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Remembering Peter Marsh

Remembering Peter Marsh

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 9.32.58 PMI was saddened to read today about the death of Peter Marsh, co-founder of Allen Brady & Marsh, one of London’s most respected/despised/admired/talked-about ad agencies of the 1970s and 1980s.

Peter was a man that was easy to like and not hard to dislike. The only thing bigger than his ego was his reputation. Or maybe I’ve got that the wrong way round. Whatever, everyone either knew Peter, or had heard something about Peter, or had something to say about Peter. Quite frequently Peter was the one talking about Peter.

His heyday was before I started in the ad business, but even when I was cutting my teeth in the industry the stories about him (some true, some doubtless not true) circulated frequently. And so, as my way of remembering him, I’ll share one of the stories I was told about him that I think sums up the kind of man he was, or at least the kind of man he wanted you to think he was. It is probably the best known of the numerous stories about him.

His agency, ABM, were pitching for the advertising account of British Rail which, at the time, had a truly terrible reputation.

The client arrived in reception at the agency at the appointed time, but Peter was nowhere to be found. Sincere apologies were offered and every effort was made to find the absent supremo. While they waited, the clients sat with increasing impatience in a noisy, crowded and rather messy lobby, full of dirty coffee cups and even dirtier ashtrays.

Eventually, when it appeared that their very existence had been forgotten, Sir Peter Parker (the senior member of the client entourage) stormed over to the receptionist and announced that no company that valued its customers so little deserved to have his business. The entire group strode towards the door.

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 9.39.30 PMAs if by magic, Marsh appeared. He introduced himself and the client remarked acidly that he was an hour late, the reception area was a pigsty, his staff had been unhelpful, and why on earth would they consider spending any more time to hear what he had to say?

Marsh smiled and said “Now that you know what your customers think about British Rail, why don’t we go and see what we can do to fix it?”

There are few individuals for whom the terms chutzpah is truly apt, but Peter Marsh was most certainly one of them.

Oh, of course, they won the British Rail pitch.



Posted by on April 4, 2016 in Advertising, Marketing, Uncategorized


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When a Picture is Worth a Thousand Pictures

It’s been way too long since I blogged, but I kinda have to feel inspired to do it.  Over the last few months, it’s not that I haven’t felt inspired though, just that I’ve been too damn busy.

However, something happened over the last couple of weeks that I thought I would share because it was so much fun, and how often is something genuinely fun?

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing has always been a big supporter of the company for which I run corporate communications.  However, at the end of the year, he will leave office to be replaced by Mike Duggan.

My CEO, who has known Mayor Bing for many years, wanted to do something nice for him to thank him and simply giving him some form of plaque….well, y’know, it just didn’t seem personal enough.

As is normal with this kind of challenge, the task wound up being thrown over the wall to the comms department.  Unfortunately, as with all things of a personal nature, creating something unusual takes infinitely more time than most other tasks because you are in the unknown.

However, I happened to sit down with a friend one day a few weeks ago and was musing about what to do.  I had an idea for producing come form of collage of pictures and she (thanks Kris, I owe you) said instead of a collage why not try a mosaic?

How cool!  But as with all things like this, the initial inspiration and idea are the thin end of the wedge.  How the hell do you create a mosaic image?  I had visions of getting a graphic designer involved, and spending a small fortune.  Clearly this wasn’t an option.

However, I had unwisely mentioned to my boss that perhaps a mosaic would be kinda cool, and she instantly loved the idea.  I really should have kept quiet until I’d figured out what it would take – me and my big mouth – but now I was on the hook to deliver it.

It was at that point that my Comms Assistant (thanks Heather, you rock!) found an obscure piece of software called Andrea Mosaic.

Select the principal mosaic picture

Select the principal mosaic picture

Andrea Mosaic is free.  They ask only that you give them credit for use of their product (I trust that this blog post and my eternal thanks for their awesome product are sufficient credit).  Once downloaded, it allows you to create a digital mosaic using, well, any digital image.  So, I found a test pic of the Mayor reading a newsletter I’d produced a few months earlier and did a mosaic of that using about 50 pictures of my family taken from iPhoto on my Mac.

The result was astonishing.  In short, it worked.  To be more precise, it worked, it took about three minutes, and it was easy. I won’t labor the point but all it involves is selecting the main mosaic picture, selecting a folder of pictures you want to use for the tiles, selecting your parameters (how many tiles, final output dimensions, tile orientation options, color manipulation, tile repetition, etc.) before finally clicking the ‘Create Mosaic’ button.

Select your parameters

Select your parameters

The output file was a jpg image with a file size of about 90mb.  The main mosaic image was clear, but when you zoomed in all the individual tiles were clearly visible.  I generally have limited faith in free software but this did exactly what it said on the website.

State of the City

State of the City

So, with a degree of faith in the software, I set about building the finished product.  The first requirement was obviously where to get the tile images from and what to use as the main picture.  My boss selected the picture she wanted to use quite quickly – a shot of the Mayor giving a State of the City address a couple of years earlier, but the real headache was where to get the hundreds of images needed for the tiles.  Clearly we couldn’t use pictures of my family, but professional pictures of the mayor have to be sourced and there are usage rights that need to be considered.

It was at that point that I found invaluable help from the City of Detroit’s Communications Department (thank you Rose and Shabu).  From the city’s image database, they were able to provide me with over 500 pictures of the Mayor and various Detroit landmarks.  The selection process took a few days but finally we were off and running.

Section detail of the main mosaic, showing the individual tiles

Section detail of the main mosaic, showing the individual tiles

I produced several mosaics with different mosaic resolutions, and then Heather ran them down to FedEx Kinkos to get some test prints done.  This essentially involved taking a section of the image and printing that section at the same size as it would be on the final render.

We put half a dozen of these outputs down side by size and looked at them. For a final output at 5ft high, the version that used 5000 tiles was perfect.  The overall image looked like it was going to be clear, the image within each of the tiles was also clear when you got close to it.  The boss liked it.

So, we ran the final output and Heather went back to Kinkos.  She returned a couple of hours later clutching a large cardboard tube.  We crossed our fingers, unrolled it on the floor…..and breathed a huge sigh of relief.

The mosaic was simply stunning.  Up close the tiles stood out clearly, but from a distance even the seal of the City of Detroit was legible.

Mayor happy, CEO happy.

All that remained was to take it to a framers and then make the presentation.  The Mayor was delighted, his Head of Communications kept coming over and peering at the mosaic with a look of fascination, and my boss was happy.

I am sure I will use Andrea Mosaic again in the future.  Maybe for another work related project, maybe for something personal.  The only costs involved are the time invested, the printout, and the cost of framing.

We were up against a huge time crunch with this, and I had a lot of help pulling it together so quickly, but it turned out to be a great result and the most fun I’ve had in ages.

Even if you don’t have an immediate use for it, try downloading the software and playing around with it.  And I’d love to know what results you get from it.  It’s a terrific product, and you can have endless fun with it.

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Posted by on November 25, 2013 in Communications, Uncategorized


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Comms Principle #6: Translating Strategy into Execution

And so, we reach the final post in this series about Change Project Communications.  When I originally listed the key subject areas, I indicated that the sixth and final post would be called “Translating Strategy into Execution”, and it is, but now that I have reached this point I realize that I have covered it as an inherent part of several previous posts.

However, once again, there is a lesson to be learned here and, once again, I draw on an experience from the past.

Communications - always under the microscope

Communications – always under the microscope

A few years ago, I started work on a new project – one that had been failing, of course – and when I set out my engagement strategy to the Board, the most senior member there (one of whom I was kinda nervous because as well as being very senior he had an innate ability to spot gaps in thinking and pounce on them with inconveniently astute questions) said “Well, communications will be critical to the success of this, so I’ll watch with great interest.”

Simon (for that is the name I will give him) didn’t know me particularly well and was, I believe, relatively unconvinced that I would deliver anything of demonstrable value.

So, I set about executing the strategy.  I subdivided the stakeholders and cross mapped them.  I developed a modular suite of communications focusing on functional areas but all capable of building to an all-encompassing whole.

I reviewed the comms channels available, selecting only those that were well known and familiar to my audience.  I leveraged existing networks, cultivating the folks who managed the networks.  I spoke with key individuals around the world and identified local comms advocates in the Asia Pacific, Africa, Middle East and Latin America Regions who, with their regional experience and contacts, could help me drive the communication deeper than I could do on my own.

I engaged the experts who knew the detail at Global H.Q. to assist with developing the content, and developed a manageable cadence so that interacting with me would not become a chore.  I also syndicated draft materials with experts working in the Operating Companies and End-Markets to see what resonated with them and what they resisted before circulating the finished pieces.

I listened for feedback.  I ensured not only that the voices in the field were heard, but that the people knew they were being not just heard but also considered.

And then, after 6 months, I ran a survey of 500 global stakeholders to find out what they knew about the project, what they thought was missing, and whether they believed the communication had been good.  The recipients ranged from Junior Managers to Heads of Functions, Directors of Operating Companies to Regional Directors.

I was, if I’m honest, somewhat worried about the results as they would form the basis for the follow-up presentation I had been asked to give to the Board on the progress of communications against the established comms strategy.

I pulled the results into a 25 slide PowerPoint presentation, with graphs showing the responses for all the key areas, broken down by geographic area, by function. To my amazement, I had received nearly a 70% response rate on the survey (I had hoped for maybe a 1 in 5 response rate).

The Board required all presentation materials to be pre-circulated before the meeting, so as I stood up to present, everyone already had all the details.  And before I got a word out, ‘Simon’ smiled and said “Robin, it must be very hard to be humble at moments like this.”

The results were staggeringly good.  97% of people remembered seeing the communications, 89% knew who to talk to if they wanted more information or to raise concerns, 85% felt the communications had been timely and informative.  Best of all, 82% described the comms execution as good or excellent.

If this sounds like I’m bragging, please don’t think of it that way.  While I got the credit on the day, I would have achieved nothing had I not had the most awesome team of advisors, collaborators and advocates, and the visible support of my Project Executive.  While I had written and sent out all the communications, it was the knowledge and commitment of others that made them worth reading.

I worked on for a few more months, and was then asked to move to another struggling project.  The existing one had a new manager brought in, and a senior Comms expert from one of the Big 4 consultancies was brought in to manage the communications work-stream.

A year later, I had occasion to catch up with a colleague and ask how things had progressed.  I found the results to be surprising.

Communications was now under attack.  People felt disengaged, uninformed and undervalued.  In a further survey, nearly three quarters of recipients had indicated that communications had been inadequate or poor.

My first reaction, perhaps predictably, was to be thoroughly pissed off.  But then I thought maybe I could learn something useful so I spent a couple of days finding out what had happened.

A great strategy is pointless unless it can be executed

A great strategy is pointless unless it can be executed

The new Senior Executive had, as I mentioned, insisted on bringing in an external Comms Consultant.  This consultant (at the not inconsiderable rate of $2000 a day) had then spent 3 months criticizing my Comms approach as being too simplistic and labor intensive, and had developed a new strategy calling for dedicated comms channels, new databases, a new area on the intranet, and the development of an impressive array of comms pieces, from animated videos to Computer Based Training modules.

And then, with the strategy complete, the Consultant had said “OK, well, my job is done”.  When asked what how the strategy would be implemented, the Consultant seemed to take the view that that was not her role.

She was, however, more than happy to bring in a team of consultants from her company that could execute the strategy (about 8 people, all billing around $1200 a day).

This was by now about 5 months after I had moved off the project.

Over the next 3 months, the Comms Consultant team came on board, started developing the materials, engaging with the experts, pulling information together at the center, and finally beginning to communicate.  Everything they sent out was immaculate, impressive looking and hugely detailed.

The results were awful.  People didn’t recognize the communication, didn’t know who to ask questions of.  They didn’t know where to find documents when they needed them.  They called and emailed and were thanked for their input, but never heard any more.  In short, they felt as though they were cogs in a wheel rather than partners.

Hopefully, that little story tells you more about the process of communication than I ever could.  Yes, I know I just told the story, but you know what I mean.

In case you missed it however, I will end by mentioning the 3 key learnings that I took from this ghastly collapse.

#1 – If you are a Senior Manager, don’t abdicate responsibility for Communications.  If you are going to take the coward’s way out and use Comms as a convenient scapegoat in the event of failure, then your support for and engagement with the communications process while it is ongoing needs to be absolute.  Throwing the ball over the wall to an expert and telling them to just get on with it is stupid, stupid, stupid.  Listen to your Comms Manager, if you don’t agree tell him or her why, and give them a chance to convince you.

#2 – Don’t reinvent the wheel.  People are creatures of habit.  From a communications perspective when you are trying to get people to support changes in working, or measuring, or even if you’re trying to convince turkeys to appreciate Thanksgiving, you have to talk to them in language and through channels that are familiar to them.  Don’t ask them to learn a new job and a new way to communicate.  They won’t appreciate it, and you will bear the brunt of their disaffection.

#3 – Do some real work.  Please, please, please remember this one.  Comms Strategy is terribly important.  It is critical.  But if you don’t execute it properly then seriously what was the point?  Comms should always be built on a sound strategic foundation but in the end it’s basically well-organized common sense and bloody hard work.  It’s about writing, revising, listening, revising again, distributing in a regular and consistent manner, listening and starting again.

Cat Herding - The furry underbelly of Communications

Cat Herding – The furry underbelly of Communications

I love communications.  It is fulfilling, creative, informative and constantly evolving.  At the same time, it can be infuriating, thankless, monotonous and indefensible.  A roller-coaster ride of emotion and iteration, commendation and censure, exasperation and gratification.

People that “get” communications understand this, and are willing to be supportive, trusting and committed to your strategy.  Project Managers and Executives who understand the difficulties of herding cats will make it their business to give you visible support and to make sure that other members of the team are enablers, not inhibitors of communication.  If you find yourself working with people like this, you need to treasure the experiences because they are as rare as hen’s teeth.  Many of my senior executives stayed in touch with me after I had moved off the project, some became dedicated and hugely appreciated mentors to me, and I remain friends with them to this day.

In my career I have worked with a handful of people who “got” communications.  I still treasure the insights I gained from the (sometimes hard) lessons I learned, and I believe that the experience has made me a better communicator.

Roberto, Simon, Gerson, Lorrie, Tom, Chris, Paul, plus a few others, I thank you from the bottom of my heart and wish you all nothing but success.


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Several “Hmmms”, and a “WTF?”

EDIT:  Just found this draft post from mid-March (which I never published) while editing Comms Principle #5, which I will publish over the next few days.  I’m sufficiently over my sense of injustice now to publish it.

So, I’m driving to work Thursday morning, and stop at the gas station.  It’s 20 degrees.

The pump is the slowest I’ve ever known, delivering about a gallon a minute.  I give up after 5 minutes, shut the pump off and I’m about to get into the truck when a voice beside me says “Excuse me, sir…”

It’s a lady in her 70s in a Beetle.  I say hello and she says “Can you put some air in my tire, it’s running flat and I don’t know if I’ll make it to the dealership”.

I look at my nice clean suit, tie and white shirt, then look back at her, and decide I can’t in good conscience leave her to try and do this herself.

She pulls over to the air machine.  She opens the window and hands me a quarter.  I look at the machine and tell her it’s a dollar.  So she hands me a dollar bill.  I tell her I don’t think the machine takes bills, only coins.  She says she’s sure they’ll change it for me inside.

First Hmmmmm.

So, I go get change, start the pump, and ask her what tire and pressure.  She says it’s the right front and that it’s 28 psi.  I look at the right front tire.  It looks absolutely fine.  I ask her what makes her think it’s losing air and she says it’s been getting flatter for the last half hour.  Not wanting to be difficult I say OK and it turns out the pressure is 25 psi.  I fill it to 28.

She opens the electric window and leans across and says “Actually could you make it 30?”  I make it 30.

She then says “I wonder if you’d mind doing the other 3 as well.  I think it was the right front but I’m not sure.

Second Hmmmmm.

I don’t have my coat on and I’m now pretty cold, but rather than being disagreeable I fill the other tires to 30 psi (it turns out that all are in the mid to high 20s).  I finish and tell her they’re all set at 30.  In the meantime she’s been sitting in the car, looking at the manual and says “Oh, it says here they should be 32.  Could you fill them to 32?

Third hmmmmmm.

I tell her that if she’s going to a dealership anyway, she’ll be fine with 30.  She looks horrified and says “You mean you’re not going to inflate them to what is required by law?”

Basil FawltyI tell her that it is not required by law, that 30 will be just fine to get her to the dealership and ask her whether she thinks I work at the gas station (all this time standing there freezing in a suit and tie, and with my hands by now filthy).

She says “No, but I thought at least you’d be enough of a gentleman to help an elderly lady.”

Inside my head, the “Hmmmmm….” is replaced by “WTF?”.  But I respond with a perfunctory “Have a nice day ma’am” and walk away, thinking that she got all the “gentleman” she deserved.

I get a sense of intense frustration when meeting someone like that.  Nothing you can do or say will make them a better or more reasonable human being, but there is still the annoyance that somehow you’d like to do or say something that will show them how unreasonable they have been.  I always think of this kind of frustration as a Jerry Lundegaard moment.

I’ve met only a handful of people like that in my entire life, but every time I do I remember them forever.  Why people who are of so little value create such long-lasting memories I have no idea.  On the other hand, if they weren’t memorable then I suppose that might mean that they had become the norm – which would of course be infinitely worse.

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Posted by on July 27, 2013 in Uncategorized


Social Media Fail #2: @Sweden and the Average Sven

Curation Rotation - the @Sweden twitter account

Curation Rotation – the @Sweden twitter account

During the week or so that I’ve been listing these social media fails, some of the most frequently trodden ground I’ve covered relates to the leap of faith required in hiring someone to manage one’s social media.

It’s easy for something to go wrong.  One mistake and the wise denizens of the internet start punching you mercilessly and holding you up to public ridicule.

And it’s possible you may deserve it, particularly if you’ve forgotten that while the person handling your social media may be responsible for what you share, you are still accountable.  It’s your brand.  The buck stops with you.

So consider the leap of faith required to hand your social media over to someone with no professional social media credentials – someone who is, in fact, a complete stranger.  Consider the risk in telling them that they can pretty much say whatever they want.

Then, if by some miracle it works out, consider taking the same risk a week later by giving the responsibility to a different person again.  And again.  And again.

And, the biggest leap of all, to have your entire nation judged by what these strangers choose to say.

Welcome to Sweden, where in late 2011 the idea of giving control of the @sweden twitter profile to a different member of the Swedish public every week was considered a good idea.

The idea came, not surprisingly, from an ad agency, Volontaire of Stockholm.  It was a brave idea, a new idea, an idea so full of both promise and pitfalls that the bravery of the agency in suggesting it dwindles to insignificance when compared with the bravery of the client that approved it.

The concept was borne of the idea that the world would better understand Sweden if the world understood the Swedish people.  Giving Average Sven control of @sweden would allow people to get a better understanding of what makes Swedes tick, what’s important to them, their likes and dislikes.

And so, in December 2011 and throughout the year that has followed, Svenska Institutet and VisitSweden gave one Swede every week the responsibility of curating the @sweden twitter profile, thereby pioneering what has become known as ‘Curation Rotation’.  The only rules were that you must be a Swede, you must tweet in English, and you shouldn’t do anything criminal.

Miss @Sweden, Sonja Abrahamsson

Miss @Sweden,
Sonja Abrahamsson

And do you know what?  It wasn’t the public relations disaster that might have been expected.  Erm…..for the first few months.

The first time that most people in the US will have heard about @sweden was in June this year, which coincidentally was exactly the moment that it became a much bigger story than it had been up to that point.

Folks who work in marketing may have heard about it a little earlier (it won a Gold Clio in May) but on June 10, @sweden moved into the mainstream in the U.S. as a New York Times article shone a spotlight its first 6 months of operation.

The article was interesting, gave a number of examples of some of the points of view tweeted and took Erik Isberg, the curator of the moment, as its main subject.

What's the fuzz?At the end of Mr Isberg’s week, just as the NYT article came out, Sonja Abrahamsson took over and by the end of her week the publicity of the NYT piece had been dwarfed by the publicity surrounding her tweets, which ranged from mundane to potentially anti-semitic to certainly gross and generally bizarre. An article on Mashable collected some of the most ‘memorable’.

In addition to Ms. Abrahamsson’s high profile tenure, yet more light was shone on @sweden when the campaign won a Grand Prix at the Cannes festival.

Across the remainder of 2012, the @sweden handle settled down again into the mundane, the everyday, with only the occasional blip.  That is not to say that there has not been some interesting stuff – there has – but none has even approached the levels of social media hysteria reached in June.

In general, the Swedes have shown themselves to be good natured, humorous, down to earth people.  Their ability to communicate effectively in a second language should put most English speaking nations to shame.  Given the opportunity to make a name for themselves in representing their country, the vast majority of them have behaved with grace and good nature, have taken their responsibility seriously and have been conscious of the impact they may have on their country’s global image.

That said, while clearly the unpleasantness of some of Ms. Abrahamsson’s series of tweets is likely to live longer in the memory than those of all the other, more mainstream-minded curators, can it really be said to have failed?

Gold Clio

The coveted
Gold Clio

No, and yes.

No because the campaign won a Clio award in New York and a Grand Prix at Cannes.  No, because the number of followers has increased.  And no because it can probably be said that followers of the @sweden account have a more rounded view of the Swedish people than they did before which was, after all, the objective.

But yes because for all the good things that may potentially have come of this experiment, the one thing that will most likely be remembered, the thing that received the most media coverage, was an image of anti-semitism and lack of education.  On the basis that perception is reality that is a sad legacy, and particularly sad for all those curators who provided excellent content only to see their efforts, thoughts and feelings swamped under a blanket association of bigotry and ignorance.

Is a picture worth a thousand words?

Is a picture worth a thousand words?

And remember that it could be said that the perception of bigotry is only a perception, and not reality.  Reading Ms. Abrahamsson’s tweets with an open mind, in the views of some Jewish commentators, leads to an understanding that she is not being bigoted, but is rather asking questions that many people might share, and that these questions stand on a foundation of naiveté, not one of prejudice.

At the end of her tenure as Curator of Sweden, she posted a somewhat bizarre video to summarize her week, and told people to make up their own minds.  Around the same time, she also gave an interview in which she explained a tattoo on the back of her neck  The tattoo actually reads “hej hej” (Swedish for hello hello) which could be seen as a link to her twitter handle @hejsonja but, from a distance, it could be read as something else, a coincidence that Ms. Abrahamsson explains as “a mistake”.

So, what can we learn from the @sweden experiment?

Well, clearly we can learn that handing over control of your brand without putting strict guidelines and safeguards in place is a very dangerous thing.  But perhaps more importantly, we can learn that tweeting half-formed thoughts or open questions is likely to result in a backlash.

It is not unusual in this day and age for people to extrapolate from any position that leaves any middle ground, in order to infer a whole host of other positions, and usually assuming these positions to be either black or white.

And so it proved with @sweden.  Ms. Abrahamsson’s tweets were largely taken to be an indication of an assumed set of values.  That assumption may be right or wrong, but 140 characters does not give much room for clarification.  Or as Time Magazine put it, “long enough to say something stupid, but not nearly long enough to explain yourself when you do”.


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Social Media Fail #3: Know what you’re talking about.

Numerous fails related to insensitive handling of current events

Numerous fails related to insensitive handling of
current events or just lack of vigilance

There were several ghastly gaffes this year that can be attributed to the lack of a professional approach towards social media marketing.

Retailers using Hurricane Sandy as a sales platform was not particularly smart.

NRA_Rifleman forgetting they’d scheduled a tweet only to have real life events make it completely inappropriate.

Someone (how many times have we seen this now?) at KitchenAid forgetting to switch between corporate and personal accounts when sending out a tweet.

They were all pretty bad and, not surprisingly, generated something of a social media beatdown.  However I’d argue that one stood head and shoulders above the others because it’s such a classic example of someone firing off a joke marketing tweet without stopping to consider whether the joke was funny.

On Friday July 20, just after midnight, James Eagan Holmes walked into Century movie theater in Aurora, CO., and opened fire.  12 people were killed, over 50 injured.

It didn’t take long for #Aurora to start trending worldwide on Twitter.

Celeb Boutique original tweet6000 miles and 7 time zones away, in England, Celeb Boutique caught sigh of the word ‘Aurora’.  Not yet being familiar with the shooting, they sent out a tweet offering the view that the trend must surely be related to their Kim Kardashian inspired ‘Aurora’ dress.  Which begs the question, is that stupid or is it just a legitimate mistake?

Well, I guess it’s a legitimate mistake if you hand your social media over to an idiot.  But if you’re actually paying someone to manage it for you it’s inexcusable, because you have a right to expect professionalism.

Celeb Boutique streamWithin a few hours, it had been retweeted over 1,000 times and the comments were coming in thick and fast at which point Celeb Boutuque did 3 things.

They apologized.

They retweeted about how excited they were about the weekend.

Then they apologized again.

To be honest, I find the ‘Fabulous Friday’ tweet as bad as the original one.

Celeb Boutique saw that there was a problem, issued and apology and then moved straight on to retweet their excitement about plans for the weekend, before going on to apologize again, and again, and again.

The implication of this seems to be that their initial apology was something of a perfunctory response, and the retweet was sent out before they really got to grips with the strength of reaction their original tweet had caused.

celeb-boutique-profileThat aside, Celeb Boutique’s response when they found out how dumb they’d been was, I believe, sensitive, complete and sincere.  They appeared to be genuinely sorry, and I do sometimes find the way that the holier-than-thou crowd turn into internet bullies somewhat sickening.

However, the fact remains that sending out a marketing tweet on the basis of a trending topic that you haven’t even bothered to investigate for 30 seconds is intensely dumb, almost as bad in fact as Kenneth Cole’s #cairo blunder last year.  Almost.  Cole’s was unforgiveable.

Sensitivity is one of the key skills that should be expected of anyone working in communications.  I sometimes make poor decisions as well.  We all do.  But thinking about what you say in advance of actually saying it is always time well spent.  For instance, when thinking of a title for today’s blog, I mulled over a number of euphemisms for ‘acting without thinking’.  One of the first that came to mind was an observation about how unwise it is to shoot from the hip.  In view of the subject of today’s blog, that particular headline was discarded pretty quickly.

Celeb Boutique makes my Top 3 fails of the year.


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Social Media Fail #4: The IOC and the Forty Thieves

Ellie Arroway

#NBCfail – Decision to delay Olympics until Prime Time was infuriating.

Back in August, when after a delay of about 5 hours I finally got to see Usain Bolt win the Olympic 100m, I mocked-up this picture as a means of expressing my extreme annoyance with NBC for their thoroughly aggravating decision to tape delay broadcast of key Olympic events so that advertisers had the benefit of prime time TV ratings.

Every other nation under the sun gets the Olympics live, but U.S. viewers had to wait.  I have spent many years in advertising and I understand commercial realities very well, but that doesn’t make it any more palatable to have to choose between either watching the biggest sporting event in my hometown’s history on a choppy live stream, or watching on TV after a wait of several hours.

Also in August, I wrote a long blog post about how I had struggled to buy any of the Team GB merchandise that their twitter stream was constantly encouraging us to buy.  Apparently, licensing agreements don’t take account of Brits living outside Britain.  If I live in the US, I can buy TeamUSA and….that’s it.  I supported TeamUSA pretty much throughout the Olympics but, when all’s said and done, I’m a Brit.

Having already moaned online about those two commercially motivated pet peeves, I guess you’d have thought that, if I had a commercial ax to grind about the Olympics I’d have covered it already.  Well, think again.

The most annoying thing about the manner in which commercial arrangements at the Olympics seemed to be more self-serving that they should have been didn’t even impact me directly.  It did however impact the athletes.

Way back in the mists of time, the IOC in its wisdom published ‘Rule 40’.  It was a sensible rule, designed to maintain (to as great a degree as possible) the idea that the athletes should compete for the glory of sport and of international relations rather than for any shallow commercial reasons.

Abrahams (l) and Lindsay in Chariots of Fire (1981)

Harold Abrahams (l) and Lord Andrew Lindsay compete in the
‘Trinity Great Court Run’ in the film Chariots of Fire (1981)

In preparing for the Paris Olympics of 1924, British hurdler Lord Lindsay practiced by placing glasses of champagne on hurdles, which he then tried to “brush but not spill” as he practiced.  But those days have gone.

In their place, we have a world ushered in by another 1924 athlete, Harold Abrahams, the first high profile British athlete to hire a professional coach to help him prepare, and for which he came under a significant degree of pressure at the time.  Those who have seen the film Chariots of Fire will of course be familiar with this story.

Fast forward some 90 years to London 2012.  With very few exceptions, almost every athlete at the games is reliant to a greater or lesser extent on commercial sponsorship.  And while it is true that a small percentage of the athletes in London will have made a small fortune over the years through their success in a high profile discipline, the majority will train just as hard, practice just as long, and prepare just as much, and will do so on a shoestring budget.

For many sportsmen and women around the world, and particularly in the U.S. where competition is so fierce and funding from the USOC is nonexistent, qualifying for the Olympics is the crowning glory of their career.  Most will compete with dreams of making the final, winning a medal, but without any real hope.  So what makes them do it when the cost is so high and the possible agony of defeat so real?

In most cases it is the belief, the determination, and even the sheer bloody-mindedness that on the day, irrespective of past results or personal bests they will somehow find it within themselves to produce something superhuman.  And it is the hours that they put in on the practice field, in the gym or on the track that gives substance to this dream.

Without their sponsors, their endorsements, their commercial relationships they would have no hope because they would not be there, unable to devote such a massive amount of their time and effort to chasing something so virtually unattainable.

The sponsors, in return for the support they give, ask for commercial exposure.  In the case of most sponsors, athletes are not allowed to display logos on their uniforms, or suits, or other equipment, so they have to try to live up to their end of the bargain in other ways.  And in London, that is the point at which Rule 40 slapped them in the face.

Nick SymmondsAmongst other things, Rule 40 effectively prohibited them from mentioning their sponsors on Social Media, except if that sponsor was an official partner of the 2012 games.  Some got around it with a bit of creativity of course, but for the most part the gag was effective and total.

Visa was a London 2012 sponsor, but if an athlete had been sponsored by MasterCard they couldn’t mention it.  Reebok sponsored London 2012 as well, so if you were sponsored by Nike, fuggeddaboutit.

A number of high profile Olympians, notably 800m finalist Nick Symmonds and 400m Gold Medalist Sanya Richards-Ross, were very active in pushing the envelope, and indeed pushing the case for Rule 40 to be at very least re-examined.  And their voices were not alone.

The hashtags #Rule40 and #WeDemandChange got significant exposure during and immediately after the Olympics, but as far as I can tell it has now largely been forgotten.  It will undoubtedly resurface sometime between now and Rio 2016 and, when it does, I hope the IOC take a more reasonable approach than they did in London.

Everyone with an once of common sense will appreciate that the Olympic Games is now a commercial venue as much as a sporting one, and that the money generated by official sponsorship is critical to a well run global event.  But a wholesale ban such as that enshrined in Rule 40 is unjust.  There has to be some middle ground and the IOC should step up to the plate and discuss this issue with a view to resolving it satisfactorily well in advance of the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.

In the meantime, the IOC’s intransigence means it makes my list of the top Social Media Fails of 2012.


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