Posts Tagged ‘The Guardian’

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 ''

Starbucks your “local” shop? I don’t think so

Monday, September 21st, 2009 by Jon Clements


A recent tweet from journalist and blogger, Sally Whittle, went like this: “Dear PR: I’m not sure it’s a viral campaign if you have to send a press release telling me it’s viral…”

In other words, something has either the quintessence of being viral or it doesn’t; no amount of trying to talk it up or publicise it as viral will make it so. 

Not only did it make me laugh, it seemed to sum up what Starbucks is trying to do to reverse its coffee retailing fortunes.

As the Independent reports, Starbucks wants its outlets to look “less corporate” and give each one something more “locally relevant”.

Well, a shop is either local or it’s not. And like the problem with viral, trying to dress it up as something it isn’t will be immediately obvious. And with 750 stores in the UK under the familar brand name and identity of Starbucks, how authentic is any attempt at being “local” going to be? That’s the territory independent coffee shops should inhabit, and embody much better than Starbucks ever could.

What this Guardian report refers to as the “carefully selected authenticity cues” Starbucks plans to deploy makes it sound even worse. It’s either authentic, or it’s fake.

And if Costa Coffee, with more outlets than Starbucks, and Caffe Nero, with fewer, don’t see the need to tamper with their identity, what is Starbucks thinking?

Rather than trying to be something it’s not, shouldn’t the company face up to the fact that it’s no longer the province of a few cool people in Seattle? It is a corporate entity and there’s a customer base out there that’s quite happy with that: something the coffee customer can readily recognise and rely on to deliver exactly the same product wherever they go.

Perhaps the focus should fall on the core product: the coffee. As this ex-Starbucks employee comments, the coffee still beats most of what you’ll find on the high street, and the company prides itself on the quality of the java on offer.

Leave being local to the locals. And being a “local shop for local people” isn’t always something to shout about

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 ''

To tweet or not to tweet…

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009 by Paul Unger


In a guest blog post Paul Unger, editor of property news website, Place North West, shares a personal view of the value of Twitter:

Like many people I’m in two minds about Twitter. Not wanting to be left behind in the scramble for online immediacy and the next big media platform, but wary of the distraction from what I thought was the day job.

Of all the ways to describe the beguiling phenomenon of Twitter that have sprung up, the best has to be The Guardian Media desk’s heading for all memos about their own Twitter Strategy: Twatergy. It’s something not to be ignored but a pain in the arse at the same time.

In the media’s hands it reminds me of the BBC and broadsheets’ obsession with Brown and Blair at its marital painful height. Yes it was important and interesting – if you think politics is important and interesting – but it was a sad geeky clique as well, that turned readers off. The editors and political correspondents were seduced by the access they enjoyed and thought it endlessly fascinating when in fact it was dull.

How many journalists have mainly PRs following them on Twitter? I do. I’ve started doing a bit more on Twitter but in four months have still done only about 40 updates on there. I get told via Blackberry on a Sunday afternoon whilst painting the back yard that some cryptic pseudonym is following me. Fine. Who? Why?

The biggest problem I have with it is not the usual guff about our fixation with our own celebrity or who cares whether someone makes it to the gym tonight, it’s a professional one.

As a commercial property journalist operating in a small niche of the British business-to-business publishing world I have always been told to know your reader, know what interests them, and stay focused on those two things. As a freelancer I also have to know who exactly will pay me. Any journalist on Twitter in work time should ask themselves, ‘who are my readers and are they on here’.

 I was asking a senior Manchester surveyor his thoughts about TomBloxhamMBE (to give him his full chosen Twitmark) being on there and the surveyor stopped me with ‘what’s Twitter’. My readers are not on there. My job is to spend my time and effort getting stories about and for them. They pay me at Place North West and Property Week for content published in those places, not on a free website they haven’t heard of. My job is to serve the paying readers.

Are Estates Gazette right to be on Twitter so much when, the last time I checked, an individual subscription to its website, EGi, was £650+VAT. What is your job and who are your readers? It’s why I will keep it strictly low key and see what happens. If PRs use it to tell their clients about stories and they become my readers, maybe it’s worth it. If all we are doing is chatting in the corridors of our internal clique, let’s get back to some real work.

Kit Kat Web Ad Does Nothing

Friday, February 20th, 2009 by Rob Brown


Friday night is no time to post so I’m going to keep it snappy and then take a break.  I simply wanted to record my glowing admiration for the latest Kit Kat campaign.

It is simplicity itself. The first worldwide website where nothing happens does nothing but invite visitors to take a break and the branding is just visible enough to make the point.  It is bang on brand, reinforces the core message and it uses the web in an innovative way.   It also takes real advantage of the trend towards word of mouth communication across the social web.  My recommendation to view the site came via twitter from the Guardian’s Jemima Kiss, no less.  Fans and followers of Jemima will understand just what an achievement that is.


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).

A little passion goes a long way in PR

Friday, February 6th, 2009 by Jon Clements

It’s rare I last as late as the BBC’s weekly, televised political shouting match,  Question Time. But the great DVD I was watching last night “borked” (teen speak for broken technology, kids), leaving me no option but to tune in.

And I’m glad I did, as the polar differences between being an effective spokesperson for your cause and looking like a weasel were placed in stark relief.

In the red corner, Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights organisation Liberty; and in the blue corner, Geoff Hoon, secretary of state for Transport.

The audience question focused on the Government’s insistence to the High Court that files about a terrorist suspect – who alleges torture by British and American agents – should remain secret because of national security.

Sure, it’s Chakrabarti’s brief to be indignant about these matters, but she was incandescent with rage. When in full flow, stabbing the air with her finger and trying (but failing) not to give Hoon a sideways glance of pure contempt, you wanted to go with her, right back to that High Court, and demand summary justice. Leaving aside the complexities of the case, it was clear who the audience was backing on this one.

Hoon – not the most charismatic of contemporary politicians – had the expression of a man looking into the abyss as he realised what he had to follow. And he made the mistake of describing his adversary’s monologue as “emotional”, which inadvertently emphasised his utter lack of emotion. To the audience, that says: “I can’t get emotional about torture”. Not great, as Obama is calling time on Guantanamo and all its associations with human rights abuses. OK, it’s not Hoon’s ministerial brief, but on Question Time he is the Government, and the image conveyed was icier than a country lane in Cornwall this week.

An unusual addition to the programme’s panel this week was the singer, Will Young. Not sure what the programme makers expected him to add (a degree in politics doesn’t automatically make you a spokesman for a generation), but Guardian blogger, Heidi Stephens, was thoroughly pleased with Will’s contribution. Call me a killjoy, but I’d rather he concentrated on singing. And even then…

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 ''

PR strategy key to Israeli push on Gaza

Thursday, January 15th, 2009 by Mark Perry


Israel has embraced new media as a vital tool in the latest Gaza conflict. 

This is part of an active PR strategy it has been formulating since early 2008 according to Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland, discussing whether the British media is anti-Israeli on the Media Talk podcast. 

Freedland pinpoints the formation of the National Information Directorate as a key turning point in how this conflict is perceived. The new Directorate was formed after an inquiry into why the media didn’t fully report Israel’s actions in Lebanon in 2006. Israel felt the world perceived it as Goliath against David. 

As Aviv Shir-on, foreign ministry deputy director-general for public affairs is reported as saying: “In the war of the pictures we lose, so you need to correct or balance it in other ways. Support doesn’t mean the world is standing behind us, but it does mean people understanding what we are doing and why.” 

In his interview, Freedland points out that about six months ago the Directorate started to court the publications like the Guardian and the BBC. The reason he believes was not only because of their important role in the UK but their websites, by definition are international publications which are widely read and respected in influential countries such as United States. This is also the case in Israel itself where, as Freedland says, the influential daily newspaper Haaretz  is seen as a foreign publication due to its high readership levels in the United States.  

Israel’s approach appears to have had some success. Justification was given for Israel’s actions in many news reports and particularly on the BBC, where it cited recent Hamas attacks on Israel. This had been absent from the reporting in the Lebanon war in 2006 in which the Israelis felt portrayed as an unprovoked aggressor. Major Avital Leibovich, spokesperson for the Israeli military, has said: “Quiet a few outlets are very favourable to Israel, namely by showing [it] suffering….I am sure it is a result of the co-ordination.” 

It is not just newspaper websites that have been the subject of the Directorate’s attention. In recent months they have been targeting not only Jewish communities and friendship leagues but bloggers and backers using online networks. Since the conflict has started it has even started a YouTube  channel. 

Regardless of the legitimacy of Israel’s military action, it has seen new media as a way of fighting back in the propaganda war.  

Welcome to the world of digital communications.

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.

Obama chooses his words carefully on Gaza

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009 by Jon Clements


Talk about a rock and a hard place.

US President elect, Barack Obama, has finally spoken out about the crisis in Gaza, saying: “The loss of civilian life in Gaza and in Israel is a source of deep concern for me.” But, for some, his comments are too little and too late.

The Guardian’s Simon Tisdall – not one for rash pronouncements – had already questioned the Obama’s “keep shtum” strategy, suggesting that his silence may give the impression he either “shares [George] Bush’s bias [in favour of Israel] or simply does not care.” This image, surely, would be unthinkable for the man voted in on a platform of “change” and of reaching out to a world divided by US foreign policy. And how would Obama’s delayed response play in the Arab world? 

Middle East-based English language news source, Al Jazeera, was on Obama’s case before the close of 2008, quoting Mark Perry, Washington Director of the Conflicts Forum group with the damning: “Silence sounds like complicity”.

According not only to protocol but, apparently, also to the US constitutution, there is “only one president at at time”, so hampering anything Obama may actually want to say on the Gaza situation.

Problem is, those looking for the soon-to-be leader of the free world to take action – or at least take a stance – are not interested in presidential protocol.

Saying something or saying nothing: before he has the elected authority to do anything about it, neither is a palatable option for Obama on an issue as complex as Israel and the Palestinians.

But from his 20 January inauguration, his credibility and fulfilling of the promise he presented at election time will hang on talking and acting clearly and quickly.

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 ''

Poundland beats Lapland in brand values

Monday, December 8th, 2008 by Jon Clements

The “word of mouth” concept has been thoroughly appropriated by social media as its own, and rightly so. But it’s still going on off-line and in the most unlikely places.

With no national advertising campaigns, how else would AB demographic shoppers be helping to push up the profits of the discounter to end them all, Poundland? It’s probably not on their usual shopping route and they might be snobbish about their purchasing, but when you hear that everything costs no more than a quid a 20%-off deal at John Lewis or House of Fraser just doesn’t cut it.

And when did you last read a full-page of good business news in a national newspaper? Saturday’s piece on Poundland was exactly that.

Poundland has built a reputation by defying all the sophistication of modern retailing by simply doing what it says on the tin – selling at the same consistently, iconically cheap price.  

It’s when you don’t fufil your “brand promise” that you come unstuck. Take the Christmas theme parks currently choosing to prefix themselves “Lapland”. It’s a risky strategy, especially if you’re located in Milton Keynes. None of them are, but could they be any less like the destination whose spirit of Christmas they’re aspiring to capture?

As a parish councillor commented on one of the Lapland-themed days out: “Does it look like Lapland to you? It doesn’t to me.” The Lapland New Forest facility is now closed; but maybe it could have survived by scrapping the impossibly aspirational association with Lapland and achieving true authenticity by calling itself “Christmas in the Mud”.

The Guardian’s chief iconoclast, Charlie Booker, feels the failed Lapland attractions could have flourished with a wave of ironic visitors on a macabre pilgrimage as a result of the bad press. But kids and Christmas don’t do irony well and Santa is a brand you don’t mess with, as Lapland UK owner, Mike Battle says: “If you get it right people will love you. If you get it wrong, they’ll want your head.”

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 ''

Bienvenue a Paris? Non, monsieur.

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008 by Jon Clements

How does a city with a reputation for rudeness change its image?

The rudeness of Paris and its inhabitants is legendary, though I confess to have experienced none of it when last there. In fact, we got hugged to death in a restaurant by the staff. So, is the Parisian glumness nothing more than an urban myth cooked up by non-French speaking Brits and Americans?

Well, the Paris tourist board seems to think there’s a problem, having launched the Paris Greeter scheme, which provides local volunteers who are not only “enthusiastic and friendly” but show visitors the “the true Paris, the way Parisians live it and love it.”

So far, so good. But Parisian, Agnes Poirier, writing in the Guardian was less than impressed when trying to obtain the services of a Paris Greeter. After weeks, she’d heard nothing apart from an email saying the search was on for a suitable greeter. She says:  “I knew it: the friendly Parisian is a myth – even an association whose sole aim is to greet foreigners can’t manage to muster up a single volunteer. It must be a joke: the Parisian greeter who cannot be bothered to greet.”

Such is her personal commitment to making up for Paris’ Gallic shoulder shrugging in the direction of visitors, she has offered to give a personal tour herself, accompanied by a photographer to record the whole thing.

Now that’s what you call a welcome. A bientot.

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 ''

Creative motor marketing

Sunday, November 9th, 2008 by Jon Clements


More than a nation of dog lovers, the British love their cars. Third largest car in the EU, 2.4m new cars registered in 2007 and 850,000 employed by the industry. But more even than cars, I’d say we love a bargain.And what a bargain online car dealer,, was offering this week: £20 grand worth of Dodge Avenger, but not just one – “buy one, get one free”.  Company MD, Simon Empson, speaking in The Guardian, couldn’t have been more understated when he said: “It’s the power of marketing, I suppose.” Amen, came the holy choir of marketeers across the UK.

Serious times call for serious measures. And those measures now include the motor industry calling directly on the Government to orchestrate a funding package to resuscitate the retail motor trade. The Society for Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) signalled the depth of the problem back in August, when reporting that month’s sales as the worst since 1966. At the time the SMMT caught some flak from the trade for “talking down the market”, and the messages seemed confusing, as with a bi-annual registration change the old focus on comparing August sales seemed misplaced.

But the industry’s lobbyists could clearly see the stark words written in the grime of the car market’s chassis. Yet it was probably David Smith, head of major – and iconic – motor manufacturer Jaguar Land Rover, going on the Today programme that added the true weight of the motor business to helping shift interest rates south by 1.5% at the end of last week. So, with potentially more cash slushing around people’s wallets and the prospect of another publicly-funded bail out package, the car industry should be quids in. But, as the BOGOF dealer offer showed, it’s time to be innovative in marketing, with a combination of tactics to drive people through showroom doors as well as giving them a good deal. It’s also an opportunity to test drivers’ brand loyalty – if someone will try a new marque at the right price, that brand might win a new customer for life.

Talking about the situation with my father – a motor business veteran of 50 years – he was remarkably sanguine. Having seen and sold his way out of economic lows across the decades – when even some UK car makers were not just helped by the state, but owned by it – the industry, he said, would get back in gear again.

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 ''