What Lawyers Can Learn From the Royals on PR

The Royal PR machine is an impressive operation. They don’t always get it right, of course, and have had their own share of slings and arrows to cope with, especially in the last few years, but overall, without doubt, the family’s contract with the nation has been nurtured by and has grown to rely on PR techniques that most business leaders – including at law firms – can’t ignore. Here are our top ten tips for successful PR Royal style:-

  1. Planning – whether it’s diary scheduling or preparing for a crisis event, the Royal PR machine tries to spot clashes, scenario plan and anticipate – at a macro and micro level; 
  2. Embracing technology – from radio to TV, from zoom and insta, the family have moved with the times to get their message out to audiences via an ever-evolving list of channels;
  3. Face-to-face engagement – as we’ve seen in the last week in particular, direct and personal connection with stakeholders is key to keep it real and literally stay in touch;
  4. Remember all your stakeholders – no one has a divine right to rule (any longer). Position and power derives from various sources and relies on keeping all stakeholder on side, if not ideally their positive support;
  5. It’s about both words and actions – walking the talk, practising what you preach and living your values are all important for reputation;
  6. Be authentic – there is no need to change yourself to up your appeal – staying true to your background, style and purpose wins out in the end;
  7. Consistent yet flexible – a lot has been said about our former Queen’s consistency. People knew what to expect and that they could rely on her considerable commitment to duty, yet to be fair she and those around her were willing to be flexible and pragmatic sometimes too.  
  8. Context and public opinion counts – seeking to operate in a vacuum is folly. Being sensitive to events, your audience and reading the room are essential for organisations, leaders and managers.  
  9. Know your mission – don’t get deflected from your mission strategy and keep reminding yourself (and others) what you exist for and set out to do.
  10. Play the long game – whatever road bumps arise to throw you off course, however tempting short-term gains might seem, always strive for the longer-term prize, even if it means difficult choices.

By Louise Beeson

Tuesday 20th September 2022

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

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Center Parcs: Royal Muck Up

Communications during a crisis need to be clear, empathetic and sense-checked for rebound risk as any specialist PR expert will tell you. Sadly Center Parcs was one of a number of organisations who didn’t quite get these ingredients right in their clunky handling of a self-inflicted furore this week. 

The Center Parcs team caused anger and confusion when attempting to correct an earlier contentious position regarding the proposed closure of their facilities on Monday 19th September, out of respect for the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II. 

After an eruption of online outrage following the announcement that holidaymakers would have to vacate their lodges for the day, an inevitably swift U-turn followed. However, this wasn’t the end of the PR headache for the company which prides itself on providing relaxation and escapism for all. 

The team at the short-break holiday company took to Twitter to calm the brewing storm – only to provoke fresh backlash. Replying to one tweet of outrage, the company said: 

“We recognise leaving the village for one night is an inconvenience, we have listened and made the decision to allow guests to remain on village on Monday, however, the village will still be closed, so guests will need to remain in their lodges.” 

The prospect of guests being locked in their cabins led to further incredulity and required a follow-up tweet apologising for the miscommunication. 

Center Parc’s clumsy engagement was sadly not unique, as a similar blunder from the Met Office shows. Its Twitter account recently posted

“As a mark of respect during this time of national mourning we will only be posting daily forecasts and warnings.” 

What the national weather service meant to say was that it would not be providing additional lighthearted content during the national period of mourning, aside from its regular weather service. However, due to its lack of clarity, followers quite reasonably took the tweet to mean that the public would only be informed of the weather one day at a time. 

Whilst brands such as Center Parks were undoubtedly looking to support staff loyal to the Queen when formulating their original closure policies, it’s little wonder they faced ridicule having completely failed to balance this intention with consideration for the practical needs of their all-important customer base. The impact of corporates’ decisions on their consumers should be paramount, with plans stress-tested by the communications teams before any announcements are made. It’s simply PR 101. 

Failure to do so in these cases has turned an act of respect and reverence for the passing of the reigning monarch and head of state, into an exercise of alienation, from which it is hard to recover. We’re keeping our eyes out for smart Center Parcs advertising in due course – perhaps poking fun at itself in recognition of its right royal muck up.

By Declan Flahive

16th September 2022

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

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‘Sportswashing’: You Pays Your Money and You Takes Your Choice

The greatest and most popular football league in the world (arguably) turns 30 this week. In the space of a few decades, the English Premier League has blossomed into a global marketing powerhouse with all the theatrics and drama any sports spectator could dream of – from transfer deadline day to emotional local derby duels. But along with its success story, there exists a growing threat to its reputation. The Premiership is susceptible to accusations of a practice known as ‘sportswashing’ whereby club ownership is said to be used to clean up a tainted public image. 

The Premier League kick-started the celebrity era of football with the likes of David Beckham. When the dainty-voiced, floppy-fringed fella scored from the halfway line against Wimbledon for Manchester United in 1996, he lit the fuse for an explosion of his fame and the 21-year-old soon became a global superstar. His relationship with “Posh Spice” only served to augment his popularity credentials. 

This interweaving of football with mainstream culture has grown with icons such as Eric Cantona, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney, whose personal lives have increasingly taken centre stage.  Around-the-clock TV coverage and the emergence of the internet and social media has increased demand for every little morsel of the private lives of these very rich and famous athletes. Noticeably, this interest is no longer confined to the players. 

Since Abramovich took over Chelsea FC in the early noughties and in a similar vein the owners of Manchester City, Sheikh Mansour, and Newcastle United, Saudi Arabian-led Public Investor Fund (PIF), each have been accused of using the English game to not only advance their own net worth through marketing opportunities but also to enhance their public images. 

Football’s ability to cement a relationship between owners and fans is surprisingly powerful. When Roman Abramovich’s assets were seized and he was reported to have been chased out of the country for his alleged connections to Vladimir Putin following the unlawful Russian invasion of Ukraine, not all of the supporters of his club Chelsea F.C. were so keen to push him out of the door – due to the success his resources had enabled. Fans continued to chant the now former owner’s name in the stands well after the war had unfolded. It’s fascinating how a game of sport can warm the hearts of those unlikely to hold similar sentiments for others on the Russian sanctions list.

Buying a football club can be seen as a chance to revolutionise not just your own public image, but even that of your country. After purchasing the blue side of Manchester, Sheikh Mansour of Abu Dhabi has enabled City to accumulate title after title. The investment from the oil-rich Sheikh is undoubtedly part of a wider plan to present the Abu Dhabi state in a positive light in the West.  In fact, since 2014, the ruling family has invested outside the club’s doors and tapped into the wider Mancunian area through the Manchester Life project. A joint partnership between the Abu Dhabi United Group and Manchester City Council, it has a £1 billion goal to transform 200 acres surrounding the Etihad Stadium from a derelict wasteland into a hub of modern real estate. 

Other resultant developments include the regeneration of an 80-acre brownfield site into the City’s state-of-the-art training facility. The club has also donated 5.5 acres of land and at least £12 million towards Beswick Leisure Centre, the sixth form Connell college and the Manchester Institute of Health and Performance. Furthermore, the club’s ‘City in the Community’ programme has invested thousands of hours of work into noble causes such as disability football teams and mental health support for the younger generation. 

Whilst cynics might question the motives of these actions, the benefits to the recipients are undeniable. The Emirati State’s human rights record is well-documented but its largesse in Manchester seemingly allows many to turn a blind eye. 

Wider public disapproval (ie from those not directly benefitting) of alleged ‘sportswashing’ seems to provide little of an actual roadblock to investment. Newcastle United is the latest high-profile English Premier League club to be bought out by an overseas investor with a controversial history. Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund invested in the takeover at St. James’ Park on October 7th 2021 costing a reported £415 million. 

At the time, Amnesty International was very critical of the move with its UK’s chief executive officer Sacha Deshmukh saying: “The Saudi buy-out of Newcastle exposed the glaring inadequacies of English football’s ownership rules – with no bar for those complicit in acts of torture, slavery, human trafficking or even war crimes – yet it hasn’t led to the change we urgently need to see.” 

Deshmukh continued: “When Saudi Arabia swooped in and bought Newcastle, it was one of the most glaring examples of modern sportswashing the world has ever seen. “With Mohammed bin Salman now effectively Newcastle’s owner, the Saudi state will see the club as another means to try to shape Saudi Arabia’s international image and distract from the country’s appalling human rights record.

“The Saudi authorities clearly see Newcastle as a long-term sportswashing project, but for now we’re seeing Eddie Howe and sections of the fanbase dodging questions about Saudi human rights abuses – neither of which is healthy for football.” 

One wonders whether those responsible for English club ownership rules will decide to introduce more strident checks and balances to prevent such future allegations of ‘sportswashing’ being levelled.  Or perhaps, to better protect ‘the beautiful game’, the introduction of majority fan-ownership such as that deployed in Germany will instead take root as the preferred future investment model. 

Conclusion:

The expansion of the Premier League in the most popular sport on the planet suggests it will only continue to attract those looking for a public relations revamp. The question is whether the sport chooses domestic social benefits over its international ESG responsibilities. 

While more stringent regulation could be implemented to prevent allegations of ‘sportswashing’, revelations of FIFA corruption show that a root-and-branch clean-up of football management is unlikely. Women’s tennis is one major international sport that has begun to put the defence of human rights before play. Unfortunately in football, just as we’re now seeing in golf, money still rules.

18th August 2022

Declan Flahive

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Bell Yard recognised by Chambers and Partners in Litigation Support Guide 2022!

Bell Yard Communications is once again delighted to have been recognised by Chambers and Partners in this year’s Litigation Support Guide

Our founder and director, Mel Riley, is again listed in Band 1 of the individual rankings, as she has been every year since the guide’s inception.

As Chambers records: “They are a proactive, personable, but also professional outfit that always puts us at ease with the media. They have a flawless record of shaping the media message in very difficult circumstances. They don’t shy away from tackling aggressive media attacks with pre-emptive and reactive poise and tact.”

Bell Yard has (almost) chalked up 20 years of interesting instructions and wishes to thank all our colleagues, clients, and contacts alike for this latest and very welcome recognition of our efforts – but in truth, we do it all for the love of the challenge! 

(6 June 2022)

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

ONTIER: Dr Wright Succeeds In Libel Action Against Podcaster McCormack

ONTIER LLP client, Dr Craig Wright, the inventor of Bitcoin – the world’s first functioning and successful electronic cash system – welcomes today’s judgment in so far as it finds that McCormack has defamed Dr Wright and caused serious harm to his reputation in all of his tweets and YouTube interview in issue. 

Dr Wright sued in libel over 14 Tweets published by Mr McCormack and words spoken by him in a YouTube video between March and October 2019.  Dr Wright claimed that the publications alleged that he fraudulently claimed to be Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonymous inventor of Bitcoin.

In finding that each of the publications complained of were likely to have caused serious harm to Dr Wright’s reputation, the Judge found that “the fact that [Mr McCormack] was willing to state his views so brazenly in response to threats of libel proceedings is likely to have made those who read [the publications] more, not less, likely to believe them..”

Mr McCormack had initially sought to defend the action on the grounds of truth, public interest and abuse of process; however, he abandoned those positive defences shortly after the parties exchanged disclosure in September 2020.

Dr Wright says:

“I have endured, and for the large part ignored, extreme and offensive online trolling for many years. But there comes a point at which the orchestrated trolling has to be confronted. It has a severe impact on me and my life’s work. Where requests to cease and desist are ignored or rebuffed, I have little choice but to seek legal redress.  

“The defendant abandoned the defence of positive truth months ago – in other words he accepted his words were untrue – and chose to defend only on whether his Tweets caused me serious harm or not.   McCormack was wrong when he said I am not Satoshi Nakamoto.  His Tweets caused me harm both personally and professionally. 

“As anticipated, bit by bit the independent courts across various jurisdictions, including those with juries with the benefit of an examination of all the evidence, are concluding I am who I have admitted I am, since I was outed as Satoshi by media in 2015. However too little regard is paid to the impact my Aspergers has in my communications. I intend to appeal the adverse findings of the judgment in which my evidence was clearly misunderstood.

“I will continue legal challenges until these baseless and harmful attacks designed to belittle my reputation stop. This is not for financial reward, but for the principle and to get others to think twice before seeking to impugn my reputation.”   

Simon Cohen of ONTIER LLP says: 

“The defamation laws in England are increasingly challenging for claimants but Dr Wright has successfully exposed the damage Mr McCormack’s deliberate campaign has caused to Dr Wright’s reputation. Social media provides no hiding place for libellous comment and nor should it. In fact, we have demonstrated in this trial that its use often exacerbates the harm, given its capacity for the swift and exponential spreading of a false narrative which can fly around the world in seconds leaving the truth far behind. We are pleased that this has been recognised by the court today, but are reviewing the judgment carefully with a view to appealing the interpretation of Dr Wright’s evidence.”

ENDS

Trial judge: Mr Justice Chamberlain

Legal Advisors: Dr Wright was represented by Derek StinsonSimon CohenSara Saleh and Joe Woodward of ONTIER LLP, Adam Wolanski QCGreg Callus and Lily Walker-Parr of 5RB Chambers.  

Issued on behalf of ONTIER LLP by:

Bell Yard Communications                        +44 (0)20 7936 2021   BellYard@bell-yard.com

Melanie Riley                                               +44 (0)7775 591244   melanie@bell-yard.com

Notes to Editors

The trial to determine serious harm was heard over 3 days (23-25 May 2022) at the High Court in London.   

The judgment is the latest outcome in a series of legal claims issued by ONTIER LLP, on behalf of Dr Wright and his associated entities, to uphold his right to protect his lawfully-held digital assets, his reputation as the creator of Bitcoin and his associated intellectual property:  

·       In 2021 ONTIER successfully brought a copyright claim against the anonymous digital currency enthusiast operating under the pseudonym “Cøbra”. 

·       ONTIER has recently defeated a strike-out attempt by digital currency enthusiast, Magnus Granath, following Dr Wright’s defamation action, the trial of which will heard by the High Court in late 2023.  

·       Last year ONTIER also launched a landmark claim against the developers of BTC, BCH, BCH ABC and BSV to restore control to addresses containing Bitcoin and other digital assets. The defendants’ jurisdictional challenge to this claim is currently being appealed by the claimant, Tulip Trading Ltd.

·       ONTIER is advising companies connected with Dr Wright in their passing off claims against exchanges Kraken and Coinbase, filed in the High Court earlier this year.

·       Dr Wright is also advised by ONTIER on his defence to the Crypto Open Patent Alliance’s (COPA) challenge to Dr Wright’s authorship of the Bitcoin White Paper, which will be heard in 2024. 

(1 August 2022)

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

BBC Facing Five Defamation Claims Over False “Orgasm Cult” Podcast Allegations

A High Court hearing is scheduled for tomorrow (Thursday 7 July) involving Nicole Daedone, the renowned American relationships expert, author, motivational speaker, originator of the Orgasmic Meditation practice known as “OM,” and founder of the OM-advancing organisation “OneTaste,” together with former OneTaste Sales Director, OM Life Coach, teacher and addiction counsellor Rachel Cherwitz and OneTaste Inc itself.  

Nicole, Rachel and OneTaste will seek to persuade the High Court to exercise its discretion and allow their libel claims against the BBC to continue alongside other existing defamation claims, even though the three of them brought their claim outside the one year deadline. The claim [QB-2021004135] against the BBC, was originally filed in November 2021 by the Institute of OM, a related organisation formed to advance the practice of OM. 

The claims arise from a BBC podcast entitled “The Orgasm Cult,” which aired in November 2020. This 10-part series purported to introduce listeners to OneTaste, which is a women’s wellness education company, founded by Ms. Daedone in the mid 2000s, to promote the practice of OM.  

However, the podcast saw the BBC introduce a series of distressing, false and fully refutable allegations, some loosely based on other false allegations originally published by Ellen Huet of Bloomberg Businessweek almost four years ago. The BBC’s coverage appeared to have been crafted to titillate and shock, and was not an accurate and editorially sound portrayal of the company and community of OneTaste, organised around the practice of OM, which operated within strict and safe boundaries among consenting adults.

The BBC’s depiction of the company’s ethos and policies is far removed from the reality of the community of over 16,000 people who have learned the OM practice, and another 35,000 people who came through the doors of OneTaste over the period of its operation. OneTaste grew progressively and steadily professionalised its organization during the 18 years since its founding in 2004.  

OneTaste has thoroughly investigated the appalling allegations of abusive practices and interviewed dozens of practitioners and former OneTaste staff members. The investigation has confirmed that the allegations are false. The BBC has since been directly informed of the falsities and misrepresentations in its own output, and has been sent evidence which contradicts the allegations, yet it continues to publish access to the misleading podcast.

Many in the OneTaste community have been appalled by the way the false stories, as presented via the podcast, were manipulated and that some of the most serious allegations contained in several podcast episodes were never put by the BBC to those accused. The community at large has been supportive of the legal action being taken.

Founder Nicole Daedone said:  

“The truth should matter to the BBC. I always recognised that the very nature of our pioneering work made us vulnerable to attack by those who would choose to misrepresent it. Still, I firmly believe in freedom of expression, and I loathe the very idea of bringing defamation proceedings. However, when an influential broadcaster such as the BBC, with its unparalleled international reach and repute, continues to publish serious allegations even after being presented with voluminous evidence that they are false, we have a responsibility to mount a formal challenge.

“The principle of consent has always been at the heart of our work, making it deeply distressing to hear these stories, all of which strike at the essence of who we are, and each of which we know to be demonstrably false. Women have inestimable power. Together, we hold the world. Furthering this solidarity is my life’s work. This is what is under attack.

“Whatever the outcome of these proceedings, we will continue to encourage women to recognize the power of their honest self-expression, while contesting falsehoods that discourage them from standing in their capacities and strengths.”

This interim hearing is scheduled to determine whether Daedone and Cherwitz, along with OneTaste, can claim for the personal reputational damage they have endured, arising from defamation in this jurisdiction, though outside of the one year limitation which would otherwise shut out their defamation cases.  Their claims for misuse of their private information and unlawful processing of their personal data continue and are unaffected by this hearing. 

ENDS

For further information, please contact:

London: 

Bell Yard Communications  BellYard@bell-yard.com                  O: +44 (0)20 7936 2021

Melanie Riley    melanie@bell-yard.com                                    M: +44 (0)7775 591244 

Notes to Editors

Daedone, Cherwitz, OneTaste Incorporated, Institute of OM LLC, OM IP Co are represented by Sara Mansoori QC and Zoe McCallum of Matrix Chambers, instructed by Alexandra Whiston-Dew at Mishcon de Reya.  

Counsels’ Skeleton will be available on opening on request.

The application hearing is listed for 1 day.  Nicole Daedone and Rachel Cherwitz will be attending.

Further information on the practice of OM is available at: https://instituteofom.com/learn-to-om

(6 July 2022)

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

NFTs: Ukraine, Beeple & The Law

Whether you own or trade in them or think they’re little more than a speculative bubble, you can’t deny that NFTs – or Non-Fungible Tokens – have entered the public consciousness in recent times.


What are NFTs?

Firstly, what even are these strange digital tokens that have been causing such a wave of interest across popular culture? 

Non-fungible tokens are essentially unique and irreplaceable digital tokens containing valuable information stored on a blockchain – essentially a database of transaction records – with the Ethereum blockchain being the most popular. Think of them as a digital asset that represents real-world objects like music, digital trading cards, in-game items, and videos – but the real craze has been for NFTs in the digital art format which has taken the art world by storm. 

Art World

The prevalence of NFTs can perhaps be attributed to the continued endorsements of high-profile names, mainstream media coverage, and social media hype which boosts a market whose products arguably have no actual intrinsic value. However, the seismic shift this new art form is causing can be clearly seen through nearly $41 billion being spent on NFTs by the end of 2021 – making the market nearly as valuable as the global art market. One of the most well-known NFT artists is Mike “Beeple” Winkelmann, whose NFT “Everydays: the First 5000 Days” sold for an astounding $69 million at Christie’s in March 2021.  According to Christie’s, the sale put “Beeple” “among the top three most valuable living artists,” behind only David Hockney and Jeff Koons.

Popular Culture

Celebrity endorsements for NFTs and such collections as “The Bored Ape Yacht Club” has been a significant catalyst in the explosion in popularity of NFTs. “The Bored Ape Yacht Club” is one of many exclusive NFT digital art collections, with only 10,000 Bored Apes NFTs in existence. Access to an exclusive club known as “the swamp club” is also granted to each owner of one of the rare ape-themed NFTs. Owning NFTs from an exclusive collection usually grants access to prestigious real-world events or Discord group chats with the world’s elite, thus increasing their value beyond mere aesthetic appeal.

Many influential people display their allegiance to their NFT community by changing their social media profile picture to a cartoonish picture of their colourful animated ape NFT, for example. Such celebrity endorsements range from billionaire Elon Musk, Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey, and footballer Lionel Messi to artist Damien Hurst, online personality KSI, and former One Direction singer Liam Payne, to name a few.

Companies are also jumping on the trend, with Spotify recently announcing plans to add blockchain technology and non-fungible tokens to its streaming service, a move that many are optimistic will help to boost artists’ earnings. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Reddit are also some of the latest social media heavyweights to announce plans to enable the trading and displaying of NFTs on their platforms. Snoop Dogg has also emerged as a prominent player in the market, selling more than $44 million worth of NFTs over the course of five days in support of his new album, sending shockwaves across the music industry in the process. For context, the album would have needed to amass 7.3 billion streams to earn him that same amount of alleged revenue. 

Concerns & The Law

NFTs have, however, prompted security concerns that need to be addressed if they are to convert the doubters. These issues include such scenarios as if the platform an NFT is built on goes out of business the NFT might not be accessible and thereby lose all value. Also worth noting is the rise in NFT fraud with one of the simplest forms of fraud coming in the form of people selling NFTs from artworks that they do not own the right to use. Litigation PR skills could be needed to convince a sometimes sceptical mainstream media that the theft of NFTs by unanimous individuals acting online is as damaging as the misappropriation of real-world assets. To ensure such online characters are held accountable for their actions there will also need to be an adaption of the law for a new third category of legal “things” to exist – a tertium quid – to sit alongside those of ‘chose in possession’ and ‘chose in action’.

The NFT market has also been unsteady in recent times with a significant slowdown in the market seen through the number of accounts buying and selling NFTs falling from 380,000 at its peak in November 2021 to 194,000 currently, along with a startling drop of 48 percent in the average selling price in the same period, according to NonFungible – the world’s largest NFT data resource. This also correlates with the cryptocurrency market which widely peaked in November 2021, such as the Ether cryptocurrency which uses the Ethereum blockchain upon which many NFTs are positioned, issuing a stark reminder of the digital assets market volatility.

Ukraine

The war in Ukraine has seen a significant flow of cryptocurrency and NFT donations coming into the country to help fund its war efforts against the invading Russian forces. The Ukrainian government is even releasing an NFT collection to add to this unconventional fundraising vessel, with each token carrying a piece of art representing a story from a trusted news source documenting the war. This opening of the door for media-related NFTs could mean that in the future we may well see a collection of NFTs released by broadcasters on our own shores. NFT collections of archive footage from the two World Wars and later conflicts to fundraise for Remembrance Sunday, or famous newspaper front pages from the past could be just a few of the copious digital products on the horizon. If it makes money it makes sense. Rather than just reporting on the subject from the outside looking in, the media world would be interwoven with it. You would reasonably assume that this would cause a greater sense of seriousness and urgency to develop around the reporting of the subject, particularly around allegations of fraud.

Final Note

Do NFTs represent the future of the internet as it edges towards its new phase of the “Web3” and the metaverse which will transform a myriad of industries, or are they just a huge digital pyramid scheme that is yet to implode? Whatever the outcome, there is something to note from a PR standpoint and that is the power of the endorsement and hype in bolstering the emergence of NFTs and cryptocurrencies in the past couple of years. 

This familiarisation and repackaging of NFTs to make them appear “cool” to own – and smart to invest in – by some of the most influential people on the planet have fanned the flames of society’s interest and allowed the NFT train to continue down its uncertain tracks. 

Is this the start of a new era? We’ll have to wait and see.  

By Declan Flahive

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PR Gone Wrong: International Women’s Day

Of all the PR and marketing initiatives launched on International Women’s Day on Tuesday this week, one in particular stood out – for all the wrong reasons. 

The London Dungeon decided to change the gender of Jack The Ripper to mark the day, unveiling a “Jack becomes Jackie” exhibit played by a female actor and questioning whether the “notorious killer [was] actually a woman”. The serial killer, who was never identified, murdered at least five women in Whitechapel in the late 1880s.  

The special International Women’s Day exhibit told the story of convicted murderer Mary Pearcy, who was named as a possible Jack the Ripper suspect by author William Stewart in 1939.

In a now deleted press release, The London Dungeon said: “With men often stealing the spotlight when it comes to the ghastly and gory crimes, we wanted to give ladies their dues for International Women’s Day … Rather than the usual honouring, we’ve given the day a London Dungeon twist while telling a story that many may never have heard before.”

Not surprisingly, The London Dungeon’s actions were greeted with incredulity and outrage on Twitter.

In a strongly-worded rebuke, Refuge, the domestic violence charity, branded the initiative “a cheap marketing stunt” that “trivialises the systematic murder of women by a serial killer”.

Following the social media backlash and subsequent mainstream media interest, The London Dungeon deleted its communications on Jackie The Ripper and was forced to issue a statement apologising for any offence caused. 

Controversially exploiting and sensationalising violence against women by recasting a serial killer of women as a woman in a cynical and blatant bid to boost ticket sales – on a day meant to celebrate women’s achievements, a year after the murder of Sarah Everard, and amid a high-profile campaign to make misogyny a hate crime – was never a good idea.

Tasteless, offensive, ill-judged (if, in fact, any judgement was shown at all), the sorry episode highlights just how out of touch The London Dungeon was with the public mood, putting commercial considerations above all else and underestimating the risk of reputational damage.

Burger King similarly made a whopper of a PR blunder on International Women’s Day last year, tweeting “Women belong in the kitchen”.  A supposedly humorous teaser for a campaign promoting a cooking scholarship for female employees, most people did not read beyond this initial Tweet, with many taking to social media to express their disgust at the use of such a sexist trope, on International Women’s Day of all days.

A subsequent Tweet provided much-needed context: “If they want to, of course. Yet only 20% of chefs are women. We’re on a mission to change the gender ratio.” But by then, the damage had been done and Burger King’s PR team spent the day firefighting – responding to media queries, explaining the campaign, apologising for getting the initial message wrong and promising to do better next time, and eventually deleting the offending Tweet. 

PR Lessons To Be Learned

So, what lessons can be learned? Do your research. Know your audience. Understand the wider context. Be aware of potential pitfalls and sensitivities. Test your ideas – and not just within your immediate team, to avoid groupthink. Be careful when using humour to promote an issue with the potential to cause offense or upset. And if you get it wrong and a PR debacle ensues, ‘fess up – take swift action to apologise, engage with the media and your followers, and learn from your mistakes.

 By Sarah Peters, 11/03/2021

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

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BBC: Chasing Polar Bears

The news that Emily Maitlis and Jon Sopel are leaving the BBC is the latest in a line of senior journalist departures for the Beeb. It comes hot on the heels of business reporter losses precipitated by moving the R4 Today business team from London to Manchester and rumours that Amol Rajan was given the much-maligned interview with Novak Djokovic as a sop to avoid his defection to ITV. All this, of course, at a time when Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries is questioning the BBC funding model and when the Government, not to mention swathes of viewers, are concerned our once-loved national broadcaster has become too woke for its own good.  

So what does all this ‘trouble at mill’ mean for us PRs? 

Well, it merely confirms a trend that has been emerging in recent years. The BBC is no longer necessarily the golden ticket to getting your PR campaign away. It may no longer be the most coveted medium your clients want to cover your story. It may not, in fact, deliver the audience you need to address.  

That is not to say the BBC is no longer important. Don’t go writing the corporation off just yet. On the world stage, the BBC brand still shines brightly.  But with other media outlets and a proliferation of mediums growing loyal listeners and followers, from Global to You Tube to Podcasts, and with many of those outlets devoted to a preferred agenda, the media landscape is now so diverse that targeting content is a far more precise art these days.  Associating your brand and its experts with the agenda of your preferred media outlet by offering appearances/pitching articles increasingly requires consideration of the risk:reward ratio.  If the BBC can no longer hold itself up as the bastion of impartiality, then it becomes just another player in the influence game. 

Ms Dorries described the BBC this week as “a polar bear on a shrinking ice cap”.  That makes life more complicated for us PRs but also arguably more interesting too.  

Louise Beeson, 24/02/2022

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

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The Power of An Apologetic Truth

Few among us could genuinely deny having made errors of judgment, whether inadvertently or otherwise. To err is human, as we are told. But so often these days otherwise forgivable missteps by public individuals captured in the omnipresent lens of social media are made infinitely worse by their first reaction to exposure of the initial wrongdoing. Molehills become mountains, challenges crises from which it can be truly hard to recover, if not already fatal to both career and reputation.

It strikes Bell Yard Towers that 2022 has begun with a flurry of high profile misconduct that might so easily have been prevented had the protagonist made better decisions in the wake of their original misdemeanour. The Prime Minister is obviously a case in point. Why obfuscate when asked the seemingly simplest of questions – “did you attend a party during lockdown?” It was surely inevitable that photographic evidence would emerge, let alone credible testimony by others, given the numbers of people also in attendance on each occasion and the politics involved. A swift admission, recognition of wrongdoing, reflection and public apology would have allowed many voters to put the issue to bed. Sadly, decisions taken once the first party was exposed have led us all down a rather bumpy garden path.

Sporting supremo, Novak Djokovic would have known that tennis aficionados, let alone casual observers, were well aware of his stated aversion to inoculations, his desire to determine what he puts into his body let alone his refusal to confirm publicly his unvaccinated status.  So when the Australian Open announced its all-player vaccination requirement all eyes were on Novak to see if he’d be withdrawing or whether a controversial route would be found for him to compete. As it was, the late confirmation of his medical exemption came as little surprise. Equally predictable was the swift public scepticism as to its validity. But the real astonishment was his tone-deaf social media posts proudly confirming his voyage to the southern hemisphere – waving his immunity in the face of a pandemic-hardened local population. This red rag to the bull that is Prime Minister Morrison, someone fiercely in election-campaigning mode, was unlikely to end well. But even then there remained the opportunity to recover his pride and reputation by returning to Monte Carlo acknowledging the errors made.  Sadly, he double faulted.

Prince Andrew’s decision to front public disquiet with a sit-down interview with one of the country’s most high-profile and able journalists was, perhaps predictably, a disastrous move, not least because of the implausible ‘evidence’ he gave which he believed would enable him to disprove the serious allegations he faces. Were you the complainant, you might well consider this decision to ‘tell-all’ a deeply provocative act that might fuel the determination to have your day in court rather than consent to a quick and quiet pay-off. The failure to show empathy for the victims or offer any apology for his relationship with Epstein compounded the situation. Sadly it has been left to the Royal Family to act decisively.

The common theme throughout these errors of judgment is a lack of awareness of the right thing to do from the outset: tell the truth, acknowledge the perception of past acts and say sorry. In other words, own the difficulty. In some of these cases, the sting may not have been fully eased by these three seemingly obvious steps, but they may have gone a good way towards pacifying an increasingly disillusioned audience. Of note in at least two, if not all three of these cases, public opinion swayed wildly as bit-by-bit more facts have emerged. But reputations are rarely enhanced by the drip feed of titbits that give oxygen to the controversy yet raise more questions than answers. 

In our line of work we surprisingly still see circumstances in which an early apology and recognition of the hurt or difficulty caused could have prevented the descent into contested and costly litigation. The power of an apology to take the wind out of the sails of even the most ardent opponent remains widely underappreciated. An apology is not necessarily an admission of liability, rather an expression of empathy that, provided sincerely expressed, can be a route to forgiveness and mutual understanding.  

People in the public eye could certainly benefit by taking counsel from diverse and objective advisers prepared to speak truth to power, telling it as it is. 

By Melanie Riley, 17th January 2022

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

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