Time And The Creative Process

Working in a PR agency, you are constantly challenged to deliver creative ideas within very tight deadlines. Despite the short amount of time available, it never fails to amaze me that we all constantly turn work around. That said, this video about time and the creative process, which Cafe Creative made and circulated to their clients clearly illustrates how you will get better results by giving an agency the time and space to deliver. Their point is simply made in the video by contrasting the drawings of primary school children given ten seconds to draw a clock face and then given ten minutes to repeat the same task.

It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” – Warren Buffet.

In Manchester United’s case it took them 26 years to build their reputation and they have spent the last couple of days tarnishing it.

From a PR perspective, it has been fascinating to watch the dismissal of David Moyes unfold, particularly as a fan of the club.

When Moyes was originally appointed last July, there was a lot of effort put in by the club to highlight that he was a long term appointment. Alex Ferguson’s retirement speech was used as a platform to urge fans to get behind the new boss; Moyes was deliberately given a six year deal to show the faith the club was putting in him; the Chosen One banner; and club representatives like Bobby Charlton were rolled out to deliver messages about the long term future – “We have secured a man who is committed to the long-term and will build teams for the future as well as now. Stability breeds success.”

Lots of public displays of commitment, but as the saying goes you’re only singing when you’re winning and United’s results on the pitch called for a change of tune.

While the majority of supporters probably accept that it was the right decision to make a change at the top, the manner that Manchester United dismissed Moyes left a lot to be desired.

The writing was on the wall the day after a woeful performance against Everton, when at 2.15pm on Monday a number of journalists simultaneously tweeted that Moyes was to be sacked. This was quickly followed up by news stories on their respective websites within five minutes. Something like this is not mere coincidence, it is the result of background briefings with media under the specific agreement that the news is embargoed until a certain time.

Once the clock struck 2.15pm, Twitter was alight as the news made its way around the world in seconds due to the reach of the journalists and outlets selected for the briefings.

What followed next was even more cloak and dagger as media outlets then approached Manchester United for comment. In their responses they deliberately chose their words carefully, stating that Moyes had not ‘been’ sacked, but as Stan Collymore quickly pointed out they didn’t use the word ‘being’ as it was clearly only a matter of time.

Moyes by all accounts was clearly unaware up until this point and had apparently been working on deals for a number of targets with his supposed transfer warchest – another PR stunt rolled out weeks earlier by United to show their faith in their man. The message clearly struck home as he turned up at the club grounds the next day at 4.30am to avoid the cameras, ahead of his inevitable dismissal at 8am.

Over the twenty six years of Ferguson’s reign at United, the world of football had clearly changed. Whatever romanticism it once involved was dead and buried. Money is now the name of the game. That made Manchester United that bit more special, as fans largely ignored the Glazers’ takeover and Ferguson continued to deliver on the pitch by primarily putting his faith in young players. In contrast, a lot of United’s domestic rivals seemed to dismiss managers on a whim and money was no object. United were something to be admired, yet twelve months later they seem no different from their peers.

While there has been a lot of commentary over the last couple of days about Moyes’ communications gaffes, whether it was with media or his players (this article by Simon Kuper in the FT probably sums them up best for me), his statement after his dismissal was full of class.

In contrast to the obvious briefing by insiders, the lack of support by his club in the face of all the rumours, and the schoolyard gossip coming out from the dressing room, Moyes’ statement reflected his integrity. I’ve included his comments from the LMA statement at the bottom of this post.

Standing back, I’m left to wonder what the club hierarchy’s objective was in terms of how Moyes’ sacking was handled. From a reputational perspective, I’m mystified as to how anyone could think it would reflect well on the club. Yes his appointment now appears to have been a mistake, but the only benefit for insiders going behind the manager’s back to the press could only seem to be to deflect attention from the Glazers. All the people who were paraded out in support of Moyes around his appointment were now nowhere to be seen.

Oliver Holt has written the best column summarising how the club has now permanently lost part of their identity. If you’re reading this post, Holt’s piece is a must read.

Quoting Gary Neville, Holt writes:

We look at football management and think of it as being a world of madness, an absolute world of madness, where the average manager gets sacked every 12 months. I’ve always felt that Manchester United should be different and hold itself up as a club that basically stands against what is happening in the game,”

Before adding his comment:

We know now that the idea of dynasty at United started and finished with Ferguson.”

Now the club is left trying to spin about how they will bring in a world class manager, but with limited options it doesn’t look like they will be able to bring in the type of star studded name to match the brand. Sure enough the gains made on the stock market have quickly dissipated as shares closed 5.3% down today after a 6% rise yesterday. It looks like the investment community doesn’t believe the hype.

The world of football never fails to surprise and this week is no different. Naively I obviously thought United were different, but reality has coming crashing home today. In the words of Alex Ferguson, “Football…Bloody hell!

David Moyes statement:

“To have been appointed as manager of Manchester United, one of the biggest football clubs in the world, was and remains something of which I will always be incredibly proud.

Taking charge after such a long period of continuous stability and success at the club was inevitably going to be a significant challenge, but it was one which I relished and never had a second thought about taking on.

The scale of the manager’s job at United is immense, but I have never stepped away from hard work and the same applies to my coaching staff. I thank them for their dedication and loyalty throughout the last season.

We were fully focused and committed to the process of the fundamental rebuilding that is required for the senior squad. This had to be achieved whilst delivering positive results in the Barclays Premier League and the Champions League. However, during this period of transition, performances and results have not been what Manchester United and its fans are used to or expect, and I both understand and share their frustration.

In my short time at the club I have learnt what special places Old Trafford and Carrington are. I would like to thank the United staff for making me feel so welcome and part of the United family from my first day. And of course thank you to those fans who have supported me throughout the season. I wish you and the club all the best for the future.

I have always believed that a manager never stops learning during his career and I know I will take invaluable experience from my time as United’s manager. I remain proud to have led the team to the quarter finals of this year’s Champions League and I remain grateful to Sir Alex Ferguson for believing in my ability and giving me the chance to manage Manchester United.”

There was a bit of car crash radio on RTE a couple of weeks ago as Gerry Byrne and Declan Waugh were on Today With Sean O’Rourke, with Keelin Shanley standing in as presenter, to discuss fluoridation in Ireland.   As part of the interview, Declan Waugh made the claim that fluoride was a factor in Down Syndrome levels in Ireland.  Shanley immediately asked him to cite the research which supported this claim, which Waugh was unable to do and was admonished by the presenter for making such a claim on national radio without the evidence to back it up.

The anti-flouride lobby has made giant strides in making their cause a national issue, which frankly I’m amazed by considering all the scientific evidence which supports fluoridation.  When it comes to science, however, media have been found quite wanting on a range of topics, whether its fluoridation or climate change due to succumbing to ‘false balance’ and giving opinions and scientific fact the same weight (this damning report – pdf – on the BBC’s coverage on climate change is well worth a read.)

Waugh could have at least made the claim, however, if he imply was able to reference the research he based his claim on.  Whether it was a slip of the mind or simply a case of never being challenged by a journalist in the past, he floundered and rightly came in for criticism from Shanley.  This single moment completely undermined him and he lost all credibility to the listener.  So it just goes to show that if you want to position yourself as an expert, make sure you know your facts when you’re asked for them.

I was listening to NewsTalk’s Down To Business last Saturday as the show’s host, Bobby Kerr, interviewed Wayne Byrne from Oxymem, winners of the 2014 Innovation of the Year at the Irish Times & InterTradeIreland Innovation Awards (you can listen to the interview here about 22 minutes in.)  Oxymem produce a piece of technology – a bubbleless aeration solution – for wastewater treatment, which isn’t the easiest thing to get your head around particularly on a Saturday morning.

As Wayne tried to explain what his company does to listeners, Bobby quickly jumped in with this classic line – “With all these things, I try to summarise them into one sentence and with your concept what I did was – it saves energy when it breaks down sewage.”

Simple and straight to the point.  Exactly what you need when you’ve got a limited amount of time to explain what you or your product do.

We should all ask ourselves the question, can I explain what I do for a living in one sentence.  The best audience to test your answer on is your mother, because if she understands then you know you’re on the right track.

First impressions count, particularly in broadcast interviews as if you lose your audience from the outset, then they are likely to drift off and not pay attention to what you are saying.  Bobby played a blinder as the host by giving context to the audience for what Wayne’s product does, instantly making the interview more accessible.

So next time you are preparing for an interview, it’s worth bearing Bobby’s advice in mind and making sure you can explain what you do in one sentence.

Duncan Stewart’s interview on NewsTalk’s Breakfast Show this morning was one of those media performances where you’re left cringing (the full interview can be listened to on this link.) Stewart was on the show to discuss climate change and how media cover the topic in terms of the issues around false balance, something which I am in full agreement with Stewart about. Obviously very passionate about the topic, Stewart felt that the host, Shane Coleman, wasn’t giving him the platform to make his point and then threatened to walk out of the interview, eventually come out with a line that will be rolled out in media training seminars for years – ‘Give me 10 minutes or I’m not staying.’

What’s disappointing about Stewart’s initial outburst is that it lasts about ninety seconds (there is another heated debate towards the end of the interview between Stewart and Coleman’s co-host later), but it is the main focus of subsequent media coverage, deflecting focus from the discussion on climate change – the very issue Stewart was on to discuss!

From a media training perspective, Stewart broke one of the cardinal rules by becoming aggressive with the presenters. While the likes of Jeremy Paxman or Vincent Browne tearing strips off their guests may make for great entertainment, the reverse is rarely the case with listeners forming a poor impression of the interviewee.

The apparent confusion about the interview length is also something worth noting in terms of what your PR representative should establish before an interview. Interviewees should be clear on details like approximately how long the segment will take, who is interviewing them and whether there is anyone else being interviewed as part of the same segment.

Duncan Stewart does a great job to promote environmental issues, but this interview just goes to show that sometimes our passion can get the better of us. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins.”

Were you ever about to give a presentation or be interviewed, but found yourself a little flustered due to nerves. Sometimes we find ourselves quite anxious because of an elevated heartbeat. Here’s a simple tip for how to calm down. Take a note from professional athletes and focus on your breathing.

Make sure to only breathe in through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Focus on taking your time and taking three seconds to breathe in and then exhaling for another three seconds. This focus and method of breathing will quickly lower your heartbeat and calm your nerves, helping you give a better performance.

Good presentation doing the rounds at the minute. If you have any interest in digital marketing, take a few minutes to read it.

The Art Of The Pitch

Everyone is bombarded with sales pitches everyday, so it’s much harder to get your point across to your target audience. Daniel Pink has started to post a series of helpful videos about the art of pitching, offering helpful techniques like the question pitch which I’ve posted below. Well worth checking out if you’d like to feel more comfortable building convincing arguments.

The Question Pitch from Daniel Pink on Vimeo.

The Science of Persuasion

Great video below about the science of persuasion based on the research of Dr. Robert Cialdini, Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Marketing, Arizona State University. The video has some helpful tips that every business should factor into its thinking in terms of how to communicate and sell to customers.

The Age of Misinformation

I’m reading Nate Silver’s ‘The Signal and the Noise‘ at the moment. A section of the introduction struck me in the context of how incorrect information spreads rapidly online today. Discussing the Gutenberg press and its impact on the spread of information, Silver points out that an inadvertent effect was:

Errors could now be mass produced, like in the so-called wicked Bible, which committed the most unfortunate typo in history to the page: thou shalt commit adultery.

Meanwhile, exposure to so many new ideas was producing mass confusion. The amount of information was increasing more rapidly than our understanding of what to do with it, or our ability to differentiate the useful information from the mistruths.

It strikes me that we are seeing the same challenge today, whereby the majority of people see something controversial and share the content, without looking into it at all.

For example, I recently spotted a story on Twitter about Samsung paying a billion dollar fine to Apple in pennies. That sounds too good to be true I thought and sure enough, one quick google search later and I found out it was an urban legend. What was particularly interesting was the story dismissing the rumour that I found was published in August 2012, yet almost a full year later the gossip is still doing the rounds on Twitter.

Despite being in the age of modern communication, misinformation is spreading faster than ever before. Whether it’s false accusations of Lil Wayne dancing on the American flag or people thinking a potentially racist parody of a Kmart ad was a genuine advert, it’s a real challenge for comms professionals across the world to deal with. An Irish company, One4All, recently had to spend a six figure sum to combat a rumour which started on Facebook that it was in financial difficulties.

So much for the golden age of communications. Welcome to the age of misinformation.

Piaras Kelly
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Musings about PR, Marketing, Advertising and Current Affairs by an Irish Public Relations Consultant