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Tommy Hill British Superbike Champion opens the offices of Fletchers, leading bike injury solicitors firm

Traingate: Corbyn vs. Branson

August 26th, 2016 | Posted by Melissa in Blog - (Comments Off)
Melissa Davis

Will a leading politician ever tweet while taking a Virgin train north again?

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s social media update, insisting that he was experiencing a problem faced “by many passengers every day” is now notorious.

The episode polarises opinion – his fans are more convinced than ever that a hostile media and privat(ised) sector are out to get him.

Those who have been on the receiving end of a Momentum ‘shunt’ feel satisfied – this is a little illustration for the public of the misinformation spread in little ways by Corbyn supporters about them all the time.

Before we get to the way Corbyn’s went wrong on this, it’s worth thinking about images we’ve seen recently, and the way the public talk about them.

More prominent (sorry Jeremy, it just seems to be) was the image of an injured Syrian boy – stunned, blood-stained, pulled from the rubble. I suppose on the upside, he did have a seat.

On the Radio 4 Any Questions that followed, a Conservative noted the perils of basing policy on a single image like this.

A counter-argument is that the image of the boy only has resonance because there are so many situations that are similar, but which weren’t captured by a journalist.

Can you fake something authentic, though?

Hmmm, this is difficult. A war journalist who has faked their proximity to real events is harshly judged by the public – and by their peers and opponents. Journalist Johann Hari’s habit of pulling other people’s material into his own articles was a moral and career mistake.

Corbyn’s sedentary photo-jape would seem to fall into this last category. By playing into the hands of Richard Branson’s pugnacious streak, the Labour leader has probably harmed the cause he sought to promote (and which he presumably still thinks is worth arguing for very good reasons).

I think the damage from this event has been done.

Hearing his campaign chief justify the episode made me wince – he hid behind an attention-trying narrative that sounded like a quasi-legal defence. If it lost my attention as a comms professional, I’m sure it lost the averge member of the public.

But right now, from the public’s point of view, it’s a first offence – equivalent of a juvenile spliff or a speeding ticket. Here, no law’s been broken, and seating can be a bit of an issue on the east coast mainline.

If it is to stay like that then his comms plan must be to – does this sound too obvious? – not do anything similar again. As editors in the press say – two’s a trend, three’s a feature.

Trust is hard won, and easily lost.

I think Corbyn got away with it this time, but he cannot do it again. And his followers need to be cautious about the ‘truth’ on social media too.

So, the comms advice here is clear, if a little worthy sounding – how about sticking to the truth and avoiding confected messages you can be picked up on?

Of course, I wouldn’t dismiss the idea that he’s had that advice already, and often at that – but that wouldn’t make it any less valid.

Melissa Davis is the managing director of MD Communications, the international legal PR agency. She is also co-chair of the IBA Law Firm Management Committee Business Development Working Group and a member of the ABA Transnational Legal Practice Committee.

How to generate ROI using LinkedIn

July 22nd, 2016 | Posted by Melissa in Blog - (Comments Off)
Melissa Davis

I train lawyers in how to exploit social media to generate ROI. This fact tends to illicit sympathy at parties and receptions, though in truth I quite like it. With most tasks lawyers start sceptical, then get competitive – just occasionally I worry their interest has been over-ignited (it’s important to do some actual lawyering in the course of the day!).

Some lawyers intuitively ‘get’ social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, but one common line from lawyers is that they don’t see the point of tweets and updates, but they ‘do’ LinkedIn. ‘It’s more appropriate for a professional,’ they invariably insist.

So be it – let’s take those lawyers at their word. Let’s look at LinkedIn.

LinkedIn is the original social network for professionals and with more than 400 million members it’s an incredibly useful tool for reaching out to others and letting them know who you are and what you can do for them.

Using LinkedIn to build a brand reputation can generate leads and cement reputation, and for individuals it’s an invaluable tool to be heard in a sea of online voices, as well as a prime opportunity to make key connections.

And yet, disappointingly, when lawyers say they ‘do’ LinkedIn, for the most part they limit themselves to a profile that lists jobs and education, and accepting requests to ‘connect’. They likely check out other lawyers they are going to meet or have just encountered.

If you want to make the most of your time on LinkedIn – and see real ROI – here are my top tips on how to make it work for you.

Don’t sell

LinkedIn might have been created specifically for business professionals to help boost their business but that doesn’t mean that it’s a free licence to go in with the hard sell in every conversation you have and everything you post. Use LinkedIn to make connections that follow through into meetings ‘in real life’ and save the sales pitch for when you’re face to face. If you’re using LinkedIn like a cold caller then you’ll end up on people’s block lists and you’ll do nothing to establish a positive reputation.

Write content

LinkedIn is the perfect forum for thought leadership and thought leadership is the perfect way to establish a strong reputation for expertise and experience. Choose a topic or part of a practice area and write a series of articles on it that offers something to others – perhaps your unique view on a current issue or the answer to a pressing question you know many have. Commit to posting quality content on LinkedIn at regular intervals so that you (or your firm) become known as a reliable knowledge source.

Have a strong profile

A poor LinkedIn profile that is half hearted and never updated can do more harm than good. Is your photo professional and appropriate, does your profile concisely explain who you are and why you’re there, have you provided links and filled in all the information that you can? Other users need to be able to put you, or your business, in context in terms of what you do and what that might offer them.

Be opinionated

LinkedIn groups offer a simple way to get your voice heard and start building a profile above all other similar users on the network. Choose groups that might be populated by potential clients or users specific to your area of expertise. Share your knowledge, opinions and insights and your brand credibility will soon start to grow.

Comment

LinkedIn has adapted a lot in recent years, incorporating features that have worked well on other platforms, such as the news feed and the ability to comment on what others are posting. If you’re struggling to get heard or seen then try piggybacking on the reputation of others by identifying influencers and commenting on what they are posting. This should be done carefully – no trolling and don’t comment on every single thing – but the result could be that others begin to see that you also have something to offer.

Be generous

There’s a certain kind of lawyer – I’m sure you can imagine a few – who sits back happy as the recommendations of their peers stack up, without feeling the need to reciprocate – even when prompted by LinkedIn (‘What does Harry Potter know about magic law?’, or similar).

It’s always worth paying that praise back – people notice, and they are as pleased as you are to get an alert saying they’ve been endorsed. You see, as with so much else that’s ‘online’, the good manners and etiquette are not so very different to ‘real’ life.

Melissa Davis is the managing director of MD Communications, the international legal PR agency. She is also co-chair of the IBA Law Firm Management Committee Business Development Working Group and a member of the ABA Transnational Legal Practice Committee.

Busting up sexist views about women in the media

July 15th, 2016 | Posted by Melissa in Blog - (Comments Off)
Melissa Davis

You were probably as surprised as I was on Wednesday to see an article circulating from the Metro entitled ‘Theresa May’s husband steals the show in sexy navy suit as he starts new life as First Man.’ The hilarious account of the ‘First Man’s’ entry into 10 Downing Street contains all sorts of references that we’d usually expect to see applied to papped women. I quote:

“Stepping into the limelight as First Man, Philip May showcased a sexy navy suit with a flourish of pinstripe.”

And

“Round glasses perched on his nose accentuated his amazing bone structure – no doubt one of the assets he used to help him to bag his wife.”

This is, of course, hilarious to read – perhaps a little baffling if you’ve never read the language of the Daily Mail celeb pages or picked up on the subtle cues in the broader media that often reduce a woman either to an asset of her husband’s or a good rack. And it’s done very well on social media – you may have seen it on my Twitter feed or the millions of others who shared and retweeted it. The hilarity of the Metro piece cleverly shines a very harsh spotlight on just how ridiculous the media is allowed to be when it comes to the way that women are talked about. That’s something I think is a lot more damaging than many of us give it credit for and it’s certainly something that impacts all the generations of women coming up behind us.

It’s also a sentiment shared by one Jennifer Anniston who has had her say on the same topic after being subject to intense press speculation (for ‘the bajillionth time’ as she says) as to whether or not she is pregnant. Anniston wrote a piece for The Huffington Post, published on Tuesday, in which she cleared up the rumours about pregnancy (she’s not, it was a burger) and went on to give her own very well informed opinion on how women who become the subject of intense media speculation are treated. She said “I’m not in pursuit of motherhood because I feel incomplete in some way, as our celebrity news culture would lead us all to believe” and made the point that women should be allowed to feel complete with or without a mate, with or without children and no matter what their bodies look like. Anniston also called out the warped way that the media calculates a woman’s worth and “The message that girls are not pretty unless they’re incredibly thin, that they’re not worthy of our attention unless they look like a supermodel or an actress on the cover of a magazine.” It was a powerful piece, made all the more impactful being from a woman who is intensely commented upon but never really comments back.

Together, I think these articles have made the traditional press look a bit silly – which is one approach to shutting down a sexist media. It’s great to read such articulate writing from stars like Anniston (and she totally nailed the subject matter) but will we ever be able to read phrases like ‘elongated pins or ‘poured their curves into’ again without thinking of Philip May? Probably not. But perhaps that’s no bad thing.

Melissa Davis is the managing director of MD Communications, the international legal PR agency. She is also co-chair of the IBA Law Firm Management Committee Business Development Working Group and a member of the ABA Transnational Legal Practice Committee.

Taking back twitter from the trolls

June 28th, 2016 | Posted by Melissa in Blog - (Comments Off)
Melissa Davis

I’ve blogged before – too many times really – about the problem of trolling on Twitter and how this has become a real issue for so many people. However, I’m pleased to say that I’ve recently come across a great example of users taking back some of the control. You may have noticed in recently weeks that a number of Twitter users have made a subtle change their usernames, adding three brackets – or ‘echoes’ as these are now known.

If you’re not sure what I’m talking about take a look @GerardmcdermottQC (((G McD QC))). So what does this mean and why have they done it?

The darker side of social

We know that trolling can happen for just about any reason, usually as a result of a hashtag you use or something that you say, which brings you to the attention of someone who doesn’t like it. However, it has recently emerged that a group of trolls affiliated with the ‘alt-right’ have been using Twitter to mass troll Jewish people, not because of something they have said but simply because they are – or appear to be – Jewish. They have been achieving this by using the echoes, putting three brackets around a user’s surname when tweeting at them, which then acts as a spotlight for a torrent of abuse.

How does it work?

What’s so sinister about this form of trolling is that if you weren’t ‘in’ on it you would have no idea what it meant. Punctuation is not easily searchable on Twitter so at first glance it doesn’t appear to be a particularly effective way of placing a target on someone’s head. However, a Google Chrome extension called ‘Coincidence Detector’ has allowed names that have been surrounded by echoes to be searchable and the result is a huge torrent of abuse. New York Times’ deputy Washington editor Jonathan Weisman wrote about the experience of being targeted in this way and how after the initial tweet that appeared with echoes around his name he was then subjected to all sorts of abuse, including taunts about a path of dollar bills leading into an oven and images of Nazis killing Jews.

Re-appropriating the echo

Since it was revealed that the echo was being used in this way via Twitter there has been a counter movement to try and stem the tide of vicious hatred. Firstly, the Coincidence Detector plug-in that was being used to find bracketed users has been removed and secondly users all over Twitter are taking it upon themselves to help provide cover. And this is why you may have seen the echoes around the names of numerous users recently – Jewish and non-Jewish people have been applying the brackets to their own usernames to appropriate the symbol and so destroy its worth to trolls. The idea is to confuse anti-Semites and ensure that their attacks can’t find the target that they are looking for. So, far the show of solidarity seems to be working and it’s refreshing to see users taking back some control from the trolls.

Leave vs. Remain. The PR battle has just begun.

June 27th, 2016 | Posted by Melissa in Blog - (Comments Off)
Melissa Davis

A lot of people I know were staring at the TV in hope or despair from the 10 o’clock news till that 6am declaration at the end of last week. (Some say they blinked in this time, but I don’t believe them.)

It’s for people other than me to handle the small print of what comes next. But what can come next – and what just happened – was/is determined by the communications side of this debate.

Look at the role of the PM’s ex-strategist – the black T-shirted Steve Hilton. He wasn’t just an eloquent – if alarmingly casual – front man. When, actually fairly solid, statistics were produced by ‘Remain’ it fell to him to say he used to (I paraphrase only slightly) make this stuff up when at number 10.

This seemed honest and direct – disarmingly so. We do like a redeemed sinner. And the tone seemed to respect the audience. It’s probably something ‘experts’ would have benefitted from trying to achieve.

Elsewhere Leave leaders found language that bigged people up, rather than (as Remain often seemed to do) telling them off. They did though, do plenty of telling experts off – some would say the veil slipped a bit there.

All this suited a guerilla war, which is pretty much what Leave ran – shooting at the massed ranks of economists, Nobels and statesmen who were out in the open, from behind rocks and shrubs.

That changes now. There were times when Leave people just couldn’t hold it together – Michael Gove’s Nazi jibes; Nigel Farage’s intemperate comments on murdered MP Jo Cox; that UKIP poster.

But this is Leave’s turn to be on open ground now, to deal in detail and tackle concrete points – the ‘experts’ are the ones behind the rocks.

In communications terms, things don’t need to feel tightly controlled to work. Leave showed that with what often came across as an unspun, unscripted and spontaneous way of talking.

In PR terms, though, just because neither side needs a delivery-ready script for all occasions (the outcome proved this) does not mean that in the battles to come they don’t need a plot.

Battles to come? Well yes. If ‘take back our country’ means unpicking legislation on workers rights, the environment, safety and equality, that will likely be happening hard up against the next general election.

If Leave leaders want the moral authority to do that, then they can’t afford much public veil-slipping.

And if the forces that backed Remain are to defend or salvage as much as possible of the things they care about, they need to review their tone – it has to reflect a respect for the people who voted out. There can be no more telling off.

Melissa Davis is the managing director of MD Communications, the international legal PR agency. She is also co-chair of the IBA Law Firm Management Committee Business Development Working Group and a member of the ABA Transnational Legal Practice Committee.