Published most Mondays.

Monday, 2 May 2011

How to really screw the Murdochs

I'm not a big fan of the Murdochs.

Between all of the phone hacking, the assaults on civil liberties, the studied electoral manipulation, lying to boost their own position, while doing damage to the allied cause in WW1, the assaults on my cherished BBC, the whole creation of FOX news, it's not hard to see why. But, just in case you think I dislike them on a purely professional level, I have it on good evidence that they're also loathsome people.

Above: Not pirates, though. Probably. Still, looks good in the hat.

Anyway, I especially loathe James Murdoch, the heir apparent to the empire. For example, James has:

*Charged into the Indy and randomly burst into the office of editor Simon Kelner to scream abuse at him during the election.

*Physically threatened BBC's business editor, Robert Peston, at a dinner at the Edinburgh TV Festival.

*Recently removed all the chairs from his office in New York so senior staff have to stand at meetings. He sits. Journalists with 20 years experience have to stand to address the idiot prince.

*When asked about phone hacking, on the NewsInt day of apology and admission of guilt, he bragged about how they have made a clever tactical move. A measure of humility, at the seriousness of the breach of trust, would be more appropriate. That's what I'd say as a PR anyway.

*A friend, who is in an editorial position at Murdoch outlet, told me that in a meeting with her, when she disagreed with him, he banged the table and said "Who's the fucking billionaire here?!"

He's a dismal thug. I've written before about how awful he is. Now we have a couple of ways we *could* if we chose, bring the Murdochs down.

Method One: Et tu, Auntie?

James Murdoch hates the BBC. He hates it for "dumping free news on the market". Well, it dumps something else for free. The content that 50% of Sky's viewers are watching at any time.

Sky pays nothing for retransmitting Britain's five most watched television channels, despite the fact that, taken together, they are by far the most watched channels on offer. I say, let free markets at work - in other words, pay up, chumps.

In the US, Murdoch has been pushing local US television stations to pay retransmission fees for Fox - about 25 cents per cable subscriber per month, and is threatening these stations with the prospect of switching elsewhere.

If we charged Sky at a similar rate it would mean £120 million a year in fees - or enough to wipe out 15% of Sky's profits, and instigate a shareholder bloodbath. The shareholders are already unhappy with the massively nepotistic buyout of Murdoch's daughter's TV company.

How sweetly ironic it would be to fuck them with their own sharp business practices.

2.) The Proceeds of Crime Act.

The proceeds of crime act is the UK's asset seizure law. The law was essentially passed to prevent multi-millionaire drug dealers and so on keeping all of their ill-gotten cash, gravel drives, stone-cladded houses in Altincham and ugly, tasteless yachts (1).

It occurs to me, that wedded to the phone hacking inquiry, this could be used to basically hammer Newscorp. They'd probably end up flogging it to assorted Russian billionaires, but that is frankly tomorrow's problem.

Could Newscorp be prosecuted as a company for Phone Hacking?

(Dusts off law degree)

First, is there even a potential liability?

YES: Non-vicarious liability arises if the offender (say, Andy Coulson? Rebekah Wade?) was a "directing mind and will of the company". It applies to all types of offences, including those which require guilty mind. You can prosecute a company - and I'm quoting the statute directly here - for "any offence apart from murder, treason or piracy".

Can they be liable?

YES: Now, a company can't be criminally liable for offences which are committed by an official of a company outside the scope of their employment, for example rape. But I'd say hacking clearly falls under the ambit of something you might ask (or indeed order) a journalist to do.

What would you charge the company with?

Conspiracy to intercept communications.

A company can be party to a criminal conspiracy, but only with at least two other conspirators who are human beings - including at least one who is an appropriate officer of the company and acting within the scope of his authority. Nab Coulson and any one other journalist, and bam, you're set.

Could we then sieze Newscorp?

It would be hard - confiscation under POCA only follows conviction. It's part of the sentencing process,so would only apply if Newscorp was convicted of an offence. Then if newscorp had benefited from the offence, and was convicted, there could be confiscation of assets.

Then, there would be a complicated calculation of how much the phone hacking benefited the paper. So, we're probably looking at a massive fine rather than a Stalinist seizure of the building, but still, it would be a nice slap in the face for the family. And it would be a lot more than the paltry £20million they have put aside to compensate victims.

1.)Once, as a journalist, I exposed a criminal, who literally fled the country in a yacht. Best day ever.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Public Relations has a crucial "L" - getting a job in PR while avoiding becoming an anecdote

I've been reviewing CVs from candidates applying for the grad scheme at my company & chatting to other flaks doing similar things. At this time of year, the CVs from people who have just finished university degrees flood in, and there's usually a hilarious tide of awful mistakes. I've done this before, but this year seems to be worse than ever.

A lovely lady at Blue Sky PR told me about a candidate who was looking for a "Roll in Pubic relations"; they are not, to my knowledge, in erotic baking PR. My old boss has had "As a former bartender in Munich, my professional skills could be well utilized in your firm"; he is not in German bar PR. I have had "Responsibilities: As a Car Park Steward I safely & efficiently organized drivers to car park, making me an ideal fit for your organisation" - If anyone can tell me how parking cars safely & reliably makes you an "ideal fit" for doing PR for Lawyers, I will give you a sweetie.

Recently, however, this covering letter took the industry's proverbial cake:

Dear future employer,

I cannot remember exactly what the job that I am applying for is, but I know I would be great at it. True lover of English language and a tea-addict, I am currently studying Public Relations in the third-year of a reputable Communication Institute I cannot name.

For three months, I had the chance to assist a Press Officer responsible for the management of American budgets such as the Cranberry Marketing Committee and the Wild Blueberry Association of North America.

Thanks to the "Analysis of Anglo-Saxon media" course I chose to follow during my second year of Bachelor's degree in Communication, I have a certain knowledge of Brittiish media.

Furthermore, I did three studies abroad in borough of Lewisham and as a result am capable of adapting to any situation. I am an enthusiastic and a gay person (I mean cheerful), which, I believe, is essential to work in Public Relations.

I look forward to hearing from you.
Yours faithfully,

Attached: Resume of the best trainee ever.pdf

Willard note: Just in case you think I was joking, the CV filename was "Resume of the best trainee ever.pdf"

Try to count all of the failures in that email. Trust me, there's LOADS.

Hint: Soft fruit PR is not relevant experience for a firm who specialize in professional services.

Now, this email prompted some debate in the office over whether the candidate was either a.) Section-able or b.) trying too hard to be "zany" (because that's the key to impressing employers - BE ZANY!). I, somewhat pessimistically, suspect a little of both options.

The real tragedy of this email is I would be not be shocked to find it has been sent to tens, maybe even hundreds of PR agencies. I would be shocked if the person who wrote it has got even one interview.

I suppose I shouldn't be amazed any more by would-be interns who show up for interview having not bothered to look at my company's website or client list, because it's possible no-one tells them they should. I can usually forgive that. But I don't expect graduates to drop the ball on essential, you know, life skills.

So, in short, don't mess up the basics –

*Make sure your CV & Covering letter are up-to-date, relevant to the job you're applying for and free of typos. I can't stress this enough - generally CVs with egregious spelling errors go straight in the bin.

*Turn up on time - nothing says "I want A job, not necessarily THIS job" like being late. Also, if you're late to the interview, what is your timekeeping likely to be like on a wet Wednesday in February when we need to punt out a deal win press release?

*Look your best - This is a bad one for me; I'm often fairly shabby and dressed down. Still, I have a job. I've had people turn up for interview looking like they just shambled out of the folk tent at Glastonbury.

You should probably wear a suit; have clean shoes; have an ironed shirt; have brushed your hair. You should probably not be wearing too much makeup, displaying too much cleavage or wearing a pungent scent(especially if male.)

In short, if your appearance, spelling or punctuality are noticeable, you've probably made a mistake. PR firms want to find good candidates - but you stack the odds against being hired if you can't be bothered to do the easy stuff.

Any thoughts, more than happy to discuss in the comments! Or indeed, feel free to chip in your own anecdotes...

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Journalist Meltdown - Welcome to the future, where we have a million ways to distribute the written word and nobody left to create it.

Journalism is in crisis.


(It is worth noting that any Daily Mail headline phrased as a question can be answered with the word 'No' – check it yoursef with real Mail headlines: 'Did Dragons Once Roam This Sceptred Isle?' or 'Are we ruled by a Gay Mafia?')

Ahem. Sadly, the gay dragon mafia is not killing journalism. It's something else.

"Journalism is dying" is what we hear all the time, and unlike many things you hear all the time, to be honest, it's probably true. I know plenty of journalists who are in absolute panic about the industry – and people are in meltdown (very few are in such titanic meltdown as the Guardian Cricket Liveblogger who went on this legendary rant)

The problem is simple – time. It used be the hardest work you could do if you were a journalist was to turn in 4-7 articles a week, if you were writing on a daily paper. People on magazines had the time to write big, expansive features, full of proper research & interviews.

Now, any given journalist at any given publication or broadcaster is being asked to blog, write for the web & produce 10-20 articles a week. In short, do two-three people's jobs. People are getting desperate. The Daily Mail is regularly stealing whole articles.

Plenty of people who I talk to in the industry say it's a very rare thing to happen; and when it does, it's usually an exhausted young graduate who doesn't know any better.

In fact, it happens all the time, and people just don't get caught much. The Internet’s a big place - most of the time, you steal a clever blog post written in America, throw it into a UK newspaper, and no-one is the wiser.

And it's not just the stressed out kids doing it either. Recently, a Pulitzer prize winner was caught at it at the Washington Post. Plenty of papers do the content stealing thing legally by using wire copy, usually covering it as “by staff writer" - I know of one National which has a fictional writer who it attributes lifted stories to.

It's not just wire copy either; Churnalism will show you where papers have copied & pasted press releases to hit deadline; and it's not just small publications either. I've seen a press release I wrote appear word-for-word in the Wall St Journal. Good for me; good for my client - probably bad for Journalism (and society) as a whole.

No-one at the chalk-face is complaining – the elephant in the room is that almost every publication (yes, even IMMIGRANT GAY DRAGON WEEK)(1) could probably be staffed entirely for free, by aggregating content. No need for those annoying journalists.

Huffington Post has adequately proved this. Essentially, when Arriana Huffington sold it to AOL, the score was roughly: Arianna - 315 million, hundreds of writers who made her rich – nothing.

An amazingly blunt email went round to AOL's staff writers recently, as they adopted the Huffpo business model:

Yes, that's right, the email boils down to “You’re fired, but we’d love it if you'd continue to write for free”. I bet you would. Indeed, I guess many people who own factories would love it if people would just come and build I-pads for the pure fun of it.

Fortunately, the manager in question was fired shortly afterwards – one hopes she was invited back to fire people as a voluntary project. (Of course, her getting fired doesn't make the freelancers any less fired.)

Sacking everyone who writes for you, and then getting one guy to upload content stolen from elsewhere, then sacking him, then sacking the person who sacked him, is almost the ideal business model – for owners. But there can only be so many parasites.

For the rest of us, we'd better work out a way for creativity to pay real money - or we're going to be a much poorer society in a very short time.

1.) IMMIGRANT GAY DRAGON WEEK is probably a quality publication, for all I know. It also wouldn't be the most worthless publication in British Journalism. That (or those) are outlined by this particularly tragic snippet below:

"Louise Hoffman is now the Managing Editor of Pet Gazette. Louise, who was previously the Editor of the publication, remains Editor of Jewellery Focus, Funeral Service Times and Music Trade Gazette. She can be reached on xxxx and xxxxxx

Pet Gazette, Jewellery Focus, Funeral Service Times AND Music trade gazette??!?! How can she not be on ny contact list already?"

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Monday restart

This blog will return from Monday next week. Oh yes.

I have a plan & everything. Just you wait & see... If nothing happens on Monday I've obviously been kidnapped by - oh, I don't know. Space Drug dealers maybe.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Blowing the dust off

Hello all,

I've taken a six month break from blogging as I was terribly, terribly busy, with two scripts for the BBC to be done by February. That, combined with my career, ladyfriend, and occasionally wanting to sleep has meant that something has had to give.

Thus, my bloggerising currently looks something like this:

I really enjoyed writing this blog, and with a bit of luck will be updating it regularly from here on in.

Fingers crossed anyway!

Monday, 20 September 2010

Twitter - and how not to use it.

Twitter - it's a strange beast.

Above: The "fail-whale" - a regular feature of Twitter.

The fail-whale appears when twitter is overloaded - usually with teenage girls squealing about social media sensation Justin Bieber - or alternatively, random fools on the internet message board 4 chan sending him to North Korea for a prank.

Sadly, the fail-whale does not appear when you are about to almost destroy your brand via twitter, which happens all the time.

For example, chichi furniture firm Habitat were spamming people with it. Social media "experts" even fall foul of it - like this "key online influencer" who used Twitter to critique the client he was just about to meet. But probably the most foolish recent offender was pest-control firm Rentokill.

You have to feel a little bit sorry for Rentokil. The tenacity with which the Guardian's Ben Goldacre went after them was really something to behold.

If you’ve never heard of Ben Goldacre, then stop. Go to the link above, and read his excellent column. He is the author of the blog and Guardian column ‘Bad Science’ and the book of the same name. A medical doctor by day, by night he specialises in unpicking dodgy scientific claims made by scaremongering journalists, dodgy government reports, evil pharmaceutical corporations, PR companies (Christ!) and quacks.

Loathsome vitamin pill magnate Matthias Rath sued the Guardian after Ben raised serious concerns over Mr. Rath’s practice of taking out adverts denouncing Aids drugs in South Africa, while at the same time promoting his own pills. Mr. Rath eventually dropped his case.

Ben was also part of the campaign to stop loathsome idiot Gillian McKeith from using the title ‘Dr’ and constantly questioned her methods, results and ‘scientific’ claims about her products. (She also recently failed epically hard on Twitter recently)

The short version is that if you’re peddling bad science, then on Dr. Ben Goldacre’s radar is the last place you want to be. It makes me glad that I'm not in healthcare PR.

So enter Rentokil, the multi-million pound pest control company who press released a rather alarming story about the number of cockroaches inhabiting London’s buses and train carriages.

1000 cockroaches on the average train carriage? 1000!? No wonder this raised Dr.Goldacre's brow – I mean, I know I keep my head in my book and music on loud when I get on the tube but I’m fairly sure even in my early morning, bleary eyed state that I would notice 1000 cockroaches sharing my morning tube ride. I know, I've seen Indiana Jones and the temple of doom.

Above: This was the circle line at 8.40 this morning, honest.

Now, any critical reader of a daily newspaper who notices a story about pest levels on public transport that has been commissioned by a pest control company may well raise an eyebrow, look around their tube carriage and correctly assume that the article is sensationalist nonsense, but that is not the point. Here is a quote from Rentokil as published in The Evening Standard:

People eat on the move, and there is a lot of food left on seats. Pests are thriving. Although we looked at a train not running in London, we believe that London trains, both underground and overground, will have a similar number of infestations.

The bus we studied was within the M25, and we are already in talks with bus and Tube operators about a new cleaning system we’ve developed, which heats the vehicles to kill the insects, and their eggs.

The problem is that this article also quotes specific figures and, as shown above, states that these figures were reached through actual study and sample collection from real life trains and buses. We know it’s nonsense. We have our own empirical evidence of this by virtue of taking public transport and having, you know, eyes. So what exactly is the problem?

Well, as Goldacre rightly outlines in all his work, if you use scientific language and hint at real scientific methods being used – like a field study on, say, a tube carriage, to collect actual data – and use that information to reach a conclusion in this way, when we know you’re lying, how can we ever trust scientists? How can we believe them when we know that ‘scientific evidence’ is really just a fancy way of saying ‘something I made up because it suited my cause’.

This behaviour allows people to pick and choose the evidence they want to believe, or that helps them achieve their aim – be that a scaremongering story in an evening tabloid, or a boost to your vitamin pill sales. If the public have no faith in the scientific community, then it is easier for you to turn the tides against that community and sell Joe Public your ‘alternative’. In many ways this sort of "science" is what's created the Climategate scandals and so on.

What do you do when a famous investigative journalist, broadcaster and author criticises you in front of an audience of 30,000 people (likely more – by this point, Dave Gorman and Neil Gaiman are re-tweeting, who collectively have over 1.5 million followers) and you eventually get around to responding to him a day later and but haven’t actually given him the specific information he asked for?


After a long, drawn out campaign on twitter and some tenacious questioning from Ben, Rentokil relented and issued this statement.

Rentokil posted the apology on their website at 7.43pm on Friday 12th March - 29 hours and hundreds of posts after Ben’s first tweet. That’s 29 hours of real time, continuous bad PR to a very large audience. Terrible.

Social Media can be a really useful tool in brand management; it’s a great way to engage with your market and manage your brand image in real time. If a negative message about your company is spreading like wildfire across twitter do not take 29 hours to respond to it. Do it immediately and less tweets will be made, the story hopefully goes away quicker and you limit the damage. Instead potentially millions of people across the world saw the whole exchange and it was so sensational Ben used it as his Guardian column on Saturday 13th Match (Saturday Guardian readership is over 350,000 people. Oops).

Regardless of the consequences for the brand (bad), the consequences for the agency must have been bad. Probably a bloody awful phone call to the marketing manager. At the very least, the poor fool who generated the Twitter feed must have been fired. Fail-whale indeed.