When quotes go wrong: there’s something distinctly fishy about this beauty…

Even the best PR people can be tripped up by the rise of business gobbledegook in client messaging

A farmed salmon ready for cooking

THE WORLD’S biggest fish farming company has hit the headlines after announcing a change of name.

But that’s not the mouthful that should be of most interest to PR professionals.

I’m not much bothered that the wholeseome-sounding Marine Harvest will now become the rather vanilla, Mowi.  What did catch my attention was that some very capable PR people seem to have carefully and effectively managed the announcement, ensuring it reflects well on the fish farming giant.

The PR success started with an exclusive interview with CEO Alf-Helge Aarskog on BBC Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme, and was then followed up with extensive media coverage in the likes of The Scotsman, The Times and a slew of fish farming related publications (aye, there are loads of them).

A PR photo of a salmon dish served up with lemon on a white plate

But didn’t I mention another mouthful? Something that didn’t leave quite such a pleasant after taste as forkful of smoked salmon? Yes indeedy, I did – and it was this howler:

“Through implementing our Mowi branding strategy, we can communicate our integrated value-chain from feed to the consumer’s plate. We are looking forward to announcing our new Mowi product line in the coming months.”

Said no-one. Ever. Yet this god-awful quote has been attributed to the otherwise very articulate Alf-Helge Aarskog. Worse, it’s been lifted from the press release and been repeated in a number of publications, some you’d really hope would know better.

When I was a jobbing journo a wise old sub-editor let me into the secret of the “say test”. Quotes simply aren’t credible or believable when they read like this. For the simple reason that it’s nigh on impossible to *actually* say them out loud.

Highlighting this one example makes me a hostage to fortune. I know my own agency has dropped similar fugly quotes in media releases. I may even have been responsible for a few myself.

Close up photo of a farmed salmon in a fishmonger's shop

FFS! Even I wouldn’t have said *that*

That’s because over-earnest PR people sometimes get carried away.  While us PR folk  are supposed to be on guard against this sort of stuff, the truth is that even the best of us let our guard down occasionally. However, slip-ups  are becoming more and more commonplace for two main reasons:

ONE – Corporate jargon is a plague. And it’s getting worse. Indeed, there’s a relentless push from clients, marketing managers, bean counters, corporate lawyers and sundry others to make business people sound like bulls**t-spouting automatons reading from the company brochure. PR people can push back, but it’s not unusual for clients to insist that a certain quote – no matter how awkward – is included in a media release. Urgh.

TWO – With many news outlets – both print and online – operating with grievously depleted staff numbers, another check and balance has been weakened. Unsayable, trite, marketing guff that once would have been weeded out is now appearing in print. That removes a major incentive for PR people to carefully shape client quotes, rather than trotting out the contents of the marketing brochures.

Right. Rant over. Everyone loves PR-bashing and I’m sure there will be plenty of folk only too happy to flag up similar, egregious examples that have offended their eyes. No doubt plenty of them will be from me or the team here at Holyrood PR 😀

But let’s get them all out there. Please share your examples in the comments – and who knows, we might even start to make a difference…



The Star Wars guide to the difference between ‘smart’ and ‘wise’


Better technology does not mean greater wisdom

Star Wars movie teaches how wisdom and technology are not the sameBetter, faster, higher.

The delights of the modern world just keep improving, don’t they? From food and clothing to technology and entertainment, our choices get ever greater, accessibility gets easier and affordability is more achievable.

Disposable fashion, microwave meals, convenience stores, smartphones. Where would we be without them?

Surely only the clueless or the catatonic would hanker after the old days or the old ways?

Recently I spent some time in the company of a likeable 17-year-old who was thoughtful, polite, clever and conversational; a teenager to convince you that even our young people are getting better.

He told me how much he was looking for to the next instalment of the Star Wars movie franchise. Then he told me how he’d started re-watching the previous six movies to prepare himself.

Yet there was a big, ugly hair in his bowl of cherry ice cream.

Episode four of the franchise simply wasn’t up to snuff. Too slow, too boring and free from the quality of high-octane action he’d come to expect from episodes one, two and three.

“Nothing much really happens,” he lamented.

It took me a minute or two to remember that episode four was actually the first of Star Wars movies to be made; the one which introduced the world to Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Darth Vader et al.

Its release in 1977 was culturally and socially a genuine, Richter-scale game changer.

But to this smart and amenable young man the plot trundled, the lightsaber battles were painfully slow and the entire movie seemed pedestrian.

Yet none of the subsequent Star Wars movies – for all their advanced special effects, gymnastic fight scenes and accompanying hype – ever matched the earnings of the original.

Here’s what Wikipedia says:

“When adjusted for inflation as of 2013, Star Wars is the second highest-grossing film in the United States and Canada, and the third highest-grossing film in the world. It received 10 Academy Award nominations (including Best Picture), winning six; it is often regarded as one of the best films of all time.”

Which means it’s not only about the money. None of the subsequent movies came even remotely close in terms of global cultural impact.

What this tells me is that smart people – whatever age –  are always worth speaking with and listening to. But there is a world of difference between “smart” and “wise”.

Even smart people can be distracted because there is always something shinier, flashier and louder to catch your eye and to stake a claim for your attention.

In my sphere, the world of PR and communications, attention has been diverted from old-fashioned media relations by the newer, faster attractions of blogging, Twitter, Facebook, content marketing, native advertising and whatever else new comes along.

All of these platforms are valuable and worthwhile. But I’ve given up despairing over the flitterbits who leap from one to the other looking for a new fix of ‘shiny’.

It’s easy to forget is that PR and media relations have been around for 100 years – a business service worth billions across the globe with almost a century of proven value.
We don’t even know if Facebook or Twitter will still be around a decade from now.

Better, faster, higher doesn’t necessarily mean wiser.

It takes wisdom to look beyond the moment, see past the hype, think further than the distraction. And to know that fads fade fast, but that style and quality last and last.








Three little words guaranteed to leave me quivering

The launch of STV Edinburgh is a major event in the Scottish media calendar

STV Edinburgh launch

We launch tonight.

Three little words from an email which dropped in my inbox a short time ago. And I’m shamelessly excited by them.

For those of you who may have missed the cause of my breathlessness, I fully understand that you might not entirely share my heightened sense of anticipation.

But to a man whose life has been spent in the media (and a great deal of it embedded right here in Edinburgh), the launch of a new TV station for Scotland’s capital city is something to get worked up about.

Chances are that STV Edinburgh may well turn out to exhibit all the flaws and failings we expect from tinpot local TV stations, wherever they are to found elsewhere in the world. Cos the simple fact is that in the UK we’re spoiled by the expectations set for us by the imperious professionalism of a phenomenally well-funded BBC. Continue reading

Street party organisers almost created a Mound of heartache

Scotsman report on crush at Edinburgh Hogmanay party

The Scotsman’s report

SOBERING experiences prompt deep reflection.

Like what’s it like to genuinely fear for the life of your child? How terrifying is it to face an implacable danger while rendered utterly powerless? Or who wants to listen to 60s pop music classics while facing a clear and present existential threat?

Sorry if number three sounds terribly flippant. But the truth is I can actually answer all of these questions.

Indeed, that’s why I wasn’t remotely surprised to read in today’s Scotsman that the appalling crush on The Mound during Edinburgh’s Hogmanay Street party is to be the subject of an in-depth safety review.

Forgive what may sound like dramatic effect, but I was there – and I’ve never been more terrified in my life. In a single year past I came within moments of drowning and was knocked over by a hit and run driver. Both those events gave me pause for serious reflection. Neither came close to shaking me as profoundly as my New Year’s Eve experience on an ordinary city street that I’ve walked countless times. Continue reading

Three little words to guide an entire year of personal and business life.

More power to you if you’re currently fighting off craving or pushing yourself beyond your usual limits to meet your New Year resolutions.

Quitting smoking is a typical New Year resolution

Quitting smoking is a typical New Year resolution

It’s a stressful business quitting smoking, sticking to a punishing exercise schedule or tamping down food cravings and coping with hunger pangs.

That’s why I’m not one for resolutions just because we’ve passed a line on the calendar.

However, whether it’s an age thing or a response to a tough 18 months, I do feel ready for a change.  Or rather changes. Just about every aspect of life could use a period of positive recalibration.

So I’m taking inspiration from some influential bloggers I follow – and bypassing the pressure of resolutions to instead choose three little words to guide me through 2015.  Continue reading

The Secret Sex Shame Behind John Lewis’s Monty The Penguin Ad

John Lewis Christmas ad with Monty the Penguin

Monty the Penguin and schoolboy friend.

Just hours after being released to an expectant public, it seems Monty the Penguin is a big, fat, online viral hit.

John Lewis appears to have scored another home run in its series of schmaltzy, heartstring-tugging but ultimately heart warming Christmas adverts.

Except today someone at the department store – a bastion of middle class sensibilities – will be waking up to the realisation that in choosing the cute, CGI penguin star of the commercial, they have cast the avian equivalent of Jimmy Savile.

And that cannot be a good feeling. Continue reading

Climate change is real – It’s time we all adopted a tree hugger

Climate change activists

Climate change activists

I hate to come over all tree hugger on you.

But here’s the thing. Maybe it’s time for all those well-grounded, hard-nosed, practically-minded, business-focused types among us started to make a noise.

Saving the planet is no longer the preserve of skygazing hippies, sandal-wearing dreamers, unwashed nature communers or political fringe eco-agitators.

The lastet report from the WWF (no, it’s got nothing to do with muscular men in hairspray and lycra) should stop even the most ardent planet raper in their tracks: Continue reading