Archive for October, 2009

Democratic Consumerism – The Retail Future?

Friday, October 30th, 2009 by Julie Wilson


The World Wide Web has radically shaped the way we do business, in particular that of the fashion retail sector.

Estimated to be worth over £4.1bn by the end of 2009*, the sector is booming, with no self respecting high street retailer now without a transactional website. 

The savvy aren’t, however, solely using the web as a sales platform.

Responding to the rise in popularity of social media, a new culture is emerging, labelled by industry leaders as “democratic consumerism”.

Pioneering the move towards the new culture is Asda Chief Executive, Andy Bond, who recently announced plans to open up the workings of the business to scrutiny from customers in a move to build greater trust and long-term loyalty amongst shoppers. 

Among the range of initiatives to be introduced by the retailer is Asda’s new blog,, which invites customers to participate in the buying process – voting on their favourite styles and colour ways.

Still in its infancy, the blog is already enjoying a positive response.  Speaking on it its launch Beth Somi, George Marketing and PR Manager, said: “ is a great way for our customers to understand more about what goes on behind the scenes at Asda and to know more about our colleagues who work here.

“I enjoy talking to people about my job, so this is a great opportunity to do it while I’m at work. There is so much to talk about, we have new ranges launching in store every week so there is always something going on. The tough decision is knowing what to blog about so that I don’t bore everyone!

“I love the fact that I can ask for feedback on my blog and that the readers respond in such a positive way. It’s a great way for us to get instant ideas on our new ranges. As I speak to the teams here at George House, they are excited about what we can ask for comments on in the future.”

An example of an entirely web-based retailer epitomising democratic fashion is  Possibly one of the most ingenious fashion websites to launch in recent years, puts the customer at the heart of the proposition, allowing the user to design a garment from scratch choosing fabric, colour style and trim.

The site goes against the typical nature of the fashion industry with trends that ‘trickle-down’ from the catwalk to the high street, asking the user to vote and design exactly what they want to wear.

It is also a fashion community with users rating and commenting on one another’s designs. Recent celebrity fans include Duffy and Holly Branson.

Not only good news for fashion addicts looking to create an individual look, is a pretty good business model.  The retailer only produces what its users order so there is never over-supply; good for the environment and for the businesses overheads.

Chief Executive Officer of, Iris Ben-David, comments: “StyleShake is all about empowering the user, providing them with the means to express themselves and celebrate their creativity. We are delighted to offer new ways of collaboration”.

The retailer’s vision is to become a leading online resource that revolutionises the way we consume fashion by making it much more personal and individual. 

A design obsessive from a tender age and regularly frustrated shopper, I personally, am delighted by what looks to be a customer-empowered future.  But what does democratic consumerism mean for the future of retail?

Its potential to impact on the overall business model is huge.  Armed with increased customer insight, the risk of costly, unpopular bulk buys will undoubtedly be lessened, reducing retailers’ need to discount and perhaps marking the beginning of the end of the January sale.  The retailer/supplier relationship will also inevitably see a change.   The potential for collections to be further tailored by store in response to regional demand an increasing reality.

Democratic consumerism, it’s an interesting one to watch, one I will certainly be following with a close eye.  

* Taken from Mintel’s Fashion Online report, August 2009

Lily Is Logging Off

Thursday, October 29th, 2009 by Jo Rosenberg


So Lily Allen is officially a neo-Luddite.

She’s quit Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and email, ditched her Macbook and BlackBerry and apparently, according to numerous newspaper reports, her only means of communication with the outside world is a home phone and an old mobile.

Putting aside for a moment the underlying message that Lily Allen is to become a recluse, her reason behind such a decision could well be deeper than we’re led to believe.

We all know that the Internet made Lily Allen (in a very real sense) but as a notoriously outspoken and sometimes angry user of social networking sites, has she laid herself bare, torn down every personal barrier and let the world see her for exactly what she is and what she believes in?

In celebrity world this can surely be dangerous. We all love a sense of mystery but with Lily, we’ve seen it, heard it and she’s probably worn a T shirt with it emblazoned across it.

But it works both ways. She’s encouraged opinion and some of it will have undoubtedly been hard to swallow. Random strangers calling you fat, ugly, brattish, vulgar must surely instil a sense of fear… which is likely to lead to silence.

Reports suggest that her boyfriend asked her to choose between him or Twitter, but could this in fact be a shrewd move by her management: “Ditch Twitter, keep your opinions to yourself for a while, be seen to disappear into obscurity, oh and let’s get a press release out …”

As for the effects this may have on her personal life, she’s hardly going to become a recluse. With A-list friends like Kate Moss and Agyness Dean, whilst gigging at some of London’s coolest venues, I very much doubt that her decision to log off will leave her short of party invites.

Cameron’s **what**?

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009 by Linda Isted


Interesting that on the weekend that saw the return of the glorious Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It, we also saw a classic example of off-message (and stone-age) political reporting in the Mail on Sunday.  Well, I say off message – depends how devious the PR gets, I suppose.

 A centre spread of 80 photos and thumbnail sketches of Conservative woman-power began with the current MPs and worked its way down to “those tipped to be selected for plum seats before the election”.   It was full of great pub quiz snippets should they because famous: “qualified football coach”, “collector of advertising memorabilia” and “once jumped into the world’s largest jelly” (for Children in Need, naturally). And the headline?  Yes of course it was.  Cameron’s Cuties.   

Now from a PR point of view, how does this stack up?  Let us count the ways.  Does it suggest these are ambitious, intelligent, hardworking and sensible women who will clean out the Augean stables that is the Palace of Westminster? Er, no.

Does it celebrate the fact that several of these woman are there in response to David Cameron’s call to non-party members to put themselves forward as a breath of fresh? No again.

Does it support the proposal for all-women short lists? Unlikely.

Does it fight the stereotype of the Conservative little woman (in fact any little woman) who does her bit with the teapot and leaves the real business to the chaps? 

Does it seem likely to appeal to the former head of press at Carlton TV and his thoroughly media-aware wife?

Does it do anything at all for the reputation of sub-editors who are supposed to come up with bright, original, thought-provoking headlines?

Does it actually help the Tories and these 80 women on their way to Westminster?

Where does it fit on Central Office’s Gantt chart of key message delivery?  Was it allowed through as a sop to the “fierce opposition from the Conservative old guard”, bristling with outrage at the idea of all-women lists?

Did they just not care?  What century are they living in?

I’d like to suggest what Malcolm Tucker’s response might have been.  But typing asterisks is just so dull…

Virgin on the Twitterverse

Monday, October 26th, 2009 by Richard Baker

Today’s PR Media Blog guest blog post is from Richard Baker, General Manager for Virgin Trains, and his take on Tw-etiquette (our terrible, made-up word, not his!) 

When Rob asked me if I wanted to write a bit about what I do on Twitter for this blog I was very flattered. These days I get a number of requests to write or speak about my approach to Twitter and customer service. It is always very humbling to be asked.

Then I normally have a little panic. I mean, there are a lot of good writers who do great stuff on Twitter; what on earth do I bring to the table that

a) hasn’t already been said, or

b) isn’t going to be boring?

With that in mind I did a bit of thinking and then decided to do an experiment. My experiments, (or ‘innovative approaches’ if you want it to sound well thought out) either do really well or bomb in a dramatic style. I will leave it to you to decide whether I achieved my objective!

I decided to ask the Twitterverse what they wanted me to write about. I asked one question online using a simple custom form and then asked my followers to answer and RT to their followers to answer. I have had some experience of this a few years ago when I developed a web-based service feedback system for Virgin Trains. Then I had to do some dodgy (I am no ubergeek) coding using different platforms.

Today it takes ten minutes with a Google Docs account;

I let this run for around four or five days.

One of the great things about trying something new is that you never know how it will turn out. You aren’t really in control of where it will go – particularly if it involves other people.

Incidentally, that’s how I describe what do on Twitter.

Which brings me to the responses to my question, and what this blog post is ultimately about. I have included a few of the responses and paraphrased them as they went into some detail. A huge thank-you to all those who responded; it was fascinating!

A few of the Responses

a)      Use of Twitter as a marketing tool and any barriers I face internally (Two questions)

b)      How I balance ‘corporate’ with ‘personal’ (Two questions)

c)      How I monitor and evaluate Social Media and the benefits I have seen (Two questions)

d)      Human Interest Stories ‘like someone losing a parrot on board a train’

Now, I don’t have the space to list and answer all the responses here, so instead I will make a few important points and if you want to read my answers to all responses  you can at my blog at Rich Baker over the coming weeks.

  1. People want (and get) very different things from you and I on Twitter
  2. Until we ask our followers what they get from our tweets we can only guess at the answer. Of course, sometimes it may not matter to you or I what our followers think..
  3. ‘Fail to plan and you plan to fail’ goes the old adage. However, if you didn’t have a plan in the first place then it can’t fail; don’t be afraid to let things grow organically. There is always an element of risk when doing something new
  4. I make mistakes quite often. I apologise when I do.
  5. Most people are smart enough to understand that I am a person who works for a company. I am not the company. So please don’t quote me without checking what I meant. Or even worse, misquote me.
  6. If you walked up to me at work, swore at me and then launched a shouty tirade about how crap I/we/Virgin am/are it might affect our relationship. I would probably wait until you calmed down and then ask if I could help. However, it would be nicer for both of us (and everyone listening) if you didn’t do a shouty rude tirade in the first place. The same applies on Twitter.

And finally

And forgive me for getting all ‘fluffy’ on this one; we have a great opportunity to create the rules on how we use Twitter and other social media; we can use all this amazing technology, enthusiasm, generosity, creativity and innovation to do great things for each other. I don’t intent to waste that opportunity, what about you?

@richard_baker    @VirginTrains

Media title turned online retailer

Friday, October 23rd, 2009 by Julie Wilson


I read with interest today that newspaper group, the Guardian News and Media, has taken a step into retail territory and launched an online fashion store.

Simply named, the site links to the newspaper’s editorial fashion content, enabling Guardian and Observer readers to browse through over 150,000 products online.

Readers wishing to purchase a product are invited to ‘opt to buy’, at which point they are directed to the fashion brand or retailer’s website where they can complete their purchase.

Retailers featured include All Saints, Whistles, Jigsaw and Marks & Spencer, combining a strong mix of high street and designer brands.

Speaking in Drapers, Rachel Dixon, acting life and style editor for, said: “I’m really excited about our new fashion store, which stocks fashion and beauty products from hundreds of great labels – from exclusive designers right down to familiar high street names.  Now readers can buy the products recommended by our writers with the click of a mouse, or read about the latest trend and find the look in store in moments.”

As a consumer PR person with a long history in retail PR, I have always been an advocate of product placement and its ability to create sell-out products.  It has, however, until now perhaps been difficult to prove.

The launch of will, if they’re savvy, push the Guardian and Observer newspapers up retailers’ and PRs’ target media lists providing the opportunity for direct sales and an incontrovertible link back to the product feature.  

From a media perspective, it’s an interesting move for the Group and one I’d be interested to learn more about, in particular how it fits within its overall business plan.  With online advertising expenditure having recently overtaken TV for the first time, growing some 4.6% to £1,752.1m in the first half of 2009, I wonder, is this a clever commercial development by the Guardian News and Media, and if so, who will be the next to follow?

Bonnie befuddles the BNP

Friday, October 23rd, 2009 by Jon Clements

For once, it was something on BBC Question Time that Britain’s three main political parties could agree on – they can’t stand Nick Griffin and the BNP.

Between them, some points were scored; but the true dissection of the country’s favourite political bogeyman came not from politicians, but from cultural commentator, Bonnie Greer.

Claiming to know nothing about politics, let’s call her, for a moment, the “product reviewer” of the BNP. And in that, she set about discrediting the most fundamental claims about the party’s “product”. Was she providing a critique of policy or the things Griffin has said in the past (many of which he now denies or claims he no longer believes)? No, she was concerned with the BNP’s apparent inability to get basic facts right about the origins of “the British”, which they seek to represent.

And with a predominantly calm demeanour, she was subtly raising the question: “If you can’t get your own story straight, how can you expect us to want you to govern?” And could be it be any more humiliating for Griffin to be invited to the British Library to sort out his knowledge?

And the basis of her “product review” came from – yes – that most ubiquitous of marketing tools, the party’s website. 

If Nick Griffin felt it was a PR coup speaking for his party on the BBC’s flagship political panel programme, he might think again. No PR can make up for a fundamentally flawed product.

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 ''

Are you skipping those TV commercials?

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009 by Mark Perry

Could the days of the traditional 30 second TV be limited?

As time-shift viewing increases with the penetration of digital hard disc video recorders (DVR), such as Sky+ and Virgin V+, it seems as if the commercials are being viewed less. According to the specialist research arm at TIVO, the US-based DVR manufacturer, the most popular TV programmes have the least watched commercials.

It seems as if viewers watching popular programme are so wrapped up in the programme they race through the ads to continue the watching the programme. By contrast, those watching the programme care less about the commercials as they are “Some commercials come on, you maybe a little distracted, they roll.”

This is a real issue for TV companies to overcome. I know that if I have used Sky + to record a programme that I can watch an hour’s programme in 45 minutes simply because I can skip the ads. With Sky having around 7 milllion households with Sky+ the potential to skip commercials that is a large proportion of the viewing public.

With the most popular programmes TV companies have of course been able to charge premium advertising rates but are they being noticed?

There just maybe some salvation with the recent announcement that product placement is to be allowed in programmes. Alternatively we could end up with a strategy like NBC in the US who, during the popular ’30 Rock’ are blending advertisements in the show so it seems as if they are part of the programme.



About Mark Perry

Mark has more than 25 years’ experience in PR and corporate communications. He is a founding director of B2B consultancy Melville PR.

Can a naked Simpson save the Playboy bunny?

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009 by Marita Upeniece

 Marge Simpson

The unlikely twitterer, Hugh Hefner, set off an avalanche of retweets and made many of us smile with an announcement a few weeks ago that Marge Simpson will grace the front cover of Playboy’s November issue. 

The first ever cartoon Playboy bunny, Marge, can indeed be seen stripped of her green dress in the magazine out this week. She has also bared her soul in an interview and donned sexy lingerie in a three-page spread to mark the 20th anniversary of the show. 

The two American institutions have joined forces in a smart PR move and so far the campaign has been well-executed. Nude celebrity pictures are a proven method of getting coverage and the story was cleverly leaked to the online community via Twitter, causing it to spread like wildfire from Perez Hilton to The Guardian.  

But is it all great news for both brands? Most people seem to think it’s either funny or weird. Perhaps funny and cute for The Simpson’s, but weird and desperate for Playboy? 

The Simpson’s is well know for edginess and breaking taboos (remember the episode where Homer attempts to keep Bart ‘straight’ by taking him to the steel mill which turns out to be a gay disco?). I think putting Marge on the cover of Playboy will hardly shock fans of The Simpsons.  

It’s a trickier move, however, for Playboy. Playboy Enterprises has suffered significant losses in the past two years and share price is now cheaper than an issue of the magazine itself. Its flagship brand is in dire need of a turnaround and takeover rumours are circulating. 

Will this move be too late for the company and more importantly, is it the right one? The new chief executive, ironically called Scott Flanders (Flanders being the Simpsons’ uptight neighbour) has said that the stunt is part of a plan to appeal to a younger generation of readers.  

The November issue is sure to be a sell-out and may even become a collectable, but everything else inside has to be spot on and relevant to audiences old and new if Playboy wants to ensure that the readers return to the magazine stand for upcoming issues in months to come.  

About Marita Upeniece

Account Manager at Staniforth

Journalism and PR – freedom counts for both

Monday, October 19th, 2009 by Jon Clements


Update: Talking of super-injunctions, The Guardian’s Alan Rusbridger takes us through the Trafigura document, clause by press-gagging clause…

Trying to talk about about super-injunctions, press freedom and PR this week feels like walking into an overcrowded lift and attempting to make yourself heard above a dozen, City hedge fund traders who’ve just made a few million quid.

You can’t move for the acres of copy filling paper and digital pages about super-injunctions – the meaning of which, just over a week ago, was unknown outside the offices of lawyers, Carter-Ruck, and remains unclarified today on Wikipedia.

The background, in short – and with the help of the New Law Journal – is: “Law firm Carter-Ruck, representing oil trading firm Trafigura, had insisted that an injunction obtained against the Guardian prevented it from reporting a question tabled by Paul Farrelly MP. However, details of the question were posted on the social networking site Twitter, leading Carter-Ruck to withdraw its gagging attempt.”

Guardian editor, Alan Rusbridger, celebrated the victory for free speech in his editorial late last week, with no faint praise for the role of Twitter and the blogosphere in helping the reversal of the court order, which threatened to trounce the media’s unassailable privilege of reporting what’s said in the UK Parliament.

Unsurprisingly, the Guardian is working overtime on this story, with pieces from Emily Bell, Index on Censorship boss, John Kampfner, and acerbic wit from Charlie Brooker, who describes Trafigura’s corporate PR as “about as effective as appearing on the GMTV sofa to carve your brand name on the face of a live baby”. The Daily Mash is also revelling in the absurdity of it all.

But one of the more serious issues emerging is the one highlighted by Kampfner, who notes the powers of the Human Rights Act being abused by companies to achieve privacy (for that, read secrecy) originally intended for members of the public.

Learning the laws of libel and slander is a mainstay of journalism courses (I did it myself – the law paper we dubbed the “Mother of all exams”). But Kampfner’s point is that the legal imbalance between investigative journalism and the right not to be defamed has made English law “the enemy of free expression”.

Co-incidentally, the latest changes to the Press Complaints Commission’s Editors’ Code of Practice are said to swing power in favour of the PR profession at the expense of journalists. But Porter Novelli director of media Laurence Lee is quoted in PR Week’s piece as saying: “There will be plenty of PR people who would welcome greater restrictions on journalistic practices…PR people rely on a free press as much as anyone else so it’s no good saying journalists are the enemy.”

Ironically, this is nothing new. Describing his trips to London’s law courts while editor of The Sunday Times, the great Harold Evans, writes in his book “Good Times, Bad Times” – now 26 years old: “I went before the judges because Government or corporations or individuals tried to find reasons in law for preventing The Sunday Times printing what it knew to be true…it was not abstract or remote power, but the power that is capable of building an airliner knowing it will fall out of the skies, or of cheating small savers…or selling a deforming drug and refusing to compensate reasonably for the shattered lives…”

Evans’ words should remain humbling, today, for anyone setting out to trample on the truth. The Guardian’s victory in the Trafigura case – with the help of “the people” empowered by social media – suggests there is a still a premium placed on that abstract noun, truth.

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 ''

Back to the classroom…

Monday, October 19th, 2009 by Rachel Allen


In today’s guest blog Rachel Allen, head of communications at London Overground Rail Operations and one of PR Week’s “29 under 29” takes a look at social media and internal communications 

Jon Clements asked me to write a guest spot here after reading my musings on my Diary of an internal communicator blog.

Earlier this year I wrote a dissertation on social media’s role in internal communication as part of a post-graduate diploma in Internal Communications Management. As this was an academic study I needed to ensure my references reflected this.

Step forward Twitter. This incredible site connected me with professional communicators who sent me their thoughts, blogs and shared sources. Fast forward to now and my dissertation is done, studying completed and graduation invite is on the fridge.

Here is a brief glimpse into some thoughts around social media’s role in internal communication.

There are seemingly endless invitations at the moment to social media seminars. Communicators are being deluged with ‘must-reads’ and ‘must-sees’ to help get buy-in at board level.

There’s certainly a lot of noise around, but what is the impact on internal communication? The key point for me is that social media is here. It has been for a while. It isn’t new anymore. Even if you don’t yet have a strategy in place within your organisation and even better have it linked to your internal communications, your employees are already using collaboration sites in their personal lives. This impacts internal communication as people are used to communicating in this way and expect to be able to do the same at work.

Love (2007) warns: “It’s important not to get caught up in the hype – new media won’t suit every person or organisation, in the same way traditional media aren’t fit for everyone.” However Love points out the impact it can have as being “often exceptionally useful with remote workforces. If you can harness it properly, blogs and wikis are often a great way to pull those people into a community”.

That’s exactly what internal communication is about – choosing and providing tools for employees to have two-way conversations.

According to a global Nielson (2009) report, social networks and blogs account for one of every 11 minutes spent online and UK-based mobile web users are most likely to visit a social network using a handset. So the frequent calls we see to ban access to sites such as Facebook seems naive as employees will always find a way.

Social networking offers employees the option to maintain relationships and have access to people at all levels all the time (aka horizontal networks). Communicators strive for this already. Herrero (2008) says that although we usually base communication processes around the formal structure of an organisation, that ‘this isn’t how influence spreads’. He says that 75% of interactions happen through horizontal communication and terms it ‘networkcracy’.

Social media provides ways for employees to interact, what benefit does that bring? Fraser (2009) says that: “When you have horizontal networks it’s a much more efficient way to find true expertise…outside and in all kinds of unlikely, unexpected places. Web 2.0 harnesses what is often called collective intelligence and the way you harness that is by going horizontally.”

Whether your communications go horizontally, vertically or any other direction, the key is the need for comms professionals to be aware of how employees are interacting and ensuring internal communication maximises that desire to share information.

So in a nutshell, I think social media’s role in internal communication should be kept simple. It s role is to help improve interaction between employees at all levels. I think it needs to be demystified and viewed as another tool in our toolbox to help employees communicate with each other and the outside world.


Fraser,  Matthew and Dutta, Soumitra (2009). Quoted in Turning Social Networking on its head: where horizontal and vertical networks meet. International Business Times published 23 February 2009. (@frasermatthew)

Herrero Leandro, Dr. (2008). CEO of The Chalfront Project. Quoted in Melcrum (2008). Viral Communication in the Workplace. Practical new technologies for engaging employees and changing behaviours. Melcrum Publishing, London, UK.

Love, Helen (2007). Independent consultant and former Internal Communications Manager at Microsoft UK, quoted in How to use social media to engage employees (2007), Melcrum Publishing Limited. London, UK.

Nielson Co (2009). March 2009. Global Faces and Networked Places. A Nielson Report on Social Networking’s New Global Footprint. Published by Nielson.