clements is a Chartered PR consultant specialising in B2B PR, corporate and marketing communications and is the founder of Metamorphic PR. Connect at: JonClements ''

Adland Shock at Omnicom Publicis Merger

July 28th, 2013 by Rob Brown

Levy and Wren

The scale of incredulity that greeted the news that started to emerge this weekend over the rumours that Omnicom and Publicis were set to merge was summed up in a tweet.   David Jones the CEO of Havas  the 6th largest global advertising and communications network and No. 2 in France behind Publicis posted a tweet on Saturday saying:

Publicis Said to Be in Late-Stage Merger Talks With Omnicom – via @BloombergNowbloom.bg/16k7380 – oh wow just saw a flying pig.

Twenty four hours later the pigs were airborne as Maurice Lévy and John Wren were confirmed as joint CEOs of what is now the world’s largest advertising and communications group.

 

The CEOs said jointly: “For many years, we have had great respect for one another as well as for the companies we each lead. This respect has grown in the past few months as we have worked to make this combination a reality. We look forward to co-leading the combined company and are excited about what our people can achieve together for our clients and our shareholders.”

The announcement also suggests that the new combined company is expected to generate efficiencies or cost savings of $500 million/€377 million.

The surprise in adland is matched by some scepticism. David Jones again: “Obsession with mergers & acquisitions still amazes me…digital & technology have made scale irrelevant.”

Update 10am 29.7.13

As the shock subsides I’m indebted to Mark Pinsent for pointing out that I haven’t provided a point of view on the merger. Well here goes.

There’s no doubt that seismic changes in communications in the last decade have rocked the advertising world. Consolidation was inevitable. Consolidation must be on the cards with £500 million of “efficiencies” promised in the announcement.

Whether this was a good deal, as ever, you have to ask for whom. If the goal was to create the biggest marketing communications group in the world merging the 2nd and 3rd agencies is a hard trick to pull off. For Maurice Lévy and John Wren, and especially the former, this was an amazing deal. However there may well be client fall out, restructuring and potential erosion of value. In the final analysis the creation of the Publicis Omnicom Group may be at best as Martin Sorrell describes it a ‘nil premium merger’.

About Rob Brown

Rob Brown has worked in PR for over 20 years and for over fifteen years held senior PR positions within three major global advertising networks; Euro RSCG, McCann and TBWA. He launched his own business ‘Rule 5’ in MediaCityUK, Manchester in November 2012. Rob is the author of ‘Public Relations and the Social Web’ (2009), blogs for The Huffington Post and is joint editor of 'Share This Too' (2013).

5 ways to beat the trolls

June 27th, 2013 by David Jamieson

Until fairly recently a troll was one of those odd little plastic naked fellows with fluorescent hair. Repulsive, but harmless and easy to avoid. How times have changed. Nowadays, any communications professional incorporating social media into their campaigns must always, always ask “how could the trolls hijack this?” before trying to mobilise the masses online.

Durex is one of the latest brands to fall victim to internet pranksters. Its online poll invited nominations for anywhere in the world to be covered by its ‘SOS Condoms Service’; emergency condom delivery for frisky but not risky couples. But it returned a less than ideal winner – the conservative Muslim town of Batman in southern Turkey.

Inspired by just how avoidable that outcome was, here are five things I think every one of us should do to either pre-empt the trolls or at least manage them when they rear their ugly heads.

1) Think like a troll – forewarned is forearmed, he who fails to plan and all that. Get the team together and run through every imaginable scenario, or open it up to the entire company. Be ruthless and get enough brains on the job and you stand a good chance of uncovering at least the most obvious potential slip ups, and probably some of the more left field ones too.

2) Establish some boundaries, or nudge people down (or away from) a particular route. This might sound counter to the spirit of social media, but what Durex got completely wrong was to allow the general public – which includes some very cheeky little monkeys – to choose anywhere in the world. If the choice had been limited to London, Paris, New York or Dagenham, their poll might not have had such a limp ending.

3) Know your audience…and your haters. McDonalds’ now infamous #McDStories campaign might have been avoided if they’d remembered that antipathy for their brand probably equals the love for it, and hate is often more of a call to action than love. Waitrose learned a similar lesson with its “Finish the sentence: I shop at Waitrose because…… #waitrosereasons” Twitter campaign. Everybody thinks they’re more popular than they actually are, but when planning a social media campaign it will pay off to be real. Remember that when pressing the launch button, you’re not likely to get in front of just fans.

4) Have a clear response policy – nine times out of ten it’s best not to respond at all, but there may be some anticipated scenarios identified in advance that can or should be managed. In these cases, flow diagrams illustrating the twists and turns, the “ifs” or “ands” that you’ve planned for will help you maintain a bit of control with measured responses. However, exercise a bit of pragmatism in actual delivery – stock responses that vaguely relate to the original prompt come across as stilted and impersonal. If you have someone with a genuine problem, then this kind of response is unlikely to lead to a satisfactory resolution. Still, if you suspect you have a real live troll on your hands, then it really is better not to give them the satisfaction. And remember, don’t take it personally – or you might be provoked into doing something rash.

5) Not all angry people are trolls. It’s important not to adopt a siege mentality, because not all angry people are trolls; some may have a real issue with you that needs addressing. Scratch the surface of that angry tweet and you might find an easily solvable problem that you can publicly solve.

 

David Jamieson (@JamiesonDavid) is an Account Manager at TopLine Communications, a specialist digital communications and crisis PR agency

About David Jamieson

David Jamieson (@JamiesonDavid) is an Account Manager at TopLine Communications, a specialist digital communications and crisis PR agency

Max and My Letter to PR Week

May 20th, 2013 by Rob Brown

Max Clifford

Two weeks ago PR Week published a blog post praising Max Clifford’s handling of his own PR following his arrest as part of Operation Yewtree. I thought they were wrong to do so and last week they published my letter explaining why. Letters to the magazine are only available in the print edition so I have posted it online here on PR Media Blog.

“For years, those of us that work in PR have lamented the mediocre reputation of our profession.  At the same time we have, it seems, been powerless to prevent the omnipresent Max Clifford acting as a de facto voice of public relations.  The media carries a fair share of the blame, seeking sound bites from a celebrity publicist who cites his secrets of success as “confidence and the ability to lie with conviction”.

I wasn’t alone in being horrified with Ian Monk’s homage to Clifford’s PR skills in the pages PR Week a fortnight ago. It joins a catalogue of misplaced eulogies for Clifford and I don’t think PR Week should have carried it. The subject of Ian Monk’s praise was Clifford’s personal PR in the face of his recent arrest but if you watch it back, his performance is unremarkable and his statement is stilted and self-absorbed.  There is nothing to admire and nothing for the fervent student of PR to learn.

Most PR people agree that Max Clifford is not one of us; he’s a publicist, a self-promoter and self-confessed dissembler. Many of us feel that he has besmirched the reputation of PR for decades.  Quite aside from the fact it’s possible that that he may become unable to carry on speaking on behalf of the public relations industry it is time that we found new voices to represent us.  We have some brilliant minds and some great speakers.  It may be a case cobblers shoes, but now is time for PR to manage its own reputation.”

About Rob Brown

Rob Brown has worked in PR for over 20 years and for over fifteen years held senior PR positions within three major global advertising networks; Euro RSCG, McCann and TBWA. He launched his own business ‘Rule 5’ in MediaCityUK, Manchester in November 2012. Rob is the author of ‘Public Relations and the Social Web’ (2009), blogs for The Huffington Post and is joint editor of 'Share This Too' (2013).

Vote Wadds – A New Voice for PR

May 7th, 2013 by Rob Brown

Wadds CIPR ii

There has been much talk of late about about how the PR industry represents itself to the outside world.  One area in which we have failed consistently is providing credible voices that will represent our industry in the media.   There are many reasons why Stephen Waddington is ideally suited to be the next president of the CIPR, I also believe he could transform the reputation of PR as its leading commentator. Here are ten reasons why:

  1. 1. He’s a very charismatic individual. People like him with good reason, he is a genuinely good guy.
  2. 2. He understands the breadth of the industry and range of work we do in PR.
  3. 3. Wadds is a unifier.  In particular he has a good relationship with the PRCA as well as high standing in the CIPR.
  4. 4. The camera likes him – perhaps not the most critical factor but important nevertheless.
  5. 5. He has been at the forefront of facing the important changes that continue to challenge the industry. He understands the huge changes that are taking place in the media. He is an acknowledged expert in the field and an acclaimed author.
  6. 6. He’s thorough and takes time to get to grips with issues, so will always speak with authority.
  7. 7. He lives in London during the week but is a northerner whose home is in Northumberland.
  8. 8. His day job for as European digital and social media director for Ketchum give him an international perspective.
  9. 9. He is both a former journalist and moderniser.  He understands the past, present and the future of PR.
  10. 10. Wadds makes things happen.  Lot’s of people in PR are excellent at talking, Stephen does the walking too.  I recently handed over the chair of the CIPR Social Media Panel to Wadds not least because I know he will expand and grow the work of the panel, in which he has already played a central role.

Voting is now open in the CIPR presidential election.  If you have a vote use it now.  Vote for Stephen Waddington.  Make him our president and the voice of the industry and take the first step in building a more vibrant reputation for the Public Relations profession.

About Rob Brown

Rob Brown has worked in PR for over 20 years and for over fifteen years held senior PR positions within three major global advertising networks; Euro RSCG, McCann and TBWA. He launched his own business ‘Rule 5’ in MediaCityUK, Manchester in November 2012. Rob is the author of ‘Public Relations and the Social Web’ (2009), blogs for The Huffington Post and is joint editor of 'Share This Too' (2013).