The real secret of *free* PR to grow your business

No shortcuts despite promise in dodgy sales pitch

Get Rich Quick schemes

Get Rich Quick schemes

Get rich quick. Look 10 years younger with one simple trick. Develop rock hard abs in just six weeks.

Yawn. Now I can add another example to the list of unlikely sales pitches  – “use the power of *free* PR to grow your business”.

My quizzical eyebrow started twitching this week, when an email crossed my desk from a client. They’d been messaged by an online business development ‘guru’, promising untold PR success – for free.

The email recounted a tale involving wildly successful TV and press coverage, all achieved for no cost and without any help or involvement from a PR advisor or professional.

In fact, the message went further,claiming this PR success wasn’t just free, it was easy. Ridiculously easy. We media folks tend to be a cynical, jaded and hard-bitten bunch. But just in case there are any wide-eyes innocents out there, I’m going to let you into a wee secret:

There are no shortcuts. No foolproof way to make a fortune in the blink of an eye. No 10 minute secrets to looking a decade younger. No pain-free way to get a stomach like a washboard in a few short weeks. And there is absolutely no free or ridiculously easy way to use public relations to grow a business. Continue reading


There’s Nothing New Under the Sun – Or On Twitter

Media Frenzy

Social Media Kerfuffle Is a Carbon, A Clone and a Copy

Wise old newspaper hacks will tell you there’s nothing new under the sun. Every story has been told before.

In the accelerated, amped-up world of Twitter, this has been amplified and exaggerated to rather ridiculous extremes.

If you’ve picked up a newspaper or surfed the news blogs today, chances are you’ve come across the latest social media firestorm, involving schoolgirl magnet Claire’s Accessories and the trendy jewellery designer Tatty Devine.

It all kicked off when the social media savvy folks at Tatty Devine blogged on Wednesday asking ‘Can you spot the difference?‘ – and laid out a series of their clever jewellery designs alongside, er, remarkably similar-looking trinkets being flogged by Claire’s.

When the design team at Tatty Devine came up with necklaces that looked like the contents of Top Cat’s trashcan (fish bones, half-peeled bananas and curly, comedy moustaches), they probably didn’t expect they’d be calling Officer Dibble to investigate allegations of intellectual property theft.

To the casual observer, it seems a pretty cut and dried case of the big, faceless corporation ripping off the edgier and way cooler small business to cash in – and that’s why the social media world has lit up with this story. Everybody loves an underdog, especially when the ‘wee guy’ comes out fighting against a villain of pantomime proportions.

In fact, Tatty Devine’s latest blog post yesterday (Thu) confirmed the company intends to take legal action, while offering thanks to its army of social media supporters:

We want to say a big thank you to everyone who commented, and for all the support on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest too. We are truly heartened and impressed by the amazing response on this issue.

Here’s the thing though. If you’ve been around in social media for a while, this whole stramash (that’s Scottish for ‘kerfuffle’) might sound remarkably familiar.

That’s because it is almost a year since one-women jewellery designer Stevie Koerner took to social media to highlight how faceless fashion giant Urban Outfitters had magically come up with silver trinkets which looked exactly like hers.

Indeed, in May last year I pulled together this wee zooming, video thingy (check it out, it’s on Prezi, which is waaaay cool!) to show how the whole thing turned into a massive PR disaster for Urban Outfitters.

you can view it here: (last I looked it had been viewed 2116 times).

Last year’s case in America was driven by Twitter, Tumblr and Etsy. The Tatty Devine brouhaha (I think that’s French for ‘kerfuffle’) has been fuelled by Twitter, Facebook and … Pinterest. That in itself is very telling indeed.

Pinterest is the scorchio , shiny new social media darling – and what it tells is that the media team at Tatty Devine are no slouches, especially since the insanely fast-growing site is still ‘in Beta’ and accessible by invitation only.

Tatty Devine on Pinterest

And the point is? Just a whimsical thought that copying jewellery designs is a very naughty no-no that will get you a nasty knuckle-rapping. But copying (and let’s face it, this really is a carbon, copycat, clone) a social media guerrilla strategy against a bigger rival is … well, PR genius.

Congratulations to the very smart social media team at Tatty Devine on a public relations success story.

They’ve managed to give a bigger rival a reputational bloody nose for shameless imitation, while pulling the same trick themselves yet somehow passing it off as the sincerest form of flattery.

The Ancient and Noble Art of PR – It’s In My Genes!


The Heart crest of the Douglas clan

Heart crest of the Douglas clan

I’ve just discovered that public relations is in my genes.


Who told me so? None other than the BBC, in the shape of Paul Murton who presents the excellent series, Scotland’s Clans.

Turns out the Douglas name was a byword for PR excellence as far back as 1329 when legendary Scottish warlord King Robert the Bruce died and asked for his heart to be taken into battle as part of the Crusades.

The Bruce’s right hand man was Sir James Douglas, who was known as either the Good Sir James or the Black Douglas after making a name for himself during the wars of independence with England.

A great national Scottish hero, Sir James was knighted on the field of Scotland’s greatest every victory over the English at Bannockburn.

The PR credentials of the Douglas clan were assured when Sir James agreed to take The Bruce’s heart – sealed in a silver and enamelled casket and worn round his neck – into battle against the Muslims occupying the Holy Land.


It’s all PR Isn’t It? Or what public relations and PageRank can teach each other.

G is For Google. What does PR stand for?

For my money PR professionals – certainly in Scotland – haven’t paid anywhere near enough attention to search engine optimisation.

Known as SEO, this is the “dark art” of ensuring a website ranks well on a series of key words.

For most people ‘search engine’ actually means ‘Google’. And ‘ranking well’ means that when they type something into the search box and hit return, they will only look a the first page of returns. In fact  in most case only at the top two or three results.

What’s that got to do with PR? Well for most public relations professionals, very little.

The focus of PR work is still dominated by earning client coverage in traditional media. Increasingly it may also include a social media element, via Facebook or Twitter – and those remain the focus at my own PR agency in Scotland. Holyrood Partnership.

In my experience only a handful of PR people really  understand how to build SEO benefits into media coverage and into social media activity.

Shame really, because while it may not be as shiny and exciting as Twitter, a basic grasp of SEO principles can really impress potential clients and deliver tangible results.

With that in mind, I’d guess that most people working in public relations in Scotland would look at me blankly if was to tell them that PR is also a common abbreviation for PageRank. Few, I’d wager would be able to readily explain PageRank, or its importance in today’s internet.

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Coulson’s Last Hope For Crisis Management – At Least Phone Hacking Happened Before Twitter

Andy Coulson's regnation

Crisis which couldn't be managed

So, Andy Coulson fell on his sword.

Neatly he repeated the well-worn maxim that the PR man should never become the story, stating: “When the spokesman needs a spokesman it’s time to move on”.

As guiding principles go, it’s a good one and few in PR or media relations could justify becoming the centre of a news story.

Yet such a turn of events is survivable. The rules of crisis management apply even to troubled spin doctors: acknowledge the problem; address it rapidly and transparently; concentrate on the facts.

But the prime minister’s most trusted media adviser wasn’t really brought low by a mobile phone hacking scandal from five years ago. As David Cameron regularly pointed out, Coulson paid the price for that by quitting the Editor’s chair at Britain’s biggest Sunday newspaper.

Coulson was actually scuppered by the claims of innocence which let him leave the paper with his head held high. Effectively he quit the NoTW saying: “I’m an honourable guy, so I’ll shoulder the responsibility, though I was never complicit in the wrongdoing.”

His problem is that precious few – including the Westminster and political media – believe his claims that he was blissfully unaware of widespread use of phone hacking at his paper thought (he’s repeated it so often he might just about believe it himself).

In crisis management terms, how do you concentrate on facts, when your central ‘truth’ is almost universally derided as a fabrication? And what does that do for the notion of ‘transparency’?

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Seeing Through The Media Numbers Game Aint As Easy as 1-2-3

The Numbers Game

There’s nothing quite as confounding as the numbers game.

Whether being wilfully misused, skillfully manipulated, or cheerfully misunderstood, numbers can turn ‘facts’ into incomprehensible mush.

Enter stage right the mathematician Matt Parker, who issued a hoax media release at the end of December. It showed an astonishingly clear and powerful link between the number of telephone masts in any given area and an increased birth rate.

All of the figures were accurate and from credible, publicly available sources. Just one snag: these figures showed correlation, not causality. In fact, it is perfectly understandable that the number of births and the number of phone masts would each increase according to the size of population. But one does not cause the other.

Commendably, nobody in the media picked up Matt Parker’s intentionally misleading story, even at the height of the festive silly season.

I came across this tale when it was discussed on Radio 4’s excellent More Or Less show, which takes a light-hearted look behind the stats. I’d heartily recommend subscribing to the podcast

As a student journalist I was introduced to the phrase, lies, damned lies and statistics. The term was popularised by Mark Twain, it is often credited to Benjamin Disraeli. Whoever came up with it gets my eternal thanks. This pithy little quote has since underlined my healthy disdain for any material professing to give some startling, numbers-based insight into our lives.

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Endless Fun With Google Ngrams. A Few Examples to Get You Started.

Google Labs

Without much fanfare search giant Google has launched an incredibly addictive tool upon an unsuspecting world.

It’s called the Ngram Viewer and it quickly gives users a colourful graph which shows how the use of any word or phrase has changed over the last few centuries.

In fact it spans a period (astoundingly) of 500 years, though the best results are reserved for the years between 1800 to 2000. This is possible because Google has been quietly carrying out the digitisation of around 15 million books since 2004.

Now a subset of those books (actually around five million of them, accounting for around 4% of all the books ever published) can be searched for the 500 billion unique words included within them.

What does this mean? Well, in data visualisation terms anyone can now compare the impact certain people, events, names or phrases have made on popular culture down the centuries.

I’ve seen graphs to show how Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley jostled for a place in the social psyche of the last century. Or another showing how El Dorado and Atlantis have vied for position of the most written about mythical places in the English language.

You can also find out why this is likely to be an absolute delight to linguists, wordsmiths and lexicographers of every stripe, as described in this fascinating take (including a bunch of interesting examples) on Joel Segal’s blogThis Guardian article also includes a bunch of interesting Ngrams pulled together by punters, while a fast-growing collection of examples can be found on Twitter at #ngrams.

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