Telephone: +44 (0)20 3475 3727    

Email: info@mdcomms.co.uk
Image loading
Image loading

“I have been hugely impressed by Melissa. She has a wealth of experience and contacts and this, together with her proactive approach, enables her to achieve first class results.” Jonathan Hand, Barrister, Outer Temple Chambers

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

How not to get yourself in a compromising position…online

July 31st, 2015 | Posted by Melissa in Blog - (Comments Off)
Melissa Davis

The tabloid allegations surrounding Lord Sewell this week put me in mind of a great book I read recently called So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, by Jon Ronson.

In the book, Ronson catalogues a series of very public shamings, historically, and to the present day, where social media is the modern equivalent to the stocks. In many of the cases he documents, the ‘crime’ in question is not actually that heinous, but what is clear from Ronson’s book is that one ill-thought out tweet is enough to ruin everything.

Twitter is not like a court room- there is no judge, no jury, but what you can face is an angry, collective mob intent on taking you down with little more than a click and nary a backwards glance. It’s tough, relentless and it is usually very unfair.

And as the front pages of The Sun have also demonstrated this week, the traditional media still packs a punch when it comes to the big stories. Days after the images featuring Lord Sewell in….allegedly compromising positions (mild understatement) he has been forced to reconsider his…. usual position in the House of Lords. But what about the rest of us, unlikely to attract the attentions of undercover reporters? By putting ourselves on social media are we risking our reputation, our livelihood every time we Tweet?

You could ask Justine Sacco, a PR from the USA with a handful of Twitter followers, who has seen her life destroyed because of one Tweet. In case you have forgotten, Justine, who was communications director of an internet company, wrote a poor taste Tweet before catching a flight to Africa.

Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!

In what has since gone down in Twitter folklore, the PR then boarded the flight, and while in the air, free of internet access, was ripped to pieces on Twitter and then the mainstream media.

By the time her aircraft landed in Africa, her comments had been re-tweeted over 2,000 times and was trending with its own hashtag; #HasJustineLandedYet. I bet turning on her phone was a fun experience…

She wrote the tweet on a Friday. On the Saturday, she was dismissed from her job.

All it takes is one retweet and your entire reputation could be ruined. This is a hugely frightening prospect. Even by virtue of me writing about Sacco, over a year on, in London, demonstrates the longevity of a Twitter shaming. And she is by no means alone. A google search will throw up hundreds of similar tales of regret and modern day cyber lynching.

It’s obvious, but prevention is better than cure. It’s so important to be aware that everything you post on public internet forums is just that- public, and deleting is usually too late thanks to retweets and screen shots. While stifling debate and free speech is not desirable by any means, you must think about what you’re writing, and how it could be interpreted.. Your 50 followers may get your sense of humour and intentions, but the Twitterverse may not.

So, should you delete all online accounts and spend eternity in a remote cave drawing on the walls and talking to a football with a face painted on it? There’s no need to do anything so drastic. Instead, be mindful of what you put out there. We think the basic starting points are:

Don’t Tweet when drunk. Just don’t. Eat pizza, play Twister with your strange housemate, text all your exes if you must but don’t put anything online.

Don’t Tweet in anger. A knee-jerk reaction can look so bad in isolation. Deep breaths, please and think calm thoughts.

Think about your wording. Could it be misinterpreted by people who don’t know you? Don’t write anything you wouldn’t happily repeat to a stranger you just met at a dinner party.

But essentially, if you DO find yourself in the firing line of a public backlash, call us….or if you do use twitter to get in touch please make sure it’s a DM.

How not to make a tit out of yourself in a PR crisis

July 23rd, 2015 | Posted by Melissa in Blog - (Comments Off)
Melissa Davis

Recently, a woman posted a very disturbing story on Facebook breastfeeding activism forum Free to Feed, where she alleged a security guard in a Leicester branch of discount retail chain Primark forcibly removed her nine-month-old daughter from her breast when she would not stop breastfeeding her, and then walked off with the child.

Within a few hours, the story had leapt from the relatively obscure social forum and on to the national media and parenting forums, including Mumsnet and Netmums. Unsurprisingly, it was met with almost unanimous horror judging by the wide-eyed online chatter. We have all seen stories of women being asked to cover up or sit in a toilet when breastfeeding out and about, but this was a whole different level- it was apparently both a violent act and a violation of this woman and her child, and likely a criminal offence (the police were also involved). Of course the story went viral and was trending and shared thousands of times across social media within hours.

Bad news going viral is the kind of thing that keeps PRs up at night and I wouldn’t have wanted that job last week. It can be unstoppable, totally unmanageable and can irrevocably damage a brand if not handled well. (There are so many examples of poor handling, that it requires a blog all of its own- but as a quick reference, have a look at the shocking Beach Body Ready debacle for a perfect example of what not to do).

But this time, despite staring down both barrels of a truly dreadful scenario, Primark handled it perfectly.

As it turns out, serious doubts have since been cast over the woman’s testimony. Even the online forum where this whole thing began is backing away from her and the story is no longer being reported by media outlets or on social media generally. CCTV footage, the testimony of staff and shoppers and descriptions of security in the store on the day she alleged the incident occurred did not match her version of events. All in all, extremely damning stuff. But had the damage been done? Or did Primark save their reputation through clever handling.

So, what did Primark get so right?

Firstly, they responded quickly on social media, but without being at all defensive and at all times keeping a cool head. Come at this kind of thing with all your pent up rage and fury and all you’ll achieve apart from a broken keyboard and self loathing, is an even greater poo-storm than you first encountered. The company swiftly acknowledged the seriousness of the allegations, and promised to investigate immediately. They also repeated that they fully support nursing mothers in all their stores and would not tolerate any violation of this. The company kept everyone informed of what they were doing and were calm and respectful at all times, even when faced with a head spinning number of abusive and frothing posts on Facebook and Twitter.

Secondly, Primark did not rush to get a statement ready. In fact, this was not released until the following day. It can be really tempting to get a full statement out as quickly as possible after negative publicity but it is always better to establish the full facts beforehand. Instead, the company waited until the investigation had gathered sufficient evidence before robustly denying the claims. Their press release was straight and to the point and was nothing beyond a statement of the facts, as Primark saw it.

And thirdly, at no point was Primark critical of the woman who made the allegation. They immediately took the higher ground and stayed there.

The statement from the company said:

“We have investigated this customer’s allegation which we naturally take very seriously indeed.

“The CCTV footage, reviewed by store management, shows the customer in the Leicester store quite clearly during the time in question. We can see no evidence that she was approached by anyone during this period.
“We have spoken to the security guards on duty. They categorically deny behaving in the way alleged. Furthermore the individuals do not fit the description given by the customer.

“We have therefore concluded that the customer allegation is not supported by the available evidence to date. The company would obviously be happy to work with any police investigation into this incident, should this be needed.

“We have tried to contact the customer to reassure her about Primark’s practice on breastfeeding.”

So by waiting it out, establishing the facts and remaining fair and unemotional at all times, but at the same time giving the public as much information as necessary, Primark avoided what could have become a massive hate campaign. The company’s cool reaction allowed the facts of the investigation to emerge.
Within hours, the story was blown apart. Free To Feed has since said it will close the Facebook group. The woman who made the initial allegation has yet to respond to Primark’s statement or any requests for comment from the media. Damning indeed.

Social media is a valuable tool in getting your message across and communicating with customers and clients, but as this story has demonstrated, it can also be extremely damaging if something takes hold. We have used Primark’s experience and response to develop three basic principles of how to handle a viral nightmare:

1: Respond to initial allegations quickly and calmly, without admitting anything. ‘We are investigating as a matter of urgency’ is usually a safe line’.
2: Establish the facts before issuing a statement and don’t feel pressured to do so until you’re ready, even if the internet is screaming at you.
3: Offer an olive branch to the person or person(s) making the allegation. Even if you want to beat them with said branch, it shows you’ve nothing to hide and are very professional.

Good luck out there, the internet can be a scary place….

Why your brand can be worth a fortune.

July 13th, 2015 | Posted by Melissa in Blog - (Comments Off)
Melissa Davis

Business bible Forbes recently released its eponymous list of the world’s most valuable brands, and while the big names on there are in a branding superleague all of their own, can smaller businesses learn anything from the sharp practices of these industry goliaths?

Sitting comfortably in first place is, and try and disguise your shock here, technology firm Apple, proof that naming your company after a fruit that has absolutely nothing to do with any of its products is not a ridiculous idea.

So first off: Make sure your company name stands out from the rest.

Apple does so well mostly because of it’s high quality, beautifully designed products that are marketed as both aspirational and essential. On the road to mega success, having a distinctive name and a memorable logo to match did no harm to the company. It shows that your company name can be off the wall, so long as you can provide a high quality service or product. People will remember you, and the brand will begin to establish itself.

This brings us on nicely to…..

Are you a special snowflake?

This one is very important. You must be unique. There is no point spending money, time and energy into creating a perfect name and logo if someone else is waiting in the wings with an Intellectual Property lawyer on standby. Even BIG brands fall foul of this though. A classic example is Burger King, who on deciding to enter the Australian market, came up against a man from Adelaide who not only ran his own Burger King, but owned the trademark. If you ever visit Oz, you’ll find the home of the whopper there is called Hungry Jack’s. The same applies if the name or logo is very similar. So make sure you check what’s available before taking the plunge. (Incidentally, this also happened in the early days of Apple with a legal battle with Apple Corps only being resolved in 2007….you have been warned).

So now you have your name, your logo and your product, it’s time to…

Strive for positive associations

Some brands hold immense power over our emotional response. We associate them with happy times, feeling safe, confidence in the product and most importantly- trust. Number 49 on the Forbes list is nappy and baby product brand Pampers. Pampers does not produce the cheapest nappy or wipe in the market, but consistently outsells all others worldwide. When it comes to babies, parents want a brand they can rely on. Pampers has spent years and millions of pounds setting itself as a premium product that puts the welfare of children (specifically their bottoms) top of its agenda.

So how will anyone know how amazing you are if you’re just sitting there with the curtains closed watching daytime TV?

They won’t. You have to tell them.The key to getting across your USP (unique selling points) to distinguish your excellent brand in a very crowded market is to engage with customers, build a rapport and establish trust. Trusted brands can charge more and don’t need to do the hard sell so the hard work today will pay off tomorrow. We’ve identified the easy first steps you can take as a small business without a gargantuan marketing budget:

Social media: cheap, free, easy and direct engagement with the customer. Use it to your advantage; be chatty, helpful and friendly and answer all queries in a timely manner.

Have a consistently outstanding product or service: Do this and your brand will speak for itself. Word of mouth recommendations are likely to follow and this is how you build trust and establish the company. A good example is online supermarket Ocado- despite competing against huge retailers, it has a loyal and growing customer base due to it’s high quality products and excellent customer service.

Know your market: It seems obvious but it’s really important not to get complacent. Do your research, know your competitors and find out what they do better than you. There will always be something- I know, hugely irritating but that’s business for you. Also, talk regularly to your clients and find out what they think of you.

Finally, enjoy the process: Building a business and a brand can be one of the toughest challenges you will ever face, but keep in mind why you’re doing it all in the first place and don’t lose sight that the rewards if it all works out are beyond compare. Good luck.

Struck lucky on Tinder…now what?

July 6th, 2015 | Posted by Melissa in Blog - (Comments Off)
Melissa Davis

I have written before on here about Tinder – the revolutionary dating app that taps into some basic app (and attraction) principles to create an enormously popular and fast way to match people up. It has become one of the most successful dating apps on the market, creating real long term relationships from its left and right swiping format.

And as the concept of Tinder has evolved, in its wake we have begun to see a new generation of apps – apps upon apps – that have been designed to help human beings take the seeds of romance planted by Tinder to the next level. A prime, yet ultimately depressing example of this is an app called HeroBoyfriend, which has been created to help romantically stunted men keep that Tinder fire burning. The app was created by a couple of Aussies who spotted that, although there were plenty of dating sites and apps for lonely hearts, there was nothing out there to help people keep that spark going. Or, as the tech startup owners themselves put it “the whole digital dating industry is focused on acquisition and nobody is working on retention.”

Ladies and gentlemen, that sound you hear is romance exiting the building. Actually, it hasn’t just left the building, it’s downloaded Google Maps, entered some co-ordinates for an isolated Pacific island and is now making its way to the nearest tube towards Heathrow terminal four.

Essentially, the idea for the app was borne from one of the developers screwing up his own long term relationship, something he feels wouldn’t have happened had he had the benefit of the wisdom supplied by HeroBoyfriend. We’d like to hear the perspective of his ex on this one…

So how does it work? Well essentially HeroBoyfriend is downloaded to said clueless boyfriend’s smart phone and will then send curated reminders and suggestions so that he can keep his girlfriend happy, whether that’s doing the cleaning, buying flowers or…err…displaying affection. The app is personalised at the start by the user answering five simple questions that are designed to tailor the content depending on the personalities involved.

There are also location based nudges – for example if you happen to be at the supermarket it might remind you that it’s a good idea to buy bins bags (in case it’s also time to take the bin out…).

Completely and utterly soulless, perhaps, but nonetheless, it’s certainly a novel idea that uses the latest tech developments and applies them to a profitable space. However, the question remains that if a woman discovers her boyfriend requires an app to tell him to give her a cuddle or empty the dishwasher whether that won’t defeat its purpose when she dumps him for being weird and lazy.

This article first appeared on The Huffington Post.

The Richard Hammond Show?

June 30th, 2015 | Posted by Melissa in Blog - (0 Comments)
Melissa Davis

Did you tune into Top Gear last night to see the last ever episode featuring Clarkson and his petrol scented bezzies?

The infamous steak-gate wasn’t mentioned and instead, hilariously, a giant plastic elephant nestled in the corner of the studio while Clarkson, Hammond and May prepared themselves for the scrap-heap. It was a cobble together of previously recorded antics (vintage cars, new cars, smashing cars, leaking oil, insulting Turkey etc), interspersed with some studio based chatter between the trio, who’s camaraderie is clearly genuine.

The not-unsurprising news that telly marmite Chris Evans is set to fill the vacant space left by Jeremy Clarkson’s rather ignominious departure was announced recently by the BBC.

For those of us (I can’t be the only one) who were hoping the entire show would focus entirely on the world’s most attractive hamster Richard Hammond this is of course a great disappointment.

Not to Evans, though, who, while riding the wave of an unexpected and inexplicable 90s revival, has resorted to acupuncture in a bid to calm his excitement at his new job thumping shiny bonnets and kicking tyres on national television.

But while the iconic flame haired 90s shouty man is understandably cock-a-hoop at his new appointment, there has been mixed-feelings among others over the new choice of presenter – for some it’s the similarity between the two egos and for others it’s the differences that are making them anxious, It’s important to remember that this isn’t just a case of making the programme successful in the UK, this is essentially a brand with enormously wealthy syndication and £50 million (ish) of global revenues behind it. No wonder Evans is going under the needle.

So, does he have the personality to successfully throw off the Clarkson shadow and make the show his own while also sweeping up the Jezza faithful in his wake? From his TFI days, it’s clear the presenter shares Clarkson’s knack of assembling a group of personalities that get along and have a laugh together- something unlikely to have been overlooked by the telly bosses when deciding on a new presenter for their golden egg.

It’s hard to say at this stage whether it will work, but it’s worth noting that Evans is the king of the live show – he has always excelled when it comes to that nervy, unpredictable edge that programmes without the safety net of a recording have. (Except that one time Sean Ryder swore on tea-time Channel Four and TFI Friday was forced to subsequently broadcast on a time delay of course…)

He’s also a rather different type of personality to Clarkson – yes, they both have a similar outspoken blokeishness to them but Evans has toned his down considerably in recent years. If that uncontrollable laddish ego forms a quintessential part of what a Top Gear lead host must have then is he going to prove too tame to give the audience what they want? Given the dedication with which some of the fans follow the show will the fan base allow for any deviation from a Clarkson-esque script or will Evans be forced to simply be a ginger haired version of what went before?

More importantly, in the last couple of days Clarkson himself has revealed that he is in talks for his own new car show – along with former hosts Richard Hammond (*swoon*) and James May – and where does that leave the original Top Gear? Having yet to prove his spurs, Evans surely has no chance to erase Clarkson from the minds of the faithful if he is there doing all his old routines, with his old side kicks, just over on another channel? It will be interesting to see how this plays out, even for those who aren’t that interested in the programme itself.

However it’s worth noting that Evans is mad about cars, and has a collection of vintage models tucked away in the garage of his country pile. He will know what he’s talking about, but will he have Clarkson’s edge?

Of course my advice to the BBC bosses is what I have said from the start – turn the concept into the Richard Hammond Show and offer the pint sized prince too much cash to turn it down. But now I feel like I’m labouring the point…

This article first appeared on Huffington Post.