Media’s lost art of public debate keeps Trump in power

In his just published book Media Madness: Donald Trump, the Press, and the War over the Truth, Howard Kurtz, a former Washington Post columnist, explores how the media became the ‘opposition party’ to an unlikely President. It delivers a compelling account of how,  by refusing to engage in proper debate and resorting instead to insults and fear-mongering, the fourth estate betrayed its historic mission to hold power accountable to the public. He warns that the media’s failure to grapple with the major issues of the day risks damaging their reputation to such an extent that it may never recover. Kurtz accuses his colleagues in the media of living in a like-minded bubble. He says journalists feel that they have a duty to oppose and if possible depose the President. Thus the media increasingly believes that the rules of reporting the news, with their emphasis on balance and objectivity, Continue reading "Media’s lost art of public debate keeps Trump in power"

How social media became toxic

Do you remember the advent of social media when they were praised for being disruptive, positive innovations? The talk was of long tails, wisdom of crowds, the end of old-fashioned business models (dead tree press is dead) or statements like the new world is bottom up – or flat – rather than top down. Now they are being discussed by the same enthusiasts as if they were managed by oligarchical villains selling addictive, toxic products and lifestyles to an inert audience that is blind to reason. But the commentators’ new-found pessimism is as misguided as their abandoned optimism. In 2009, I debated online Neville Hobson, who describes himself as a blogger, podcaster, communication leader, social media strategist, digital change agent and public speaker. In a post titled There’s no social media revolution I questioned his claim that social media were responsible for a revolutionary shift that was changing the Continue reading "How social media became toxic"

The PDC turns its back on fans to appease its enemies

Following the ‘scandal’ over the groping of girls at the Presidents Club’s reportedly debauched charity gala at the Dorchester Hotel in London, the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) has axed its leggy showgirls in order to appease the PC brigade that hates darts, with or without its girly sex appeal. In other words, darts fans have been betrayed. For the last twenty years, predominantly middle-aged working-class white men in T-shirts, wearing jeans with tight belts that showcase protruding beer bellies, have played each other at the oche at PDC tournaments. They have competed in front of thousands of often legless fans dressed as sheiks or in other forms of culturally appropriated dress. The sex appeal was supplied by undeniably gorgeous girls dressed in thrilling outfits one-size too small to retain any sense of modesty. As for the supposedly vulnerable, abused and objectified women themselves, married mother-of-one Daniella Allfree, 30, from Chesterfield,
Continue reading "The PDC turns its back on fans to appease its enemies"

Give a big fat no to the concept of unconscious bias

Apple’s first-ever vice president of diversity and inclusion, Denise Young Smith, had the audacity to suggest that being a member of a minority group or a woman are not the only criteria for diversity. She went on the record stating that there can be 12 white, blue-eyed, blond men in a room and they’re going to be diverse too because they’re going to bring a different life experience and life perspective to the conversation. Declaring that diversity is the human experience, Smith said: ‘I get a little bit frustrated when diversity or the term diversity is tagged to the people of colour, or the women, or the LGBT.” Smith, who had been with the company for 20 years, paid a high price for committing thought crimes against Apple’s diversity polices. She was forced to quit her job, officially by the end of this year; after less than one year Continue reading "Give a big fat no to the concept of unconscious bias"

Lessons from Paperchase’s retreat: corporate cowardice predates social media

A few thousand tabloid-loathing Stop Funding Hate campaigners, exercising their wrist action on Twitter and Facebook, have persuaded Paperchase to abandon an advertising promotion, which offered readers of The Daily Mail two free sheets of Christmas wrapping paper. What should the advertising and PR community make of this debacle? How do we explain the fact that readers of The Daily Mail, circulation 1.4 million, The Daily Express, 400,000, and the The Sun, 1.5 million, were effectively told that they were not morally fit to shop at or get freebies from Paperchase? How did Stop Funding Hate, which opposes mainstream advertising in mainstream newspapers read by the mass public, convince a major corporation that those organs and their readers were hate-speakers? Our industry must assess coolly how it ever struck Paperchase as a good idea to say to a small audience on Twitter: “We’ve listened
Continue reading "Lessons from Paperchase’s retreat: corporate cowardice predates social media"

Lessons from Paperchase’s retreat: corporate cowardice predates social media

A few thousand tabloid-loathing ‘Stop Funding Hate‘ campaigners exercising their wrist action on Twitter and Facebook have persuaded Paperchase to abandon an advertising promotion, which offered readers of The Daily Mail two free sheets of Christmas wrapping paper. What should the advertising and PR community make of this debacle? How do we explain the fact that readers of The Daily Mail, circulation 1.4 million, The Daily Express, 400,000, and the The Sun, 1.5 million, were effectively told that they were not morally fit to shop at or get freebies from Paperchase? How did Stop Funding Hate, which opposes mainstream advertising in mainstream newspapers read by the mass public, convince a major corporation that those organs and their readers were hate-speakers? Our industry must assess coolly how it ever struck Paperchase as a good idea to say to a small audience on Twitter:
Continue reading "Lessons from Paperchase’s retreat: corporate cowardice predates social media"

What Is Time?

On Thursday evening this week I am pleased to be one of the organizers of the Zurich Salon’s ‘What is Time?‘ discussion at the Karl der Grosse in Zurich, Switzerland. Featuring Raymond Tallis, Guido D’Amico, Norman Sieroka and Angus Kennedy, our salon will explore how we can explain the relationship between objective and subjective time, time and causation, the irruption of subjectivity and intentionality into a material universe driven by universal laws.
What Is Time?

Professor Raymond Tallis

Opinion piece on the demise of Bell Pottinger

As Bell Pottinger prepares to put itself into administration, resulting in hundreds of job losses, following its expulsion from the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA), here’s an opinion piece, which calls out the PRCA’s humbug.

PRCA betrayed the PR trade by witch hunting Bell Pottinger

The PRCA has willfully destroyed a great British PR brand, and then boasted about it in the public domain. Shame on them. Bell Pottinger (BP) was working for the controversial Gupta family as a cover for working for Zuma and the ANC. BP’s work for the Guptas was, it seems, done in the dark by anonymous agents in social media. Sometimes, those agents were fake. Moreover on behalf of the Guptas, BP launched attacks in SA on people and firms who were existing clients of BP. Promulgating PR messages in the dark for clients who are proxies for political parties or corrupt individuals and Continue reading "Opinion piece on the demise of Bell Pottinger"

How Sundar Pichai perpetuates stereotypical myths about women

According to Google CEO Sundar Pichai’s memo entitled “Our words matter“, if one man employed by the company writes or says something women find offensive regarding their gender, they start “hurting” and “worrying” every time they enter a room or open their mouth to speak in a meeting. It seems that Pichai believes that if anyone at Google is allowed to express stereotypes about women at work, his female staff will feel compelled to show that they behave diametrically counter to such claims. So, if a man writes that women are more “agreeable” than men, Google’s women will be obliged to prove that they are actually assertive. Or if women are accused of being “less tolerant” and more “neurotic” than men, they will become psychologically disturbed to the extent that countering such views will dominate their life to the detriment of their work. Pichai stated these views plainly Continue reading "How Sundar Pichai perpetuates stereotypical myths about women"

Google is wrong to shut down debate about diversity

A Google employee who wrote a controversial memo, which accused the “don’t be evil” employer of “silencing” views and creating an authoritarian “ideological echo chamber”, has had his points proven by getting fired. Google’s response to one man’s critical opinion may not be “evil”, but it comes close. The Twitter world and professional opinion formers in Silicon Valley called for the memo-writer’s head, preferably on a bloody stick. Yet hardly anybody bothered to read the carefully worded memo itself. Its author, James Damore, wrote, “I strongly believe in gender and racial diversity, and I think we should strive for more”. His major beef seems to be with the means that Google has chosen to pursue diversity, which he calls “discriminatory”. It is worth listing some of his key claims in the order he wrote them:

Empathy and the Charlie Gard debacle

What words might best describe Charlie Gard’s last months on earth, when he couldn’t move, breathe or swallow without the support of machines and other intrusions, which were eased by morphine? One of the best hospitals on that earth, Great Ormond Street, said his life was one of pain and suffering, and prolonging it would not change that. So again: what words describe that last five-month period when the courts were again and again required to adjudicate between prolonging or ending his life. How about “cruel and unusual” or “inhumane” or akin to “torture”? But who were the torturers? Surely the word applies to anyone who did not stand as forthrightly as they might for the logic of prioritising the opinion of people with a proven record of professionalism and compassion in the matter. It looks as though nearly everyone has some soul-searching on that score. Except Charlie Gard’s parents.
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Goodbye Governance, We Don’t Need You Any More

An Argument for Less Management
By Martyn Perks The word governance speaks of the past, of a time and a way of thinking that is replete with boardroom politics, stuffy decision making, and codifying rules, guidelines, regulations and compliance. I’m not naive. Companies are, and will remain, intensely competitive and political environments. But a vibrant and integral digital workplace (if it is to add any long-lasting value) has to provide staff flexibility in what they do, access and who they can connect with. Whilst at the same time, act as the platform that can focus everyone on the main point of concern for the organization at any given point in time. Ultimately, it has to facilitate the best ways to bring staff together — and increase their connectedness and productivity as a result. If it cannot, it will quickly be sidelined. Staff will find another tool to use instead. These Continue reading "Goodbye Governance, We Don’t Need You Any More"

Pronoun police wage war on London Underground

I love London. Travel on its Tube, that vast electrified network of steel stretching hundreds of miles, and you’ll meet the world. On London’s underground everybody is, quite rightly, free to be whatever or whomever they want to be and, within the bylaws, to behave as they see fit. But now one small group of lobbyists has imposed its will on millions of their fellow travelers. I refer to the replacement of “ladies and gentlemen”, in public announcements on the underground, with “good morning, everyone”, supposedly to stop causing offence to those who identify with neither gender. That’s not right. The great thing about transgender people on the underground is that they blend into the churning throng that traverses its tunnels. They are not objects of unwanted attention or in anyway treated differently to anybody else. Mostly, they are undetectable. So, my guess is that many of them won’t appreciate Continue reading "Pronoun police wage war on London Underground"

German media scores own goal in the Culture Wars

A just-published report from the Hamburg Media School, commissioned by the ‘Otter Brenner Stiftung, accuses the German media of succumbing to steam-roller journalism in support of Angela Merkel’s refugee policy over a 20-week period in 2015 and early 2016. The researchers, who looked at 35 000 articles, found that the media ceased to be professional when they adopted an overwhelmingly positive and emotionally-involved tone in favour of the government’s actions. It found that the fear of being seen as morally bad, helped create a ‘Schweigenpirale‘ (spiral of silence) and a media echo chamber encased in a ‘Filterblase‘ (filter-bubble), which ignored or demonised critical voices. This profound lack of objectivity on the part of German media had the unwitting effect of inflaming public passions, deepening social divisions and reducing trust and confidence in the media itself. The researchers also discovered that left-wing Continue reading "German media scores own goal in the Culture Wars"

PR manifesto for the Culture Wars

21st Century PR Issues maintains that within PR circles there is a near-universal conformity governing the industry’s self-destructive, poorly thought-through response to the Culture Wars. In short: the PR business is currently leading clients in the wrong direction. So here is a twelve-point PR manifesto and a declaration of intent setting out how things could be turned around so that we can help our clients keep their end up in the 21st Century Culture Wars.

Perception is not reality

Substance is everything; appearances are secondary and fleeting. PR pros must promote actual creditable behaviour, good evidence, solid argument, real history, deliverable prospects. Even bleak realities should not be feared. Lazy PR professionals’ ideal clients are those who already value robust frankness. Aspirational PRs should hope for clients whom they can persuade to see its merits. We should scorn bendy truth, flexible aspirations, or handy fudges. One needs to
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The Culture Wars: a PR perspective

In the 21st century societies are increasingly defined by rapidly fragmenting socio-cultural outlooks and competing ways of life. Personhood has been politicised and commodified: we have identity politics and firms track our tastes. Whether it is the words we utter, the clothes we wear, the food we eat, or our taste in holidays, music and sport, or how we demarcate our sexual, racial or national identity, cultural chasms and schisms seem to divide us, even as we are supposed to empathise more intensely and widely. As David Goodhart remarks in The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics, Brexit and the election of Donald Trump – the two biggest protest votes in modern democratic history – marked not so much the arrival of this new era as its coming of age. He writes:
Looking back from the future, the first few years of the twenty-first Continue reading "The Culture Wars: a PR perspective"

Bell Pottinger South Africa, a reality check

What unites all the major political parties in South Africa: the African National Congress (ANC), the Democratic Alliance (DA), the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF)? The answer is their determination to divide the country along pre-existing racial fault lines. Yet the DA, South Africa’s main opposition party, has had the audacity to lodge a misconduct claim against Bell Pottinger (BP) with the UK’s Public Relations Consultants Association, accusing it, among other things, of “sow[ing] racial mistrust, hate and race-baiting, and [encouraging a] divided society”.  So, in essence, BP is being accused by the DA of packaging DA-style politics for a rival stakeholder in South Africa; namely Oakbay Resources and Energy, owned by the controversial Gupta family, close associates of President Jacob Zuma. Yet such has been the howl of protest in the Western and South African media that Bell Pottinger has issued an Continue reading "Bell Pottinger South Africa, a reality check"

A brave new world for mass communication

The success of both BREXIT and Trump tells us that the world is changing. Their triumphs mark a change in the public mood, which is causing the rules governing media schmoozing and managing relations with the masses to be rewritten, as fast as the authority of existing elites evaporates. Corporations are nearly always slow to respond. As of today, most corporations and public institutions remain wedded to an out dated, discredited formula for managing their images and communication strategies. But before I outline how they can benefit from BREXIT and Trump by changing their PR premises, let’s review a few home-truths about President Trump and BREXIT. During the election campaign, Hilary Clinton labelled Trump supporters as ‘deplorables. The use of the word deplorable to describe millions of voters revealed that the establishment views its revolting opponents as being incorrigible, and therefore in some way illegitimate, and not deserving of Continue reading "A brave new world for mass communication"

Muse on the anatomy of rhetoric

The other day I came across some notes that I made many moons ago, when I was researching the historical development and theoretical underpinnings of public relations. I am now publishing them, lightly edited, in the hope that they will help others think about rhetoric as a sophisticated and practical methodology. When it comes to rhetoric, form and matter matters very much. In other words, it is not just what you say but also how you say it that is important. Style, for instance, always speaks to its intention. Tactile things such as artefacts or the printed words merely produce values or symbols that our senses can comprehend; sometimes subliminally, as you do when you walk into the Royal Courts of Justice in London and feel belittled by the high vaulted ceilings that speak of a power much greater than your own. There’s always, I suggest, going to be a Continue reading "Muse on the anatomy of rhetoric"
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