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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

Social media: how to fight nice

August 17th, 2015 | Posted by Melissa in Blog - (Comments Off)
Melissa Davis

I took a few days off last week and as a consequence found myself delving into the lives of Taylor Swift and Katy Perry through the medium of heat magazine. Both are two vastly famous and successful young women who seemed to have managed to evade the curse of a bad reputation. Although both of them have had plenty of tabloid coverage — mostly thanks to bad boy romances/marriages and the public’s general obsession with what they wear – we don’t tend to associate them with these mistakes as much as we do with perky pop success.

As a result of their relatively unbesmirched reputations – difficult in PR terms for people who are quite so famous – I was quite surprised recently to discover that these two are quite well known for that tenuous publicity seeking tactic: the celebrity feud. Even more interesting, the feud was with each other. Katy Perry and Taylor Swift have been engaged in a long running row that apparently dates back all the way to 2012. The most interesting part of this locking of superstar horns is that neither of these women has actually ever mentioned the other one by name. Taylor Swift first referred to it (although not to Perry directly) during an interview with Rolling Stone in August 2014 and we recently saw the two apparently cross swords on Twitter when Perry seemed to call out Swift over remarks made to Nicki Minaj concerning MTV VMA nominees for video of the year and best choreography. But other than that, there’s very little out there for such a potentially juicy story.

Unlike other celebrity battles, this one hasn’t left either party limping and bloody. But how have these two managed to have such a perfect feud? From what I can see it appears to be as a result of carefully avoiding the following:

1. Publicity seeking from another celebrity.

Many feuds are started by a lesser celebrity looking to get into the limelight of a more famous person – by starting a fight with them. Let’s take Katie Hopkins as an example – she has started arguments on Twitter with, well, pretty much everyone and the motivation appears, apparently, to simply be to stir up trouble and/or to re-plaster her face back over the gossip pages.

Reputation impact? Other than tawdry panel shows most people now wouldn’t touch Hopkins with a barge pole. Neither Perry nor Swift is this desperate.

2. Celebrities who just don’t care.

If you’re just SO FAMOUS that your actions don’t have consequences for you then a high profile spat is just no big deal. Let’s take One Direction who have kept their feud going with producer Naughty Boy, now working with ex-Directioner Zayn Malik, to the point of jumping on a piñata with his face on live on stage.

Reputation impact? Let’s be honest, most people are still talking about the Tomlinson baby. However, Perry and Swift both rely on being perceived as ‘nice,’ so despite the mega fame, this kind of recklessness was never an option.

3. Drunk in charge of social media.

Like anyone with a Twitter account after a few drinks, sometimes celebrities get a bit trigger-happy. Of course most of these tweets get swiftly deleted but thanks to the wonder of the Internet the venom remains. For example, Lindsay Lohan drunkenly calling out ex-girlfriend Samantha Ronson for cheating – in front of 9+ million followers.

Reputation impact? bad. It’s just not possible to retract a drunk tweet if you’ve got a following of millions. Perry and Swift apparently don’t indulge like normal humans or are wise enough to have someone confiscate their phones if they do so the feud never escalates into drunken name-calling.

4. Holding your hands up when you’re wrong.

Celebrities (like politicians) will often go to great lengths to avoid admitting fault but this is often the fastest way to stop a situation escalating.

Case in point: Taylor Swift’s aforementioned row with Nicky Minaj actually ended with a Swift apology of the most honest kind: “I thought I was being called out. I missed the point, I misunderstood, then misspoke. I’m sorry, Nicki.” Result? End of feud and lots of heart emojis directed from Minaj to Swift.

And the lesson here is? You can still preserve a polished public reputation without being devoid of personality – as long as you don’t tweet when drunk and there are no piñatas involved.

Melissa Davis

Admittedly, it’s quite difficult to generate a massive amount of sympathy for Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer. In case you’ve forgotten, he managed to see off Zimbabwe’s favourite lion, Cecil, while on one of those awful big game shoot safari holidays that seem to be the penchant of overgrown school children with lots of money and an incomprehensible blood lust for impalas.

While lots of people travel to Africa every year to shoot animals dead just so they can look all macho on Facebook posing beside a limp carcass, Walter unfortunately chose Cecil to be on the receiving end of his cross-bow-a 13 year old lion, described as a ‘local favourite’ and ‘star attraction’ at the country’s world famous Hwange National Park.

While no one can deny his was an ignoble act, the international outrage towards Walter Palmer is phenomenal and still going- and much of it driven by social media.

Last week we blogged about public shaming for idiotic tweets, and this story is a follow on from that. It’s just in this case, social media was not the origin of the story, but was used as a very effective tool to send it world-wide in a very short time span.

Lion killing, tooth puller Palmer’s fate was sealed once the big celebrities began to tweet about the incident and their millions of followers did likewise. One tweet from comedian Ricky Gervais, for example, has been retweeted 40,000 times at the time of writing. As well as being swamped with abuse from all corners of the internet, his dentistry business has been attacked with hundreds of negative online reviews and he has been threatened with violence. In addition, the 55 year old has received tens of thousands of death threats, his home has been vandalised and he has been forced to hire a private investigator following threats from animal rights activists.
But Palmer has said he didn’t know the shooting was illegal and has since publically expressed his regret. Now, forced into hiding, there have even been calls from a senior Zimbabwe minister for his extradition to Africa to face illegal hunting charges.

Unfortunately for him, the damage is done. His apology was like sweeping leaves in a hurricane and he may now be wondering if his life will ever be the same. Thanks to the internet, when you Google Walter Palmer, you will no longer get a link to his dentistry practice, but rather a huge amount of coverage of that fateful night in Africa.

Ultimately, unlike the idiotic tweeters we discussed last week, his actions are harder to defend and can’t really be dismissed as a joke. In these cases, it’s usually best to apologise and keep a low profile until the storm subsides- just as he is doing, partly for his own safety.

Possibly in this case, Palmer will eventually give an interview to selected media once the general public grow tired of baying for his blood. He may even use social media to get his point across but we certainly wouldn’t recommend he does this any time soon. His best option is to identify his supporters and attempt to rally them for the future. Already, there is growing criticism of the way he was hounded, with many media commentators pointing out how disproportionate it was, and how ridiculous the hysteria eventually became.

If you are accused of a crime in this country, you face a Jury of your peers in a fair and balanced trial, you have the chance to defend yourself and have that defence considered.

This is NOT how it works on social media, and the modern day equivalent of the Salem Witch Trials can be seen over and over again not just with Palmer, but many others, often for the most innocuous reasons. While shaming of the Walter scale is probably nigh on impossible to completely come back from, it may be cold comfort to know that eventually, the baying mob will have moved on to someone new, and you can begin to pick up the pieces of your life.

Next time, we recommend he goes on a cruise.

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.