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“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

Can law firms learn rebrand tips from a Harry Potter character?

April 24th, 2015 | Posted by Melissa in Blog - (Comments Off)
Melissa Davis

The name Matthew Lewis might not mean that much to you – but Neville Longbottom probably will. Whether or not you’re an avid Harry Potter fan you probably remember the character of Neville Longbottom, the goofy geek who was just never quite in with the cool gang and yet still proved to have a good heart and a knack for being in the right place at the right time. Fan hysteria around the male members of the cast has traditionally focused on Rupert Grint, Daniel Radcliffe and Robert Pattinson (at least at the point when it didn’t feel indecent to do so) but over the past six months its been the actor who played Neville who has suddenly landed in the spotlight. The reason? Well Matthew Lewis has gone through something of a transformation – from geeky kid to bona fide heart throb – and it’s sent the internet wild.

If you Google Matthew Lewis these are some of the kinds of hits you will get:

“Neville Longbottom Continues To Seduce Us With His Wily Wizard Ways.”

“Hot Damn! Harry Potter’s Matthew Lewis Shows Off Six-Pack Abs and Bulging Biceps: See the Pics”

and

“Ten points to Gryffindor! Harry Potter star Matthew Lewis showcases his transformation from geeky Neville Longbottom to dashing hunk in new shoot.”

Have a look at the images that come up and you won’t recognise the chiseled hunk who appears where the goofy geek was before. What Matthew Lewis has done is essentially the perfect rebrand and his transformation can offer some lessons to businesses looking to do the same.

1. He’s now the real deal.

Many a rebrand is half hearted, perhaps an attempt at some improvement or simply a cover up job to disguise the less attractive elements and enhance those that are more appealing. Matthew Lewis, however, has gone the whole hog – the overall aesthetic is a media friendly combo of hipster meets sophisticate.

Lesson: don’t cut corners. Identify your audience and give them what they want.

2. He has broadened his audience.

No longer just a personification of a much loved fictional character, Matthew Lewis is now a heart throb too. Which will come in useful for everything from endorsements and press attention through to the kinds of roles he’s likely to be offered as a result.

Lesson: aim high – and broad. There’s no point in a rebrand unless it increases your reach.

3. He’s totally working it.

What’s the point in investing all that effort on a rebrand if you don’t then go out and shout about it? From magazine interviews, to a lively twitter account and lots (and lots) of half naked Instagram snaps, all that investment is out there and being worked to the max.

Lesson: when you rebrand be ready to capitalise on it.

4. He’s still authentic.

Other than not going far enough, one of the worst things you can do with a rebrand is to go too far. Matthew Lewis may now be ‘hot totty’ (not my words) but he isn’t being gratuitous, overly attention seeking (for the social media generation at least) or over the top.

Lesson: don’t be desperate. Aim for a better version of what you were before rather than something you’re not.

Melissa Davis

Michael Buble is one of those celebrities who normally can’t seem to put a foot wrong. A voice to die for and an appearance to match, he’s demonstrated a gently cheeky sense of fun and crooner gent attitude over the years in which he has established himself as one of the most famous singers in the world. However, he recently proved to be a good example of how social media can cause problems for even the most well established reputations.

Buble has an Instagram account to which he regularly posts photos of himself and his very aesthetically pleasing family, as well as various tropical locations, music related images, him in a flash car and….well….kittens. So far very innocuous…until now. Unfortunately he recently also posted a photo of himself standing in front of an unidentified woman who has her back to him and is wearing a pair of shorts – a very short pair of shorts. The photo is captioned with the hashtags ‘#myhumps #babygotback #hungryshorts #onlyinmiami.’ The photo has essentially caused uproar and although Buble seemed to think it was a harmless joke, he has been accused of bodyshaming the woman by fans who weren’t impressed with his choice of image. Some of the responses to the photo included “that’s someone’s daughter dude,” “amusing but probably not to the woman featured” and “yep, let’s humiliate a stranger. Stay classy, Buble.”

Others have pointed out that Buble has no idea how old the woman is and she could be a minor. It has also raised questions of whether he got her permission before posting a picture of her behind to his 1+ million followers on Instagram and 2.22 million followers on Twitter. While Buble may or may not have crossed any legal lines, the issue really is one of ethics and reputation as he is now being branded a misogynist and being repeatedly attacked for criticising a woman who isn’t as body perfect as his own wife.

In the light of the social media storm that followed the photo being posted, Buble has very wisely released a statement (also via social media) in which he says that it hurts him deeply that anyone would think he would disrespect a woman and that he regrets that there are people that found the photo offensive. However, if you take a look at his Instagram page you’ll notice that he hasn’t taken it down. Perhaps as a result of leaving the photo up there the controversy continues to roll on and almost a week later there are still numerous articles appearing online chipping away at Buble’s previously perfect reputation exterior.

So what are the lessons to be learned from this unfortunately episode? Well, firstly that speed is essential when responding to a social media storm – and that you should never underestimate how fast something like this can grow. Secondly, that retractions and apologies work but not without removing whatever it was that originally caused such offence in the first place. And finally, don’t go around using your social media to post pictures of other people’s bottoms…

What to do when a PR crisis hits

April 20th, 2015 | Posted by Melissa in Blog - (0 Comments)
Melissa Davis

I was interviewed for an article in The Lawyer magazine today about how law firms – and in particular Gibson Dunn – should deal with a crisis.

Gibson Dunn is a top 30 firm with a global presence and – right now – it’s making headlines for all the wrong reasons. It’s a fairly safe bet that Peter Gray, the partner who has helped shove the firm into the unwelcome spotlight, is probably not the most popular name at the firm right now. If you haven’t yet caught up on the events that Mr Gray has become embroiled in, these first involved his allegedly providing incorrect information to a court that contributed to the decision made to freeze someone else’s assets (for which he could face criminal charges). Then Gray appeared again in the headlines, this time as one of three men being accused by the former managing director of Leeds United FC, David Haigh, of ‘conspiracy to defraud.’ Haigh initially directed his complaint at two executives from Leeds’ former owners Gulf Finance House but has now included Peter Gray too. Haigh has been in prison in Dubai for more than 10 months now. He is claiming that the three men lured him to Dubai where he was arrested and imprisoned indefinitely – but not charged. The reason for the imprisonment was his alleged falsifying of an invoice with a value of £3m. He claims that Gray etc paid his air ticket and even arranged his visa.

So, although not 50 shades of reputation damage by Peter Gray, he hasn’t done Gibson Dunn any favours. The firm has worked to distance itself from him – swift action was a good move – but it’s a very high profile case with some fairly intriguing details and the big problem for the firm is that information just keeps drip dripping through the media channels, keeping the flames of interest fanned and ensuring that every time Gray’s name appears Gibson Dunn’s does too.

Although the firm acted quickly in suspending Gray – exactly what they should have done under the circumstances – as a result of the media attention its next moves will be crucial. So, how to handle this kind of high profile heat? Cooperating with the authorities – and being seen to do so – will ensure that any suspicion of wrongdoing focuses only on Gray. Issuing clear, unambiguous statements and returning calls, interacting with the media and working with regulators are all essential to minimising the damage to a firm reputation that one man can potentially cause. It’s important that the firm is fair to those affected – that too is another reputational landmine if not handled properly – but Gibson Dunn must also focus now on regaining control, perhaps even generating some positive news to combat the negative. Although this might be an unwelcome 15 minutes of fame for the firm, it does not necessarily have to do lasting damage.

Melissa Davis

I’ve read this week’s papers behind my hands. For a PR, watching the steady implosion of Brand Clarkson is a painful experience. Can it get any worse for Britain’s king of controversy?

Last week’s blog focussed on the ‘fracas’ (and perhaps allowed me to indulge my Hammond crush a little) and it would seem that the saga continues.

According to news sources he was quoted at a charity event last week as saying the BBC were “f***ing bastards” and that “the BBC have f***ed themselves…it was a great show and they f***ed it up.” All of which might lead the average viewer on the street to wonder whether Clarkson wasn’t suffering just a little from something of a god complex. Or whether he has a PR adviser on hand?

In the Sunday Times Clarkson said that the comments he made about the BBC were ‘meant in jest.’ He said “by being brief, controversial and a bit sweary, I woke the room up and the auction prize I was offering… raised £100,000.” Oh, well that’s alright then.

However, it hasn’t stopped there – the media machine has been in full swing over the last week, perhaps in response to the drop in positive opinion not just towards Clarkson but also Top Gear as a result of his actions. There has been the coverage of his “difficult divorce” from his wife Frances of 21 years (he allegedly cheated on her) and the fact that his err “back hurts.”

Hmmmm. Does anyone else get the feeling that all that Clarkson bluster is beginning to wear a bit thin, even for him? It is certainly difficult to ignore the fact that all this is starting to feel distinctly like a campaign to prevent the temporary measure of a suspension becoming the guillotine of a sacking.

Perhaps the move that was the most obvious in terms of Clarkson suddenly realizing that he was on thin ice (and not a god, no matter what the Stig says), was his threat to sue the BBC. Sources close to the presenter have said that Clarkson believes there is a BBC smear campaign currently taking place against him and his response is allegedly threatening to sue the BBC for wrongful dismissal if he is sacked. It’s a fairly desperate move – threaten court action very publicly to try and prevent the fall of that blade. And it’s certainly what we would come to expect from a man who many sources have described as a ‘bully.’ However, the question is will he succeed? Or, more importantly, would a cash pay out after legal action (if he won) make up for public dredging up of the many, many faux pas that Clarkson has committed in the past. There was his alleged use of the N word, his Nazi jokes, his slurs against Asian people, punching Piers Morgan – to name but a few (although perhaps few would blame him for that last one). Even if Clarkson won his wrongful dismissal claim, after all that the court of public opinion would be less likely to find in his favour. And that could leave him in rather a PR desert – which, for such a rampant publicity seeker, could be the worst punishment of all.

Budgets are about a message, not the maths

March 24th, 2015 | Posted by Melissa in Blog - (Comments Off)
Melissa Davis

Prime minister David Cameron – First Lord of the Treasury – may be the government’s PR man by background, but the Budget, the most high stakes public relations event in the politics calendar, is entrusted to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Whatever you think of George Osborne’s politics, as an act of communication he did rather well.

Of course, as we have seen many times, as a PR exercise can very easily go the other way too but, nevertheless, successive Chancellors repeatedly try to use their Budget announcements to give themselves a lead in the polls – sometimes shamelessly.

And when it comes to a pre-election budget, perhaps unsurprisingly, this small window of opportunity becomes even more important to exploit.

The Budget is less about the maths than we might think, and more about the message it sends. The maths will, after all, likely be billions out.

A poll that was carried out by Opinium/Observer last week indicated a ‘Budget Bounce’ in positive feeling towards the Conservatives since the 2015 Budget announcement last week. Compared to the week before, the party jumped three percentage points in positive opinion to 36%, while Labour dropped by two points to 33%.

While a mere three points might seem like a small victory from such a large statement, those two figures show just how important those three percentage points could be, as they pushed the Conservatives ahead of Labour with an election just a month or so away.

Many people like to dismiss the inbuilt connection between politics and PR but, if we’re being realistic, everything a politician does has a PR consequence – and often steps are taken with that in mind.

One very current example comes from Afzal Amin, the Conservative candidate for Dudley North who is accused of trying to artificially whip up his own positive PR by asking the English Defence League to pretend to plan a march through his constituency that he could then pretend to stop and take all the credit for. It’s all very House of Cards – or perhaps even ‘Wag the Dog’.

But we all know that it’s opinions that win elections and elections are the one thing that politicians can’t take out of the hands of the great unwashed, which makes PR considerations so important at all times, especially with such an active media presence in this country.

But back to the Budget 2015 and George Osborne’s successful PR-ing of his parties, often-derided, financial decisions.

The PR spin was “those with the broadest shoulders should bear the greatest burden.”

The reality was public spending cuts which were adjusted from the autumn statement just in time to avoid public services spending at its lowest levels since 1939.

It was a ‘help-to-buy ISA’ which offers first time buyers the opportunity to receive £3k from the government if they save £12k but which does nothing to address the undersupply of housing or the acute unaffordability of property in this country (which will neutralise that £3k straight away).

It was tax cuts for savers but no life rafts for those who have lost benefit support thanks to the Coalition and can barely earn enough to keep the wolf from the door.

But there was an increase in the tax-free allowance, a freeze in petrol duty and early access to cash in pensions – as well as the essential pre-election cut in beer duty, of course.

He was telling the nation who, as a type, he approved of.

If Budgets were about substance, Osborne would have admitted when, under pressure from international institutions, he eased austerity in 2012. He didn’t.

While many have said that a government really looking to protect those who don’t have the broadest shoulders would be focusing on building houses, tax breaks for companies paying the living wage and a decent minimum wage, that Opinium/Observer poll would indicate that – in spite of the bare facts – the chancellor’s hype was believed.

Which, in PR terms (for a politician), is a triumph. His opponents ignore the lessons of that at their peril.

This blog first appeared on Huffington Post