The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

Posts Tagged ‘PR’

Cameron’s “Misspeaks”

Posted by The Futility Monster on August 6, 2010 @ 14:20


David Cameron is a long way from George W. Bush’s league in terms of mis-speaking, but the past couple of weeks have been rather interesting and perhaps slightly concerning.

It’s hard to believe that someone so polished, with so much media experience, and with a term of handlers who know exactly how the media will react to anything, could be making so many deliberate mistakes though. From his frank talk about council housing, to speaking the truth about Gaza, or getting the Iranians’ backs up, and then marching Pakistan’s President up the hill and then down it again, it really hasn’t been a good time for him lately in the PR stakes.

We can only assume, given they wouldn’t deliberately be putting their foot in it, that these are actually the first tentative steps of a Prime Minister not yet acquainted with the extremely diplomatic language used on the world stage. A sign of inexperience. Not yet ready for prime-time, as some might cruelly quip.

The question, though, is maybe his approach is right. We all, apparently, want our politicians to be straight-talking with us. But how much “straight-talk” can we accept before they start saying things we really don’t want to hear? See Election 2010 for the proof, and the lack of acknowledgement of what cuts were around the corner.

The bizarre thing is that Cameron actually seems to be being liberated by power, rather than being constrained, as is the norm. In opposition, desperate to detoxify the Tory brand, everything the Tories said or did was carefully planned and co-ordinated. Sure, muppets like Chris Grayling would occasionally make a mistake, but on the whole, the top brass moved in lockstep, and nothing came from their lips unless it had been approved by eight out of ten focus groups.

But now, Cameron is increasingly speaking his mind, something he wasn’t really known for.

It might get him into trouble, especially on the international stage, where no one says boo to a goose. Indeed, the only person who ever really did in modern times – George W. Bush – ended up being quite widely despised for his total lack of refined character and inability to press the flesh or keep people sweet. Coalition building was never his strong point…

And that’s the problem. Coalition government requires the key players to keep talking all the time, and certainly not in public. Not if you want to keep the presumption of good faith on all sides.

Perhaps discretion from our politicians is the best thing after all…


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The Content-Free Election

Posted by The Futility Monster on April 29, 2010 @ 11:11

I suspect the 1992 election was about personalities too...

Elections are about people as much as they are about policies. It’s truer now than it’s ever been, but let’s not kid ourselves: personalities matter, and they always have done. In 1964, the aloof, patrician Alec Douglas-Home was bested by “man of the people” Harold Wilson, despite Harold Wilson actually being nothing of the sort.

Image matters.

But this election is certainly taking that to new levels. We can hardly be surprised, what with the election debates and all that. Indeed, when I look back at this post I wrote when the news first broke than the debates would definitely be happening, I now feel quite chuffed:

But most of all, I am worried that unless the debates are truly focused on policies and vision for Britain, we are going to hear a lot more about whether David Cameron “looks like a Prime Minister”.

We’ve had enough of politics being trivialised and reduced to the lowest common denominator in this country. It’s been a bad couple of years, yes, but not so bad as to completely sell out our system to soap opera style bickering and televised chat shows.

OK, the debates themselves have not been like that. The rules have made the conduct orderly, and the leaders have done their level best to have a debate on policy.

But that’s not what gets reported afterwards. It has been all about how each leader reacted to the pressure. How they expressed their point of view. How confident they looked on camera. Whether, in fact, they even looked at the camera.

And as any good PR person will tell you, it’s not the event that matters, it’s how it’s reported.

The debates have turned the election into one long serial drama. The third act will take place tonight.

Inbetween, we have been kept entertained with morsels about “who won”. But rarely has the conversation entered into the realms of what they talked about for 90 minutes.

And then, to cap it all, we have yesterday’s Gordon Brown gaffe, which totally destroyed the agenda of all the parties – they were wanting to talk about the economy in the lead up to tonight’s debate.

We’ve basically had three weeks of  personality politics so far. Substantive examination of policies has gone out the window.

Who benefits most from that?

Ironically, it probably has to be the Liberal Democrats. Often we hear about them not getting enough attention. But this time, they are getting it, and it’s all being focused on the two key players at the top of the party: Nick and Vince. But if all the focus was on the minutiae of Liberal Democrat policy, you can be sure that the Tories and Labour would be spinning that “they say one thing in Labour seats, but say the other in Tory seats = you can’t trust the Lib Dems” – in spite of it being wholly false, because it plays into the stereotypes about Lib Dems that the electorate is so keen to wallow in.

But it suits the politicians. After all, who wants to talk about what sacrifices have to be made? The electorate will only punish you for telling the truth anyway.

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The Drones May Fall Into Line

Posted by The Futility Monster on January 15, 2010 @ 10:40

Well, it sort of makes sense here...

Praise be!

Our Lord President Obama has actually taken an opinion on something!

Yesterday he unveiled an opportunity to extract large sums of cash from the corporate monster that is the banking sector.

The plan itself is remarkably bold for a man who has been so timid on various issues throughout the first year of his presidency, when he should be at the peak of his mandate. And yet, it is actually a fairly modest tax that would extend over 10 years, and only be more punitive to those who deserve it the most: the ones with substantial borrowings. It should still, however, raise significant sums of money.

Bankers in the US will bleat and moan that many of them didn’t even accept taxpayer’s money during the height of the crisis; and that they will just have to pass on this cost to the consumer. Of course, that’s all just part of the PR game. First of all, no bank would be left standing if it wasn’t for the unprecedented scale of loans, investments, nationalisation and quantitative easing that has kept the sector going. They should be grateful they’re still here.

And as for passing on charges… well, many banks were planning to do this anyway in order to enhance their profitability after a couple of years of hits. Now they have a perfect excuse to do so, and can blame the government in the process. It’s all about the rhetoric.

With a bit of luck, the plans will make it through the US Senate relatively unscathed. It is an election year after all, and all the polls are still showing a great degree of negativity towards banks, bankers and their bonuses.

What will be most interesting, however, is whether other countries will react in the same way. British efforts to rein in our banking sector now look rather tame in comparison. Surely we should take the opportunity provided by Obama to copy the policy and extract our own pound of flesh? It would be a relatively free hit and wouldn’t be as damaging to UK competitiveness if our biggest rival in the banking sector is doing exactly the same.

That old chestnut of national interest, however, is probably what’s going to stop us. There is still a banker love-in going on in the City of London, and many of them will currently be wondering if Obama’s actions could lead to another round of offshoring. Maybe once our 50% bonus tax has worked its way out of the system we might be in line for even more banking jobs, and even more bonuses…

And this, my friends, is why we need global co-operation. If only Obama had told everyone last year that this was what he was planning all along, we might have got better agreements at the various G20 and G8 summits last year.

A wasted opportunity, methinks.

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Selling Counter-culture; The Revolution Will Be Televised

Posted by The Futility Monster on December 18, 2009 @ 09:24

Make Your Own Counter-Cultural Kid, by Freya Harrison

Forgive me a moment, while I don my Victor Meldrew cap.

If there’s anything about modern society that fascinates me, it is the power of commerce, branding and identity-based values to sell the counter-culture. I was about to make some crass remark about it all starting with the punk movement in the 70s, but who knows it may be older than that…

It is remarkable how susceptible we humans are to uncritical thinking. And I don’t exclude myself from this. There are many of us who believe we are swimming against the flow. That we are independent, and stand out from the crowd.

Witness the glory that is the branding of Apple. Once a failing company, with shit computers no one used, now global empire worth billions of dollars, shifting vast numbers of its cool merchandise. Apple used to be the domain of the geeks alone. Now it is the brand of the decade. Hip, up-to-date, professional, sleek. And best of all, you pay way over the odds for the same product you can get anywhere else just to be part of it!

So far so boring. That is (allegedly) free will, and so what is the problem?

The problem is that many people believe that in buying into this, they are staking a claim for their independence; that suddenly they are no longer buying the crap in the mass market. This is certainly true for Apple’s, “Get a Mac” campaign, which is sneering, pretentious and utterly up its own arse. Hey you, stand out from the crowd and not line Bill Gates pockets any more! Just line ours instead!

To me, it would work if it wasn’t mega corporations pushing it. If it was a tiny little computer shop (hint hint), pushing its own distinctive products, then yeah, a little more convincing. But even so, every business/organisation attempts the same thing with marketing: to try to go straight past the thinking part of your brain and access your emotions, where totally irrational connections and decisions are made.

And so, we now turn to today.

This week there has been a major campaign to stop the X Factor from taking the Christmas Number 1 spot again. The campaign has mostly revolved around several Facebook groups, with many hundreds of thousands of members, pledging to buy what is probably one of the world’s worst songs, Killing In The Name.

Good for them. Except…

Killing In The Name is by a band called Rage Against The Machine. Isn’t it obvious where this is going?

Rage Against The Machine. Signed to Epic Records. Owned by… Sony Music Entertainment.

Guess what else Sony Music Entertainment has an interest in. Would you credit it, it’s only Syco Music, run by none other than Mr Simon “X Factor” Cowell himself.

A counter-culture band, with a name that is so obviously fraudulent, sold by a mega corporation. Meanwhile, a TV show and record label, run by the same people. In a major battle on the airwaves and in the newsprint. Only one winner there.

The cynical side of me starts to wonder: why was Killing In The Name chosen? Could this whole campaign have actually been orchestrated by Sony itself?

And so there you have it. Hundreds of thousands of people thinking they’re doing something to put one over their masters and overlords. A people’s revolution!

Only it isn’t. At best, the fools went to battle using guns made by the very people they’re fighting. At worst, they have all been suckered into one of the biggest PR exercises the country has ever seen.

This triumph of capitalism can be summed up in one sentence: corporations have you whether you’re with them or against them: you either sell out to them, or sell out to them without realising it, and revel in your mass-produced individuality.

Which is worse?

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Labour Builds A Strawman

Posted by The Futility Monster on September 4, 2009 @ 06:30

I was toying with a picture of Worzel Gummidge, but I wasn't sure if people would remember him. In any case, he used to scare the hell out of me.

I was toying with a picture of Worzel Gummidge, but I wasn't sure if people would remember him. In any case, he used to scare the hell out of me.

When I first read about the “plan” to slash health spending on frontline staff yesterday I didn’t really think all that much about it. It was just another contribution to the debate.

But with hindsight, I was wrong.

It’s all so convenient. Government department asks management consultants (evil, evil people!) to come up with ways of saving money. Management consultants (who are evil, by the way) co-incidentally suggest cutting 10% (heard that number before?) off the budget. But not just any old cut – a cut directly on the frontline staff. Labour government rejects the plan. Then they take the credit for rejecting something that only really existed in the mind of a PR man/woman.

Now, excuse my cynicism, but it all just fits together too nicely. Labour gets a chance to rail against management consultants, whom no one has a favourable opinion of, and also gets the very fortunate opportunity to talk about their real plans to defend the health service from cuts as a result. Oh, and by the way, they also get to talk about the 10% cuts figure again… subconsciously planting the idea, once more, that the Tory plan is going to be bad. Even better, it now associates the Tory plan with management consultants.

If that all seems a bit too stretched, too much to believe, then I think you may be a touch naive. Politicians in this day and age plan media attacks to the letter, co-ordinating them with any compliant media they can get their hands on. Obfuscating the neutrality of the attack by using think tanks, pressure groups and so-called “independent” reports from experts or inquiries is also an essential part of the strategy.

In this case, it was a clever leak to the Health Service Journal. Note that the BBC article implies that the government also invited other management consultants to suggest ideas for savings. How come they haven’t been leaked too? Why cherrypick the 10% one for the spin exercise? Well, it’s obvious now isn’t it.

What this story does suggest though is that Labour still haven’t got it. Contrary to recent expectations that we are over the worst of it, the British economy is still in crisis. The government is going to have to borrow more than it predicted, saddling us with even greater debt, a burden to be passed on to future generations – all at a bad time when the costs of the public sector, and the pension and benefits systems, are just overwhelming.

But even if we accept this story at face value, the conclusion is that Labour is indeed planning for significant cuts in services. That’s somewhat contrary to their public image of Labour investment vs Tory cuts.

Either way: Labour’s demise continues.

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In The Know, In A Knot

Posted by The Futility Monster on August 31, 2009 @ 09:32

Changing the public sector spending habits is going to be quite a battle...

Changing the public sector's spending habits is going to be quite a battle...

While I was caught up in my sudden rush of greenmoaning – a topic I will doubtless return to in the future – I didn’t get a chance to post about an initiative being launched by the Lib Dems.

It’s called In The Know, which, I’ve gotta say, is an appalling name. It always helps if a name actually tells you something about what it’s going to do. This project is about asking people “in the know” for ideas to cut the bill of the public sector on the taxpayer. So surely it should have been called something like Saving Taxpayers’ Money, and launched it in a blaze of publicity with Martin Lewis of I don’t know. I’m not paid to think up PR ideas…

Now… superficially it seems such a simple idea. Ask the public sector workers to trim the fat that they see every day. And, I assure you, they do see it. This is not just yet another of my posts whinging about how expenditure is going to have to be slashed and burned in the coming years.

No… it is too much of a coincidence that every public sector worker I’ve ever talked to – and there are many these days – will tell me about something that is a huge waste of money. From spending on specifically designed chairs for employees, to outrageously good, and unquestioned, sick leave. From jolly after jolly in first class to London and back, to a “go slow” work culture during the week so that overtime is offered, at 1.5 time or 1.75 time, at weekends.

This simply isn’t good enough. I know some parts of the public sector work incredibly hard and get poorly compensated. One such example is teaching assistants, whose pay is shocking for the responsibilities they have. Some say this is why the public sector has such good “other” perks to the job, like more holiday leave, more understanding for all time off, huge flexibility in working hours… to make up for bad pay.

I’m not “in the know” enough myself to know if this is true. But the examples of frittering taxpayers’ money are just numerous.

One might expect, then, that In The Know will be inundated with ideas for how to trim the fat. I even spoke to my dad, a civil servant at HEO grade, and said that he should submit some of his experiences to the site.

Unfortunately, I don’t think he will. And similarly, I don’t think many other people will either.

The prime reason is that In The Know has no incentives. In this age where capitalism is king, it is probably not enough to expect people to submit ideas which could save hundreds to thousands of pounds purely out of the goodness of their hearts.

There should have been some sort of competition attached. All genuine ideas submitted should be entered into a competition with several winners picked at random. On top of that, there should also have been a prize for the idea that would save the most amount of money.

Because there’s nothing ideological about this. There’s nothing stopping the Tories or even Labour launching a similar campaign within weeks. And if they launch theirs with incentives, the Lib Dems are going to look even more of an irrelevance than usual.

Once again, a good PR opportunity wasted.

But then again, I’m not paid to think up PR ideas.

I wish I was.

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