Archive for March, 2008


Wednesday, March 26th, 2008 by Mark Hanson

Just had a tip that Jerome Armstrong has been appointed to run the web strategy for Brian Paddick’s London Mayoral campaign.

Jerome runs a hugely influential Democrat blog called MyDD and played a big part in putting a little known Governor called Howard Dean within an ace of being the Democrat nomination for President in 2004. The lessons of this campaign – talking to people on eye-level, in their language not in sound bites and being prepared to have a two-way dialogue – have influenced politicians across the globe. He co-wrote a superb book called Crashing The Gate that lays out the lessons for the political establishment.

UK politicians have so far responded in terms of trying to use clever gadgets rather than the basic lessons of talking to people differently. Jerome working for Paddick raises the prospect that UK politicians might finally ‘get it’. Once one Party starts doing it properly and reaping the dividends, then the rest will follow suit. Very exciting and I’ve no doubt that Mark Pack, the mad scientist who looks after all things web at Lib Dem HQ has his fingerprints all over this!

One odd thing is that it seems Steve Webb, Lib Dem spokesperson on the Environment, one of the only politicians to use Facebook properly, wasn’t involved as he’s one of the few that understands this is all about reaching voters on their terms and using their language, not whizzy technology. 

I recently filmed a very revealing interview with Steve Webb btw.


Tuesday, March 18th, 2008 by Mark Hanson

I am working for Staniforth, the North West’s biggest PR agency. There is a great deal of excitement at the moment due to the imminent arrival of our new MD, Rob Brown. We are starting to carve out a niche for ourselves in digital PR, understanding that audiences want a different way of being spoken to by brands and other institutions they deal with. 

Rob did a great session at the CIPR North West on Thursday night. Its often hard to know where to start when explaining the essence of online PR but he used two adverts, one from the 1950s and one from the present day to sum it up. 

Online PR isn’t about flash technology it’s about talking to people at eye-level and being prepared to talk back. This blog, amongst other things, will discuss relevant issues that can be applied to communicating with audiences in this way.


Monday, March 17th, 2008 by Mark Hanson

Sunny Hundal

Sunny Hundal is a social media player. He’s intelligent, energetic, innovative and very passionate about fighting for what he believes. In the old days he might have been a fiery Labour councillor or the editor of a subversive magazine but in the modern era he’s using social media to marry together grass-roots support with key opinion formers to get the mainstream to take notice of the causes he is fighting for. He is currently campaigning against government plans to extent pre-charge detention past 28 days.

In addition to raising awareness of this issue on the blog and using tools like Facebook (nearly 5000 people joined their group:, in Saturday’s Guardian there was a letter signed by 35 important names saying that the government has failed to make the case for extending this period and it should withdraw its plans.

There was also a story about the letter in the newspaper.

This is a great example of how social media is replacing the gaps that are appearing where trade unions or freethinking backbench MPs used to be. They haven’t disappeared but they are less in number and the media are looking for alternative sources of grassroots opinion. Who would’ve thought that Tim Montgomerie of Tory blog ConservativeHome would be used as a spokesperson for ordinary Tory members on the Today programme, Newsnight or last night’s BBC News? 


Friday, March 14th, 2008 by Mark Hanson



We can sometimes over-do the decline of traditional media. It’s true that newspaper sales are flagging but the Saturday market is often overlooked. Saturday is the biggest selling day for many nationals and the amount of supplements contained within them rivals Sundays for the propensity to give your paper boy chronic backache. 

The broadsheets often put a big hitter into the editor’s chair in charge of the Saturday edition and a de facto number two to the big boss and the Telegraph did just that today by appointing Richard Preston as Saturday editor. I’ve dealt him a fair amount in his current role as Comment Editor at the DT and I look forward to seeing how he’ll develop the paper and build its Saturday personality.


Thursday, March 13th, 2008 by Mark Hanson

  News reaches us of an online soap opera about the Manchester PR scene. According to HowDo…. Spinning Jenny, as it is set to be called (a big, shiny ‘well done’ to the first to spot the Manchester link), is currently in development at Silk Press Productions and will have its own website as well as appearing on the increasingly popular site.Jenny – auditions are taking place next Monday (17 March) for the central role – will be a young girl in her early 20s working at one of the city’s leading PR firms… Brazen to be precise.Online video is the big story for 2008 as far as PR is concerned. People, especially the under 35s, like short video that they can snatch while surfing at work or at home in the evening. It is often more accessible than text and there is a high incentive to pass on to friends. Websites like it as it’s ‘sticky’ and the advancement of broadband make it easy to download. However even the biggest sites, let alone bloggers, lack the resources to produce enough video to satisfy demand. There is a role for PR to produce content to make them useful to their online networks. It can’t be corporate guff, the usual rules apply – know your audience, know your media, be transparent. Some agencies have dabbled in their own version of reality TV.’s ‘fly-on-the-wall’  of the Subway pitch prompted a number of mash-ups but I think it’s a great decision by Brazen to allow access to the filmmakers and some of the stardust may rub off. But don’t confuse this with a PR agency that understands how to navigate properly through new media. Wonder if Jennifer O’Grady, who recently left Brazen to start a new media agency, will be auditioning?

On The Record?

Tuesday, March 11th, 2008 by Mark Hanson


As a PR practitioner, one of the most important decisions you take when advising a client is how to tackle what can be given to the media ‘off the record’. It’s in both sides interest to be able to do this. It means the journalist gets more flavour and context for their story and the spokesperson can be more co-operative when freed from the ‘party line’.This dual interest means trust is important when knowing where to draw the line. I’ll touch wood when I say, I’ve HARDLY ever had a problem on this score but there have been mistakes when I was younger that I have learned from. I’ll tell you more another time! You may have seen that one of Barack Obama’s top advisers, Samantha Power, has been forced to quit over a remark made to a journalist at the Scotsman, where she referred to Hilary Clinton as a ‘monster’. According to the Scotsman’s political Ed, Gerri Peev the exact words were…“She is a monster, too – that is off the record – she is stooping to anything.” Peev added that Ms Power was “hastily trying to withdraw her remark.” I’m amazed that the Scotsman ignored that and published. The Scotsman have justifiably pointed out that the initial parameters were that the conversation was on the record and may be Power was mistakenly believing that the UK lobby followed the more deferent line towards politicians that is adopted by the White house press corps. But even so!Ian Stewart is The Scotsman’s ombudsman and this is his official view…..“The rules on what is and what is not reportable in exchanges between journalists and politicians are in my experience very clear. If a journalist makes it known that he or she is a journalist and asks a politician a question, then the response is on the record. If in a sit-down interview the interviewee wishes to go off the record then that is established at the outset so that both parties agree. It is usual that this off the record remarks or briefing takes place at the beginning of any interview, and it is clearly understood by both parties exactly when off the recode starts and stops. To have any credibility at claiming “off-the-record” status it has to be clearly stated before any remarks are made that the interviewee is going off-the record and this has to be agreed. I have never heard of an interview in which the politician can edit his or her remarks after the fact. That amounts to asking for editorial control of what is published and I know of no journalist who would agree to that. Some complaints said that we had betrayed journalism by publishing what we did. On the contrary we would have betrayed journalism and our readers had we not done. I“t was evidently Ms Power’s opinion but she realised immediately she should not have said it. It is our job to report what Ms Powers said as evidence of what she believed, not what she had wished to say and would have us believe.”

Media doyen, Roy Greenslade has the following response, which I agree with…. “Well, I’m afraid I’m not so certain as Peev, Gilson, Stewart and Martin about this matter. I do lots of interviews with the most sensitive people on earth – editors, journalists and newspaper managers – and many of them say suddenly “and that’s off the record”. Were I to break confidence and publish they would never speak to me again. End of source. End of briefings. End of stories. There are, of course, occasions when interviews begin with an agreement about the whole conversation being off the record. But there are plenty of times when interviews go on and off the record at will. (When I once interviewed the former Sun editor David Yelland in his Wapping days he went on and off the record so often that I took it as all off the record in the end). ”  Although Peev probably thought that she could afford to upset Power, as she’s a US player without any role here, but what if Obama becomes President and Miss Peev climbs the career ladder. May be she will cost her future employer access to the White House. Also, will key contacts on this side of the Atlantic think twice about giving Peev any scoops? 

Postmodern approach to comms!

Tuesday, March 11th, 2008 by Mark Hanson

My Photo 

Fascinating discussion taking place on Simon Collister’s blog. He’s using the blogosphere to get views on what impact the social media revolution is having on our key institutions. Normally this sort of debate is beyond me, especially at 925am on a school day, but the impact on how organisations communicate in the post-TV era is right up my street so I couldn’t resist! 

Simon says “While civil society has played a key part in fostering human cooperation, society’s endeavours were always dependent on institutions providing support, funds, direction and often a voice to facilitate change.” And that the internet is enabling people to access the system and have a voice that is independent of institutions…”individuals are organising themselves, membership organisations (political parties, charities etc) are losing out as barriers to participation and scalability are removed. ”

My view is that the internet is enabling us all to organise again as communities, not geographically as in the old days but via interest or lifestage or demographic.

 Check out the post and rubbish or agree with me…

Do me a favour – help me save the planet?

Monday, March 10th, 2008 by Mark Hanson

I’m involved in a campaign to mobilise grassroots support and put pressure on MPs to back a raising of the target to cut CO2 emissions by 2050 by 80%, instead of the current proposed target of 60%. There is currently a bill going through parliament that will give the UK a target of 60%, however the Environment Minister, Hilary Benn, has agreed to consider raising this to 80%.

 We have a role to play in showing the media and MPs that there is popular support for this. The vehicle for demonstrating support was sign-ups to our Facebook group. So, as a social media practitioner, I put into play all the best practice around defining influencers, approaching them in a transparent way, making the campaign useful to them and the response was great. People contacted their Facebook friends, environmental and political bloggers posted, we contacted relevant groups via Facebook and within a couple of days the group membership had reached 700. The past week though we’ve seen membership going up by 30 a day, despite a fair bit of effort.

 I’m going to go and ponder a second wave of activity but wondered whether anyone had views on Facebook’s ability to build movements, the saturation of climate change type groups or just better ways of building a movement?

What’s the story?

Monday, March 10th, 2008 by Mark Hanson

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I actually stopped reading the Mail on Sunday because I got so fed up with tenuous stories about income, jewellery and baubles, supposedly gained by Cherie Blair or AN Other Labour minister as a result of them greedily abusing the trappings of state and generally filling their boots at the expense of ‘you and me’.

What struck me about these stories wasn’t so much the tone but the fact that these scoops were rarely followed up by their Sunday cousins or Monday’s news hungry lobby teams.Had that feeling though when I read the Sunday Times  scoop on Sarah Brown’s previous PR career. She used to be a partner in Hobsbawm Macaulay, who did some work for the British Council, which is funded by the Treasury, who were run by Gordon Brown, who knew and later married Sarah Brown. There’s no allegation of any wrongdoing on her part except that Gordon should have declared his interest. I’m sure if the Chancellor wants to divert funds into pet projects that benefit his network he can think of better ways! Number 10 didn’t exactly devote the Saturday to trying to kill the story, it was barely breathing anyway. This was their statement: “We are not dignifying this ridiculous smear with a response.”