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Archive for May, 2011

Those responsible for various recent super injunctions might well be asking themselves this question.

And I suspect that a “certain Premiership football player” will have no doubt whatsoever that there is such a thing as bad PR.

There certainly appears to be such a thing as bad PR advice from lawyers. Social networks have made the law look like an ass. And super injunctions appear to have much in common with badly made terrorist bombs – as likely to blow up in their makers’ faces as to achieve their intended objective.

This topic has been covered extensively elsewhere and I wouldn’t normally have added to the noise, were it not for a blast from the past reminding me that there has always been such a thing as bad PR.

A famous* advertising creative bod from the early nineties appeared, retweeted, in my Twitter feed earlier today.

(*famous = big news in Toy Town)

And a brilliantly executed but poorly planned PR stunt by said creative came flooding back to me.

Back in the early nineties – I can’t remember which year – I attended the British Television Advertising Awards (BTAA) as the token BBH account manager on a table full of BBH creatives. An honour indeed.

It was a black tie dinner.

I think, but I can’t be sure, that Angus Deayton (oh the irony in the context of this post) was the master of ceremonies.

Awards dinner tradition dictates that most “creatives” do their best, within the boundaries set by a secret code of unwritten rules known only to them, to laterally interpret the definition of “black tie”.

But the blast-from-the-past, famous creative had gone a little further. He was not I hasten to add an employee of BBH.

The gongs at the BTAA come in the form of arrows. Gold, silver and bronze arrows.

And said famous creative had obviously been nominated in a number of categories and was clearly confident, overly confident as it turned out, of heading home with an Agincourt’s sufficiency of arrows.

His over-confidence had led him to eschew the lateral interpretation of black tie in favour of a beautifully made Lincoln green Robin Hood outfit, complete with an empty quiver to hold the anticipated clutch of awards.

He looked like a tool.

Those that knew him (I didn’t) reckoned that this was entirely in character.

Everybody, and I mean everybody, the great and the good of the London advertising scene, was laughing at him. Most behind his back. Some to his face.

No-one was laughing with him.

And he won fuck all.

The best part of twenty years later when his name appeared on Twitter this was the crystal clear, spontaneous and indelible association that it called to mind. His “clever” PR stunt has forever branded him as an idiot.

When highly memorable, negative episodes like this become indelibly associated with a brand or a person, there most definitely is, and there most definitely always has been, such a thing as bad PR.

Ask Cheryl Cole.

Also known as “That Brit singer that got fired from American X-Factor before it even started.”

For someone who has been looking to build a career in the States, I struggle to see a “no such thing as bad PR” angle to that particular story. Or am I wrong?

Although I guess it could have been worse…

Image borrowed from onlygoodmovies.com

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Buy or borrow this.

Bleached white. Saturated turquoise. Vivid green. Disjointed fragments of story. Flashbacks. Elusive snatches of dialogue whispered into half-asleep ears. Portents. Licentiousness. Brilliant, evocative and economic storytelling. Heaven. Hell. Death (lots of death). Immortality.  Irony. Poignancy. Allegory. And the odd LOL.

That’s my word association tag cloud for The Lost Books Of The Odyssey.

This book had me cursing the brevity of my commute for the first time in ages. It is an utter delight. I devoured it.

And, having finished it on the way into work this morning, I’m going to start reading it again on the way home. This time to savour rather than devour.

I became intrigued by the idea of this book when I read this interview with the author back in February. I pre-ordered a copy on the spot.

And for the last four days I’ve eschewed Reeder (brilliant RSS iPhone app and my usual on-train reading material), I’ve more or less eschewed Twitter, and I’ve as good as eschewed Instagram, to lose myself in the syncopation and inventiveness of these 44 short stories.

I should say that I have never read Homer’s Odyssey. But my classical ignorance, whilst laid bare by The Lost Books, did not impede my enjoyment or my appreciation of it.

Indeed my appetite for the classics has been duly whetted by Mr Mason’s apparently* ingenious retelling and reinterpretation. A translation of Homer’s original is on order.

*Not having read the original I’m clearly in no position to offer any kind of erudite opinion on The Lost Books’ relationship to its inspiration.

There’s nothing more to say really. The Lost Books Of The Odyssey is brilliant.

Here, in the spirit of the freemium business model, is an extended excerpt from Book 2, The Other Assassin. We’ve all been victims of this kind of ludicrous bureaucracy. Mason’s Odysseus is saved by it.

In the Imperial Court of Agamemnon, the serene, the lofty, the disingenuous, the elect of every corner of the empire, there were three viziers, ten consuls, twenty generals, thirty admirals, fifty hierophants, a hundred assassins, eight hundred administrators of the second degree, two thousand administrators of the third and clerks, soldiers, courtesans, scholars, painters, musicians, beggars, larcenists, arsonists, stranglers, sycophants and hangers-on of no particular description beyond all number, all poised to do the bright, the serene, the etc. emperor’s will. It so happened that in the twentieth year of his reign Agamemnon’s noble brow clouded at the thought of a certain Odysseus, whom he felt was much too renowned for cleverness, when both cleverness and re-nown he preferred to reserve for the throne. While it was true that this Odysseus had made certain contributions to a recent campaign, involving the feigned offering of a horse which had facilitated stealthy entry into an enemy city, this did not justify the infringement on the royal prerogatives, and in any case, the war had long since been brought to a satisfactory conclusion, so Agamemnon called for the clerk of Suicides, Inves-titures, Bankruptcy, and Humane and Just Liquidation, and signed Odysseus’s death warrant.

The clerk of Suicides etc. bowed and with due formality passed the document to the General who Holds Death in His Right Hand, who annotated it, stamped it, and passed it to the Viceroy of Domestic Matters Involving Mortality and so on through the many twists and turns of bureaucracy, through the hands of spy-masters, career criminals, blind assassins, mendacious clerics and finally to the lower ranks of advisors who had been promoted to responsibility for their dedication and competence (rare qualities given their low wages and the contempt with which they were treated by their well-connected or nobly born superiors), one of whom noted it was a death order of high priority and without reading it assigned it to that master of battle and frequent servant of the throne, Odysseus.

A messenger came to Ithaca and gave Odysseus his orders. Odysseus read them, his face closed, and thanked the messenger, commenting that the intended victim was in for a surprise, and that he was morally certain no problems would arise on his end.

If your taste in language is anything like mine, that should be your first hit of Lost Books crack.

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I beg to differ.

This is uncool in so many ways.

On the face of it, it shouldn’t be uncool. But it is.

Climbing Everest is cool.

Being able to share your experiences with others in real time is cool too.

But, put those things together, and the effect is to diminish and demean IMHO.

The whole is considerably less than the sum of the parts.

I say this as someone who has a little first hand experience of wanting to share adventurous experiences.

I was a member of The Ambeciles, a 2010 Mongol Rally team that drove a second hand ambulance (bought on E-Bay for £3,000) from the UK to Mongolia (via Europe, Russia and 5 countries ending in “stan”) to raise money for several charities.

Mongol Ralliers' convention somewhere in Mongolia.

The Mongol Rally is designed to be an adventure. The Adventurists set it up that way.

As the last line of their “adventure warning” clearly states, “You really are on your own.”

"These adventures are not glorified holidays."

Indeed, we found on a daily basis that the most interesting aspects of the journey, the most memorable stories, were the result of things going wrong. And when things went wrong you had to rely on your wits, and on the extraordinary willingness of local people to help you out, to get yourselves out of the messes that you found yourselves in.

With hindsight we wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Pamir Highway river crossing - Tajikistan

But you can’t have your cake and eat it.

The remoteness and lack of connection to the outside world that makes for great adventure by definition also makes it impossible to share those adventurous experiences in real time.

So I drafted blog posts on a netbook in the back of what was effectively a dust-filled mobile greenhouse and then published, posted, facebooked and tweeted like mad when internet cafes and occasional hotel wifi opportunities presented themselves.

Meanwhile, back with Kenton Cool on Everest…

Here’s the video clip in which he discussed his intent to send the first tweet from the Everest summit, “in association with” his technology sponsor/partner Samsung.

This really does leave me cold.

I have no beef with Mr Cool. I have the utmost respect for what he has achieved. He is an extreme dude who isn’t pissing his life away in some faceless cube-farm.

(Although I do think he protests too much on behalf of his Samsung sponsor. Less gushing fulsomeness would definitely have been more.)

This image from the video is a succinct visual summary of why I do have a beef with him tweeting from the summit.

It’s the erection of this 3G mast that made the summit tweet possible.

And it’s the erection of this mast that has made the highest mountain (even) less remote than it was.

Less of an adventure? Discuss.

I wonder if such considerations crossed Kenton Cool’s mind. (I’ll ask once I’ve finished this post).

Adventure is an expensive business. We couldn’t have taken part in the rally without the generous support of a number of sponsors.

And I daresay the same goes for climbing Everest.

Every sponsor logo on the side of the ambulance was the result of extended periods of intense begging, stealing, borrowing, committing and promising. Not to mention the emotional punchbag feeling of multiple rejections.

Adventure is an expensive business. And sponsoring adventure is a sophisticated business.

It’s not as simple as “cash for logos”.

Quite rightly in this digitally enabled, socially connected world of ours, sponsors don’t just want a logo on the side of your vehicle. They want content. And if said content can be delivered in real time, increasing the sense of currency and happeningness, then so much the better.

And if a promise of real time content is what it takes to clinch a sponsorship deal then it is very hard not to make said  promise.

Indeed, for our sponsors Direct Travel Insurance, we collected real time GPS data en route and created this piece of data visualisation (plus mini-blog) for them. However, whilst the data was collected in real time, it could only be shared and the site updated when we hit towns which had internet cafes or hotels with free wifi.

And we wouldn’t have had it any other way.

It was great to be properly disconnected for a while.

By and large the world is a better place for increased connectivity.

But there is still a place for remoteness.

Isn’t there?

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Culling is usually only required when natural selection, or more precisely nature itself, fails to control relative populations of species in an ecosystem.

It’s either natural selection or culling.

One or t’other.

Well I’ve used both to reduce the number of people I follow on Twitter.

One of my favourite ever clients, a lovely lady from Belfast, used to tell me to “catch yourself on” whenever I wasn’t getting it in her eyes.

And I had a “catch yourself on” moment earlier this year when thinking about Twitter in the context of me in social spaces.

It’s so so easy to get sucked in to watching and nurturing your follower count. But when I stepped back and thought about how Twitter has worked, when it has worked at its best for me, it has very little to do with quantity and almost everything to do with quality.

Following the right people (regardless of whether they follow back).

Sharing the right kind of content from the right kind of people.

At the right frequency.

Having the right conversations.

Building relationships beyond Twitter, be that at real life events or via RSS and blog comment threads.

Indeed I wrote a post back in January about the relevance of RSS to me, which got me thinking about the strength of ties in social spaces rather than just the number of ties.

Cutting to the chase, I’ve reduced the number of people I follow from 968  to 770 in the space of a few weeks.

Here’s how that process looks when charted by Twitter Counter.

That’s a 20% reduction in the number of “friends”.

A 20% cull.

In fact the actual number culled is higher than this because I’ve continued to follow new, interesting people throughout this period. 20% is the net reduction.

And, as mentioned above, I did this the hard way but the right way.

Natural selection, for which read quality control or survival of the fittest for purpose.

Natural selection was a relatively painstaking manual process, as a result of which I’ve had a close look at every single person or organisation that I was following.

Would I miss their content?

Have I “engaged” (ugh!) with them?

Was I likely to want to engage with them?

In some, but very few, cases were they still active?

I never made a decision to unfollow based on whether anyone was following me.

It took quite a while but it was an enlightening and highly worthwhile exercise.

No disrespect but God I was following some dross.

The proportion of practitioners and originators amongst the people I’m now following is much higher than it was.

The proportion of theory-mongers and self-styled gurus much lower (tending to zero in the case of the latter).

I assumed that I’d suffer a significant reduction in the number of people following me as a result of this exercise, on the basis that a fair few people would be actively tracking and monitoring and maybe even automatically reciprocating for unfollows.

(I’ve never been bothered with that level of “sophistication” myself.)

Here is what has actually happened.

The scale of this graph is not the same as the one above but there has been a 1% drop in followers from the peak to today.

20% reduction in “friends’, 1% reduction in followers. Anyone had a similar or markedly different experience to this?

This has been a valuable exercise on a number of counts.

  • It’s no bad thing to step back and think about what you’re doing in these spaces once in a while.
  • The laborious process of manually reviewing everyone I was following was enlightening and instructive in all sorts of ways.
  • This naturally selective cull has acted as a catalyst for a number of other developments. These include some thinking on how I can make better use of Twitter lists (I’ve tended to use Tweetdeck columns as a surrogate for lists proper). And I’ve had a similar spring clean of the blogs to which I subscribe via RSS.

Everyone has their own personal answer to “what is Twitter for?”

And that answer probably evolves over time.

That evolution can lead to a discrepancy between your objectives and your actions. It did for me anyway.

Have you asked yourself the question recently?

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