How to keep a marketing exec occupied: Ask how to spell “flavour”

During a phone call earlier this week I had to adminster many a soothing noise (you know, supportive oohs, aahs and much tongue clicking) to a fellow hack who has turned to the dark side.

The individual in question shall remain nameless. Suffice to see the person is a reporter of high repute; a seasoned campaigner and respected writer; experienced on the road, with sharp elbows and good door-knocking skills; but just as comfortable writing features and consumer/celeby type stuff; they’ve also served time as a sub and worked on newsdesks; and they are easily capable of turning their hands to traditional media or in the newer, digital platforms.

What’s more the person in question also has a decent stint as a PR person on their CV. You get the picture. This is a capabable, proven and popular media all rounder. Someone who is not often put out, caught by surprise or left stuck for words.

However, recently the person in question was thrust into the company of a small band of “marketing” types. Not in itself a problem, as our trooper ploughed on through the tasks assigned their way. As our nameless chum started to get a picture of the murky goings-on in marketing land, their eyebrows slowly began to rise.

First of all, they were handed the file on a major blue chip client and told: “You’d better get out to this event this morning – we need 10,000 hits for this client! Oh – by the way – the major national newspaper originally signed up as media partner has pulled out at the last minute. So you won’t be able to get any coverage there.”

“Er, right. So what do you mean by ‘10,000 hits’ exactly? What are the messages? What are the target audiences? Which media should we be aiming for? What actually counts as a hit? Are we talking about audience reached or the value of coverage generated?”

In other words, our contact asked all the reasonable (indeed basic) questions for any media pro being suddenly dropped into a situation which had all the makings of a marketing goat-f*ck.

But worse was to come: “Just hits,” was the less-than-helpful reply. “We don’t care how you justify them. The client give us a a number and we have to hit it somehow. That’s all.”

Ahhhh! So that’s how marketing works! A precise and respectable discipline with near scientific means of measuring the success of clearly defined targets. Or not, as the case may be.

But while our chum was quickly seeing the shine come off the marketing world, worse was to follow. For 30 minuters our contact had to bite their tongue while two rather vacuous colleagues discussed the spelling of “flavour” and debated – in some depth – whether it has a ‘U’ in it or not.

Near their wits’ end, our source was wondering what they’d let themselves in for: “Thirty effing minutes. Couldn’t they just have done what any self-respecting hack would have done after 30 seconds and run it through Google?”

My own preference is for the well-thumbed copy of the Oxford English Dictionary. Where I quickly and easily found the defintions for “tolerance”, “fortitude” and “serenity”.

All qualities our friend is going to need in spades to survive any lenght of time with the marketing muppets (definitiely with a “u”) without the aid of a rifle.


No wonder smoothie Simon Pia is looking pleased with himself.

Simon and Wendy

When Simon Pia was axed from Talk 107 he moved off quietly and without a fuss and started planning his next career move.

When he resurfaced as the new spin doctor for shouty Scottish Labour leader, Wendy Alexander, I was a tad surprised.

I thought the Hibs-daft smoothie might have chosen to sup from something of a poisoned chalice. Really though, I should have known better. Simon’s been round the block and knows how to take care of himself.

It’s clear from this picture that he’s already found the ideal way to  defuse potential histrionics from La Labourette. He simply whips out his magic pen and, with a few soothing words, Oor Wendy immediatly falls into a rather glaikit-looking, glassy-eyed trance. Brilliant.

Simon sprung to mind in the past week, when the bloodletting at Talk 107 reached Night of The Long Knife proportions, with the demise of Mike Graham, followed by the sacking of “shock jock” Scottie McClue (which seemed to be the industrial relations equivalent of a particularly clumsy seal clubbing).

It suddenly became clear just how dignified an exit Mr Pia made earlier this year. When he was canned in favour of Dominik Diamond, there was no wailing, gnashing of teeth and no spat over who did what to whom. He simply retired from public view for a few weeks while sorting out a suitable new, high-profile berth for himself.

Somehow I can’t see Scottie McClue pulling of a similar job coup (McCoup?). He’s already made a bafllingly long career on the margins of radio by having a go at single mums and other council estate dwellers.

My favourite story about McClue came courtesy of my old chum Stephen Rafferty who was staking out the home of the DJ/presenter (real name Colin Lamont). If memory serves, Raff was looking into something to do with the misuse of periscopes in public.

The upshot was that during the stakeout he and the oustanding photographer Chris Watt had to quickly hide in the substantial hedge on the perimeter of McClue’s property – only to be outed by the startled DJ’s pet dog. It was comedy gold and Raff has dined out on the story many times since. You can read his own account of the tale HERE.

Animosity between the pair was heightened when McClue then turned up at work and used his morning show to berate and generally badmouth Raff and his Daily Record colleagues (of whom I was one).

The next time their paths crossed was at the launch party for the ill-fated Live TV (which gave the world topless darts and weather read by trampolining dwarves). Raff had his fill of the hospitality then spotted McClue – in full get up of bunnet,half moon specs, tweed jacket and fingerless gloves – chatting to two stately looking ladies.

To the horror of the middle-aged Morningside matrons, Raff waded in, got McClue in a, er, friendly hug (actually it was closer to a half nelson) and promptly half-inched his trademark bunnet. iN fairness it was only once incident among many a shameful going on that nigh. The upshot was a varierty of complaint to the editor, a summons in front of the scary managing editor Malcolm Speed for all those involved and a rap on the knuckles for Raff whcih saw him forced to work in Glasgow for a couple of months (a cruel and unusual punishment in anybody’s book).

Ahhhh … the memories.

An Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman walk into a pub – and they’re ALL Tony Cascarino

Tony CascarinoA nice wee PR package came together this week following an interview with former Celtic, Chelsea and Marseilles football star, Tony Cascarino,who is now the sponsored professional poker player with our client,

The big man is a great interviewee and let slip during our chat that he’d learned in the last few years that his dad was born in Scotland.

Now, this struck me as particulalry ironic, because Tony collected a hatful of Republic of Ireland caps and really made his mark when the Irish team lived the dream at both the 1990 and 1994 world cups. He was able to do that because his beloved mum, Teresa O’Malley, had an Oirish father. 

His grandpa on the other side of the family was Italian and everybody assumed his dad Dominic was English, but both the England and Italian squads of the time were brimful of talent, so his chances of international calls up with either of those nations were slim, to say the least. All in all his Irish heritage worked out just dandy – big Casc loved playing for Ireland and the Irish supporters loved him right back. Fans and players alike enjoyed a fantastic, fairytale experience along the way.

Except that in 1996 Tony’s mum revealed that she’d actually been adopted, so there was no blood tie with his Irish grandfather at all. In his autobiography, he wrote about the profound effect of the bombshell news and how it left him feeling like a fraud and a fake and took the shine of his time with the Ireland national team. Of course, he was being hard on himself and everyone in Ireland was totally laid back about the whole thing. Adoption made him as Irish as the Liffey and they loved him just the same.

As Cascarino filled me in on all this (in an accent so English, at times he sounded like Brucie Forsyth!) I had to ask why he’d never chosen to play the Scottish card instead.

The answer was simple. He’d never had a particularly close relationship with his dad and the older man had also been extremely cagey about the subject. After claiming he’d been born in Edinburgh, he’d refused to elaborate any further, except to say he’d stayed in the Scottish capital until he was five and then moved to London. In the absence of any concrete evidence about this situation, Tony had chosen simply to ignore it.

Without letting on I arranged for a birth certificate search just to quietly see if it was possible to confirm or deny his father’s story. The records system and Register House in Edinburgh is superb and it literlly took limits to come up trumps with Dominic Cascarino’s birth certificate from 1939. For a small sum we were even able to get a copy.

When I broke this news to Tony, he was delighted. Something that had always been a bit hazy and uncertain was suddenly laid before him in black and white as irrefutable fact. And so we had the story of what might have been – one of the biggest charcacters in the game could have qualified for Scotland and avoided all the angst that eventually overshadowed his time with the Ireland football team.

Whatever nationality the big fella chooses, he’s a gentleman in any language – so I wish him all the best as he’s back in Dublin this week to play in the 2008 Irish Open.

 I’m jsut not sure whether to wish him Good luck!  Buona fortuna! Go n-éirí an t-ádh leat! – or Gaun yersel big man!

Baffled Tony Marsh gets a view from the other end of the lens

Tony MarshPart of the fun of journalism is capturing pictures of those who don’t want to be photographed.

These days it’s a rather grubby affair, thanks to the efforts of the so-called paparazzi who follow around so-called celebs and photograph them for a bunch of so-called lifetyle magazines. However, that’s the way of things because there’s money in z-listers – and where there’s brass, there is inevitably muck.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still any number of superb paps – those who meticulously plan and go to unbelievable, James Bond-style lengths to get the pics of proper A-list celebs that they don’t want the world to see. They spend years cultivating contacts with hotel staff, movie insiders and other helpful sorts, find themselves in weird and hard to reach places and basically dedicate all their guile, charm and experience to outwitting the publicity, security and personal staff of overpaid stars.

But I’m afriad their noble work (awright, that’s mibbes stretching it a bit) has been diluted by the proliferation of eejits with cameras who think it is perfectly acceptable to:

A) Stalk famous or semi-famous people relentlessly, then shout abuse at them to provoke a reaction and so get sneering/spitting/swearing/swedging pictures.

B) Cut mutually lucrative financial deals with z-listers who are desperately trying to claw their way up (or back up) the celeb ladder by staging pictures to show them in a fabourable light, then pass them off to an unsuspecting public as though they were taken without consent.

However, there is an oft-overlooked and forgotten area of photographic news work which altogether less glamorous and less well-paid – the good old-fashioned snatch picture.

This is usually reserved for the likes of criminals, conmen, bent business sorts, cheating public figures and anyone else who is in trouble, but doesn’t want the world to know.

This week two Deadline Press and Picture Agency staff were off on a wee jaunt into the Lothians in pursuit of once such suspect, armed only with a possible address to check out.

When they arrived at the destination they scoped the area and quickly realised the possibilities for a surreptitious snatch were remote. Which meant they’d have to blast the suspect and take their chances.

So while reporter Doug Walker knocked the door and tried to keep the occupant talking, photographer Stuart Cobley stood a safe distance away with his motorwind whirring.

While Doug quickly realised the man at the door wasn’t who he was looking for he did his best to keep him talking. But it quickly became apparent this particular chap had clocked the photographer – and worse yet, recognised him.

Ignoring the hapless distraction efforts of reporter Doug, he shouted out: “Is that you Stuart? What on earth are you up to?”

Rather excruciatingly for the Deadline pair, they were at the WRONG address and were actually trying to snatch highly-respected newspaper photographer Tony Marsh, who has worked for all the main papers. Indeed, he spent time at the Evening News, where he was actually Stuart’s BOSS. Oops.

Luckily for all concerned Tony is a top bloke (as well as a top snapper) and has been on enough snatches himself to know that sometimes you get the wrong information. So he saw the funny side. Or at least, he accpeted the explanations/apologies of the Deadline pair with as much grace as he could muster having just been roused from his scratcher and subjected to an unwanted photoshoot.

But I’m going to look on the bright side. Because the Deadline pair still showed professionalism and fulfilled the first rule of snatch photography – by getting a usable picture in the bag regardless of other circumstances.

And Tony, news photographer par excellence, got an unexpected view of life from the other end of the lens – as well as a funny story to tell his mates down the pub.

I suspect I will also owe him several beers for publishing this pic!

Scottish media ensures a fair fight in the Cage Wars debate

When I was 19 one of my best pals was a pretty serious amateur boxer. He ate carefully, trained with a discipline that involved a level of self-sacrifice none of our peers would have entertained and was in near perfect physical conditon. His fitness was awesome. All of this I could see with my own eyes on a daily basis.

What took a bit more understanding was the amount of sheer craft involved in mastering the noble art.

My friend was a thinker and we watched endless videos of the fighters he admired, for their speed, skill and tactics – most notably Sugar Ray Leonard. So I knew that while it ultimately came down to who could bludgeon whom most effectively over 12 rounds, the sport in its purest form involved guile, finesse, speed of thought and a a real degree of  artistry.

This was brought home to me one afternoon in my friend’s back garden when he invited myself and another pal to  spend as long as we could pummelling him. Two on one and he promised he wouldn’t throw a punch in return. While we wore bag gloves (not much in the way of padding), he would wear sparring gloves (which were the most padded gloves it was possible to get). In other words, even if he forgot himself for a second threw a punch at one of us, it would be as painless as possible, while any punches we landed would be felt acutely.

The aim of this exercise, as we soon found out, was to demonstrate to us two non-boxers, just how much skill was involved. In the few frenzied minutes we threw everything we had at him neither of us managed to connect with a meaningful punch. Those which actually landed (and I was utterly amazed by the number which he successfully slipped) were caught harmlessly on gloves or elbows.

It’s safe to say I was dumbfounded. In a few minutes a sport I already respected attained an entirely new status. The casual ease with which he avoided, or parried blows from two of us was like a scene from the Matrix. We must have seemed like we were moving in slow motion to his fine-tuned boxer’s brain. Bear in mind that while my boxer pal was a big talent in the local amateur scene, the gulf between him and the top class professionals was akin to the gap between the footballers at Linlithgow Rose and those in a World Cup winning team.

Needless to say, I’ve never look at any boxing match the same way since. I always try to see beyond two blokes thumping each other to see the dedication, discipline, conditioning and undeniable level of skill involved.

Imagine learning all those skills for boxing and it’s easy to see why it requires endless hours of training, repeated day-after-day and year-after-year. Then imagine also having to learn all the equivalent skills in wrestling (the olympic version, not the theatrical joke that is WWF). And judo or ju-jitsu. And maybe a spot of Thai kick boxing as well.

Consider the combined training regime for all of those combat sports – and the feat of memory and the dedication required to master each highly-technical move, throw, grip , slip or avoidance technique. Wonder at how difficult it would be to learn how to read opponents across all those separate disciplines. Finally picture the culmination of that process – and stepping into an arena to face an opponent every bit as highly trained, motivated and hungry.

Welcome to the world of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). Step into the controversial subject that is cage fighting – and to a fiercely contested debate on whether this is a genuine sport, or a form of bloodlust and barbarism with no place in a decent civilisation.

When Holyrood Partnership agreed to provide media support to Cage War Productions for its Max Xtreme Fighting event at Braehead Arena, it was with a degree of trepidation. I expected us to be firefighting constanlty while knee-jerk reactionaries would all too easily command the moral high ground. Previous experience told me reasoned argument in favour of cage fighting would be virtually ignored – steamrollered by a heady mixture of righteous indignation and misplaces anti-violence sentiments.

However, I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Firstly the coverage by STV (which has been slightly amended in the YouTube video a the top of this post) is pretty well balanced. Even more impressive is this article (click here) by Alasdair Reid in the latest Sunday Herald magazine. Inscisive, insightful and effortlessly written it is also gives a genuinely thoughtful – and thought provoking – view of the world of cage fighting for Britain’s aspiring competitors.

Each piece of coverage introduces a separate MMA fighter – and both are eloquent and persuasive advocates for their sport. At best MMA is misunderstood. At worst it is reviled. Add to that its status as little more than underground and minority sport in the UK, factor in the dedication and training required and the lack of financial rewards. All of these factors make it quite remarkable that Glasgow should boast two such impressive spokesmen as Anthony Thompson (the philosophy student featured in the video)and Paul McVeigh, who is quoted in the Sunday Herald article.

Pick of the quotes for me is Mcveigh’s snortingly comical dismissal of the local politician, who branded cage fighting a danger because of the strobe lighting and loud music. His riposte was this classic put down:

“Disney On Ice has strobe lighting, music and fighting and nobody talks about banning that.”

Now that is a quite brilliant piece of fighting talk.

I’m a bit blogjammed – maybe it’s because of the Liverpool Barn Cake

What is the official term, I wonder, for the pressure that builds up just behind the eyes when you have loads of subjects you want to blog about – but no time to get them typed out?

Blogjam? Bloggage? Backblog?

Whatever it’s called, I’ve got it bad. I’ve had one of those busy periods of such intensity there’ve been times when I wondered if the old ticker will see me through to my 40th later this year. And the casualites (along with family, social life and regular sleep patterns) have included any faint hopes of regular blog updates.

So I’ve got plenty to catch up on. Earlier this week one of those busy days was spent driving to Liverpool to meet with a potential new PR client. It was my first ever trip to that fine city and I hope to hear soon if we’ve been successful with our pitch.

While I was drawn there by work, the venue was next door to historic Aintree Racecourse, better known to millions of previous visitors as the home of the Grand National. However, gambling is not one of my many vices, so I don’t profess to know much about the nags.

What I DO know about is breakfast. Anyone who’s worked with me knows my epic, albeit unorthodox appetites – especially in the morning. For instance, here is a recent missive from Danny Groom, the man who now runs the website and whom I caught up with recently for the first time in years:

Spookily, I was telling one of my colleagues the other day about the famous Douglas breakfast of a baked bean toastie, jam on toast and a banana – all served by a drug-fuelled lunatic with dirty fingernails.

Danny, who has worked on the newsdesks of PAThe Observer and the Daily Mail, was referring to our time together on the Newcastle Evening Chronicle. There was no canteen in the building so we used to send out for breakfast to the local sarnie/snack shop – which had dodgy hygiene standards but would deliver to our desks.

Anyway, I digress, purely to explain why the horseracing Mecca of Aintree held little interest for me, particularly when my belly started rumbling after a four hour drive down the M6 (including a rather scary white out experience on the Biggar Road).

Within minutes of arriving I’d found my way to a greasy spoon cafe (bypassing the fish and chip shop which was, bafflingly, open for business at 11.30am) dragging a reluctant Raymond with me. I knew exactly what I wanted: a cup of tea and a roll with sausage and brown suace.

This proved frustratingly difficult to get hold of. The Scouse woman behind the counter made extremely hard work of my accent – and after several minutes of negotiating, still seemed not to understand the concept of a roll with sausage.

At one point she tried to serve me a baguette. The fact this run down caff even had fresh baguettes was a minor miracle – but didn’t divert me from my hunger for a simple breakfast roll. Finally the woman grasped that all I wanted was a round roll – “Ahhhh – a barncake!” she exclaimed.

Shortly my cuppa arrived – along with the most ginormous roll I’ve ever been served. This thing was like a gargantuan, floury, freak-of-nature big brother of the roll I’d been expecting. And I swear, there must have been six or seven separate sausages on it.

Raymond’s eyse widened in awe. Mine simply widened in anticipation.

True to form, I polished it off in short order and have to offer my hearty congratulations to the makers of Liverpool Barn Cakes, which seem to be a regional variation of the Stotty Cake I’d previously encountered in Newcastle.

An hour or so later it was lunchtime, and our hosts laid on a fine spread of fruit and sandwiches. I felt obliged to tuck in again.

Ahem. blogjam, indeed.

I should have known parly pundit Rae would have something to say.

Rae Stewart

It’s been some considerable number of years since I was last involved in any sort of drink-fuelled tomfoolery with STV’s rumbly voiced parly correspondent Rae Stewart.

Ever since his days as a student and right through a career which saw him start out as PR operative for the Scottish Conservatives to his current role as Scottish Television’s man in Westminster, he’s never been stuck for words.

So I was unsurprised to see that Tain’s finest now has a blog, entitled Rae’s Ramblings, on the STV website. Among the topics he’s already covered is the name of quirkily titled new Bond movie, Quantum of Solace. An apt subject for a quite fanatical Bond aficionado.

Recently I exchanged a long overdue email with the highly-entertaining Mr Stewart, as I’d only just learnt he’d been initiated into the joys of fatherhood, after the birth of daughter.

 I cheekily suggested that since he’d now have no time for watching of telly he might fancy donating his Bond video/DVD collection to me. The response was typical Rae: “By the way, you can’t have the Bond collection. I still use it to plan out almost every minute of my life.”

Rae is a man with a wealth of stories and a sense of humour that has him inclined to share them. Here is another peach from that recent email, on the unexpected pressures of fatherhood:

Not long after my daughter was born, I was getting my hair cut in a new, swish barber’s in Wimbledon. My personal crimper, a middle-aged man with a pot belly and a George Formby accent, was smiling and chatting away pleasantly while he snipped and clipped my hair, asking about holidays, expressing his preference of the Costas and saying how liked the old songs the best. Then he asked:

“Are you married yourself, sir?”

“Yes. Yes,  I am.”

“Been blessed with any children?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact I have. A daughter,  just a few weeks ago.”

“Oh, that’s wonderful, sir. Just wonderful. Amazing, isn’t it, fatherhood? It’s when you realise for the first time that you could kills someone.”

He was still smiling, but a strange look had entered his eyes and suddenly he didn’t remind me of friendly old George any more. He seemed to be gripping the scissors that little bit tighter too. I don’t really remember what he said after that. I haven’t been back.

You get the picture. No simple monosyllabics from the STV man. He paints his word-pictures with sweeping brushstrokes and an extremely colourful palette.

So, whill his blog has been fairly intermittent to late, I don’t think it will be too long before Rae finds out just how engaging an outlet is can be for those thoughts, observations and stories currently dammed up inside him.

Two observations, though:

1 – STV seem to have slightly missed the point on their blogs by failing to provide any sort of linking or blogroll facility for Rae and other bloggers. Which kind of defeats the purpose really.

2 – Now, I’m not saying that Rae loves the sound of its own voice – but he does have a very impressive, chocolately baritone! So when can we look forward to the Rae’s Ramblings podcast?