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Normal service won’t resume soon

Sadly, as many people predicted, I haven’t updated this blog nearly often enough.

I feel very proud that so many new viewers read my Greencoat Boy blog thanks to a tweet from Ben Goldacre (The power that man has is quite incredible, and has inspired a blog post that will come this weekend). This has shamed me into posting more.

So – i’m promising the posts here so you can hold me to account if they don’t come. I will post on:

  • the Tuition Fees riots and trust in politicians;
  • influencers and how to choose the right one to help your campaign; and
  • more exciting news stories from the world of PR.

Watch this space – and if they don’t turn up, please shame me in public; there’s no point doing a blog if you don’t post often enough.


The Greencoat Boy and I – a case study of a twitterstorm

There was me thinking I was going to have a quiet weekend – and I end up involved in a media whirlwind. Here’s how I used my press office experience to  turn an outrageous incident into an international trending topic and a national news story with a positive outcome.

Greencoat Boy (c) Ewan-M on FlickR
Greencoat Boy Pub

It started tamely enough – LGBT Labour held its annual AGM in a sweltering room in Victoria. After it finished the group decamped to a local pub, where we’d booked some space for a small social.

For an hour or so everything was fine – the pub was happily taking our money and we enjoyed a quiet drink. Then, apparently a lone drinker complained about the group to the manager, who asked us to take down our small innocuous banner with the name of our group in the area we’d reserved.

The Manager then explained to us that had he known we were a gay group he’d never have taken our booking and refused to serve us.

Now as you can imagine – we were appalled. And we were a group who knew our rights; proud of the 2006 legislation that made it illegal to discriminate in the provision of goods and services based on sexual orientation.

Get the story out there

Being appalled is one thing – but I’m a press officer, and when I see an injustice I do what I do best: get the story out there.

First I needed to do a bit of research, we knew the pub had a parent company – and they were the people we needed to complain too. A quick search on my phone confirmed the pub was owned by Punch Taverns.

So now to spread the word: 140 characters forces you to be succinct, and people need to be able retweet just the one tweet – so i quickly put this together and posted it to twitter:

.bbpBox{background:url( #1A1B1F;padding:20px;}

Pub refusing to serve us cos we’re gay. 100 paying customers. Don’t go to greencoat boy in westminster or any punch taverns pub. Please rtSat Jun 05 18:11:26 via Twitter for iPhone

Traditional skills

I knew that tweeting this wasn’t enough – I needed to use my experience to make this into a real story. I got straight on to the phone to my contacts at ITN to spread the word about what was going on.

Within minutes a journalist from Attitude Magazine, who follows my feed, saw my tweet and retweeted it from their twitter feed – and this got the storm really going. After telling people to follow me for more details my iPhone was buzzing with a new follower every few seconds.

This was an amazing start – but we needed to get some momentum going. I used my contacts on twitter in the gay press (Pink News and SoSoGay) to let them know what was going on.

Stories started to appear quickly and my follower count continued to grow. I knew i needed to keep people updated about what was going on – and give them a means to get involved. A friend got hold of the CEO’s email address – so i quickly retweeted it.

.bbpBox{background:url( #ebc1e3;padding:20px;}

E-mail for PunchTaverns cheif exec is #greencoat box #homophobiaSat Jun 05 19:28:33 via mobile web

Top Trending Topic

By this point the story was taking on a life of its own. High profile Labour tweeters including Sarah Brown and John Prescott got involved:

.bbpBox{background:url( #C0DEED;padding:20px;}

@LGBTLabour 40 years ago we campaigned against a Hull pub that banned ‘women & queers’ This is disgraceful. Fully back you #greencoatboySat Jun 05 21:11:25 via mobile web

By now we were the Biggest trending topic in the UK (despite the Britain’s Got Talent final being on the TV) and the outpouring of support online was phenomenal. Someone had set up a Facebook group (over 1000 fans at the latest count) and a twitterer with a wonderful sense of humour set up the spoof twitter account PunchTavernsPR.

Keeping the story going

Overnight – mainstream journalists began to get in touch with me via my website and I put together a slightly more detailed summary that I could use with journalists. Again, my press officer skills kicked in – I set up the journalists with people from LGBT Labour who had spoken to the manager and to the police so that the story would include the strongest interview possible (turning down interview requests for myself).

Soon we were the most read story in the UK on BBC Online, which also revealed the other fantastic use of twitter. John Prescott’s short tweet was a perfect soundbite to put into the story – without needing to chase him down for an interview.

My contact on twitter at BBC London got in touch and I set up them up to interview LGBT Labour committee member Richard Angell – soon ITV’s London Tonight had emailed me and I knew we had a real story going.

Punch Taverns had quickly discovered something was going on, being contacted by BBC News and London Tonight certainly must have sparked them into action, as they got in touch with LGBT Labour.

After an initially disappointing non-apology, by the end of Sunday they had published an unreserved apology, suspended the manager and began an investigation.

The morning after – a real result

The Guardian made the story the page 5 lead on the Monday morning, and it also appeared in the Independent and many other mainstream news outlets online. BBC London News and ITV London Tonight both ran the story and interviews on Monday evening.

This was a fantastic result – brought about by a combination of old-fashioned press office skills, new media, and the heartwarming reaction of the great british public. It’s quite clear that this kind of behaviour has no place in 21st century Britain, and the public won’t stand for it.

At last count, my initial tweet had over 1000 retweets and I’d received 100s of messages of support. My only regret is that i couldn’t thank them all individually.


I’m not being funny but…

I’m trying to be funny.

Find out more at

UPDATE 7/6/10: Yeah – so alas I’m still not really being funny – but never say never.


Some quick thoughts on Nightjack

I’ve been giving this a lot of thought over the last few days and wanted to write them down and debate them.

Nightjack was the police blogger who’s anonymity was broken by The Times – for a quick summary of the story, here’s a link to The Guardian

There are two issues – 1, was The Times right to publish and 2, Should the courts (Justice Eady in this case) have protected the blogger’s identity.

I’m not going to spend much time on issue number 1 – i’m not sure there’s a strong case for publication at all, however the view that Nightjack was simply providing a public service doesn’t quite hold for me. If the rumours were true that there were book deals on the table then that goes beyond purely putting important information into the public domain for the public good.

On the whole i don’t think The Times story was a good story.

For the rights and wrongs of it, here is Danny Finkelstein’s argument as to why he thinks they were right to publish.

However – Number 2 is far more important, and the real point of my debate. I really do not think the court should protect bloggers anonymity, and I think that a comparison to a journalist protecting his sources is wrong.

Anonymity can help people do good and provide a safe haven to put in the public domain information that is in the public interest. However it can also do much harm, for if it isn’t true it can be incredibly hard to defend yourself against an anonymous source.

When a publisher or a newspaper uses and anonymous source, they are taking the risk and the accountability – they are verifying to you that the source is credible, and put their assets at risk if it isn’t.  You can sue a newspaper or a publisher for defamation.

Somebody public and accountable needs to take responsibility and vouch for the quality of the anonymous information – otherwise it is impossible to assess whether it is true, and to defend yourself against.

I’m not saying that anonymous blogging should be outlawed or that ISPs should be forced to give out confidential information, but just as it’s your right not to tell me who you are, it’s my right to try and find out who you are.

I hope that in future The Times will think carefully before revealing someones true identity, Zoe Margolis should never have been outed (although it was clear that the more publicity she was going to get the more the press would try to find out who she was). But injunctions are not the solution to this.


You ask, they… erm…

Openness and transparency is a great asset for a company.  Opening up a public forum to receive questions from the public can offer a great opportunity to build a positive vibe around your company.

But think it through before you agree to do it. Stempra tweeted a wonderful example of how not to do it.

Neal’s Yard agreed to take part in The Guardian’s You Ask, They Answer blog. There have been some really positive examples of companies using this blog to engage with their audience; Divine Chocolate were on last week and handled it well.

It didn’t go so well for Neal’s Yard. Straight from the off they received lots of informed questions about homeopathic remedies (no surprise from a paper which has Ben Goldacre as a regular columnist). Neal’s Yard should have been expecting this and had answers ready, even the intro to the blog brought up the subject.

24 hours in and they still haven’t responded to a single question.

So now all we have is a very widely read newspaper website listing criticism after criticism of the company with not a single response.

So what is the lesson here:

You have to anticipate what questions you are likely to be asked before you agree to take part in the forum, if you don’t like the questions you think you may get – don’t open up a forum like this.

You need to be ready to respond and properly engage with the comments you receive. When you do it well you get huge benefits from this kind of approach, when you do it badly the damage to your brand can be immense.

Neal’s Yard may yet respond (I hope they will at least do a statement), but I am imagining they are regretting this exercise and I hope other companies learn the lessons.


Oh dear – they won’t be responding to any of the questions. See this comment from the Guardian Moderator


The Guardian have done a follow up on this, agreeing it was a PR disaster.


Ariel Gel – A tale of bank holiday boredom.

So, it’s a Bank Holiday. I’m bored and a bit of a geek. I see the Ariel gel ad on TV talking about how good it is at low temperatures and I want to try it for myself.

So I take an ordinary white t-shirt (A freebie I won at a Davis Cup match at Wimbledon).

The before shot.
The before shot.

I add to this the traditional laundry detergent ad stains: Red Wine, Tea, Mustard, Ketchup and Blackberry Smoothie.

Freshly stained

I leave to stain for a couple of hours.

Letting the stains set.
Letting the stains set.

Here’s the t-shirt, ready for a wash.

Ready for a wash
Ready for a wash

I now put it in the washing machine with a full dose of the gel (as recommended for heavy soiling).

Loading the machine
Loading the machine

The lowest we can get the machine to is 20, 5 degrees hotter than the adverts, but I go for it anyway.

As near to 15 degrees as we could get it
As near to 15 degrees as we could get it

After a standard wash I have my results –

The results - FAIL
The results - FAIL

and I’m sorry Ariel, but I’m not impressed. The only stain that seems to have gone is the ketchup – and that had hardly made a mark in the first place. The tea is almost gone, but still there. The wine and smoothie have left horrid dark stains and the mustard is still bright yellow.

Now I should give a disclaimer – this was as scientific as I could get it in my kitchen – but this probably wasn’t a perfect experiment. I had no control group to compare it to, for example.

But i’m not impressed. To be honest, I was never convinced that washing things at 15 degrees would ever get them clean, and this test has confirmed it for me.

Perhaps I should complain to the ASA.


The Best PR Job In The World

Sometimes you have to take your hat off to a perfect piece of PR. So tonight I take my hat off to Tourism Queensland for their Island Caretaker campaign.

As an idea it was absolutely perfect – advertise ‘the best job in the world’ offering someone from anywhere in the world the chance to ‘look after’ an island for 6 months and do some blogging in return for lots of money, free accommodation and, well, the best job in the world.

So first they launch the campaign and get tonnes of publicity all over the world. Camera crews showing what a wonderful holiday resort this part of Australia is.

Then they get a second hit, the shortlist of applicants. They make the most of the medias obsession with YouTube by getting applicants to provide video application – perfect to be shown in the applicants home countries.

Finally they get to pick a winner, and I think it’s no surprise that the brit won. The UK is probably the main target market for tourism to Australia. Ben Southall being in the final at all got lots of coverage over here, but him winning it will give them more free advertising then they could have dreamed of.

So well done Tourism Australia (and what every PR agency came up with the idea) and well done Ben Southall. I’d be lying if i said i wasn’t jealous.


Enough about Twitter already

Well, after this post I promise…

It is all getting a bit silly, but I reckon I’ve got one more post in me.

Firstly, Josh pointed out to me the results of this poll of government communicators:

GCN users who twitter
GCN users who twitter

Before I rant, a caveats. This is a voodoo poll – it’s a self selecting sample of whoever can be bothered to actually vote on a poll on the GCN website.

But it does upset me that 64% can’t see the point of twitter.  It’s a way of directly interacting with an intelligent and engaged audience (they’ve all chosen to follow you so are interested in what you have to say). And more importantly if you have any proactive work to do it tells you what journalists are working on and what you might be able to pitch to them.

Those 64% really need to learn why it’s useful. If their ministers or chief executives are tweeting, then they need to be too.

Secondly, I felt the need to respond to Laurie’s post about twitter.

So I get a little annoyed, now that Twitter is going crazily mainstream, being used by everyone from Oprah to the CDC, when people misunderstand what Twitter is, and what it’s for. Some of them are aggravatingly stupid ideas, and yet are blithely echoed around the mediasphere. So here’s my top ten things that Twitter is not.

I’m not sure we can be so prescriptive about what twitter is and what it’s for. It’s many different things to many different people.

For some people it does work well as the new telegram, for others it is a great way to interact with celebrities. This is no bad thing.

I guess what Laurie is probably grasping at is that it’s stupid to try and define twitter (in the way that the media simply loves to do). But trying to list what it isn’t probably falls into the same trap.

That may not be what twitter is for you – but it’s lots of things for lots of people.

And that’s probably that for twitter for a while – I’m getting boring.


Social Media and Political Campaigning

Hazel Blears’ Observer piece this morning makes some strong arguments about the need for the labour party to actually engage with voters. A lot of what she says is eerily similar to John Major’s (undeniable effective) soapbox strategy in the 1992 general election.

I think she picks up on the tendency for organisations (I include private companies in this as well) to see social networking as ‘the solution’. She is clearly not impressed by Gordon Brown’s video message, coining the fantastic phrase “YouTube if you want to”.

YouTube is not ‘the answer’. Social media is the means not the end.

But she misses the point – Blears calls for politicians to spend more time actually engaging with people, hearing their anger. Used correctly, social media offers a fantastic way to do this. Gordon Brown’s problem is not that he’s using social media, it’s that he’s trying to use it in ‘old media’ ways.

That YouTube video is simply a broadcast, something politicians have been doing ever since they invented the radio. Comments have been turn off – it’s about as disengaged as you can possibly get.

A lot of politicians are getting it – where Twitter, Facebook and blogging work well it’s where the publisher engages with other users. People like Tom Harris get this. He interacts with his commentators and gets into the debate on twitter. He isn’t looking at the web as another tool to broadcast but as yet another way to meet with, listen to and engage with voters.

I think the biggest sign that he gets it is that he knows it’s just one of the many methods he needs to be using. He held a town hall meeting in his constituency to listen to his electorate in person.

Everyone looks at Obama’s election victory and get excited about social media – but it wasn’t the web wot won it for Obama – it was engaging with the electorate. Online was the right tool for certain circumstances, but it isn’t a panacea that will solve everything and miraculously win elections.

So Hazel Blears – you’re right, politicians do need to get on their soapbox and engage with the public. But don’t rule out doing that online.


#amazonfail and the importance of twitter to PR

Watching Twitter go mad over Amazon’s adult content ‘glitch’ over the weekend really highlighted the important role Twitter can play for PRs and showed why it really can have a business model.

Not long ago Laurie pointed me to – I felt then that that website was fighting a losing battle, and now I’m certain of it.

Previously the main way to monitor your reputation online was to see if people were blogging about you, or posting in forums about you. Both of these required effort from teh part of the contributer (Cf. the amount of updates this blog has had).

You blog or comment about a company if the service was really really bad, or really really good.

This is generally useless to companies. But on twitter, it’s different.

Twitter offers companies a powerful way to monitor their reputation. People will twitter about anything, whether it’s what they had for breakfast, which side they dress and how Pizza Hut didn’t quite deliver on time. You might just say that you had a really friendly pizza guy, or your phone number porting was a bit of a faf (hattip G). If you can monitor this in real time you can spot problems quickly and react to them before they become major crises.

In Amazon’s case I’m willing to accept cock-up over conspiracy – but for an online specialist they needed to react quicker then they did. If they’d been monitoring twitter properly they’d have spotted the problem within minutes of it becoming an issue, got to the bottom of it, and put out a statement to end it.

Amazon also learned how quickly bad reputation can travel through twitter – things go viral far quicker then they ever did through email.

This is also where Twitter has a business model – The Register (bless it’s soul) seems convinced that web 2.0 business models must be about advertising. But twitter has worked out there’s not much money to be made by on screen advertising – what they can offer is premium services to companies who will be willing to pay lots per month for this. This can be done by keeping the core service free to consumers (who won’t care about a limit of 100 API calls an hour for example).

#Amazonfail has probably opened a lot of peoples eyes both to the power of twitter, the risks it poses for organisations but most importantly the fantastic opportunities it now opens.

(Lets see if I can keep this up a little more regularly now).