Trends

Borkowski's Weekly Media Trends

2020

September

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends


Ageing Musician ‘Shock Jock Tactics’: A Unifying Theory

Noel Gallagher, Ian Brown and Van Morrison this week became the latest to join the cavalcade of ageing and high profile musicians adopting ‘shock jock’ tactics. They join a long recent line including Eminem, Green Day, Wiley, Morrissey and arguably Kanye (putting to one side the mental health situation potentially driving it).

Messrs Gallagher, Brown and Van at least gave their curmudge-agoguery a topical twist by making it COVID-related. Gallagher targeted masks, Van Morrison lockdown, and Brown both and more.

There’s a unifying theory here. Every musician of a certain age is resorting to these tactics for a variation on the same reason; as they go further past their commercial peak and towards becoming what at the top end we’d call ‘legends’ and in the lower divisions we’d refer to as ‘heritage acts’, these artists a) are absorbed ever deeper into the ‘establishment’ as they and their fans live more comfortable and less eventful lives and b) understand the zeitgeist less and less.

This means two things; firstly, being part of the establishment against which they once railed, they lack natural enemies against which to rebel thus fuelling their enfant terrible image. And second, and relatedly, their ability to make headlines is declining. This combination of events calls for desperate

measures and so, to keep rebelling, to keep making headlines, to rage against the dying of the cultural relevance, and to belie the quotidienne luxury of their middle-aged, upper-class existence, they resort to shock tactics.

But it hasn’t helped a single one of their careers, and actually right-on displays of virtue, or ‘purpose’, are much more effective – look at Cher gaining a refreshed cult following with her anti-Trump diatribes in America.

As another example, the daily churn of UK Twitter debate this week has seen only one past-it musical act gain anything in the reputation stakes, and that’s Jedward. Their newfound hero status goes to show that as a musician, your reputation past your heyday doesn’t really depend on how good or diabolically trivial your music is, it’s whether new generations can relate to your values. Noel, Ian, Van et al could learn a thing or two (not musically obvs).


Tories bring Cocaine into the Culture Wars

If you want to see the warping power that the culture wars have on political debate, you need to look at the new Tory policy proposition for cocaine tests to be carried out in major corporations. How is it that the pro-business, anti-intervention, pro-freedom (and frankly, pro-cocaine) Government the UK elected just last year has flipped so drastically?

A month or so ago, Tory London Mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey hauled the proposal out as a way for businesses to catch staff committing a crime - but stressing that they aren't supposed to report the crime to the police or even sack them. It self-evidently doesn’t make sense in either an operational or a legal way.

It only makes sense when you understand that the Conservatives want to expose the hypocrisy of the middle-class Guardianista vote, who are happy to talk at rapid and stimulated speeds about their moral purity as they directly finance Mexican drug gangs.

Now Priti Patel is also publicly mulling this strange, contradictory policy over, it’s clear that this is a government more interested in fuelling the culture war than uniting the country. Seen in those terms - it suddenly makes sense.


Kanye West's 'PR campaign'

This isn’t the first time Kanye has been in the middle of a royalties dispute – back in 2013 he ditched Nike to join with Adidas having produced two shoes in five years because he “needed” the royalties. He said "there are 1470 billionaires in the world. There are only seven black billionaires." Kanye believed the Adidas deal would "get my money up to another level.”

Earlier this year it was announced that Kanye was officially a billionaire.

This week, in a series of Tweets, Kanye demanded to be released from his recording and publishing deals whilst likening the industry to slavery and uploading a video of someone urinating on a Grammy award.

He claimed Universal and Sony were afraid that he had the money to buy his royalties.

Despite Kanye’s erratic style, when you start piecing threads together there’s a semblance of a throughline in all his actions, from his presidential candidacy to his delayed album releases and his public comments about his marriage. Worrying symptoms of mental ill health suggest otherwise but the effectiveness and consistency of his actions does raise a guilty question: Is this all one massive publicity stunt?

No one really knows what is going on with Kanye, with most attributing his behaviour to a breakdown and/or substance abuse, but is this all for some kind of album drop, a fashion announcement or some bigger?


ITV show strength through Diversity

One of Britain’s Got Talent’s flagship acts – Diversity – received 25,000 Ofcom complaints following their Black Lives Matter routine earlier this month stoking ‘debate’ on whether the performance was appropriate and necessary for Saturday night entertainment.

Interestingly, it has been reported that 96% of complaints followed news about the original complaints – an example of the snowball effect turbo-charged by contentious political issues amid one of the biggest culture wars of our time.

ITV, and Ofcom, have essentially ignored these complaints despite the sheer volume and mitigated the situation expertly. In a statement, ITV said “BGT has always been an inclusive show, which showcases diversity…” praising the street dance troupe’s talent and creativity.

They have judged the situation well, understanding the context and nuance of the issues that have fuelled the complaints.

The BBC should take note. After countless reputational meltdowns over the recent years keeping your values simple and sticking to them is usually to be the golden ticket during media and public scrutiny. Yes, they are a publicly funded body but showing a bit of bravery and nous when the pressure is on will usually be the winning play when attempting to portray a solid public image.

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

Reinventing the reality TV show


This week it was announced that Keeping Up With the Kardashians is ceasing filming. You could say that the 14 year, 20 season mainstay defined a era of reality TV: Distinct from the Big Brothers of the world (Love Island being the most recent incarnation of this beast), KUWTK typifies the glossy ‘through-the-keyhole’ format, the same concept that spawned the likes of Made in Chelsea and The Only Way is Essex.

But KUWTK is ending amid soaring ratings for Netflix’s smash-hit Selling Sunset: it seems viewers are hungry as ever for a bite of the most surreal real-lives you can get. Do we simply have Kardashian fatigue, then? After all, our social media feeds, high streets, vernaculars - even faces (lip fillers, contour, I’m looking at you) - have been saturated with their influence for years. It is no exaggeration to say that the Kardashians have defined Western beauty standards for an entire generation of women. But our collective taste has moved on – hyper-filtered millennial fakery can stay in the 10s, we say, and the Kardashians can stay there too.

Unless, that is, it’s on our TV screens. Because reality TV has carved out a very special place in our lives. It is our daily dose of escapism, the trashier and flashier the better. The age of the Kardashians may be over, but, for now, reality TV isn’t going anywhere.
 

Sustainable celebs

 

Every week there’s more evidence suggesting that we’re seeing the birth of a new kind of celebrity and how important a social conscience is to this new generation of public figures.

Arsenal defender and London Fashion Week regular Hector Bellerin has become the second largest shareholder in Gloucestershire-based Forest Green Rovers – the world's first carbon-neutral sports club.

A powerful statement – Bellerin is known for being a socially conscious footballer and sets the bar high for celebrities and colleagues alike trying to use their platform for positive change.

It’s not just celebrities either. Adidas has launched a new vegan and 100 percent sustainable trainer, the Clean Classics. Whenever an international corporation makes an environmentally friendly statement it’s difficult to shake that cynical voice inside your head shouting “greenwashing” but it’s not the first time Adidas have pulled a sustainable stunt.|

As climate change becomes a terrifying reality, (you only have to look at the explosive fires we’ve seen this week on the West Coast of America), these stories are popping up left right and centre. 

Finally, sustainability is fashionable. Let's hope this is a trend that becomes permanent
 

Some light hearted content


And finally, a nod to the Museum of English Rural Life’s social media team - some stellar work including a friendly ram helping us to socially distance and a hilarious thread announcing their reopening following lockdown.
 
Despite a low budget, it shows that striking the right tone on social media combined with good timing and wit is vital in today’s uncertain times for public spaces. It’s now more important than ever to cut through the noisy, cacophonous landscape of social media to bring some much-needed light-hearted content.
 
Corralling the public to get out and visit attractions will be essential for brands to stay afloat in today’s world and preparing a solid social media strategy, despite uncertain government plans could be a lifeline for many businesses.

August

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

Trends this week include (in no particular order); VICE's 'landfill indie' article and the future of fame in music, the new craze of Melania Trump deepfakes, her husband's marketing tactics laid bare, our own dear leader outsmarted by a bookshelf, and Harry Maguire's Greek Tragedy.


Harry's Greek Tragedy

A reputational nightmare unfolded for Manchester United captain Harry Maguire this week, as he faced charges of aggravated assault, resisting arrest and bribery. Whilst teammates for both club and country like (Saint) Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling have broken the mould of a footballer's role in society with purpose and substance, Maguire could send the reputation of the whole profession a huge step back. 
 
We've talked before about what a great comms job England manager Gareth Southgate has done to successfully transform the Three Lions from arrogant, megalomaniac celebrities whose egos outweighed their sense of duty, to humble, hardworking role models making the most of their talent and limelight. But his decision to include Harry Maguire in the squad for the upcoming England games despite the Greece controversy felt like a step back, juxtaposing uncomfortably with his recent decision to drop Raheem Sterling for considerably lesser allegations.
 
Maguire’s reaction could also prove self-destructive. He decided to eschew remorse or compassion and instead adopt a more defensive stance than he does on the pitch - refusing to apologise and pontificating over the details of the story.
 
Maguire needs to hope this blows over and no new charges come to light, otherwise he might have a Greek tragedy on his hands, and - in an age where reputation and virtue are everything- few friends left in football. 


Melania's DeepFakes

Another week, another satirical deepfake of Melania Trump doing the rounds. This time, pop-culture meme account Saint Hoax posted a video of Mimi (affectionately so-called by commentators speculating about her true colours) denouncing her husband and offering solidarity to those affected by his presidency.

Back in January, Facebook announced that they were banning deepfakes, but continuing to allow ‘parody’ and ‘satire’ videos. One has to wonder, as deepfakes become increasingly easy for the public to make, and grow in significance as a meme format, who will be drawing the line between comedy and fake news?
 

VICE's Landfill Indie 

VICE gave us a throwback this week that arguably defined a key moment in British pop-culture history, sharing the Top 50 ‘Landfill Indie’ tracks alongside a brief retrospective of the era (the second half of the 2000s when the indie genre was still popular but arguably running out of creative steam).
 
This was a generation of artists who failed to develop their sound; and move with the times, not ready for the streaming revolution.
 
How far we’ve come,,,
 
But with the brave new digital world comes challenges. This week we saw the Korean boyband BTS top streaming charts and smashing records, until Spotify removed almost half of their streams amid a global crackdown on ‘stream farms’.
 
This seems incredibly harsh. We’ve seen BTS stans unite in their millions supporting political causes including BLM – so why can’t they break streaming records. Is something sinister going on here? Have the culture wars, already permeating every aspect of our life, penetrated Spotify's algorithms?


Boris vs Bookshelf
 
A couple of weeks back we talked about how old fables and urban legends can be powerful communications tools. So too can some very basic literary symbolism or intertextuality, even employed in the most on-the-nose manner. 
 
Enter a school librarian with a sense of humour and imagination for a fantastic demo. Boris gave one of his triumphalist speeches from in front of a bookshelf and, as the word salad slurred into mulch, attention turned to the books behind him; The Twits, The Resistance, Betrayed, Farenheit 451, The Subtle Knife. 
 
Simple. Punchy. Brilliant:You’re a fool Boris. People are Against You. You’ve Let us Down. You're anti-intellectual and anti-eduction. Yes I did do this on purpose. Not a person who saw that bookshelf didn’t get the message. It was, at the risk of sounding hack, textbook communications.


Donald's Trump Cards
 
A brilliant article in the Daily Beast by anonymous Tweeter @TrumpEmail went perhaps closer than any previous attempt to strike into the heart of the Trump machine’s strategy and tactics.
Having analysed 2,000 marketing emails the author identified a seven phase playbook which we’ll briefly attempt to translate into British for you now. 

First: Make the recipient feel special. For Trump’s base this requires bombastic tactics similar to British morning television competitions: ‘YOU could achieve THIS and all you have to do is donate to the Trump campaign’. 

Second: Create time-sensitive urgency: NOW or NEVER

Third: Scarcity: GET THEM BEFORE THE GO (usually some tat merch)

Fourth: Emotional Blackmail: DON’T LET ME DOWN

Fifth: Omniscience: THE PRESIDENT HAS NOTICED YOUR GREAT WORK AND THOUGHT YOU WOULD LIKE THIS [TAT MERCH].
We rarely allude to our own work in these trends but the tactics the Trump campaign use to feign a personal connection between the president and his supporters are strikingly similar to those used by Santas to convince small children that they know who they are and what they want for Christmas. Of course Santa is far more statesmanlike.

Sixth: Belonging to an Exclusive Club: PLATINUM MEMBERSHIP FOR MY TOP 500 SUPPORTERS

Finally: The promise that your donation will be matched. Like Gift Aid but the gift is fascism. 
It’s cynical, soulless and totally lacking in substance. But it’s persistent and talks language that a significant segment of society wants to hear.
 
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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

It's been an interesting week for stunt watchers so we're going to look at some of the best and worst.  

Selfridges' Surface-Level Sustainability

When we worked with Selfridges we saw it as our task to reanimate the spirit of Gordon Selfridge who, inspired by PT. Barnum, brought showmanship and visual storytelling to the high street. So we know and have the utmost respect for the brand’s ability to make headlines by combining dazzle with substance.

This  week's story about making high-end fashion pieces available for hire, though it made headlines impressively, lacks just a little of each. Rental has been mooted as a way of dampening the environmental impact of high-end fashion for a while now, and been a constant media discussion for the past year – attracting enough scrutiny that some have questioned how sustainable it really is.

Few dispute it as a step in the right direction, but as an outright solution to the industry’s environmental impact, fashion rental will make as much lasting difference as a ‘Wet Floor’ sign outside Chernobyl. In the new world brands are going to be fighting for their existence and the survivors will be those who offer genuine, radical leadership on wedge issues like sustainability. Paying these issues lip service might be worth a headline today but - unless backed up by a cultural overhaul- will not keep the future at bay for long.


We're Raven About This One Though...

A brilliant silly season scam landed yesterday from no less auspicious a source than the Tower of London. Legend has it that the Tower's world-famous ravens will only vacate their perches when the monarchy falls, and a Guardian articlethis week revealed that those very same ravens have been straying further than ever from home due to 'boredom'. 

Having a quasi-apocalyptic -at least in British terms- urban legend ‘come true’ just at the point when they most need a fresh influx of visitors (which, incidentally, would probably also prevent said onrushing harbinger of national ruin) is quintessential, daft, oddly symbolic, peak 2020 gallows humour and the perfect ammunition for the Twitterati and chief meme officers (now that they’re a thing) all over the country.
 
Proverbs, sayings, aphorisms and old wives tales all have their uses in communications. One of the standout examples is Pink Floyd’s appropriation of flying pigs. It was a simple, powerful image and everyone got the joke. In the age of virality and memes these are priceless characteristics. Well played.


Burger King and Ogilvy make Gamers Twitch

Some words from the big guy. First published on his blog Mark My Words

Another landmark in PR's fast food wars. On Thursday Ogilvy revealed that they had been using Twitch's sponsored text-to-speech shout out service - designed to read fan messages over famous feeds in exchange for a donation - to advertise Burger King

The bulk of press coverage for the stunt was gaming press reporting on how incensed the hack made the community. But its impact on the communications game will be bigger. Screw the backlash. This was a game changer.

With the advent of every new media comes the gold rush; the scramble for the advertising, comms and marketing industries to find a sweet spot in which commercial content can gain, or at least hijack an organic audience before the platform undergoes a Facebook style-hypercommercialisation.

What Ogilvy and Burger King have done here is gamed the system, exploited a huge loophole and gained a lot of attention. The fact that it wound some people up will not hurt them – quite the opposite. Before our industries diluted it into anodyne meaninglessness, this is the kind of campaign for which the term ‘disruptive’ was coined.


AI Could Give Improve New Life

When it first became clear that the arts and entertainment industries were in trouble, Mark Borkowski wrote a manifesto for The Stage urging producers to embrace new technology, mediums and platforms to take their artforms to a wider audience. 

Since then we've seen immersive theatre giants Punchdrunk promise a move into augmented reality gaming theatre and this week another spark of innovation in the form of improvbot.ai

One of the battalion of creatives bravely trying to create a digital world that will fill the cavernous void left in the arts calendar by the cancellation of the Edinburgh Fringe, Improvbot draws on 8 years of data from the festival to randomly generate concepts for shows, which are then improvised by performers. 

It's a smart use of existing technology. Improv isn't the edgiest or artforms and would potentially be vulnerable in a 'new normal' which was more hostile to the arts, but giving it a twist that will make it accessible to the MineCraft Generation could just be the difference between life and death. 


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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

This week we're examining a BBC balls-up, another TV reboot and rip-off culture.


The Cycle of Misery

A national scandal that has since been dwarfed by the A-Level ignominy enveloping the country coincided with the reignition of the conversation around the refugee crisis this week.

The reality is that the steady flow of boats containing those desperate enough to risk their life crossing the channel in a dinghy for the chance of a new one continues.
But that’s not how it’s been portrayed in public discourse, and although the news story itself is nonsense, it’s a useful case study on the malfunctioning gears of our news cycle.

The re-emergence of the refugee furore in the news cycle can be traced to what Marina Hyde described as a ‘second wave of nonsense’. The (currently unelected) Nigel Farage posted a video just post-lockdown in which he remonstrated with the use of public money to temporarily house asylum seekers in a hotel. The video was picked up by almost every UK media outlet, many of which enthusiastically sought comment from Nige, providing the spark needed to reignite the narrative that ‘floods’ of ‘migrants’ are ‘invading’ the UK by crossing the channel.

Our national broadcaster then saw fit to send a (rather sturdier) boat of their own onto the channel to effectively gawk at a group of Syrians baling out their leaking dinghy with a bucket. Sky News gleefully followed suit. The proximity between the rather fancy news boats and the low stakes of their journeys, and the life-and-death situation playing out on the dinghies created the uncomfortable effect that the plight of the less fortunate was being repurposed as a spectator spot, as entertainment.

The first part of the cycle – demagogue given undue support and political significance by the media, proliferating their narrative- is simply a fact of life these days. But handling the story so crassly is a(nother) massive own goal for the BBC. Expect a litany of complaints and a stubborn yet unconvincing public statement in the coming week or so.


Purpose in Vogue

In our fast-paced digital economy, rip-off culture has been a growing force.

Accessibility trumps originality – if you can provide a free product that everyone wants to use nothing else matters. Look at gaming – the free-to-play Battle Royale model has already been rinsed post-Fortnite, or Instagram’s brand-new Reels, the “TikTok clone”, consumers flock to platforms they’re comfortable with and they don’t have to fork out their cash for.

This week, we saw two ways brands deal with the culture. 1) Apple (in a similar style to the Hugo Boss takedown of small Welsh company Boss Brewery) represented the humourless behemoth, suing Super Healthy Kids spinoff Prepear over the usage of a pear as its logo despite being, well, a different fruit. 2) Evian showed them how to treat an actual rip-off with panache and grace when the French water merchants called out Coors Light on Twitteracknowledging the blatant rip-off of their brand in a light-hearted fashion.

Whatever the merits of each case, it's clear that branding is increasingly playing its part in the culture wars.


The ReFresh Prince

The Fresh Prince of Bel Air was a show which was consequential as much for its content - which swivelled from broad slapstick humour to impactful drama in a moment- as what it symbolised, class and culture conflicts and inconsistencies in America, but particularly black America, in the 90s.  

It made a global superstar of Will Smith, and hit headlines again this week when it was announced that a fan trailer for a grittier re-boot ‘Bel Air’ made on spec in 2019 had been picked up by Smith for development.

The fan trailer story is compelling and, combined with the high quality of the trailer itself, almost too good to be true.

But Smith’s consistent past claims that he’d allow The Fresh Prince to reboot ‘when hell freezes over’ suggest that if wasn’t a stunt - unless it was choreographed to unprecedented levels of perfection- and that he’s genuinely been swayed.

Smith’s involvement gives it heft (and the fun of speculating whether he might be up for stacking on a couple of lbs and taking on the role of Uncle Phil).

There’s social relevance too. The original took place against the backdrop of Rodney King and the LA Riots, the reboot in the charged America of Trump, BLM and George Floyd.

In summary, it’s a project which will generate headlines. The project announcement was of nothing more than the concept, which is now reportedly subject to a 5-way bidding war between all the streaming and network giants. For what amounts to a trade announcement, Bel Air has certainly made its mark.

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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

This is a week tinged with sadness as one of the founding fathers of this newsletter departs Borkowski towers. We never name names but we'll miss our clarinet-playing Louis Theroux superfan. In the meantime we're looking at another superstar fighting for their reputation, the latest in the purpose wars and the seemingly bulletproof vanguard of bad boy YouTubers.

To Ellen Back for DeGeneres

Ellen DeGeneres might be too big to fail, but she’s had a very brave stab at getting herself cancelled. We’ve been examining the new DNA of celebrity by looking at both cancel culture, and our new breed of Gen Z icons (think Marcus Rashford and Greta Thunberg) and two things stick out about the Ellen case.

We’ve already talked about authenticity, and it’s certainly a factor here; nobody is as nice as Ellen was meant to be and so the image of everyone’s best mate began to wear thin and fade. Even Ellen knew it and tried to redress the balance with that ‘no more Mr Nice Guy’ NYT profile.

The other thing that public figures need to be mindful of is consistency: don’t be a hypocrite. Even beyond masking a toxic work environment with a ‘be kind’ mantra, Ellen was guilty of this in a number of ways; gassing Caitlyn Jenner for being a Republican only to then become BFFs with the almost comically toxic George W. Bush, acting the down-to-earth humanitarian before comparing being quarantined in her ludicrously opulent mansion to a jail sentence, the list goes on.

Here’s the rub; in 2020 you can only project a certain public image with confidence if there’s no chance that social media-friendly evidence exists of you doing something directly contradictory. Hypocrisy kills reputations.


Purpose in Vogue

Regular readers of the Trends will know by now just how important activism and social purpose is to 21st century marketing. Whether genuine or not, brands need to show that they have something positive and meaningful to offer a world riven by identity politics, increasing inequality and impending climate catastrophe. It’s even more essential for legacy brands, looking to maintain their relevance in a media environment

Vogue UK’s September issue is just the latest example of this trend. Described by Editor Edward Enninful as a “rallying cry for the future”, the magazine features such “faces of hope” as Marcus Rashford, England star turned child poverty campaigner.

But there’s an itch. At the very same time, Vogue Hong Kong chose to feature multi-millionaire entrepreneur Kylie Jenner on the cover of the magazine’s August ‘Action’ edition, an individual who “has done nothing for Hong Kong’s fight for democracy”, as one critic tweeted.

Safe to say, it’s not a good look for the Vogue brand. If ‘activism marketing’ is to mean anything, it has to be backed up with genuine action. Dressing up a privileged, astonishingly wealthy influencer in the trappings of activism simply won’t do.


Jake Paul vs FBI

nternet villain Jake Paul hit headlines this week after reports surfaced that his million-pound mansion was raided by the FBI. Yet another ‘negative’ story for the YouTube enfant terrible whose platform is built on controversy.

Reports indicate the FBI have seized multiple firearms and information continues to drip out. 

Who cares? Excellent question. It does appear that this sort of controversy feeds fame for these high-profile influencers. Whether it’s a misdemeanour or an FBI investigation, it ultimately brings more rock'n'roll notoriety to a Disney kid turned YouTuber than it would to, say, an ageing shock jock musician.

Having recently released a single “Fresh Outta London” early signs are that this case is driving viewers to his content, and prolonging his time in the spotlight. He's profiting from his bad behavriour. 

Silencing these buffoons would require a seismic shift in the current climate; the likes of Logan Paul, 6ix9ine & James Charles have continued to benefit from ‘career threatening’ controversies. 

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July

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

The PR gods have not been kind this week. Culminating in an abject communications meltdown from the government over new lockdowns, the last week of July has seen far more failure than it has success. In this week’s Trends we discuss an offensive Anti-Semitic rant from former ‘Godfather of Grime’ Wiley, Donald Trump’s dangerous distraction tactics, another failure from an iconic arts awards ceremony and Big Tech’s shambolic display in Washington D.C.


Wiley Catastrophe - Running Out of Road

Our infrequent references to the 'Godfather of Grime', Wiley, in this newsletter have placed him firmly in the ageing shock jock category. This can be best-described as a loose cabal of middle-aged, A-List, male rock and rap stars - Green Day, Eminem, even Drake has applied for early membership – who have attempted to rage against the dying of their own commercial peak by resorting to stunt tactics that would have seemed really edgy and rebellious to their teenage following in the 90s and 00s, but, when exposed to today's worldly yet morally fastidious 'Zoomers', are either greeted with a condescending eye-roll, or outright cancellation.

Lately these shock jock tactics have mutated from cringeworthy but pretty harmless 'OK Boomer' nonsense into harbingers of a full-on psychological meltdown. Signs of the latter phenomenon are evident in the deterioration of Kanye's presidential run, some of the behaviour described in Johnny Depp’s libel trial (we can probably count him as a rocker), and now Wiley's sustained antisemitic tirade, which has seen him banned from every major social media platform.

If these are publicity stunts then they're in extremely poor taste and totally ineffective unless followed up by the comebacks to end all prostrate, grovelling, sickeningly worthy comebacks; stage-managed to a degree hitherto unseen in celebrity reputation management. But the feeling of purpose and control which usually distinguishes a stunt from a genuine meltdown is not there, and it looks as though Wiley, like Kanye and Depp, has genuinely gone off the deep end, perhaps for good this time. He won't be the last of this nascent generation of ageing shock jocks.


Trump: The Joe Exotic of 'Dead Cat' Tactics

There isn’t a more overused and more misinterpreted phrase in political communications than a ‘dead cat’ strategy, but yesterday we really saw one.
I’m sure that you noticed that the American political media concentrated on Trump finally publicly saying something that has been endlessly subjected the ‘will he? won’t he?’ treatment: that the 2020 election has to be delayed. Although it isn't legally possible for The Donald to unilaterally delay the election, many in the media (including the many pundits who are handsomely paid for being outraged at each latest Trump injustice) kicked the outrage machine into action, finally pressing send on the thousands of tweets that had been sat in their drafts for months now. Front pages wrote themselves.

All this was extremely convenient for Mr. Trump, as merely moments before he pressed send, the gravest blow to his election chances thudded home. For the man who posed as the first President-CEO, the news that the economy had shrunk by 32.9%, the worst single quarter on record, could be fatal if it is played right by Biden.

Therefore it came as no surprise that mere moments after the announcement, a still warm carcass of an massive, unfortunate moggy immediately thundered into the middle of your dinner table.


Rina's Revenge

The 2019 Mercury Awards was hailed as the most political in years, sparked by shortlisted artists addressing the hostile environment policy, austerity and racism. Unfortunately, the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) – organisers of the Mercury and BRIT awards – have fallen at the first hurdle with this year’s nomination.

Twitter was ablaze following the discovery that pop musician Rina Sawayama was not eligible for the award. Her album SAWAYAMA received widespread critical acclaim but was snubbed because she doesn't hold a UK passport, despite living in the UK for 25 years and identifying as British.

Ironically, back in 2018 the BPI gave Sawayama a grant from their Music Export Growth Scheme, which specifically supports British musicians and music organisations looking to market themselves abroad. Furthermore, SAWAYAMA reflects on the dichotomy of living in the UK while also feeling a strong tie to her birthplace. Ultimately, this is an almighty snub – one that could cause permanent reputational damage to the BPI.

Their enforcement of this technicality has left a bitter taste in the mouth, denying one of the UK’s up-and-coming stars the praise she deserves. Unfortunately, this is yet another example of an institutional awards ceremony getting it very, very wrong.


Tectonic Shift to Big Tech vs TikTok

Appearing in front of the US Congress on Wednesday, the respective heads of Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon appeared worse for wear. Members of the House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee grilled the four men, arguably some of the most powerful in the world, over claims that they abuse their power to achieve and sustain their historic monopolies.

At the same time, TikTok CEO Kevin Mayer was up to something. A blog postauthored by Mayer advocating for ‘fair competition and transparency’ was exquisitely timed, going live just hours before his competitors were due to face lawmakers over that exact issue.

Now, Mayer’s intervention was no simple, good-hearted plea for fairness and cooperation. TikTok has its own back against the wall, with lingering suspicion about the company’s links to the Chinese state damaging its own credibility. But with this carefully considered, provocative yet thoughtful move, they cut a sharp contrast with Zuckerberg, Bezos and co., all of whom appeared tired, defensive, even sinister. It’s an astute play from a brand that has still has a lot to prove and isn’t afraid to do so.

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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

As the Twitterati drool over TayTay's surprise new release and Emily Maitlis' Tatler photoshoot, here are some of the other eyecatching stories from that past week featuring some of our favourite subjects; Political Infighting, Fast Food Wars, Fake News and Futurism.
 

Corbyn's Last Stand?

Wise political communication is all about timing. It’s about ensuring that your words have maximum effect at the moment you can get most things done. This maxim is even more difficult to stick to for Kier Starmer, who has inherited a Labour Party in complete turmoil. Due to COVID-19 he hasn’t been able to enact the traditional staff turnover so hasn’t been able to fill central office with loyalists, while his predecessor has left the party in electoral ruins and vulnerable to significant legal action. Moreover, Jeremy Corbyn still weilds power as this week's legal power play attests.

The party is rapidly approaching a crisis that not many people saw coming.

The first objective Starmer appears to have set himself is to repair bridges with the Jewish community, and his ruthlessness in sacking Rebecca Long-Bailey has set a precedent under which Corbyn must know that his current behaviour is a challenge to his successor, and that Starmer may feel that he has to expel him from the party.

Starmer must know that if Alastair Campbell could be expelled in 48 hours (proving that the expulsion mechanism worked very quickly against Corbyn’s enemies and very slowly when applied to political allies like Ken Livingston) then Corbyn's threat of crowd-funded legal action against Labour whistleblowers must be defensibly sackable.

Perhaps Corbyn has realised that a confrontation is coming and that it is better to force the issue early before his clout inevitably wanes with time. The former leader may have proven useless in the fight to run the country, but the far-left have a fearsome recent record in internal battles...


Fast Food Wars: Ready to Reheat

With the UK slowly creaking back to some kind of life after months of lockdown, we’re beginning to see brands getting back to their old ways. Wasting no time at all, it appears the Fast Food Wars are back with a vengeance. The boom in takeaways has given the Subways and Taco Bells of the world a reason to force themselves back into our feeds in a bitter battle for omni-channel supremacy.

Some fight the war with respect and chivalry; others prize cheap clicks above all else. KFC’s new collaboration with Crocs is an example of the latter: a crude, obscene idea that no one can feasibly want to actually buy but will almost certainly drive disgusted shares. On the other hand is an astute comms operation like Burger King, ready to jump on the news agenda, but never feeling the need to stoop to unbecoming lows.

Which strategy is most effective? Here comes a common theme for Borkowski’s Weekly Trends: It’s not always easy to achieve viral success, but it’s much harder to sustain meaningful attention and even respect, especially if your product is a guilty pleasure for many consumers. KFC might be performing well on Google Trends today, but Burger King are winning the war.

 

The Future of News Values

In the transforming world of the news, celebrity, death and scandal still reign supreme as the factors most able to turn a nonevent into a headline. But new catalysts are developing, including one exemplified this week in a story conjured by arch-ringmaster of the tech industry and frequent feature of this newsletter, Elon Musk.

Futurism is a term whose meaning is being stripped away like carrion by brands looking to scavenge a semblance of relevance from a google search, but in general terms, offering a flashy and quasi-sci-fi solution to tomorrow's problems, today, is a good way to make headlines.

Musk, ever the showman, this week gave us a textbook example of how to leverage the concept of futurism into news by announcing that his subsidiary 'Neuralink' was releasing a brain-computer interface to stream music directly into our brains.

Necessary? Not sure. Scientifically possible? Even less sure. Are we going to write about it? Everyone already did. Although Musk is the most eye-catching proponent of this tactic (in his Marvel / Bond villain sort of way), the likes of Apple, Google and Huawei also employ similar means regularly, grafting terms such as Machine Learning, AI or VR to any snazzy but unproven concept to make it sound more scientific and, crucially, more newsworthy. So here's our attempt at some comms futurology: Expect this kind of story to get more frequent, more histrionic and less plausible in the coming months.


Cash for Conspiracies

Fake News is a political weapon, but the likes of President Trump’s overzealous use of the phrase has left us numb. However, such is the impact of the artform that it's beginning to loosen our collective grasp, as consumers, on the truth itself. For some, this depressing fact has been a commercial opportunity.  .

In the post-clickbait economy, conspiracy theories run riot online to the point that they're almost impossible to suppress, despite US tech giants’ pledges to plug the gaping hole left by those exploiting the gullible.

Press Gazette article this week demonstrated how characters like David Icke and Alex Jones have made millions in this climate, with fringe alternative media sources reeling in advertisers and readers with seemingly deep pockets.

Turbo-charged by social media companies happy to turn a blind eye in order to cash in on this trend, you have a cesspit of divisive characters earning a living off outrage and conspiracies.

As we learn more about this post-truth landscape, social media giants have started to take action. Reported todayTwitter and TikTok have blocked hashtags relating to “QAnontruth” – the popular conspiracy that Trump is waging a secret war against elite Satan-worshipping paedophiles in government, business and the media.

Despite this crackdown and related efforts/pledges to close down dangerous accounts spreading Fake News, the platform conspiracists have been given over the years may have done enough to power lunatic fringe outlets. At this stage, is it all too little too late?

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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

In a week where Caitlyn Jenner was mooted as President-elect Kanye's running mate, Dane Baptiste's production company got him mixed up with Richard Blackwood, and Clive Tyldesley followed Julia Sawalha's lead of trying to use Twitter as an employment tribunal board of appeal, we've tried to cover topics which make the news agenda feel less like an episode of Brass Eye...which wasn't entirely easy. 


The Week's Most Electrifying Stunt

The gradual easing of lockdown has seen brands from far-and-wide peacocking the superiority of the health and safety regulations they’ve installed to ensure a pandemic-proof return. 

But most have stopped short of using their re-opening as an excuse for an all-out stunt, reasoning (reasonably) that the safety of their clientele from an ongoing global pandemic is not something to risk being seen to take lightly.

But the media agenda and public relations are rarely governed by reasonable people: step forward a Cornish publican who made international headlines for installing an electric fence around his bar, The Star Inn in St Just, in a putative effort to discourage people from breaking social distancing measures. 

Impractical, irascible, and possibly even dangerous though it may be, the caper has captured our collective feeling of humbug about the continuing restrictions on our daily lives (and the inability of some to adhere to them). However, the electric fence is a case study of how a stunt designed to be a flash in the pan (or a shock to the balls might be a better analogy) will only ever have a fleeting impact. 

A mere three days on from our jubilation at the story, its architect Johnny McFadden was telling the i that his flirtation with fame hadn’t (yet) limited the danger that his pub might have to shut due to the impact of COVID. For a public relations campaign to have a genuine impact, it needs to be able to sustain for longer than an electric shock, and say something meaningful, not just something loud. 

Who knows, maybe Johnny will keep the story rolling, perhaps by installing crocodile-filled moats between booths, or shooting an air rifle at disorderly queuers. But unless he does, don’t expect Electric Fence Pub’s newfound fame - and resultant upsurge in customers- to last beyond this summer’s Cornish staycation boom.


Graun in 60 Seconds

More sad news from media land as the Guardian cuts loose 180 jobs. Every job lost is a tragedy and at this time its even more pronounced – not only on an individual level but on a societal level. We need journalists speaking truth to power and making sense of the wild, unpredictable and disorientating news agenda more than ever.  

We only have one question of the decision makers in Guardian towers who decided they’d rather cut staff off than impose any kind of paywall… are they sacrificing their own jobs for their utopian morality, or just those of others?


It'll Be Over By Christmas

With the latest easing of lockdown today, Boris promised that we will ‘return to normality, possibly in time for Christmas’. 

That might be an achievable target, but his decision to put it in such bald terms - and yet set such a vague target- has drawn yet more derision from the commentariat. For someone who professes to love history so much, you’d have thought that saying something bad would be over by Christmas would have rung more of a bell? 

The WWI parallels are unfortunate - especially considering that no wartime leader has ever actually had those words concretely attributed to them- but the fact that they’ve come off the back of a recent record of underestimating the crisis and overpromising the recovery compounds the issue. 

When your soft underbelly is your enemies portraying you as at best a bumbling bullsh*tter and at worst a calculating lier, proffering a positive outcome which could be so easily disproved in the near future is a big risk. And what’s the reward? Some cheap popularity points with those political nostalgists who think of the World Wars as a halcyon golden age?

In reality all Boris has done is made explicit a promise so rash that even the donkeys from the brutal ‘lions led by donkeys’ aphorism distanced themselves from it. Another clanger. 


The Washington ???s

It’s been a rocky week for the NFL franchise formerly known as the Washington Redskins. Serious allegations of widespread sexual harassment hint at a crisis which could usurp even being named after a racial slur as the heaviest millstone round their neck. 

Until then it looked like another case of a heritage brand belatedly, begrudgingly catching up with the times. Much like The Simpsons and Family Guy finally recasting characters of colour who had been voiced by white actors, the time to lead had long since passed, and all the franchise could hope to do is play catch-up by jettisoning a name which has been the subject of campaigns to remove it for half a century. 

That said, they’ve done the right thing and, timing aside, probably gone about it in the right way - not rushing the selection of a new name will give their fans the chance to choose it, which, barring some kind of Boaty McBoatface type scandal will create a new brand which is less contentious and more sustainable. Of course, America being America, there will always be those who long for the hallowed racism of old, but they would have been outnumbered by those in a largely liberal city, ready to welcome the franchise into the 21st century, were it not for this fresh scandal. 

Bets on a new name? In the spirit of life making parody redundant, they could ape the football mascot from Community and go for the Washington Human Beings? Politico crowd sourced ideas and came up with the excellent Washington Swamp Things. Ideas on a postcard.


Yvan Eht Nioj for the Gaming Generaton

Modern warfare has many interesting paradoxes – both the UK and the US have rising military budgets and both are troubled by their inability to recruit sufficiently to fill out their ranks. Soldiers aren’t as publicly idolised as they were, and a shrinking world means that poor young men can find other ways of seeing it, PTSD is much more widely understood and wars among civilian populations rather than in pitched battles, all mean that fewer young people are taking the King’s shilling than ever.

The UK approached this problem with the famous ‘snowflake’ series, promoting the military as a place that young people can go to find camaraderie, without any trace of toxic masculinity or bullying. Controversy made it the most famous campaign in a generation, and while numbers of signatures rose – plenty of these new converts weren’t able to survive the grueling general training. Ahead of Dominic Cummings' much touted shake up of military procurement, he would do well to teach them a thing or two about getting millions of proud Brits to sign up to making a massive, generational-defining decision without reading the small print. 

The US (as always) is in worse shape. It still boasts the most powerful military in the world, but in terms of manpower the nation's massive obesity problem as verging on a national security issue. But instead of setting their drill sergeants loose on some chubby cadets, they are reaching out through the internet to reach impressionable boys playing online war games. So Twitch (the platform where you can watch people play games) is now full of Army, Navy and Air Force e-sports experts. Presumably this is at least partially motivated by the increasing prevalence of drone warfare, which requires a skillset that much closer to video gaming than the warfare of eras bygone. But it must also have seemed a foolproof way of befriending impressionable, posturing teenage boys...until it suddenly very much wasn’t. Teenage boys (being teenage boys) simply started listing US military war crimes, resulting in comments being deleted, and the US army being pulled into a free speech debate. Not quite a rout, but you can imagine military strategists muttering darkly about conscription. In the other camp, smug teenagers everywhere can congratulate themselves on inflicting yet another humiliating defeat on adults trying to impress them. A forever war, but one with only ever one winner.

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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

Politics and showbiz galore this week! 
 

The Cancel Culture Wars Escalate

We've been discussing the concept of 'cancelling' a public figure for some time and this week saw the escalation of the simmering Culture War between - at its absolute extremes- keyboard warriors intent on deplatforming anyone whose views and actions have ever been discriminatory, un-PC, or otherwise blemished by illiberal sentiment; and free speech absolutists, who think that anyone should be able to say anything, no matter how offensive or dangerous, without consequence. 

It's an argument devoid of nuance at the moment. A letter published byHarper's Magazine and signed by 150 public figures warned that earnest efforts to hold people to account were boiling over into intolerance, but rather undermined its own argument when a series of disagreements broke out between its signatories about where the boundary was between an honest difference of opinion, and outright offensive speech. The case against cancel culture was cancelled, and became another skirmish in a nascent culture war.

The rest of the media were quick to weigh in, usually on the side of pragmatism, second chances, innocence until proven guilty and free speech over deplatforming. 

But again any argument which attempts to impose limits on cancel-worth crime is fraught with the risk of appearing to condone actions or words which are genuinely hateful, abhorrent or criminal. The Times were a case in point, publishing an article admonishing Cancel Culture in which they appeared to present such figures as R Kelly, who has been accused of serious sexual offenses, as victims of a witch hunt. 
 

The Kanye West Wing

Kanye West’s announcement that he’s running for president is the perfect parable-cum-satire of our hollow, vacuous, venal brand- and celebrity-led obsession with ‘purpose’.
 
Kanye is running despite not employing staff, registering to appear on the ballot or even apparently knowing how to attach a photo to a tweet. Why?
 
It's unlikely that he wants to be president at all. Instead we’re witnessing a publicity stunt that sums up the world we’re living in and particularly current public discourse.
 
Being too ideological might lead a public figure to get cancelled, but not having a political agenda in such a hyperpoliticised society leads to irrelevance which, for the likes of Kanye, is worse.
 
It’s the same thinking which leads brands to suture a BLM or Pride logo over their festeringly racist / homophobic working environment, and it’s always guided by the same shibboleth: Purpose.
 
But Kanye doesn’t really have any convictions to which he can attribute purpose. So he’s surveyed the landscape for an example of someone in the public eye who doesn’t have a shred of principle or a single authentic political conviction, but who nonetheless forms part of our public political discourse.
 
And he’s found one…in The White House.  
 
Of course, if his frame of reference extended across the pond, he’d find another example in Number 10.
 
And actually, if President Ye’s insights extended far enough through British history, he’d see four decades of this histrionic brand of look-at-me politics in the form of the Monster Raving Loony Party, whose founders, I’m sure, had they known the influence their modus operandi would be having on Global Politics now, would have killed the thing on day two.
 

Massive Attack, Purpose & the Modern Protest Song

You could argue that the pinnacle of modern music is the protest song. From Strange Fruit and Imagine to Fortunate Son and Rock The Casbah, our most loved music isn’t about the fellowship of humankind, or love and breakups – they are about injustice. But as our culture hurtles forward, so are our relationship with modern protest songs. While old, unchanged and much-loved slave songs cause friction when sung in the cradle of white privilege at Twickenham stadium, Massive Attack today released the latest protest song – and it is a made a striking cultural evolution.
 
In our ever-spun world, where the lyrics of Give Peace a Chance could easily be featured as a billboard for a multi-national fast fashion brand, Massive Attack’s could never be repurposed by a smiling, corporate monstrosity. They have collaborated with three artists, and three political and academic figures to write their typically moody beats beneath three speeches. And these are no anodyne sentiments, these are speeches on sustainability, tax avoidance and universal basic income.
 
Where Fatboy Slim first remixed Greta into Right Here, Right Now and the 1975 featured her at more length, this has to be the final step of politics and art diverging entirely. It shows us the saturation of our culture by politics, and it shows us that Massive Attack are still ahead of the curve. And if you’re still unimpressed – imagine how good it must be that I’m looking forward to dancing in a sweaty room to a song about the need for a sales tax.
 
Listen here.
 

Chicken Run 2: Coming Home to Roost?

Actor Julia Sawalha has written an incensed open letter after being dropped from the cast of the upcoming Chicken Run sequel on the shaky (and arguably demonstrably false) grounds that her voice has aged.
 
The fanbase are in uproar, Aardman’s reputation has taken a dent, and she is trending. But was it the right move?

Go Julia!
Following Julia Sawalha’s claims that Aardman Animations fired her from the role of ‘Ginger’ in the upcoming and highly anticipated return of Chicken Run, the animation company appear callous and out of touch in their treatment of the actor.
 
In a statement posted on Twitter, Sawalha claimed she was dismissed for sounding ‘too old,’ 20 years after shooting the first Chicken Run.
 
She wasn’t given a chance to do a voice test to determine her suitability for the role, instead she was informed out of the blue and via email.
 
Aardman’s failure to control this situation – from poorly managing her dismissal to Sawalha’s statement, will ultimately hurt their brand. Particularly under the backdrop of fighting off allegations that they’re selling out to American studios for 15 years (Netflix deal?) and now fundamental hypocrisies when comparing this to Wallace & Gromit, for instance – with Peter Sallis keeping his role as Wallace for decades up until he died.
 
Sawalha’s been widely supported across social media, with the vast majority expressing support and some claiming they’d boycott the film.
 
Once again, failure to understand the current ‘cancel culture’ has hurt another brand. Blatant disregarding Sawalha in this process is bad PR and Aardman will have to take control; an uphill battle considering they can’t simply reinstate Sawalha without facing more backlash. They’ll have to get their story straight or this could be a reputational nightmare.
 
Bad Move
Like any media strategy it depends on whether she will hit her objectives.
 
Firstly - will she be able to reclaim the role? Well perhaps. Perhaps Netflix will decide that they want to start outsourcing their hiring decisions to Twitter. Or perhaps not… maybe Netflix will decide that they cannot allow the precedent of talent using social media to force studios into backpedalling to stand as it would entirely undermine their agency and control.
 
Secondly - is she likely to get more work? I doubt it! Why would anyone hire someone who has a history of publicly torching ex-employers on the way out!? Aardman are taking a pounding on Twitter, and any future studio must surely question whether her talent outweighs her risk. She isn’t Marlon Brando
 
From time to time, we all get sacked, we all get dumped. It’s part of life. But whatever happens, you don’t write a self-pitying post about it online. If you want to make a statement to affect change then do it like Brando – do it when you reject an award – don’t do it when you don’t make the cut. This was less Don Draper, and more Deontay Wilder.
 

Sport Documentaries: A New Breed of Spin

The release of ‘All or Nothing: Tottenham Hotspur’ sees another sporting documentary trending. These fly-on-the-wall-styled series gives viewers a taste of the dressing room atmosphere, personalities that make up a sports team and some of the business dealings we aren't otherwise privy to.

 
Producers attempt to capture never-seen-before moments galvanising curiosity and excitement. Despite viewers feeling a sense of rawness behind these moments in cases including the Manchester City documentary and lockdown hit The Last Dance, figures like Pep Guardiola and Michael Jordan have actually been able to present their story’s under this veil allowing them to totally control every facet of the message going out.
 
Tottenham Hotspurs will be no different - with Levy presumably pulling the strings, financially speaking, this will likely be a shrewd move to control the club’s image.
 
An example where the messaging wasn't quite so engineered was Sunderland 'Til I Die documentary - following the football clubs journey down to the lower tiers of the footballing League - whilst they struggle with their finances, Netflix were able to have full artistic control presenting a stark picture but an excellent viewing experience.
 
This trend could be a genius bit of PR for sporting behemoths as they monetise their series whilst controlling the narrative through a producers’ lens. As we will undoubtedly see more of these styled documentaries, approach with caution; it may not be the authentic experience fans crave.

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Trump Before He's Pushed?

It’s no secret that the Trump campaign is in deep trouble. Reports that Trump is telling advisors ‘I don’t know what to do’ and is even considering pulling out are widespread. The world watches as the most famous, powerful person is slowly being crushed under the weight of his own mistakes, and every time he moves it gets worse. It’s the narcissist's nightmare.

But will he go? Well he might. Trump, a man devoid of empathy, only relates to one other man – Howard Hughes. The famous aviator who dazzled America before collapsing into a fever dream of bottled urine and locked hotel doors. As a younger man he would say that they were kindred spirits and that he would either end up as President or like Hughes - a germophobe muttering to himself in a locked luxury hotel room. And now, who knows? He could do both! Donald Trump treating the White House like Assange treated the Ecuadorian embassy. Joe Biden steps into an Oval Office where every surface is covered by antiseptic hand wipes and bottles of piss. Unlikely, but it would be a fitting end to the reality TV of our time.

But if Trump were to collapse and give up, what would this mean for the race for the White House? Firstly, who would step into the gulf? If it happens - the sooner, the better for changing direction, the more likely a strong candidate will step up. Could there be a convention? How would it work? The candidate to  watch is Tucker Carlson. The Fox News host is handsome, aggressive, right-wing and a nationalist with the backing of the Murdoch machine. It would be an election campaign run night after night through a carefully choreographed TV studio, into the front rooms of countless right-leaning Americans. He would be unabridged, unchallenged and disciplined. If that were to happen he would be formidable. Place your bets now…


TikTok's Star-Making Influence is Altering Pop Music's DNA

In our Trends last week we talked about how TikTok is playing the same role in making people famous with Gen Z as tabloid newspapers did for Boomers, Gen X and even early millennials (with the added impetus of reality TV). This shift towards new mediums has also shifted the power balance in favour of celebrities and their management; the ability to achieve fame through channels over which they have near-total control solves a lot of PR headaches.
 
But TikTok’s influence extends beyond the fame game. Success on the platform has been cited as a factor in the lightning rise of artists such as Lizzo and particularly Lil Nas X and increasingly we’re witnessing artists create music which feels native to the platform. The latest example is Avenue Beat’s f**k 2020 which, in its musical style, social language and embrace of so many current memes, is a near-perfect Gen Z anthem and could be a blueprint for more future icons of the generation.
 

Punchdrunk x Pokemon Go: New Forms Will be Key to Arts Survival

Last week in The Stage our dear leader talked about how external communications will be vital for theatres to survive the tragic but entirely possible onset of an industry-wide nuclear winter, and said this about embracing new technology and platforms:
 
“Theatre productions native to digital platforms are still treated as a niche sub-genre somewhere between site-specific and multimedia. Creating theatre for new platforms, particularly virtual reality and augmented reality, is essential for building audiences and opening revenue streams. Comedy producers are making the biggest strides here and theatre should look to them for inspiration. The theatre experience also has to extend beyond the auditorium doors and be imbibed in every facet of a production.”
 
This week we saw immersive theatre titans Punchdrunk team up with Pokemon Go developer Niantic to develop new formats which combine augmented reality and immersive performance. It’s innovative, it’s ambitious, it’s headline-grabbing, and it has rammed home the inescapable fact that theatre practitioners, given the opportunities and resources, will hold up their end of any deal they’re offered. It’s high time the government did the same.

Without intervention we're going to see the arts sector become a corporate franchising exercise. The fact that the first post-COVID major music venue is under the Virgin Money banner is a harbinger. 

Also on that note, The Stage announced today that it was beginning consultation on redundancies. It's an excellent newspaper run by fine people and a credit to the industry which has never been more evident than throughout the lockdown, when it has been one of theatre's greatest defenders in this country. We're proud subscribers and would urge any of our readers with an interest in theatre to join us. 
 

The Race to Fix Animation

Last week we talked about the scramble for white celebrities to pre-emptively apologies for past racial misdemeanors with mixed degrees of contrition. A subgenre of this practice to emerge in the past seven days is for American animated shows and their casts to ostentatiously remove white actors who previously played characters of colour.

It started with an authentic gesture, Big Mouth star Jenny Slate stepping down as mixed race character MIssy, and snowballed into a series of ostentatious gestures by other animated shows and their casts. After years, even decades of criticism, The Simpsons and Family Guy - two of the three longest running comedy shows in US history, stood down white voice actors of characters including Cleveland and Apu.

Kristen Bell also stepped down as Molly in Central Park and Alison Brie, robbed of the opportunity to do the same by the recent season finale, expressed regret about voicing Diane Nguyen in Bojack Horseman

Credit is due to Jenny Slate for having the bravery to buck the trend. It felt like a genuine reaction to the BLM revolution. The same cannot be said for The Simpsons and Family Guy, both of which have resisted pressure for years not to have white actors voice characters of colour and now, whatever their motivation, just look like they're jumping on the last bandwagon out of Saigon now that their time is up. They're done the right thing for the wrong reasons.

It's a positive trend which will hopefully lead to more diversity of ideas and equality of opportunity in the hugely lucrative animated comedy sector, but for fans of the medium, one thought remains: Christ knows how South Park will react to this...
 

No.10 Spinners Work Out that Honey is Deadlier than Salt

In yet another attempt for the Conservative Party to prove that they are systematically changing the British nation, rather than conducting a bunch of flash PR strategies, it was announced today that the lobby system of elite, establishment political journalists getting twice-daily contact with Number 10 is to be changed. In another surely misplaced case of ‘let’s mimic the American system, they seem to have got things running well over there’, there will now be a spokesperson who will address the assembled media.

Months ago, we wrote about how Cummings had tried to slice unfriendly publications away from government contact, but had only succeeded in making the ferociously competitive and often poisonous atmosphere between the countries top journalists suddenly transform into an ‘I, Spartacus moment’. We argued then that any fresh attack on press freedom would have to be better aimed and executed, and it has. This is subtler, requires patience but will do more long-term damage.

So, here are some more predictions: Week 1 – The spokesperson is announced and is praised for not pale, male and stale. Week 7 – further media passes are given out to ‘reflect the complexity of modern media’, which accidentally (and overwhelmingly) favour right wing blogs and outlets. Week 12 – After a misunderstanding, number 10 apologises for not calling questions to left wing outlets. Week 35 – Left-wing journalists attempt another Spartacus moment, but it’s too little too late. 
 
We were all told Cummings was a genius - but I'm beginning to mistake him for nothing more than a cynic. Which is yet another prediction that will Borkowski believe will be borne out. 

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June

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Starmer Vs RLB | TikTok Vs Tabloids | Tech Vs BLM | Tina Fey X Jenna Marbles

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

Another lesson from the Machiavellian inner workings of political comms, another dystopian technological development revealed, another strand in the new DNA of fame and another week in the rise of Cancel Culture. The usual...
 

Are the UK Media Losing their Fourth Estate Powers?

Since Kier Starmer was appointed, he has swung the axe into his own top team with impunity - Rebecca Long-Bailey his latest victim, but been reluctant to call Boris Johnson to do the same. Why is this?

It was so quick it was almost forgotten, but when Rosie Duffield MP (a breakout Labour star from the last Parliament) was found to have broken lockdown she was immediately sacked. Rebecca Long Bailey, was (according to Huffington Post) given four hours to retract and apologise for sharing of an anti-semetic sentiment crowbarred into an unrelated story before summarily being sacked. And no journalist got an inkling that the sacking was coming until it was done, which speaks again to a quiet culture shift.

Johnson on the other hand has stood by his men. Cummings and Jenrick are both engulfed in sustained ‘off with their heads’ campaigns. And although Cummings has won his own battle, Jenrick's struggle has ballooned out of proportion. True, it doesn’t look good, but it’s hardly conclusive and the ink being splashed on it either speaks to an underlying reputation (which is possible) or something else. Why is it causing such rage in the media?

This is a struggle over the media's power to hold government to account. Is it possible that Cummings is right, and the traditionally powerful pool of top political journalists are no longer to be feared? That they will jump up and down but the polls won’t move? All you need to do is hide in a fridge until it all calms down and keep pumping money into Facebook ads?

Cummings tried to prove that once, and now the papers from The Mail and The Guardian are doing their best to prove likewise. It almost makes you feel sorry for Jenrick. Nobody deserves to become the stake in a game of chicken between the media and government.


TikTok is running down the clock on tabloid dominance of the Fame Game? 

Two things we've seen emerge from the current situation are firstly the development of a Gen Z / Zoomer personality as encapsulated by the millions of Gen Z vs Millennial and Zoomer vs Boomer memes, and secondly the continued demise of traditional media. 

The two seem disconnected but there's a theory which connects these two seemingly unrelated phenomenon. 

TikTok the first Gen Z-dominated social media platform, is both the vessel by which this Zoomer identity is forming, and an influential breeding ground for their culture and influences. This is typified by a story revealing that Jason Derulo is so firmly established as a TikTok star for that generation that many of his followers are unaware of his music and acting careers. 

TikTok's influence over this emerging generation, and related ability not only to create stars, but to change the nature of their stardom, both solidifies it as a powerful new media platform and is also bad news for the fame makers of yesteryear, familiar even to early millennials; tabloids (and to a lesser extent, the entirely symbiotic entity of reality TV). 

In the olden days we'd see Peter Andre in the Sun and wonder what his day job was beyond professional tabloid headline. Unfortunately for the newspaper industry, the next generation are doing the same, except with Derulo, on TikTok. Given that Derulo has 100% approval of everything that appears on his TikTok channel, you can see that celebrities may not be resistant to this change. 
 

The End of Anonymity pt. 2

Would the George Floyd protests have set the world alight if we hadn’t all been forced inside, too focussed on endlessly doomscrolling our feeds to check on the world outside?

This kind of social upheaval is generally associated with political extremes, but perhaps truly radical change is the art of seeping into enough moderates to tip the scales. 

Perhaps for this to exist it requires us all to be isolated from the sweet distraction of the beer garden. But while we were looking, feeling and learning about BlackLivesMatter protests, a US tech company called Mobilewalla was also watching closely, and carrying a warning of the perils of modern surveillance for freedom.

Under a month after the protesters finished expunging their rage, they released a document called ‘George Floyd Protestor Demographics: Insights Across 4 Major US Cities’.

You’ll only be able to find it at that link for a short while longer. Within that document, the data of 17,000 protestors is organised by age, ethnicity and gender. That data, taken without consent, can be cut up and sold to online marketeers free of regulation. It can even be sold to Governments.

Although this is a US phenomenon so far. From big planes with fancy paint jobs, to chlorinated chicken approaching our supermarkets, our economic trajectory is more closely aligned to the States every day. We have to hope that our Prime Minister, infamous for his hands off approach, will sustain that impulse when it comes to big tech and surveillance.

 

Pre-empting Cancel Culture: The New Non-Apology-Apology 

Cancel Culture continues to grow exponentially and the BLM revolution has shone a light on the number of celebrities who, whether or not they deserve to have their careers ended for it, have done some racially insensitive, occasionally openly racist, and always pretty dumb stuff in the past. 

Jimmy Kimmel joined fellow chat show Jimmy - Fallon- in limply apologising for a history of blackface this week, while Matt Lucas and David Walliams' strife has been at the head of a well-documented reckoning for British Comedy, but this week Tina Fey tried to get out ahead of her own scandal by calling for three episodes of her own sticom, 30 Rock, to be removed from streaming and syndication due to use of blackface. 

The pre-emptive strike somewhat backfired, the problem being that Fey, in common with a lot of American comedians, even those with relatively woke, left-leaning fanbases (another example is Rob Delaney), whose past comedy has leaned heavily on racial profiling, even stereotypes. Many deemed that her past comments on race meant her latest move could not be considered an authentic gesture. 

A more successful example of the pre-emptive apology comes from another noughties linchpin,YouTube pioneer Jenna Marbles, who announced that she was retiring her YouTube channel as part of an effort to move on from her past use of blackface. It was a better apology for a number of reasons; a cleaner break with the past, a fuller acceptance of her own wrongdoing, and a more humble promise to do better in future. 

These won't be the last apologies, and doing it rightly could mend bridges and save careers. 

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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: 19 June

New age celebrity

Manchester United and England star Marcus Rashford took many by surprise this week with a startlingly effective campaign. Beginning with an apparently innocuous tweet last Wednesday, his mission to reverse the government’s policy on free school meals during the summer holidays soon snowballed: a letter to parliament attracted both cross party support and a poorly judged intervention from Conservative MP Therese Coffey. Before we knew it Boris Johnson, who had initially refused Rashford’s suggestions, was forced into an embarrassing U-turn. 
 
Are we seeing the birth of a new kind of celebrity? At the fresh age of 22, Rashford has shown just how important a social conscience is to this new generation of public figures. Indeed, Rashford isn’t alone; both his England teammate Raheem Sterling and American international Megan Rapinoe haven’t been shy on issues of racial and social justice. 
 
For these celebrities, social impact is an essential prerequisite to fame. We have come a long way from stars like Michael Jordan, for whom business came above all else. Not only that, but their prodigious grasp of best practice in corporate communications – message discipline, communicating authenticity, leveraging genuine fame – shows us why Rashford’s bid met with such success. The new celebrity is truly a force to be reckoned with.
 

The modern poetry of protest

These last weeks have been most defined by people locked inside with their news feeds watching videos of the murder of George Floyd and then feeling the tidal wave of rage flow first across their Instagram and then into their city centres. It is a strange phenomenon, because apart from a very few eccentric and sad people, we all think of ourselves as being opposed to racism. But that very clearly isn’t enough. Many people are coming to terms for the first time with phrases like ‘structural racism’ and not being met by welcoming activists but by exasperated activists angry it took them so long to arrive.
 
This dividing line, between the two camps was perhaps best reflected by the exchange between J Cole (the world’s most revered hip-hop lyricist) and Noname (a DJ and radical activist). J Cole released a brilliantly crafted verse that reflected the need to be gentle and encouraging with people who want to do their best rather than angry. Noname retaliated with a ‘why is this the issue that you are addressing when the world is on fire’. It’s an interesting debate, beautifully delivered. Interestingly, the original difference between their views is that J Cole views the coming change towards justice as inevitable, and Noname sees it as far from being assured. It’s probable that that clashing perspective spirals out into all the others.
 
Play both to anyone who ever tries to tell you that hip-hop isn’t the most articulate music form of today.


Is SpongeBob SquarePants gay?

  1. hypersensitive millennials retrofitting their woke undercurrent to beloved children’s cartoon
  2. deeply topical and relevant question that’s finally been answered
  3. it’s a cartoon, who cares?!

 
Earlier this week, Nickelodeon depicted the loveable character in LGBTQ+ colours for Pride month, prompting furious discussion about his sexuality online.
 
We’ve spoken before in Borkowski Weekly Trends about trendy updates to children’s classics, but SpongeBob feels different.
 
As the topic of sexuality becomes more pertinent, cartoon characters will become increasingly pressured to answer tough questions from the fans. This all may sound trivial but consider how cartoons shape childhood’s often forming the starting point of a child’s cultural understanding.
 
Take The Simpsons– a show that caters for both children and adults with subtle cultural references that children can piece together whilst not understanding the nuances for adult audiences.
 
As identity politics and moves into more areas of our cultural life, cartoons could become a child friendly way to introduce some of the harder questions around sexuality and gender that parents will inevitably face.
 
Have we entered the age of sexualised cartoons? Not in that way!!!

The UK non-profit hitting Trump where it hurts

It’s been another big week of developments in the social media/legacy media/political communication sphere, with Facebook being forced into wading into the debate due to a mass walkout of their staff due to Zuckerberg’s unwillingness to police how political parties use his medium. On first glance, and judging by the headlines, it has taken the uploading of Nazi imagery by junior Trump staff to his official campaign page to finally jolt a reaction out of Nick Clegg’s boss. But would Trump himself point the finger in the direction of a tiny UK nonprofit that is targeting the complex media empire that is dedicated to keeping Donald Trump in power?

@SFFakeNews started by targeting left-wing, anti-Semitic blogs by going after their bank balance. Its modus operandi is simple, yet ruthless. Visiting these sites repeatedly, it screenshots those major companies (many of whom have made numerous public declarations to being morally upright) as their adverts appear next to repulsive, racist headlines. They then send the photos over Twitter to said companies, which forces those companies to blacklist the racist blog. It is a business model that is so effective at disrupting the business model of Facebook, and of other online advertising companies, that it has had the Trump family up in arms. It just goes to show, that if you want to upset a politician you go after his reputation, but if you want to really threaten him – you go after the funding.

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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: JKR | The Great Sitcom Purge | More Media Madness

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

It's been a strange old week of disappearing statues and sitcoms. Let's try to make sense of it. 

To start on a happy note, our very own Olly Longworth has this week rightly been recognised by PR Week as one of the finest young minds in the industry. Olly is one of the 'ghosts' who writes these trends and regularly harps on about getting his byline added to the ones he writes so will no doubt be delighted to have his name in lights for once! Back to Private Eye-style anonymity next week...!
 

Harry Potter and the Disappearing Reputation

Gender identity sadly caused another row this week as the world's most successful author, J.K Rowling, made a statement suggesting that certain transgender rights threaten women's rights and then doubled down in a lengthy blog post.

Irrespective of views on the issue itself, it's a mark of JKR's monumental power that her career didn't end there and then.

Her statement and lengthy 'not mea culpa' incriminated her with so many people in the arts, entertainment and media industries that it could do even her career - which these days amounts to a license to print money in exchange for a morsel more Harry Potter canon- material damage. 

There are communications lessons to be learned from various of the responses to JKR's statement. Daniel Radcliffe issued a thoughtful and compassionate response which was both forthright and humane, and avoided escalating the conflict by being overly direct. Various of his Harry Potter co-stars issued other brief, if carefully-worded statements distancing themselves from JKR's views.

Of course the brandwagon also came crashing into the story. This issue affects people's lives and their fundamental rights so it's not one in which to score cheap virtue points. Clearly nobody in the Body Shop's Comms team told them that and, in a move which some are calling a 'Rattner moment' (an instance of communications kamikaze), and which seems to us to have been inspired by the reactive and far more dignified Yorkshire Tea and PG Tips responses to Black Lives Matter, tried to insert a consumer PR-gifting set into the argument.

To compound the misery, The Sun then followed up a revelation in JKR's letter by publishing a shockingly tone deaf headline which showed absolutely no empathy for survivors of domestic abuse. Exactly at a time when the role of newspapers, especially the red tops, is at its most precarious in history. Jesus wept. 
 

SITC..ULTURE WAR?

 

An unusual offshoot of the Black Lives Matter and great statue purge of 2020 is what feels like a fairly thorough audit of historic sitcoms, with those employing blackface or open racism summarily defenestrated from streaming platforms the world over.

While for some, like Little Britain and Come Fly With Me, the writing was on the wall, others like The League of Gentlemen can arguably feel harder done-by and the argument has even spilled into sitcoms where blackface isn't the issue, like Gavin & Stacy, in which a character's name was erroneously accused of being racist.. 

One issue caught our attention more than most, Fawlty Towers. An episode with a flagrantly racist scene has been removed from Britbox, but here's the rub. There's a version of that episode already used on the BBC, with the scene edited out, so the episode will probably be back up before too long, and all that will remain of the 'scandal' is a convenient reminder that the BBC, ITV and UKTV have a huge trove of nostalgic, un-politically correct programming just sitting there. Publicity stunt? Mark Borkowski thinks so....


BRAVE NEW WORLD FOR THE MEDIA

 

This week has seen a number of substantial changes to the top jobs in British media. First off was Tim Davie’s appointment as new Director General of the BBC, a job described as ‘hellish’ by the BBC’s own media editor. Davie, who previously served as the CEO of BBC Studios, has a commercial background and is seen by some as the man to take on the streaming giants and drag the corporation kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

Meanwhile, over in the land formerly known as Fleet Street, the Evening Standard has a new Editor. Emily Sheffield, a former deputy editor of Vogue, will take on the role as George Osbourne steps up to the more managerial Editor-in-Chief position. It’s merely coincidence, of course, that Sheffield is the sister-in-law of David Cameron, George Osbourne’s former political partner in crime. Meritocracy in the British media is clearly still in rude health.
 

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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Black Lives Matter

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

The news this week has been dominated by the killing of George Floyd and the wave of anger it has launched around the world at institutionalised racial injustice. 

With public discourse once again hitting rock bottom in terms of illuminating thought and mutual understanding (notwithstanding some highly honourable exceptions) we took a look at some of the communications issues raised throughout the week. 
 

BLACK LIVES MATTER: THE COMMUNICATIONS PERSPECTIVE 


Black Lives Matter is many noble things but it is also a communications campaign. The ultimate aim for the movement will be massive cultural shifts converting into significant legislative changes. And while the move towards racial equality in America can no longer rely on King, X, Baldwin and Parks to elucidate the injustice and ignominy of the American construct, it can count on thousands of cameras to capture the pain first hand.

Would George Floyd’s murder have spurred a global howl of rage had it not been caught on film? No. We have the off-camera murders of thousands of forgotten black men, women and children to attest to that. The reason that the hackneyed ‘resisting arrest’ line has finally failed is because there are endless photos, videos and writings to discredit it. What is a typed police report when compared to the begging of a murdered man? The avalanche of social media posts in the following days ensured that nobody could dismiss this as a unique case. It was suddenly clear who were the true roaming and lawless gangs on the streets of America.

This is why the blizzard of black boxes that filled social media on Tuesday and Wednesday were a communications disaster. Just as the world was finally being confronted with endless, undeniable, heart-rendering evidence of the racism that rots away at it – the screen went black. The visceral confrontation of evil had been reduced to empty platitude. An opportunity to elevate ignored black voices was nearly squandered. Performative solidarity had suffocated those meanings we were just beginning to contemplate. 
 
It took murders, and the cameras of thousands to capture the attention of millions. If we are to see the change this world so badly needs, we must be careful to ensure that more than a confusing hashtag and a generic image be our reaction. 
 

THE INEVITABLE BRANDWAGON


In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, all kinds of brands have sought to get in on the action with earnest Instagram posts and company statements. But how seriously should we take such interventions? Do they amount to anything greater than empty words? Many in the media are sceptical that brands have anything meaningful to say about injustice.

A number of brands seem to have made such statements out of fear of being attacked for saying nothing. But that’s a weak foundation for a meaningful message, and generic language will inevitably fade into the noise. As one commentator has said, many brands are intent on “walking right up to the line of politics without stepping one toe over it.” That simply doesn’t cut it in the 20th century, as Ben & Jerry’s clearly realised, with their strident statement that called attention to “inhumane police brutality” and “a culture of white supremacy”.

More important that language, however, is transparency. Consumers aren’t comfortable with giving their money to opaque corporations anymore. They want to know that people like themselves sit on their board, that the company has a genuine commitment to the cause, beyond times of convenience. If they don’t, they lose the right to take part in the conversation. Effective communications is increasingly becoming the art of looking hard at yourself in the mirror, and knowing when to sit down and shut up.



K-POP STANS MAKE A STAND


During this period of worldwide civil unrest, Twitter has been a platform for millions to voice their views on the current protests. Standing out loud and proud are K-pop ‘stans’ who’ve united to drown out opposition to rightwing and pro-Trump hashtags including #WhiteLivesMatter, as well as police channels. By flooding racist hashtags with videos and images of their favourite artists, they’ve effectively nullified the negative sentiment behind problematic trends on the social media platform.

While celebrities like Jordan Peele and hacktivist group Anonymous have supported Kpop recent efforts, an informative thread by Hyunsu Yim highlights a history of political charged online campaigns targeting an array of racism and injustice that has repeatably slipped under the radar, particularly as western culture regularly casts and dismisses K-pop as a propaganda movement.

Scrolling through the comment sections of platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube can be a cesspit of trolling, abuse and ill-informed opinions. However, it allows groups to come together, and on this occasion root out some of the nastiness and hate on a global scale.
 

INFLUENCERS BEING INFLUENCERS

As light relief from our usual nihilistic despair at the state of influencer culture we often turn to an account called Infleuncers in the Wild. If's mainly a kind of You've Been Framed / RudeTube in which painstakingly stage managed boyfriends of Insta photoshoots end in disaster, but this week it's taken on an important role in platforming videos which expose the dangerous and venal inauthenticity running rampant on social media. 

An influencer posing thoughtfully outside a smashed T-Mobile (for exactly the length of time it takes her boyfriend to take a photo), another borrowing a drill from a man fixing a looted shop so she can hold it, again for just long enough to give the impression that she's helping, another looking like she's going to Coachella, joins a brandishes a BLM sign for all of 5 seconds before leaving the protest, three more seem to be dabbing or giving thumbs up as a car burns in the background. 

It's not Russian interference in an election, but social media users must really question what is authentic because so much of this culture is empty, vacuous and utterly superficial. 
 

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May

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Cummings | Influencers | Jimmy Fallon Vs Woody Allen | Trump Vs Twitter

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

The easing of lockdown has also seen some of our favourite topics in these trends emerge from the woodwork. For the first time in a while we're looking at the influencer industry, cancel culture and fake news. 

Before all that, PR Week shared some of Mark Borkowski's thoughts on the Dominic Cummings scandal: 
 

“Once again this is a comms crisis and a values failure,” Borkowski said. “If the Government is banking on a Trumpian way forward, believing the country has short-term memory loss and long-term amnesia, [it is] taking one hell of a gamble. We are not going back to any normality. The nation will be reflecting on those who did the right thing.

“Fundamentally it destroys trust. We are stepping into Trumpian comms [and this is a] massive fail.”

INFLUENCER CULTURE IS STILL TOXIC

There have been some green shoots this week of signs that society may return to normal in the foreseeable future, including the time honoured practice of Influencers being lambasted for crass, venal, career-destroying antics. 

We harp on in this bulletin about the need for brands to be authentic and live their values, and influencer culture - if you were to sum it up as making a person into a brand- is a constant reminder of how wince-inducingly awful it is to preach a set of values and then run roughshod over them.

An FT article on the industry this week cited the example of Arielle Charnas, who revealed to her followers that she had tested positive for coronavirus (how she got a test is still unclear) and then proceeded to regale them with content of her breaking both social distancing and lockdown rules. 

A separate article in Buzzfeed detailed how a YouTuber spent years effectively monetising the life of her autistic foster son, before giving him up abruptly to another family. 

It's simple, if you espouse values, you have to adhere to them, or your reputation won't survive. It's a test the nascent influencer sector fails time and again. 
 

CANCEL CULTURE IS NOT CANCELLED

Another trend to emerge from lockdown this week was the return of cancel culture. Talkshow host Jimmy Fallon will likely shake off the 'revelation' that he did an SNL sketch in blackface 20 years ago as he did the smart thing and responded with total contrition.

It's another lesson in how historical acts can be dredged up and retrofitted with 2020 values. The sketch clearly wouldn't be okay now, but didn't seem to have been considered hugely offensive in 2000 when he did it. 

While Fallon grovelled Woody Allen renewed his commitment to the opposite approach, consenting to an interview in the Guardian in which he again unapologetically rubbished claims of sexual abuse. 

Hadley Freeman's profile was detailed and, on balance, relatively sympathetic to Allen, but has totally polarised the internet. What's interesting about this case is that, while Allen's direct style of rebutting the specific abuse claims seems to have been somewhat effective, his reputation as a creepy guy with a penchant for much, much younger women - never addressed with anything approaching self-awareness, let alone serious reflection- continues to damage his public image, perhaps beyond repair. 

TRUMP vs TWITTER 

The immediate spectacle of the President of the United States declaring war on Twitter, using Twitter, is absurd.

But it might have profound implications for political discourse during the Presidential election and beyond.

So far, our democracy is fragmenting along with the media landscape. Although there have always been 100 opinions in an electorate of 10, it was impossible to disagree on facts when they were only being issued by a few outlets.

Now we have a situation where we are reading hundreds of outlets on a handful of social media platforms. But what happens when a platform is suddenly perceived as partisan?

Twitter’s ban on the looting/shooting tweet today sets them against Trump and highlights Facebook’s free-speech fanaticism. Are we heading to a place where Trump supporters migrate from Twitter to their own platform? Will we be an electorate of 10 people on 8 platforms, reading 15 outlets? If democracy relies on our shared understanding of events, how will it survive this dystopian cracking of our societal narrative?

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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Timpson | F1 | Boris | Animal Crossing

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends
 

A TALE OF TWO BRANDS

Another week in paradise. It all started with praise for Timpson earning widespread praise for protection of their workers throughout the crisis and genuinely decent contribution to society.

'Punk' beer demagogues Brewdog could learn from this example; their transformation from Mad Max to Jacob Rees-Mogg is complete with a fussy defamation suit against a PR firm - an ostentatious attempt to distance themselves from a disastrous stunt in which Trump supporters were reportedly to be offered free beers - was thrown out unceremoniously by the High Court..Two loud, obnoxious stunts to not make a right. 
 

MORE MEDIA MISERY

It's also been another grim week for the media, with Bauer Media and Joe.co.uk adding to the media's endangered species. The one bright spot is that the BBC, in their eternal quest to court 'the young' are rumoured to be reviving BBC Three with the brand currently riding high off the back of Normal People. 


FORMULA ONE IN POLE POSITION 

Borkowski has always been synonymous with the art and entertainment world. So while theatres, stadiums, tracks and galleries closed overnight it has been interesting to see who has had the creativity and bravery to fill our collected yearning for entertainment. In sport, nobody has done it better than F1.

A series of online races has put up the stars of F1 against one another in cars with identical characteristics. Throw in a couple of celebrities and some YouTube e-racing stars and the result has been electric. But it’s not just the spectacle, a viewer is able to hop from stream to stream, choosing to see what any racer sees at any time and to hear what they are saying.

This means that watching a race requires activity from the viewer. Jumping to where the race is hotting up is more rewarding than relying on a Sky Sports producer, and there’s no need for a commentator when you are hearing the thoughts of the racers.


A NATIONAL EMBORISMENT

At beginning of this crisis we wrote about the ‘rally around the flag’ affect and noted that although all leaders had enjoyed a bump, Trump’s had fizzled and Johnson was doing well. Although Trump is still in big trouble, Johnson is still not down to where he was pre-Covid. Our boss wrote last week that ‘

The Tories have campaigned in haiku and governed in gibberish’, but not even he couldn’t have predicted the parliamentary disaster Johnson seemed to insist on launching into his own foot yesterday. We can all see he struggles with detail and governance, but how is it possible for a Parliamentarian with an 80-seat majority and the winds of crisis in his sails to have to u-turn on his own policy.

How is it possible for a man famed for campaigning, whose finest piece of communication in Number 10 was to applaud the foreign medical professionals who saved his life, to ask foreign-born NHS workers to pay for the privilege to risk their lives for us? It might be lost in the maelstrom but make no mistake – this is another huge unforced error.

ANIMAL RISING

During lockdown, the video game Animal Crossing: New Horizons has emerged as an extraordinary cultural phenomenon, selling over 13 million copies and receiving attention as the cultural artefact that will likely define the coronavirus era. It didn’t take long for brands like Highsnobiety and Getty to sniff an opportunity.
 
Cue the next stage of the marketing cycle: animal rights activists PETA baffled users on Thursday with a bizarre protest. The group posted a TikTok of players storming the game’s museum, announcing the director Blathers was ‘cancelled’ and promptly throwing the museum’s fish back in the water. PETA had previously attracted attention for their ‘Vegan Guide to Animal Crossing’, which helpfully ignored the fact that all the animals featuring in the game are, of course, not real.
 
Far be it from us to deny any organisation a good stunt, but the foolish episode proves a rather salient point. No matter how clever you think you are, with your use of new platforms like TikTok and video games, it all stands for nothing if your message does not make sense. Now more than ever, we are seeing that message discipline truly is the most important pillar of a campaign. Without it, you might as well get back to the drawing board.
 

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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Buzzfeed | AI Influencer | Millionaire | Rockstar Games | RPatz

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends


Happy Friday! The good news is that popular culture appears slowly to be reawakening, the bad news is that the media as we know it is looking increasingly endangered. This week we're looking at both sides of the coin. 


MORE SPILLED INK


This week has been a bloodbath for digital media, with many citing COVID-19 as the reason for a series of ruthless cuts which have felt at times like a Game of Thrones season finale.

Digital news innovator Buzzfeed and travel industry godfather Lonely Planet both announced the closure of operations in the UK and Australia, while layoffs and furloughs have recently been made at Condé Nast, Quartz, The Economist and Vox, with VICE rumoured to be following suit. 

The virus is stating to spread to establishment media too, with the rumoured closure of BBC Four, the Beeb’s highbrow channel focused on documentaries, arts and science programming.  

It is a little early to tell what the final consequences will be for the wider media landscape both in the UK and abroad. But the first casualties appear to be those that have helped shift how other publishers think.

Buzzfeed was the first outlet to take news on social media seriously and to offer dedicated time and money to specialist reporting like LGBT issues, among others, while Quartz and The Economist frequently cover international stories that others fail to pick up. And in abandoning BBC Four, the BBC seem less interested in public service broadcasting that isn’t possible at more commercially minded operations.  

COVID-19 has already changed a great deal about our lives. Increasingly it seems we may exit the pandemic in a radically different, and likely poorer, world.  


AI IS COMING FOR POP CULTURE

As the human race edges closer to a dystopian future ran by AI overlords, musicians and celebrities appear to be in immediate danger.

Recently, audio clips surfaced capturing JAY-Z rapping “To Be, Or Not To Be” and “We Didn't Start the Fire”, uncanny crossovers were made possible by 'deepfake music'. It's a creepy development but also worrying for musicians. Lawyers will be frantically re-examining copyright laws as this technology progresses, and if you can mimic sound trends and influential musicians, why not employ an auto-crooner for a fraction of the price and minus the ego or diva tendencies. .

And even career-celebs are under threat. Last weekend Variety reported that CGI-generated influencer may soon become a reality. Miquela – an artist/influencer created by an entertainment company – has signed as CAA’s first virtual client; terrifying.

As the digital world expands ever further into our daily reality, these gimmicks will spring up more frequently. It’s hard to decipher how exactly AI will be used, and while replacing musicians and influencers is still a huge stretch of the imagination, there may come a point when AI is used to streamline the creative process.



'QUIZ' WORTH MILLIONS TO ITV 


ITV execs must have been rubbing their hands with glee as they watched Tuesday night’s episode of Who Wants to be a Millionaire: as retired doctor Andrew Townsley came just short of the £1m jackpot, viewing figures shot up 300,000 from the previous night, with the proportion of 25-34 year olds doubling. The episode entered the top-five most watched since the show rebooted in 2018 with Jeremy Clarkson as host.  

Bosses of the channel must have been pleased to cash in on the success of Quiz, James Graham’s dramatization of the ‘Coughing Major’ scandal, which was named one of the biggest TV dramas of the year.  

Capitalising on that success is an astute bit of comms from ITV. Of course, they had a massive stroke of luck as well; airing during lockdown almost certainly improved Quiz’s performance, gifting Millionaire a unique cultural phenomenon to lock on to and therefore a PR opportunity that money can’t buy. Nonetheless, a strong comms operation will see when an opportunity arrives and know how to seize it with both hands. Whether serendipitous or not, ITV deserve plaudits for their acute sense of timing.  
 

A 21st CENTURY ROCKSTAR

Rockstar, specifically The Grand Theft Auto franchise, is like one of the great bands of the 60s, coming from the UK to the USA and completely redefining its genre. 

Rockstar peaked with GTA: San Andreas, a hilarious parody of California, as their games broke through into the mainstream and the company became a truly global franchise. Then, as with the Beatles and Rolling Stones decades earlier came the pressure of huge money.

GTA V followed, and couldn’t quite live up to its punk heritage. Where once it was a parody of the US, now it was a parody of itself, highlighted by its long-awaited and over-hyped multiplayer system. Released incomplete, it demanded endless in-game purchases of the player. Tilting victories toward the richest, rather than the best players.

With this more bittersweet recent history in mind, it a pleasure to see Rockstar recapture their early rock'n'roll spirit by giving GTA V away for free.

Games have long been overlooked as culture artefacts despite being a combination of pretty much every other art form, made interactive. But now, during lockdown, a product that took $265m to make is available for peanuts.

Perhaps this will prove the catalyst for an industry that has already overtaken Hollywood financially to gain the exposure that’ll finally confirm it’s huge cultural significance. Just as David Bowie pre-ordained.


RPATZ SNAPS IMPROVE GQ STATS 

Traditional media outlets are doing everything they can to keep their heads above the tempestuous waters of the lockdown and after Vogue made a buttress of a national treasure by anointing Dame Judy Dench their oldest cover star, GQ were able to generate comparable buzz with an altogether less universally popular cover star, inveterate softboy Robert Pattinson.

While 'RPatz''s public image and films both split critics, he's undeniably an intelligent and talented guy, and tasking him with his own cover shoot proved a masterstroke which produced genuinely interesting and revelatory results. It also felt very current, which will help the reputation of a magazine whose idealisation of old school masculinity can occasionally feel quite 20th century. Just don't ask Rob to cook you pasta. . 

 

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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends Are Back: Judy Dench X Vogue, X Æ A-12, Joe Biden's Uphill Struggle

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

We're back! With lockdown set do be eased optimism abounds that we're going to have something other than COVID-19 to talk about so we've made a first stab at getting those creative juices flowing again. 

Judy Dench is always in Vogue

Judi Dench has entered the record books as British Vogue’s oldest ever cover star. Photographed in a pink floral silk trench coat, Dench is described as “a kind of cultural tea cosy to be popped soothingly over the nation’s beleaguered identity in times of crisis.” But is that strictly true? Dench has never been afraid to speak her mind, even if it appears to conflict with the zeitgeist.

Perhaps it is simply easier, during a crisis that threatens to destabilise the relationship between pensioners and younger generations, to portray older celebrities like Dench as cultural comfort blankets, rather than the individuals they are. Either way, Dame Judy's universal popularity makes her a reliable source of positive no-strings-attached publicity. 



X Æ A-12

Our old friend Elon Musk has made headlines again with the happy news that his partner, musician Grimes, has given birth to their first son, X Æ A-12.

We’re not callous enough to suggest that naming a child is ever a PR strategy (UK Royal births possibly aside), but this one is definitely a statement, and one which has swivelled countless eyeballs towards the already-curious couple.

We’re sure the baby will want for nothing; seemingly impossible celeb baby names are commonplace and Dweezil Zappa and Duncan Jones (nee Zowie Bowie) have both gone on to lead rich lives peeking out of their famous parents’ shadows. But the ostentatious name and aftermath once again illustrates Elon Musk’s inability to help himself when it comes to his own reputation.

Everyone was happily reserving judgement on a guy whose sheer mass of PR faux-pas alone could power one of his flights to Mars, fully intent on letting him enjoy fatherhood, and what does he do? He ‘reply guy’s Grimes’ Tweet happily explaining the name, publicly shaming her by pointing out a typo.

Self-parody only ever works if it’s intentional and exaggerated. Unfortunately, ‘Elon Musk just mansplained his partner’s Twitter explanation of why their child is named after their favourite jet’ is the most Elon Musk thing that could possibly have happened, and it hasn’t made him many new friends or admirers.



Forged in the Fyre: A New Influencer age? 

Joe Biden is running a Presidential campaign the like of which has never been run before. The ability of the incumbent to grab media attention has never been higher. 

Trump has always effortlessly dominated the news cycle, but with the current crisis and a captive audience, he had risen to near omnipresence. Joe Biden however is sat, alone, in his basement. It’s a political communications challenge like none other.
 
Like everyone else, Joe Biden has started a podcast. A mixture of political allies and surrogates and celebrities have come on to talk to him and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Biden is extremely gaffe-prone, and while Trump perhaps proves that media types put too much emphasis on how the public appreciate polished performances, he has said some difficult things to explain away. Now Trump can’t run on the economy, he’s going to run on Biden’s mental health. So any slip at all will be studied obsessively.
 
Biden said little and took the Democratic nomination, and he can use current circumstances to do so again. So far, so good – but there’s six months to go and the pressure will only rise. There will be blips, but if you want to know if panic has really set in then watch out for Barack Obama, if he gets used abruptly or clumsily it is the surest sign that the campaign is growing desperate.
 

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April

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Hacks, Cultural Calendar Cancelled, Graphs And Surveillance

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

A wrap-up of the COVID-19 soaked news agenda to read whilst isolating. Enjoy!


Best PR Stunt Post-Coronavirus?!
 
As traditional social interactions cease indefinitely, millions are flocking to video chat apps to interact with friends and loved ones. But as our culture of socialising shifts to digital alternatives, huge privacy and security concerns have emerged almost overnight. 
 
First rumblings this week came from the hugely popular app Houseparty with thousands of rumours circulating around social media that hackers were able access and exploit users’ personal information. These rumours appear to be false, and Houseparty dealt with the bad press exceptionally well with an announcement and an eye-catching stunt, offering a $1,000,000 bounty for the first individual to provide proof of such a campaign.
 
The likely cause of these hack claims? Credential stuffing attacks where cybercriminals use lists of login credentials from previous successful hack attacks.
 
When these digital trends first emerge, privacy and security are never number one priority for the masses. Once there’s a seed of doubt, however, panic can start to spread. In the last month there was a 550% rise in daily traffic but with these allegations of Zoom mishandling users’ data it looks like they can’t cope with the traffic. Zoom should learn from Houseparty’s forthright response before their reputation is irreparably tarnished.


Cancellation of the Cultural Calendar

That’s it folks, with the cancellation of Edinburgh Festival Fringe as well as the main International festival we wave bye bye to the cultural year. We’ve seen Glastonbury finally hang up the towel, and this week Wimbledon gone too. With the largest arts festival in the world officially cancelled, we see the final nail in this year’s cultural coffin
 
Whilst we sympathise for all involved and hope this cancellation does not cost too many artists and companies their magnum opus project, or even their career, the scale of the impact COVID-19 is having on the whole arts industry is gargantuan.
 
However, the Edinburgh Festivals and particularly the Fringe will survive this; it’s bigger than COVID-19. But what this crisis and this year’s cancellation will do is intensify the spotlight on long term issues its organisers and major operators have been ignoring: Is the Fringe too big? Who pays for and who gains from it? How do we reconcile the festival with the lives of permanent residents of the city? How do you galvanize a media profile which has waned to the point that it’s considered a regional festival? And how does the Fringe secure a long term future in a culture landscape dominated by giants such as Netflix and Amazon? Without the pyrotechnics of the festival this August to distract, we’ve entered a quiet moment during which these questions are only going to get louder.


The Return of the Graphs

As Coronavirus puts the journalistic cat among the clickbait pigeons, one innovation seems to be having its moment in the sun: data visualisation. Whether it’s this terrifying chart of US unemployment in historical context from the Telegraph, or the Washington Post’s beautiful illustration of how a virus like Covid-19 spreads, it’s all about the charts right now.
 
Of course, this kind of data journalism isn’t new. But in an environment dominated by misinformation, confusion and reader fatigue, it does seem to be coming into its own. Reporting on coronavirus relies on hard numbers: of cases, deaths, employees furloughed. This format, more than any other, helps the reader to understand what those numbers really mean, and why they’re important.
 
PRs should pay attention to this trend too. Do your clients have access to data that might help make up these highly shareable pieces? That’s a clear win for you, and for the public who, more than ever, need as much hard information as they can get.


A World Without Corona
 

As our world slows down to a crawl, and our society goes through emotional and economic upheaval, we are only just beginning to think about how society will change after this. Post 9/11 was defined by a counter-reaction of aggressive foreign policy, Post-2008 crash by austerity and frustration with the European Union but this is arguably bigger than both. What will we emerge into, and more importantly – who will decide?
 

It is far too early to tell with any clarity, but we must watch which technologies are developed and where we turn for security. As the world’s political and corporate powers race to find a cure for COVID-19, will we take our lead from China and its mass control over population movement and information, or will a lasses-faire approach favoured by Trump take over. Events such as these force societies to reassess what they value and where they are going – let’s hope that we make the right decisions and emerge stronger and more careful from this.
 

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March

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Cabinet C-19 Outbreak, Dylan And Disinformation

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

We're back to the normal format as we try and reduce the mention of COVID-19. Turns out it's harder than we thought...


COVID-19 & the Cost and Rewards of Leadership

When Theodore Roosevelt said “If there is not the war, you don't get the great general; if there is not a great occasion, you don't get a great statesman; if Lincoln had lived in a time of peace, no one would have known his name” he was taking the top-down view of the ‘rally around the flag affect’ that politicians’ experience during traumatic event. After 9/11 Bush 43’s rating went from a 51.9% approval rating to 88.3% in a handful of days. When the chips are down, the incumbent often benefits.
 
In the midst of this terrible crisis, leaders across the world are enjoying this affect. MacronMerkel have both seen bumps, Johnson has seen a surge and even politicians who have mishandled their response have seen rises. Even Trump is at the beginning of his own jump. It will be fascinating to see whether this sudden popularity will weather the upcoming months of boredom and economic collapse.
 
The 2020 Presidential Election is fast approaching and a case could be made that this is the most important democratic election the world has ever seen, such is the faltering nature of democracy and the limited time we have to deal with the environment. Will Trump be rewarded by the American electorate for his strongman posturing at a time of genuine danger? Or will he be punished for the inability of the American healthcare system to cope with this pandemic? So far, Trump has bent political reality, but can he bend reality itself


Bob Dylan Releases an Epitaph for a Century

Bowie had Blackstar, Cohen had You Want It Darker and now Dylan has ‘Murder Most Foul’. But Dylan isn’t writing his own eulogy over an album, he is writing one for a century in a song. This is a ballad to what was lost and what saved us from despair. Told through one 17-minute ballad, Dylan talks us through the moment where we began to feel the world tilting off of its axis, and implicitly traces a line from the murder of the President who began Washington’s relationship with Hollywood, to the election of the reality TV President. 
 
From that shattering pain, it becomes a long and glorious eulogy to the artists who have helped mend and heal Western culture, and being released at midnight during the opening waves of the Coronavirus it is an apt, sad and stirring call to what we let slip through our fingers and what still grasp to.


Social Media Genius

In the midst of coronavirus gloom, Tim Send, head of security at the National Cowboy Museum in Oklahoma City, provided us all with the wholesome content we’ve been missing. Charged with managing social media while the museum is closed, Tim introduced himself with a friendly headshot and a folksy turn of phrase, describing himself as “new to this but excited.”
 
It’s fair to say he didn’t quite get how it all worked at first, using the words “hashtag John Wayne” in place of a hashtag proper. It was a welcome reminder of social media’s potential to make genuine connections in these troubling times. Corporate social media managers might even learn a thing or two from Tim and remember that the most compelling social media content is that with an honest human touch.


Disinfect Your Meme Spreading 

Whilst memes have been a huge source of comfort during indefinite isolation periods, the spread of viral content during remote-working-season has been astonishing. Particularly medical information/advice from so-called experts i.e. "a friend of a friend" or "my aunt's colleague's neighbour". It turns out that everyone is within 2-metres of a medical professional at all times.
 
Viral hoaxes and misinformation spread at such rapid rates amongst friendship circles and family WhatsApp groups, it has almost become a race - who can share the fastest announcement/expertise/tips to beat the spread of the virus.
 
According to the BBC, the two most effective methods to quell the spread of misinformation is to “stop and think” and “check your source”. It feels slightly dystopian that lessons we were taught at school aren’t being applied to the vast majority of adults distributing medical advice.
 
Please remember the most reliable and trusted sources of information remain public health bodies like the NHS and WHO. And approach the most recent viral ‘announcement’ with a pinch of salt and check the source!
 

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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: COVID-19 Dominated News Agenda

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

Over the past few weeks we’ve been handpicking Corona-free new stories to analyse, trying to keep our Trends quarantined, as far away from the dreaded COVID-19 as possible.

‘Twas a valiant effort, but alas Borkowski has succumbed to the virus dominated news agenda. We’ve abandoned our Somerset House offices to set up shop remotely, getting stuck into Microsoft Teams. Sadly, this is going to be a slightly different (brief) chapter of the Trends...

It's Not All Doom & Gloom

The cheery folks at Borkowski have launched a brand-new social channel, condensing the hectic, dreary news agenda and bringing you the best COVID-19 memes, virals, funnies and trends out there. Make sure you follow @CoronaVIRAL3 for some laughs in these strange times.

Obsession With Bad News 

It’s hard to ignore the despondent rolling news reporting death tolls and confirmed cases, whist being encouraged to self-isolate and distance ourselves to contain the spread of the virus. Bad news travels fast and it’s important to switch-off sometimes. To quote Mark Borkowski, “keep safe out there and please do not borrow worry”. Mark shares some thoughts on the current situation, click here to read MEASURE FOR MEASURE.


Viral Trends

Despite the need for positivity, when out-of-touch celebrities try to bring some cheer, it can often smack of inauthenticity. Streams of celebrities are creating their own reality tv shows during quarantine. Whether it’s Chris Martin using Instagram Live to perform new music or Gal Gadot sparking a cast of celebs to come together and sing John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’. It’s hard not to cringe at these corny, attention-grabbing stunts. Cynical? Perhaps…
 
Though take note, this is a golden time for influencers, celebs capitalising on social media and home entertainment as we continue to self-isolate.

Stay Tuned

Borkowski will be hosting some alternative ways to stay connected with each other. Over the next few weeks we will be staging a virtual happy hour, connecting friends and anyone keen to join-in for a chat and a laugh whilst raising a glass.

 We encourage everyone to do the same! It’s important to stay connected with our peers and reach out to those that might be struggling in these lonely times. Keep an eye out for Borky events and webinars coming soon. If you’re interested, let us know via hello@borkowski.co.uk and we’ll keep you updated with any new developments.
 
Our regular instalment of the Trends will resume next week. We will endeavour to keep it separate to COVID-19. For now stay safe and remember to switch off the news and social media once in a while.
 

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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: 100% quarantined with no mention of coronavirus (except that one)

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

Obviously COVID-19 has been the ONLY thing in the news this week but luckily we've managed to keep our Trends quarantined and can happily confirm that the below commentary on the timelessness of prankster stunts, another theatre scandal, the second age of influencers and the 'fight fire with fire' approach to fake news. 

The Timelessness of the Prankster Stunt

Prank-based publicity stunts are timeless and this week we've seen a couple which have captured enough imagination to shine through certain higher profile events (see above, this doesn't count as a mention). 

Infamous prankster Oobah Butler's latest work involved moulding himself in the image of Andy Warhol, as a response to the upcoming Tate Modern exhibition of the artist's work, opening this week. The escapade saw him 'exhibit' a topical pastiche of Warhol’s famous Campbell’s soup can, replacing it with a product that has exploded into the public’s consciousness over the last few weeks, a face mask, which he presented in in a glass box on the street.

Butler's coronation as king of the millennial pranksters came when he tricked the British public into believing that the hottest new restaurant in London was his garden shed, having previously gained a more niche level of recognition for creating sham fashion label 'Georgio Peviani', with a persona to match, which he showcased at Paris Fashion Week in 2017. With his latest stunt he's cemented his position as lord of the high-concept prank and continues to blur the lines between smartarse mischief and performance art. 

This week also saw everyone's favourite ex-Royals the Sussexes fooled into thinking that they were talking to Gretta Thunberg on the phone when it was actually a prank call orchestrated by a pair of Russian media personalities. The sheer audacity of pulling off such a stunt in the current climate of pandemic, knife-edge West-Russia relations and against the tragic backdrop of the last royal prank call made headlines which will do its perpetrators no harm whatsoever. 

On this evidence, the puerile prank as a publicity vehicle is going absolutely nowhere.


Wreckfast on Pluto

Another scandal hit the theatre world this week, after a male cisgender actor was cast to play a transgender woman in a new musical production of Breakfast on Pluto. The decision prompted transgender actress Kate O’Donnell to pull out of the play, while a number of prominent performers and campaigners penned an open letter arguing that casting choices are “failing the next generation of trans performers.”
 
After 2019’s controversies around misbehaviour in immersive theatre and the dropping of 2 female writers from a high-profile project, it seems that this is just the latest in a long line of failings within the theatre establishment.
 
But that reading is a little simplistic. Theatre, after all, sits right at the boundary of sensitive cultural issues. Few other cultural industries make such consistent efforts to push the envelope of accessibility. But as in every other industry, we are now seeing the social sensitivities of performers and fans far outpacing that of higher powers.
 
It’s a valuable reminder that powerful communications is about more than trying to stamp your narrative on the world. By listening to your audience and staff, and adapting your behaviour accordingly, you can kill off a crisis well before it rears its ugly head.


Fake News: Fighting Fire with Fire pt. 3

Whether bots are being deployed by the Russian government to spark fake news or used to increase Instagram influencers’ followers count, inflating their ‘influence,’ their use is rampant across the internet.
 
Tech experts have been predicting for several years that facial recognition, bots and smart hacking tools will be deployed and aimed to dismantle and topple both consumers and businesses. Whilst this is largely true, could social media users spot irregular patterns in the comment section and bizarre language, undermining a bot's integrity?
 
This week, thousands of nearly identical messages of support for Boris Johnson were posted to Facebook pages stirring up concerns that Boris’s campaign team had paid for bots, prompting concerns bots were being used to sway voters.
 
However the BBC spoke to real people, both for and against Brexit, who posted these suspected bot comments.
 
It turns out that Boris’s campaign team weren’t behind this. In fact, members from Fight4Brexit were appearing to mimic ‘bot’ language to wind up ‘lefties’.
 
To confuse things further, in retaliation, the ‘lefties’ responded with fake bot code to appear as “malfunctioning bots”, reading:
 
//"brilliant fantastic"
&name=”Doris”
Code:syntax/error/
 
This has been presented as the latest attempt to fight fire with fire in the battle against Fake News (we previously discussed those of Elizabeth Warren and Martin Lewis). But when actual people are pretending to be bots, it muddies the water and could be used to the bots advantage furthering their impact.
 
With the proliferation of fake new and 'bot warfare', the addition of social media users cynically mimicking bots be another signal that we are entering into dangerous times.


Forged in the Fyre: A New Influencer age? 

For a festival which never happened, the ill-fated (and oft-cited in this newsletter) Fyre Festival has proven influential to say the least, becoming the byword for disastrous cultural projects driven by entitled millennial hubris, and also as a crucial moment of seed change in influencer marketing.
 
But its latest legacy this week was something of an amusing surprise, generating international headlines and ample social media chatter: Andy King, the one professional sane adult in the whole fiasco – whose willingness to perform a sex act in lieu of paying a customs charge was the defining symbol of the festival’s descent into insanity- is now FULLY PREPARED to launch a speaking tour of the UK.
 
The irony of course is that this death knell for the first age of influencers has created a whole slew of new ones, with Andy, one of the more popular characters to emerge, now looking to make the transition from Meme to media personality. He’s an affable, articulate guy but so intense was our fascination with Fyre that there isn’t much new detail he can reveal; he’s going to need another topic if he wants to remain part of the conversation much longer.  
 
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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends - Comedy Special: Spitting Image | Netflix | Hugo Boss/Joe Lycett | Public Enemy

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

We're maintaining our vow not to mention a certain illness whose primary symptom seems to be total domination of news outlets the world over. Instead we've got a bit of a Comedy Special this week with some room for more 'rock star' high jinks.


Spitting Image: A Pale Imitation?

The return of legendary satirical puppet show Spitting Image - on Britbox after over 20-years in the televisual wilderness- has split opinion. Consensus is sliding into the environs of the negativity heaped on the streaming service’s launch, slowed only fractionally by the nation’s cuddly nostalgia for the original series.

On the surface, this was a reasonable punt by Britbox’s execs for whom cuddly nostalgia is the main chance of domestic success (buttressed by a uniquely small-town-boomer rejection of the idea that some television doesn’t age well socially or politically).
 
But, as we’ve discussed before (around the return of Gavin and Stacey), a comedy reboot can only be successful if enough of the premise and the humour on which it is built have survived. Political satire does not fare well under this hypothesis.

To outrun the Mr Blobby-ish destructive incompetence of our political reality, modern satire has to be unrecognisably brutal compared to the original Spitting Image. Armando Iannucci’s venomous nihilism still cuts it, but we’ve entered an age when even a Chris Morris film can be yawned away as ‘muted’. Same goes for the live scene; Jordan Brookes’ reigning Edinburgh Comedy Award winning show is rife with suicide, incest and apocalypse. God help anything too much lighter.

If Spitting Image isn’t shockingly edgy and surgically incisive then it’ll surely suffer the same demise as another tragically Eurydicean comic resurrection, Yes Minister.


Netflix is in on the Joke

Last year Netflix’s gradual transition from small screen ubiquity to major player in the events world kicked into gear with a range of own-brand cinemas, confirming most people’s suspicion that the world’s newest major studio is ripping up the cinematic rulebook.
 
The big guns are now trained on the live space, with this week's announcement of Netflix's first comedy festival in LA. This is significant both in terms of media giants injecting their delicious, syrupy content into our real lives, and utterly transforming a live comedy scene which lacks a truly dominant force.
 
On one hand, Netflix is unfussily making its content available outside of our bedrooms and living rooms (alongside the cinema and the comedy they allowed Secret Cinema to fiddle with their Stranger Things IP) - fulfilling their target demographic’s dual desires to discover more experiential cultural activities and to NEVER STOP WATCHING NETFLIX.
 
On the other, Netflix already has enough money to outright buy the Edinburgh Fringe – the incumbent world-biggest comedy festival, and dwarfs the current ‘giants’ of the industry like Live Nation. They have to produce their comedy specials anyway so might as well cash in by selling tickets to the live events. If the model works, and Netflix grabs enough land to establish a serious headstart over its fellow media giants, this could change the face of live comedy permanently.


Who's the Boss?

Comedian Joe Lycett has risen to highest echelons of his trade thanks to a gilded combination of being a genuinely nice guy and a master of the self-promotion stunt.
 
His latest was to legally change his own name to Hugo Boss to protest the fashion behemoth’s decision to send a cease-and-desist notice to Boss Brewing – a beer company which shares no easily discernible brand similarities other than a couple of tenuously named beers.
 
The caper made headlines around the world, even inspiring a ‘hilarious’ series of sub-stunts in which people changed their names to Joe Lycett, and has surely added another layer of gloss to the comedian’s already very healthy public image. But – borrowing our government’s distinctive style of streamrollering mockingly over criticism- Hugo Boss’ blackslappingly patronising response dismissed the protest out-of-hand, revealing that Boss Brewing had already (after parting with significant legal fees) consented to change the names of two of their beers to keep the big beast at bay.
 
Still, at least more people know who Boss Brewing are now…and Joe Lycett’s next tour will almost definitely sell out. Every cloud…

Drake adds youthful touch to 'Ageing Shock Jock' Brigade
 
As Spotify attempts to increase profits by devising new methods to force artists and labels to pay them money for promoting their music on the platform, Kendrick Lamar has hinted at an alternative to the streaming giants' dominance, with the cryptic launch of 'pgLang': “pgLang is multilingual. Our community speaks music, film, television, art, books, and podcasts

It’s unclear what exactly pgLang will do but it’s whipping up hype with an exciting launch video featuring Jorja Smith, Florence Welch and Kendrick himself, proving that sometimes less is more when attempting to generate excitement.
 
Kendrick’s subtlety seems to elude Drake, after the rapper released a brand-new song referencing Michael Jackson and the child molestation allegations. We’ve previously written about Wiley, Eminem and Green Day’s ageing shock jock tactics, and now the trend seems to be spreading to younger artists closer to their commercial peak. Why? Maybe because the others, while taking a slagging off, are making headlines.
 
On that very topic, hip-hop royalty Public Enemy had a vintage bust-up, firing Flavor Flav over an apparent internal clash over their decision to perform at a Bernie Sanders rally. Petty, petulant, of no moral substance, but we talked about it. While that's the stock public response, expect more of the old guard to follow suit. 

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February

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Charlotte Awbery | Fast Pig | Dystopian Clearview | Martin Lewis vs Media | Filter Weather Guy

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

It's been a strong week for viral stories which, apart from keeping us entertained when we're all housebound over the next month, are worth unpacking. Apart from that we're taking a look at some more dystopian tech and some more fake news...just to keep things cheerful. 

Is Viral Fame overtaking Traditional Media Coverage?

On both sides of the pond this week, social and traditional mainstream media alike have been consumed by the story of Charlotte Awbery, who went viral when a video of her singing Lada Gaga’s ‘Shallow’ in a London underground station was posted by comedian Kevin Freshwater to his substantial social media following.  

Awbery’s video landed her an appearance on US chat juggernaut Ellen, alongside Freshwater, and she has since amassed over 640,000 followers on Instagram.

Awbery is the latest in a long list of internet sensations whose viral fame has preceded any form of traditional media profile, highlighting again the levelling playing field between open access platforms and fame’s previous gatekeepers; newspapers, television, radio and online. It’s rare and desperately hard to manufacture, but one viral hit – when you add in the ensuing traditional media coverage- can be worth as much as a whole publicity campaign.

There is still debate over whether or not Awbery and Freshwater’s original video was staged with the current situation in mind – something they denied on Ellen – or a truly organic random encounter, but that won’t stop either of them enjoying, or trying to extend, their 15 minutes.

The Anthropomorphisation of the News

An academic paper in New Zealand a few years ago posited that animals in David Attenborough documentaries are given human characteristics, and their stories given an anthropomorphic frame, both to heighten drama (i.e increase entertainment value) and invoke a level of empathy which could stir support for conservation efforts.

The media at large is now following suit, shorn largely of the benevolent motives. Animals go viral incessantly just as viral potential becomes an influential news value for traditional outlets. More specifically, animal stories are increasingly being presented in a style which blends Disney/Pixar anthropomorphism with the dark realities of real life, for mainly comic effect.

Just this week we’ve seen widely-shared stories about an incredibly fast and graceful pig (Pumba’s new groove?), a gang of feral chickens in Jersey meeting a bloody end (a dark crossover sequel of Chicken Run & The Wrong Trousers?) , a 100,000 strong army of ducks assembled to fight locusts (Daffy & David Cross in Kung Fu Panda vs A Bugs Life??), Kenyan donkeys saved from the slaughter (basically just the first five minutes of Shrek, right?), and a swarm of herpes-ridden monkeys in Florida (Spring Break for Donkey Kong?!)

These stories take place around the world but won’t have global impact (unless the duck army develops a taste for war and comes for us) and their only quirk is that the authors protagonise the animals in a way that raises a casual smirk before we scratch the surface of cruelty, stupidity or wider climate catastrophe underlying the headline.

Given recent bad publicity for corporate brands who deal regularly with animals (industrial farms, zoos, big pharma) this hopefully isn’t a trend they’ll be able to exploit, but, as with Attenborough, it might be one that conservation and animal rights organisations can use to shape their storytelling for maximum media impact. That’s the space to watch.
.
RIP Privacy? (BC - 2020)

You might not have heard about Clearview, and you best hope it hasn’t heard of you. Put simply, it is a search engine that allows its subscribers to put a picture of a face into it and using nothing more than that image it will find every picture of you on the internet. That includes social media profiles et al but also images that you might not know exist. On one hand, a police officer could put in a still from a grainy crime film and find their victim. On the other, a psychotic obsessive could put your face in and find out which town you live in, where you go shopping and what car you drive.

This could represent the beginning of a fundamental change to the human experience. Clearview is totally unregulated and although tech giants are launching legal challenges, BuzzFeed today reported that the programme had been sold to thousands of clients already – from US Immigration to the Sovereign Wealth Fund – despite the company saying that the product was purely for law enforcement.

If you were dimly worried about your Amazon Echo constantly recording and selling data on you, or Facebook using period tracker and therapy apps to hawk sales data to quack doctors, or Google going through your emails and keeping records of your location for the rest of your life, then add to that list the possibility that someone could find your home address just by snapping a quick photo of you on the tube. 

The Money Expert vs Fake News
 
What happens when the unstoppable force of digital advertising meets the immovable object of Martin Lewis, founder of moneysavingexpert.com?
 
Lewis, among the UK’s most trusted voices on financial matters, has long had platforms like Google and Facebook in his sights. He even brought a lawsuit against Facebook over its failure to prevent scammers using his name and image, until dropping the campaign after they agreed to donate £3m to a new anti-scam project.
 
Now Lewis is taking on mainstream news publishers like MailOnline over new adverts claiming to report his death, calling on the government to enforce standardised reporting of scam adverts in upcoming legislation. Will his latest campaign change anything? Probably not. We know by now that any change to the online status quo would require extraordinary political will and the incentive to defy profit margins. Even Elizabeth Warren hasn’t been able to force significant change across the pond. Until we as consumers manage to wean ourselves off the influence of social media giants, don’t expect that incentive to appear any time soon.

Filter Weather Reporter: Coincidence or Stunt?

WATCH THIS 

Twitter went nuts this week after a local television weather reporter ‘accidentally’ set his phone to a random filter generator with hilarious consequences. Wholesome small town viral moment, or crudely calculated publicity stunt?
 
Organic Viral Moment
 
With Coronavirus dominating the news agenda, sometimes we need a good old cheap laugh.
 
So when a CNN weather reporter on Facebook Live accidentally activates a filter on his phone masking his face with a carousel of comedic filters, you can’t help but chuckle.
 
PR stunt? Don’t be so cynical! Whilst the reporter and his camera operator may have clocked on to the face-filter generator mid-stream, they likely rolled with it adding a bit of colour to a bleak and mundane forecast.
 
Cynical Stunt

Let’s work backwards.

The opportunity? An out-of-studio report in a remote location without witnesses to unpick the careful planning.

The motives for manufacturing a charming viral stunt? Almost self-explanatory. Just read about our mate Charlotte or any of the others who have made a career form a flash of fame.  

The means? A camera operator with a sense of humour, malleable principles and a basic understanding of Facebook filters.

The giveaway? Hinton claimed that he only realised what happened after coming off air and had but the vaguest idea that anything untoward was afoot.

But you can clearly see him tilting his head in a way which seems to change or at least somehow affect the filters, and he actually laughs at the weightlifting filter in a way which suggests that he can see it. It was the funniest filter. And his ultimate undoing, along with a Facebook post which protested a little too much.

Nice try Justin, you fooled the world, but you didn’t fool us. Enjoy the limelight, you worked hard for it.
 
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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Dave's Masterclass | Adidas vs Bezos X Greenwashing | Sad Songs | Changing Media | Dystopian Tech

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

This could be a week which fundamentally changes the relationship between society and celebrity. You can read Mark Borkowski's thoughts here. Elsewhere the communications geniuses at the heart of our government managed to follow-up recent concerns about their competence and the extremity of their politics by hiring a eugenics proponent as an adviser...but we're going to focus on some slightly less exasperating issues, in the worlds of music, corporate sustainability and the media itself.

Dave gives slowthai an Awards Ceremony conduct masterclass

This time last week we were watching slowthai’s drunken, gropey attempt to tank his career so the contrast when a fellow twentysomething British rapper, Dave, elevated his frontrunner status as the country’s next genuinely transcendent music icon with an excoriating Brits performance targeting inequality and injustice in a way which showcased his talents and suggested more authentic engagement with, and understanding of the issues than the average celeb (see our Oscars trend for more on that…)

We’ve elegised Dave’s mastery of publicity from his deeply personal debut album to ‘Alex from Glasto’ and through his Mercury win. His conduct in public forums has galvanised his reputation and media profile pretty much flawlessly. His Brits performance gave us a moment akin to Stormzy’s iconic Glastonbury set generating the kind of rapt headlines only accessible to a superstar.

Many consider slowthai to be as talented a musician as Dave, if not more, but his aimless combustion at the NME awards shows that he doesn’t (or didn’t) understand the nature or purpose of publicity and until he does he’s going to be outstripped by the likes of Dave.

Greenwashing: Bezos should take a lesson from Adidas

Earlier this month, Adidas made a sustainable football field using 1.8 million plastic bottles; corporate greenwashing –capitalising on the growing demand for environmentally sound products– or a genuine attempt to make their products more environmentally sound?
 
1.8m plastic bottles may sound like a huge number but relatively it’s a tiny drop in the ocean: a million bottles a minute are produced every minute worldwide.
 
Despite this overwhelming statistic this Adidas stunt could be a trailblazer. Hypothetically, sustainably converting the 11,000 synthetic-turf fields in the US alone (assuming they’re all the same scale) would recycle a far more significant 20 billion plastic bottles.
 
It’s this out-of-the-box thinking that multinational corporations need to adapt to. Crucially, Adidas have earned to boast about their environmentally friendly initiatives with various programs leading it to be recognised as a global leader in sustainability.
 
On Monday, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos– a notoriously grudging philanthropist– pledged $10 billion to tackle climate change and, rather cynically, called it the Bezos Earth Fund.
 
On the surface, $10Bn is a gargantuan sum that could make huge changes. However, until Amazon makes strides to shrink its own carbon footprint, this move is likely to be dismissed as greenwashing. Hopefully, the $10b will be well spent, god knows it hasn't brought Bezos much positive PR.


Art Imitates Life: And Music is getting Sadder

Who leads who when it comes to pop chart? Are you the kind of person who believes that great pop artists lead the crowd, or that the crowd thrusts greatness upon them?

Music is getting sadder and it's interesting to ponder whether this is a reflection of our miserable society, or a unilateral artistic movement. 

Either way – pop culture provides amateur anthropologists fascinating (and potentially misleading) insights into life, the universe, the human condition.

Hence, you get people writing essays linking the accelerating growth in inequality, and the threat of a collapsing environment with the boom of superhero films.

You could probably spin something about there being nothing more elite than a superhero, and there being nothing more comforting than the idea that our complex problems can be simply solved by a haymaker from Captain America.

Nonsense or insight – it’s difficult to say. Either way it's important not to read to much into it. But there is something compelling about the collapse of optimism in being reflected pop music.



A Week in the Future of the Media
 
This week was an interesting microcosm of the changing media, with further examples of both the forces chipping away at the decaying monoliths currently dominating the landscape, and of the structures – corporate, political, technological - lurking ready to take their place.
 
On Sunday the government launched an all-out assault on the weakened BBC, threatening to end the license fee and in doing so jeopardising huge chunks of our state broadcaster’s output. To add spice, the news was broken by the Sunday Times, whose owner is one of several competitors moving against the Beeb with Times Radio, which this week poached top BBC journalist John Pienaar.
 
With the right-wing corporate vultures circling, the BBC’s best and brightest attempted to co-opt their fanbase by sharing an audience comment that was ill-informed and bigoted even by Question Time standards creating a nice new scandal for themselves.
 
This was also a bad week for newspapers; with tabloids already taking a shellacking for their perceived role in the Caroline Flack tragedy, their websites doubled down - publishing intrusive, insensitive details of the case, albeit backed by a supportive Society of Editors statement. In many cases newspaper websites are worse offenders than their papers, but this kind of race-to-the-bottom clickbait might outright replace more considered, better edited print before long. Thursday’s new ABCs showed every major newspaper suffering tumbling circulation. Some of them may only have a couple of years left (apart from the Telegraph who are above the puny ABCs and besides were too busy nearly getting kicked out of WHSmiths). 
 
So clickbait and Murdoch (or Bloomberg) propaganda might be all that remains of the news in a couple of years, and a Tweet on Wednesday gave us some insight on how the former works, exposing the fact that a prominent manufacturer of media controversy literally has a copy/paste template for articles attempting to race-bait young black musicians. Little wonder we’re so flooded with outrage-inducing online stories.
 
If templated clickbait doesn’t float your boat then Vogue offered an alternative glimpse into the media’s future this week, releasing a video of Billie Eilish being interviewed by a robot. Its idiosyncratic style aside, the robot actually wasn’t a whole lot worse than a lot of red-carpet reporters. The future’s bright, kids.

Black Mirror-ish Nightmare Corner

‘There’s an app for that’ goes the adage. Back when it was a mere slogan it was said with hope - when the internet seemed like it was going to make everything, important or frivolous, seamlessly enjoyable.

Well if the promised evolution of a ubiquitous internet remains unchanged, the promise of hope has surely faded.

In an age arguably defined by mainstream acceptance of mental health issues, the ‘app for that’ is a therapy app called Better Help.
 
On first glance, making therapy accessible and affordable is a brilliant idea, bringing untold relief to individuals making a profound difference to society.

On second glance, you would be forgiven for wondering about the sanctity of their altruism when scratching the surface of how Better Help uses its patients mental health records.
 
The information that you release to the therapy portal is effectively processed into a sales pitch. And passed onto data giants.

Even just the metadata is corporate gold dust. Is someone opening their therapy app every day on their lunch break? Perhaps its time to bombard them with job advertisements. Or sad music. Or Prozac ads.

If that’s not enough, Facebook know where you open it and how long you spent on it. Although they don’t know exactly what is said, there are plenty of people who don’t share their therapy routines with their families.
 
There aren’t many sanctuaries from the internet – and now it seems that, just as it has enveloped communication and shopping, it is winding ever deeper – into your eating habits through your fridge, into your physical health through the heartbeat monitor on your wrist, and now into your mental health.
 
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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: slowthai | Oscars | Green Day | VR 'reunion' | Mike Bloomberg

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

More Awards Nightmares, more dystopian tech, more ageing music industry demagogues. We're playing a lot of the greatest hits this week (as well as Billie Eilish's bond theme)...


It's a Long Road Back for slowthai 

What makes a great apology? It’s a question that vexes crisis PRs everywhere. Social media amplifies scrutiny, so the utmost attention must be paid to the subtleties of language and vocabulary. A corporate statement, clearly written by professionals, is often seen as disingenuous and inauthentic, while attempts to inject personality often backfire, considered immature and unwilling to take the issue seriously. It’s a delicate balance indeed.

This was the dilemma facing slowthai. Following his insulting and offensive behaviour at the NME Awards on Wednesday night the rapper released a statement on Twitter that is, by most accounts, a good model for others who have nearly ended their own careers in a five minute spree of misogyny and violence. He appeared apologetic, humble and authentic. No mean feat.

That assessment isn’t meant to mitigate his shocking behaviour in any way, and the statement isn’t a cure-all; slowthai’s ‘what started as a joke’ line is an unfortunate cliché that risks inflaming fans further, and he has already lost his place as an ambassador for Record Store Day. But the long-term damage to his career is likely to be fixable, helped by a statement that is certainly among the best of recent reputation meltdowns. Katherine Ryan’s haste to downplay the incident – an impressive show of strength and rejection of oversimplified ‘victim’ status - will also help.

Expect a period of silence now as his management look to brush this under the carpet, stay silent and move on.


Oscars: Winners and Losers 

With major Awards and their ceremonies currently having a stinker it’s not surprising that last Sunday’s Oscars were somewhat subdued in terms of big statements and stunts.
 
But there were a few brave souls sticking their heads above the parapet to show individuality beyond the gleaming uniformity of the Stepford Stars who formed the Red Carpet majority.
 
Perhaps most-discussed was Natalie Portman’s embroidered cape, protesting the lack of female Best Director nominees. While this is undoubtedly a major issue for Hollywood, and Portman should be saluted for using her lofty status in the industry to draw attention to it, she doesn’t appear to have thought the whole thing through. When making a big statement on controversial issues, celebrities and brands must make sure both that they’re bulletproof against claims of hypocrisy, and that the form of their statement fits the message. Portman failed in that regard, and is paying the reputational consequences.
 
Outright winners on the night included Bong Joon-Ho for his gracious and relatable response to his historic victories. Mixed report cards go to Joaquin Phoenix and Brad Pitt for effortful speeches whose attempts to make serious points couldn’t quite burst the fog of smug elitism tainting the public’s vision of Hollywood. Another big loser was Eminem whose shtick (more below) caused the genuinely young, relevant observer Billie Eilish’s eyes to roll out of the back of her head, and literally bored Martin Scorsese to sleep.
 

And speaking of ageing shock jocks...

As mainstream rock undergoes a serious identity crisis/correction, and genuine rockstars approach the verge of extinction, increasing numbers of the old guard have tried to rage against the dying of the light through their album promotion.

Marketing campaigns for vintage musicians in general exude an increasing desperation to seem rebellious and edgy, even as the artists themselves hurtle towards middle age and the middle of the road.
Enter Green Day with their new album Father Of All Motherf**kers…

The middle-aged rock band took a very ‘Dad’ stand against "trap beats, Swedes and features” in a billboard publicising their release, instead promising a Partridge-esque "100% pure uncut rock". Each statement was underlined with a line of cocaine, complete with a rolled-up note, just so you know this is ‘real’ ‘rock ‘n’ roll’!

It gets worse…

The track ‘Oh Yeah’ is aided by a vocal sample of a Joan Jett song “Do You Want To Touch Me (Oh Yeah)” which is a Gary Glitter cover. If it’s a Joker-inspired attempt to seem edgy it’s fallen flat on its face and forced them into a retreat. Even donating the royalties of the song isn’t going to absolve them of this blunder.

Recently we’ve commented on Eminem and Wiley’s respective attempts to whip up a storm. The rules of the game have changed; artists need to be more conscious of what they want to stand for, and how inauthentic this lazy brand of shock-jockery comes across.  


Meeting You: Revolutionary VR Therapy or Black Mirror Nightmare?

Once again Charlie Brooker has predicted the future. A 2013 episode of Black Mirror came to life this week in an explosive South Korean TV documentary, Meeting You. It’s about new VR technology which reunites people with digital versions of their deceased loved ones.

In a clip released online we are introduced to Jang Ji-sung, whose daughter Nayeon died in 2016 of leukaemia but who, thanks to said VR developments, can now see, speak to, and even ‘touch’ her little girl again.

In terms of public perception, it's a moral tightrope; there’s an argument that the producers of both tech and documentary have exploited a vulnerable, grieving family for publicity - a Twitter storm and global media outcry is, after all, excellent for brand recognition.

But Jang Ji-sung has spoken positively about her experience on the show, saying she hopes it will allow other families dealing with death to cope with their grief, and that she is grateful for a new, happy memory of her daughter.

Whilst the documentary-makers claim the broadcast was meant to ‘console the family’ rather than promote the VR product itself, publicising the ‘reunion’ in the first place could be considered problematic and undermining of this claim: watching Jang Ji-sung desperately claw the air believing she’s stroking her daughter’s hair while she wails with grief feels like pure voyeurism on the producers’ part.

Perhaps, used in different circumstances, as part of a VR bereavement therapy course for example, this technology could gradually and organically build a reputation for giving grieving people closure, but the immediate media circus and inevitable wave of tech companies profiting off the back of it is distressing. It might even be worse than what happens in the Black Mirror Episode...


Bloomberg buying a Corporate Ticket to the Whitehouse?
 
On both sides of the Atlantic the two predominant progressive parties are gearing up to elect a candidate to take on their ascendant right-wing rivals. The objective is the same, but the reality couldn’t be more different.

If you’re working for Labour, you’d be lucky to get the campaign to pick up a low-end pizza delivery for the volunteers. If you join the Mike Bloomberg campaign, you get three catered meals a day.

Senior Organisers in Labour leadership campaigns have had to buy second-hand tables out of their own pockets when setting up campaign offices. Staffers on Mike Bloomberg’s campaign are given a MacBook Pro and an iPhone 11 before they’ve even found a desk.
 
Neither country has reached a happy medium. Where the British public are angry with MPs who can’t afford to properly staff and resource their own teams, in America, Senators are being replaced at the highest level by businessmen who spend their way into the job. Neither is healthy.

But we are now witnessing a new extreme - Mike Bloomberg is running a campaign without precedent. Infinite money, the best talent and, that rarest of things: a huge organisation that is also reactive. He is buying Instagram influencers, major endorsements and even convincing other megadonors to sit this campaign out.
 
If, as he wants, he ends up being the last non-Trump alternative against Bernie, he could win. If he wins that, he could easily win again, and America will have become a multi-generation oligarchy. That's what people in the know are predicting. Watch this space. 
 
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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Phillip Schofield | Boris vs Press Freedom | Magic Radio | Hamilton x Disney | Inter Miami

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

It's a week which started with an attack on media freedom and ended with a national treasure telling a startling personal truth. Here's the skinny.

Schofield's coming out 
 
A public figure coming out shouldn't really still be news, but it was heartening at least that the near-universally supportive reception to Phillip Schofield's revelation revealed how much society, despite still having a long way to go, has moved on in the past generation. It was only last week that we were being reminded of Piers Morgan referring to soap opera characters as 'yuppie poofs' in a national newspaper as recently as the late 80s.

Schofield did it with courage, respect for his family and deference to the LGBT community. He did it on his own terms, and at a time which suited him - all of which is a leap from the involuntary media 'outings' of years gone by. 

Boris misfires first shot in war against press freedom

Picture it: the country’s most prestigious political journalists, in a pack, entering the hallowed door of Number 10. They linger in the foyer on the striking black-and-white tiled floor bisected by red carpet, until a security guard lines them up on one side of the room.

No doubt feeling sceptical and patronised, they do so.

Then, names are called one by one, with those called asked to cross the carpet and wait on the far tiles. The list ends and those left are asked to leave.

That’s exactly what happened to a number of media organisations including The Guardian, Independent and Mirror earlier this week, with the rest of the lobby joining them in leaving the press conference in a show of solidarity rarely seen in the divisive current media landscape.

If this was a scenario created to divide the media, it could scarcely have been better designed to underline their common cause of holding truth to power.

In 1988, undergraduate Boris Johnson wrote the following on the true nature of running for and holding political office:

“The tragedy of the stooge is that … he wants so much to believe that his relationship with the candidate is special that he shuts out the truth. The terrible art of the candidate is to coddle the self-deception of the stooge.”

Replace ‘stooge’ with ‘journalist’ and you see the Johnson’s press strategy. Extorting favourable coverage from journalists by balancing fear and reward is the game of government media relations. This time, Johnson, or more accurately Dominic Cummings, abjectly misunderstood how to coddle the self-delusion of even the most docile government lapdogs in the lobby.

The next attack on press freedom, if it follows the example set by Donald Trump, will surely be better aimed and executed.
 

The 'Magic' of Radio

What kind of strategy is best equipped to help media brands survive the ravages of an ever-changing content landscape? That is the million-dollar question. This week seemed to suggest that the inoffensive and aggressively accessible stand to gain most from the new times.

Magic Radio for example, the home of easy listening and beige pop, is expanding at a time when other media brands are slashing budgets and haemorrhaging staff. The station attracts 4.2million listeners a week and is highly influential among opinion formers at much larger stations like Radio 2.

Another winner would appear to be BBC Radio 3, revealed in recent RAJAR figures to have reached its biggest audience since 2016, while Radio 2’s breakfast show has only just begun to increase listeners after a rocky few quarters. It would therefore also appear that a solid and credible niche, that neither tries to be all things to all people nor goes out on a limb which risks upsetting its audience, is the way forward for many media who might feel left behind the rapid pace of change.



Hamilton: Disney's long game in latest power play

Last year we witnessed constant power plays as Disney aimed to ensure that heavy investment in such properties as Star Wars, Marvel and the rebooting of its animated canon galvanized its place at the top of the entertainment world pyramid.

Eyebrows were therefore raised this week at the announcement of a relatively modest project, an NT Live-style streaming of a 2016 performance of Hamilton by the original cast. Hamilton is a magnificent, game-changing musical but it’s not the blockbuster project we’re used to.

But Disney are playing the long game. An all-singing, all-rapping Mamma Mia-style cinematic adaptation of Hamilton could be the biggest musical film of all time, joining reboots of Aladdin, The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast in the billion-dollar club. And the corporation has been courting Hamilton creator Lin Manuel-Miranda for years, bolstering his Hollywood profile by recruiting him to write the music for Moana, star in Mary Poppins Returns and even make acting and musical cameos in the final Star Wars chapter.

But it wasn’t a sure thing. When rights for Miranda’s lesser-known hit In the Heights – initially a Weinstein co-production- became available for obvious reasons in 2018, Warner Bros shipped out a reported $50M, demonstrating a ravenous appetite for his back catalogue. Disney’s soft power pursuit of Miranda had to evolve into a concrete bid for his magnum opus.

And so it transpired. The reported $75M dollar acquisition may even be the catalyst that finally brings widespread popularity to theatre-on-screen, but if not, the cinematic adaptation which must surely follow, and the further opportunities for merch, theme parks and spin-offs will almost certainly prove an investment worth the ravenous pursuit.


Inter Miami: What Makes a Football Team a Club?

Major League Soccer (MLS) – America’s highest level of professional football – kicks off its new season at the end of February featuring brand-new team Inter Miami – established by, among others, David Beckham. An odd concept for most football fans unfamiliar with the American sports model.

However, most peculiarly of all, Inter Miami has – through a clever PR campaign cultural outreach to the state’s Hispanic community, galvanised soccer fandom in Southern Florida to produce an army of hardcore fans without playing a single game.

Miami’s thirst for a football club has driven this billion-dollar project and without the potential fans the owners probably could not have gone ahead and created this club.

This corporate model of fan culture - manufactured and fuelled rather than springing up organically among football purists- smacks of inauthenticity. Until they build a genuine brand, and without a traditional history passed down from parent to child, glorious rags to riches tales or David v. Goliath matches packed with highs and lows; it’s easy to question Inter Miami’s authenticity as a genuine football club.

To the people of South Florida, Inter Miami embodies their demographic and cultural heritage. If the fans accept the club passionately, do the traditional tenets of football as we know it really matter? Or is this simply a peculiarity of the USA, where the culture is built on the soul-void of corporate transitory transaction?
 
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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Grammys | BBC Crisis | Fashion Disasters | Katie Hopkins | Starbucks

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

We're not going to talk about that thing beginning to 'B' that's happening today, and if you're sick of it too you might just enjoy getting your chompers round some other media analysis from the past seven days. 


Are demagogues becoming demigods?
 
Liberals rejoiced this week as controversial commentator Katie Hopkins found her Twitter account temporarily suspended, for violating the platform’s anti-hate policy.
 
The former Apprentice contestant is widely regarded as a toxic, divisive peddler of hateful nonsense. But she has a loyal audience, many of whom were seemingly unaffected by her sacking from both LBC radio and MailOnline. Not even the fact that she was forced to pay food writer Jack Monroe £24,000 for libel has really dented her significant profile.
 
It all begs the question: what does it really take to torpedo your career in the 21st century? Have we really lost all sense of shame?
 
Perhaps Twitter’s move represents a rare step in the right direction. But this was also the week that Nigel Farage began writing for Newsweek on their new Debate platform. It seems that no matter how low they go, right-wing shock jocks are remarkably immune to reputational damage.


Awards Season of Darkness Continues

Days before this year's awards ceremony, bombshell allegations were levelled at the Grammys by recently ousted CEO Deborah Dugan alleging unlawful gender discrimination, sexual harassment, money mismanagement, biases and conflicts of interest in the nomination process leading to unworthy nominations. The Grammys refuted Dugan's allegations claiming she’d created a “toxic work environment”. Accusations shot back and forth between both sides’ lawyers.
 
Despite the severity of these allegations the public seems somewhat numb to yet another controversy-soaked award ceremony, particularly following the death of Kobe Bryant and 8 other passengers – including Kobe’s 13-year-old daughter – before the ceremony. Music's biggest night was a stark reminder that there are a lot of things bigger than the Grammys
 
What remained was a lifeless damp squib, with the toxicity surrounding the Awards went largely unnoticed. The brand is in dire straits and needs to squash any nefarious encircling it and concentrate on awarding artistic merit instead of commercial success and popularity.
 

BBC: Bumbling Between Crises?

Things haven’t been great for the BBC recently. They’ve taken consistent pelters for their coverage of Brexit and the December election – although in a vacuum these could be shaken off as symptoms of our nation’s diseased relationship with politics – but it’s a series of internal and deeper cultural issues which have driven them to the brink of a reputational meltdown.

Where do we start? There’s their habitual inability to connect with young audiences (BBC Sounds – mascot: Laura Kuenssberg not knowing how to sh*tpost), their involvement in the embarrassment of Britbox, their unequal treatment of their employees symbolised first by Carrie Gracie’s last stand and then by Samira Ahmed’s tribunal victory. There’s their flip-flopping lack of support for Naga Munchetty’s principled stand, Jon Humphries immediate uptake of the Daily Mail hatchet, the decision to axe Victoria Derbyshire – one of their most admired news programmes – and subsequent naval-gazing reporting on it.

And just this week, The Times – with the full might of Murdoch behind them – have launched a new radio station which is expressly coming for Radio 4, and then 450 news staff were laid off (although silver lining, a couple of them might get jobs at Times Radio).

Couple all that with the UK’s most right-wing, anti-public sector government since the Second World War, and the BBC’s charter renewal in 2022 could be extremely rough.


Another Fashion Faux Pas

A couple of months ago we started another one of these trends thus:

“After Burberry’s ‘Noose Hoodie’, Gucci's 'blackface jumpers' and Katy Perry and Prada’s ‘Gollywog’ shoes, the latest communications issue for a major fashion brand was ignited by Louis Vuitton’s roll-out of several Michael Jackson-inspired items as part of their Autumn/Winter 2019 collection, just over a week before the release of the devastating documentary Leaving Neverland.”

Last year’s fashion highlights also include Kim Kardashian trampling roughshod over Japanese culture with her ‘Kimono’ range, and early signs are that 2020 is set to continue the trend of top fashion brands sleepwalking into PR disasters.

This week’s example was House of Fraser’s collaboration with the President’s Club, the brand inspired by the former charity which closed after criticism of its of gropey, all-male dinners. A clothing range with all the class and comfort of Mike Ashley’s hand wandering up your thigh. 

It’s not even worth being morally outraged by this latest one, more just exasperated at the lethargy with which these brands seem to meander into situations like this. None of the controversial ranges mentioned, with the possible exception of ‘Kimono’, even have a brand identity that’s coherent enough to have been deliberately crafted to provoke. They’re just rubbish, overpriced clothes that offend people and that nobody ends up buying, a level of controversy which isn’t worth the smattering of headlines it brings.



Corporate Comms 2020: 101

If one were to simplify the corporate comms strategy of most big brands into a soundbite it would go something like this:

“Find a media-friendly way to look like one of the good guys, and if you can’t do that using your own organisation’s practices, then find a gimmick.”

On a completely unrelated note, Starbucks today launched a new campaign to raise funds for Mermaids – the charity which supports gender non-confirming youth.

It’s a smart move for a worthy and timely cause, and easily brandable thanks to Starbucks’ mermaid logo, but it doesn’t go deep enough to sustainably alter the public perception of Starbucks.

Or to put it another way, it’s great that they’re not openly transphobic, but it’s not like they’ve started paying tax in the UK, treating their workers any better or using Fairtrade coffee. They’re still the Starbucks.
 
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January

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Victoria Derbyshire | Commentator Culture | James Corden: Busted | the Harrywagon

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

This week we're looking at another panning for the BBC, James Corden's latest cringe, the risible state of commentator culture and the inevitable Megxit bandwagon. We're too ivory tower to lower ourselves to discussing #dollypartonchallenge though ;)


Another fine mess for the BBC
 
It’s been a mixed week for the BBC. Citing changing viewing habits and the need to make cuts, the Beeb announced their decision to axe the award-winning Victoria Derbyshire show. Firing is never fun, but a routine cancellation quickly became a communications crisis when the show’s host claimed that she first heard the news herself from a story in the Times. Meanwhile tributes poured in from both the viewing public and other seasoned journalists.
 
Elsewhere, the broadcaster announced that veteran war reporter Fergal Keane is stepping down from his job as BBC News’s Africa Editor due to suffering from PTSD. The statement was brave, open and empathetic, the gold standard for organisations managing staff with mental health issues.
 
All this is a welcome reminder to the BBC and others of the importance of internal communications. Keep your staff onside and treat them with respect, before bad news becomes something much, much worse.


The nadir of the commentariat

Do you remember the late 00s? When pundits worried about a lack of political engagement threatening democracy?

Halcyon days.
 
You weren’t always having to consider the political implications to every inane decision you make.

You weren’t having to worry about if a sausage roll was vegan or not – and why that matters. You could have a mug of coffee without vaguely wondering about the carbon footprint of each bean.
 
There were things out there that weren’t politicised. Nature shows were about nature, not the impending collapse of the planet. Dating shows were about dating, not about sexual politics and the spurned fantasies of the patriarchy.
 
Progress is tiring, but its opponents are awful.
 
You can make a good career quite simply by reacting against messy progress, against people who are doing their clumsy best to change the world for the better, in order to inspire adulation from the rank and file of the embittered, lazy and close minded. The tiresome American shock-jock style has entered the British mainstream and suddenly we see grown white men telling BAME people what racism is. Their punishment? Naughty-but-nice coverage across the countries front pages, massive sales boosts and (this was my personal last straw) comparison with Leonard Cohen.
 
It’s enough to make you miss the time that having a political interest was considered suspicious and nobody cared because everything wasn’t flashing red.


James Corden and the search for authenticity

Towards the end of last year when speculating about the reasons for Gavin & Stacy’s much-chronicled return to our screens, we hypothesised that James Corden’s motivation was partially to try and recapture the adulation he gained while originally playing Smithy. In the intervening decade, while his career has skyrocketed, Corden’s popularity in the UK has flagged, and so it was little surprise that the knives came out quicker than you could say ‘Et tu, Brute?’ when evidence emerged that Corden’s publicity megalith Carpool Karaoke is in fact staged in a stationary car towed by a truck.
 
While this isn’t surprising (consider the camera angles and Corden’s seemingly kamikaze use of the steering wheel) and probably wasn’t even his decision, one charge levelled against Corden is the specifically West Coast chat show host-flavoured tang of inauthenticity that follows him everywhere. It started with fawning laughter on UK panel shows, evolved into publicly brown-nosing David Beckham, metastasised into a sycophantic Late Late Show sofa manner which would make Jimmy Fallon blush (and he’s the man whose star-f*ckery is such a barrier to asking awkward questions that he couldn’t even muster one for Donald Trump), and prickles regularly with such stories revealing image-obsession as his revelation that he wears spanx on television.
 
It might be petty to lay this all out but the Carpool Fakery will be used as another exhibit in the case against James Corden as a try-hard, image-obsessed social climber. Celebrities who can turn it on for the cameras are commonplace, icons emerge when they’re secure enough to rise above the stage management and burst out of their management-imposed cotton-wool wrapping to show a glimpse of their authentic self.


The Harrywagon Gets Rolling

Flies are inevitably swarming around the remains of Megxit and a couple of nuggets of opportunism have stood out for us. The first was a carefully placed Canadian tourism advert from Expedia next to a Harry and Meghan story in the Evening Standard. This was both an astute piece of news-jacking at a time when Canada is definitively being trailed as fit for a(n ex) Prince, and the eye-catching audaciousness (crassness) generated enough headlines for the marketing department to get more than their money's worth.

The second is a South Park / Family Guy style animated comedy about the Royal Family coming to HBO Max, with Prince Harry voiced by none other than the people's swashbuckling posho Orlando Bloom (Orloomdo Bland to Kermode and Mayo).  it's a good gimmick but how the jokes (particularly if aimed at Americans) will sustain over a whole series, is less clear cut. 

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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Wiley vs Stormzy (vs Eminem) | Laurence Fox | Billie Eilish x Bond | Awards Season | McGregor | Toxic Workplace

In the six months that have elapsed of January so far (or so it feels) it's been pretty hard to steer clear of Harry and Meghan, World War III and Brexit. This week we've given it a bloody good go with observations on diss tracks, woke James Bond, Award Season, Conor McGregor's reinvention and Laurence Fox's tedious self-destruct. 


Wiley vs Stormzy (vs Eminem): Rap Promo in all its forms

The diss-track has transcended rap music and mutated into currency that anyone can cash-in on, particularly clout-thirsty YouTubers.
 
But it’s been a while since we’ve seen two heavyweights publicly slugging it out. Enter Wiley and Stormzy: the pioneer of grime vs Glastonbury 2019 headliner, publicly beefing and exchanging blows through diss-tracks released 24 hours apart. Fans, media, social went mental.
 
There were no losers. Wiley, ‘the godfather of grime’ has successfully piggybacked on Stormzy’s mainstream success releasing 3 tracks (not including the diss-tracks) off the back of the beef and announcing himself to a new young audience of Stormzy fans. Stormzy has reaffirmed his position at the top, nodding acknowledgement to his forebear as he plugs his no.1 album released at the end of 2019.
 
From the sublime to the ridiculous of rap promotion, Eminem dropped an album today which nobody asked for, which included a song in which, coming across as an ageing shock-jock, he referenced the Manchester Arena bomb attack.
 
It was a bizarre comms strategy meshing the early noughties I don’t give a f**k approach of making lyrics eye-catchingly offensive (on an album featuring that famous punk renegade Ed Sheeran?!), and the mid-noughties tactic of dropping an album unannounced; the combination has produced a desperate attempt for relevance which fell flat on its face.


Laurence Fox: Another Whiney Man Who Feels Threatened

I think everyone can all agree that we would like to live in a meritocracy. A country of level playing fields, firm referees and an opportunity for us all to get what we deserve. Which is why it’s so painfully, endlessly boring when prominent privileged men become so rattled when someone points out to them that by merely being born a white Englishman they were given a huge head start.

It’s no comment on what can be controlled - their skill and industry. It’s merely an understanding and acknowledgement that BAME men and women find it harder to get visas, get home and work contracts and that our society is littered with examples of white men who have not only failed upwards, but have lurched to the stratosphere fuelled by nothing but catastrophe.
 

Woketopussy: Billie Eilish and James Bond's continued pitch to millennials

You have to hand it to the James Bond producers. The announcement this week that young superstar Billie Eilish will write and record the theme for the upcoming 25th film in the series was just the latest in a series of Herculean efforts to modernise the tired brand. With national treasure Phoebe Waller-Bridge writing the script and Lashana Lynch playing the next 007 agent, No Time to Die will be the wokest Bond film yet. 
 
With clever moves like these, those involved have helped to shake and stir the series into something very different, fit for the 21st century, while somehow still retaining a sense of the original. Bravo.



Oscars look lost-er as BAFTAs get DAFTA

As the film, television and music industries toil to better reflect the diversity of modern society, their major awards are near-perennially seen as a missed opportunity to give a platform to minorities achieving extraordinary things in their field.
 
Anger about the male-pale-stale system seemed to reach fever-pitch in 2015 when #Oscarssowhite took off, but in an exasperated editorial in Variety this week, its founder April Reign outlined the various ways in which she and her fellow campaigners are still fighting a losing battle five years on.
 
The Oscars’ lack of a female Best Director nominee and almost-total lack of POC to receive acting nods was topped only by the almost comically homogeneous BAFTA nominations, in which both Margot Robbie and Scarlett Johansson were nominated twice in a best actress list which was so white and blonde that ginger-haired Jessie Buckley was the closest nominee to providing any diversity.
 
Throw in a hugely male set of BRIT nominations and you’ve got a grimly uninspiring outlook for minority artists.
 
The communications solution is simple; transparently make the selection process more diverse without aping the Booker and Turner prize’s strategies of hedging their bets by crowning joint winners in the hope of pleasing everyone.


Conor McGregor and the art of the comms counter punch

Reputations are easier to build than rebuild, and no business inflates and destroys reputations with the frequency and magnitude of the fight game. That is why the rehabilitation of Conor McGregor’s reputation deserves great respect. Only a few months ago, after being humiliated by the most dominant male fighter on planet, he was filmed failing to topple an old Dubliner with his titanic left hand. Further ugly allegations underlined the impression of a man out of control and in freefall. Then came a sudden retirement announcement.
 
Yet, a couple of days ago there he is, sat on stage at a pre-fight press conference – where he is famously as aggressive and dominant as he is in in the cage – and a journalist asks him a difficult question. The journalist is immediately smothered by boos, before both the promoter and Conor’s opponent step in to defend him. Conor doesn’t say a word in his own defence. He is so powerful he doesn’t have to.
 
Why? Because as long as keeps his PR clever, then people will remember the glory and forget the mud – these two managed it.

Work is Killing Us

A shocking set of statistics caught our attention this week. PRWeek’s Mental Health Survey 2019 revealed that 64.7% of communications professionals suffered from mental ill-health, up from 60% last year. On the management side, only 56.2% of employees felt their organisation is ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ supportive of staff mental health issues, significantly down from 90% last year.
 
All this amounts to a pretty bleak picture for the industry. But it’s not just PR that is suffering; employees in pretty much every sector of the UK economy now work longer hours, with little by way of work life balance. Widely used apps like Slack are increasingly regarded as fuelling this fire.
 
This isn’t inevitable; our neighbours in Germany, for example, work roughly 325 hours a year less than we do, and are more productive as a result. Ironically, overwork is making us less efficient. If we don’t change our ways, the results could be catastrophic.  
 
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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Ricky Gervais | Wild Fire Celebs | Carlos Ghosn

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

Where to start? We’ve still got the Bounty bars in our festive Celebrations tins and already we’ve had WWIII, brewing in the middle east, a continent on fire in the South Pacific, and a fissure open in one of the world’s most famous and powerful families. We’re not going to touch USA-Iran, and you can find MarkBorkowski's hot takes on Megxit in all good media outlets. but other than that let’s try and make sense of the whole mess that is 2020.


Ricky Gervais: Did he win or lose from Golden Globes?

Let's start proceedings with a good old debate shall we? We've all seen the Gervais monologue; we asked two Borkowskites with opposing views to lay them down for us. 

WIN

Are we taking Ricky Gervais’ monologue too seriously?
 
Gervais’ antagonistic brand of comedy is designed to provoke. Considering the monologue was the key talking point post-awards ceremony and went viral – as far as Gervais is concerned – job well done.
 
Like him or loathe him, his brazen attacks on the Hollywood elite were watched and discussed by millions.
 
One of Gervais’s best jokes of the night – the DiCaprio line – was a particular highlight but also serves as an important observation: it’s very difficult to hold Hollywood to account.
 
As the clip proves, DiCaprio’s womanising is nothing more than a laughing matter for the Hollywood establishment. As the #metoo movement continues to develop, it’s extraordinary that DiCaprio seemed to enjoy Gervais’s joke being directed at him, as the industry sat and laughed.
 
Bear this in mind when dismissing Gervais’s attacks. He’s one of the few that can openly grill A-listers, stripping the sugar coating from their shenanigans on a global platform. Despite the growth of influencer culture, traditional celebrities still hold a huge amount of power. Bursting that bubble occasionally, as Gervais has done in the past, is not only funny. It’s necessary.

LOSE

‘I don’t care’, was the key refrain throughout Ricky Gervais’s monologue as host of the Golden Globes this week. Making clear this year will be his last, his total lack of interest became his biggest punchline.

The jokes were not nearly as biting as he made out; the audience’s response was lukewarm at best (and his main defenders seem to emerge from the MAGA and Incel communities). At the same time as lampooning actors who ‘know nothing about the real world’, the millionaire with homes in Hampstead and New York City was drinking his own Kool-Aid.

Aggressively positioning yourself as a bold truthteller, willing to comedically go where others won’t dare, simply doesn’t work when those you are criticising make speeches with more relevance and emotional power. Maybe it looks like woke posturing from outside. But the next generation of contrarians should take heed: if the awards ceremony is to survive these changing times, apathy won’t be good enough.


Wildfire Saints 

To preface this next bit let’s be clear: The Australian bushfires are tragic and scary, the firefighters and volunteers battling them are heroes, and anyone who donates to help the cause is doing a good thing.
That being said, a number of public figures are delivering their donations in such a way that suggests they’ve got half an eye on their media profile…

This almost definitely doesn’t apply to Celeste Barber, whose Facebook fundraiser to help the fire victims and those aiding them is the biggest in the site’s history. She is now making headlines outside of Australia for the first time in her career, but this doesn’t appear to be the result of calculation; she did a good thing and good things are coming back to her.

There was probably a shade more strategy behind Kaylen Ward’s also-laudable fundraising efforts, which involved selling nudes to raise funds. Had her method been less creative she’d probably not be on the media map.

Then there’s established Australian celebrities aiming to donate in ways which maximise awareness of the cause and show them as decent people. Ash Barty, the popular women’s world no.1 tennis player, donated 100% of her prize money from the Brisbane International. Awesome, right? But she then lost in the first round, so expect her to replace that promise with straight cash. Nick Kyrgios, the tennis world’s in-house brat, got creative, donating A$200 per ace in all his January tournaments. It was an uncharacteristically classy move executed with trademark puckishness.

Then there’s the A-Listers for whom failure to act would’ve been a black markagainst them. That’s Margot Robbie and the Hemsworths, who admirably stepped up to the mark leaving no doubt about their affection for their homeland.

Perhaps most cynical of all was Kylie Jenner’s $1m donation, made after she was accused of hypocrisy for expressing sadness at the disaster before posing in Louis Vuitton slippers made of mink fur.


Carlos Ghosn & The Court of Public Opinion

It has long been obvious to the Borkowski crisis team that the lightning speed of communications has resulted in crisis strategies being made redundant. Embattled moguls the world over traditionally bunker down with their legal teams to build a bulletproof courtroom defence for months on end. Only these days, they emerge blinking on courtroom steps to find that in the court of public opinion they have already been long ago been found guilty. A judge can clear your name, but they’ll never be able to rebuild your reputation.
 
Perhaps Carlos Ghosn is the first person to have realised this the true ramifications of this. This week he came out of hiding in Lebanon, wild-eyed and angry in front of a Powerpoint presentation. But this was just the last step in his communications strategy. It follows filmed complaints of allies, the commissioning of his autobiography, and carefully choreographed media appearances. Seeing him on stage gesticulating and snarling to the worlds press, then conducting lengthy interviews with individual journalists, you can already see the write ups filled with sparky, compelling soundbites, rather than dry, legalistic quotes.
 
It might be too little too late, but Mr. Ghosn has put himself in a stronger position than any of his damned compatriots.


Politics Corner

It was a week full of omens.

The last intervention in the final Brexit statement by the outgoing Brexit secretary (probably also the last frontbench job that Steve Barkley MP will ever hold) was made by Marc Francois. As arguably the most historic moment in Britain since the financial crash, the Iraq war or Rebekah Vardy being outed, ticked into legend, the hand of history was batted away by the bray of ‘BIG BEN MUST BONG FOR BREXIT’.

We can at least thank Mark Francois for proving Claude Junker’s famous saying, ‘we all know what to do, we just don’t know how to get re-elected after we’ve done it’, by doing the absolute opposite – doing the unnecessary and ensuring himself a massive majority (up by 12% since 2017).

In the interest of political balance however, Barry ‘the inconsistent’ Gardiner’s kamikaze run at leadership was one of the most remarkable in modern time. Just as Jo Swinson and Jeremy Corbyn must go down as the worst tag-team leaders of British parties in modern history, Gardiner launching his leadership salvo way too late to stand any chance at all, and from an Abu Dhabi environmental conference…which he travelled to by plane. The hard left is in disarray, stuck behind ‘RLB’, a candidate identical to Corbyn in principles but somehow even less charismatic. No wonder the rumour is that Barry is merely the latest casualty in the tinkering of a panicked ‘king maker’.

A new decade has its tone set early.


Fast Food Wars pt.289474738

One of our takeaways from last year (PUN INTENDED) was that fast food brands are responsible for a supersized portion of the proactive publicity in the headlines and several of the big hitters have exploded out the blocks in the new year. Greggs backed up stunts with morality by paying all their workers a £300 bonus owing to the success of vegan sausage rolls. This was mainly a well-received move, although it did open them up to criticism which demonstrated how much public relations is becoming a ‘let he without sin’ industry.

Burger Kings also pulled one over old foes McDonalds, cleverly playing the long game to demonstrate their Whopper’s superiority to Ronald’s Big Mac, with the response from the Golden Arches being the unveiling of a new spokesman, famously enigmatic and cantankerous rugby player Joe Marler.  It’s moderately funny but an odd move. The Kings wins this round for us.
 

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2019

December

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Labour Leadership | Cats | Caroline Flack

Merry Christmas!

No time for yearly wrap-ups just yet... it's been a busy week! Trump's been impeached, Piers Morgan and Stormzy have been beefing and Christmas is nearly upon us!

Labour Leadership

And so it begins. After the disaster that was the election of December 2019, Jeremy Corbyn has announced his resignation as Labour leader, prompting the beginning of what promises to be a tortuous leadership race. Despite his promises to instigate a ‘kindler, gentler politics’, Corbyn’s revolution has left a party still riddled with division and factionalism. In this week’s Trends, we take a look at the emerging favourites. 
 
Keir Starmer
Although not yet formally launched, Starmer hasn’t been subtle in his positioning for the top job so far. As a former Director of Public Prosecutions, he’s hoping his ability to incisively pull apart Conservative arguments will make him a favourite. But he might be hamstrung by perceptions that he is a little too wealthy and middle class.
 
Emily Thornberry
The first candidate to declare, Thornberry is a confident media performer who wisely kept a low profile during the election. But she may be plagued by a lot of the same problems as Starmer: she represents a North London constituency, has a background as a barrister and is tainted by service in the Shadow Cabinet. She also has a history of unfortunate comments about ‘patriotic’ voters, which may burden her campaign in Brexitland.
 
Clive Lewis
Lewis is the first true Corbyn ally to declare, running with a pitch firmly to the left of Starmer or Thornberry. He promises to go further than Corbyn in his efforts to hand control of the party to members. Although an unlikely contender, entering the race early may do him a favour, giving him valuable facial recognition to the Corbynistas that are likely to make the difference in this election.
 
Rebecca Long Bailey/Angela Rayner
Long Bailey is the runaway favourite, a John McDonnell acolyte who represents continuity Corbyn. Though not yet announced, she is almost certain to run, probably with her long-time friend and flatmate Angela Rayner alongside her as Deputy Leader. The consensus among many is that the next leader has to be a woman, given Labour’s historical lack of a female leader. If that logic endures, this coupling will be a formidable force.
 
The race is bound to be interesting, and it is enormously important. Just as Boris Johnson’s recent win will have enormous consequences for the future trajectory of the United Kingdom, so will the decision made by Labour members next year. It may well be a choice between life or death for the Labour Party.

The Cats Out of the Bag

Cats. Where to begin?! The brutal reviews or Jason Derulo’s airbrushed penis?
 
Several months ago we discussed the trailer which caused a monumental social media stir. It may have been a global talking point, but the absurd and baffling visuals created conversations the producers would’ve wanted to avoid.
 
Since the review embargo was lifted, critics have united against Tom Hooper’s big-budget adaptation, mostly horrified by the CGI overload.
 
Whilst Cats has been universally ridiculed, one man has unintentionally become the sacrificial lamb. In steps Jason Derulo (who plays Rum Tug Tugger) who declared the film “a brave piece of art”. A bold statement when his genitals were one of the key talking points ahead of the release.
 
Early signs suggest Cats is a total mess. Despite high budgets, blockbuster cast and the huge number of creatives behind the film, it’s not looking good for Hollywood’s adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd-Webber musical.
 
Cats failed to deliver on the hype. And when you have such big names associated with an absolute stinker, you’re going to fall even harder against the crushing weight of expectation.
 
The Flack is Gone

Caroline Flack stepped down as Love Island presenter following the alleged assault on her boyfriend Lewis Burton. Flack posted an Instagram story that she has quit Love Island so that she can 1. co-operate with the authorities and 2. not detract any attention from the upcoming series.
 
There are underlying tones of double-standards in ITV’s protocol with aftercare following a serious incident. Take Ant McPartlin who had the full support of ITV  following his drink-driving crash.

In Caroline’s case, her boyfriend has come back relatively positively for Flack and that he is ‘tired of the lies’ aimed at her.

Whatever happened, ITV axed Caroline within days of the arrest, leaving her with no real chance of survival. It seems as though in the eyes of ITV, I’m a Celebrity couldn’t sustain the viewers with only half of PJ & Duncan, whereas Love Island numbers are likely to keep climbing irrelevant of the host.
 
Flack has never found herself far from scandalous headlines and rumours, the hot topic namely surrounding her series of boyfriends many years her junior, and has dealt with the scrutiny fairly well. There is little difference in this instance; graciously leaving her role to deal with her situation (without the support of ITV), and congratulating new host Laura Whitmore.
 
So what’s next for Caroline? With some time away from the spotlight, there's every chance she'll be back on our screen, albeit a smaller stage.
 
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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Borkowski's Alternative General Election Moments

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

Here at Borkowski, we have always believed in authentic and honest communications. As an authentic and honest agency, we can confirm that we are all incredibly hungover after our office Christmas Party, and of course GE2019. With sore heads and sore hearts here are some alternative election winners and losers:

Mark Francois

Having pulverised our TV screens with his commanding presence through 2019, during this election Mark Francois was strangely quiet, before returning in the last few days. He penned a deferential op-ed in the Telegraph on Wednesday, before popping up in an interview with Andrew Neil after the result was announced, comparing the fall of Labour’s so-called ‘Red Wall’ to that of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

Neil was understandably baffled at this display of hubris. Nonetheless, the Francois we know and love is clearly back in business. Having ridden out the election in peace, he is now primed to make himself a media star all over again.

Hugh Grant

The best Christmas Prime Minister we ever had decided to go a bit of door-knocking himself for real. Unfortunately, he was a spectre of doom – as everyone he stood next to lost their jobs, just in time for Christmas.
 
Boris and The Fridge

A Thick of It election special: Johnston fleeing from a GMB producer and hiding in a giant fridge. Johnson’s aide could even be seen mouthing “oh for f*ck’s sake” in response to Piers’s heckles, who later exclaimed, “he’s gone into the fridge”. A flustered Boris had to cool down I suppose…

Alan Cairns

Elections are often compared to horse races. And Mr. Cairns had barely heard the starting bell before he suddenly found himself in a tent, with a grim-faced Dominic Cummings and a double-barrelled shotgun.

The Great British Voter

Some zingers came out of our brilliant electorate. This (arguably the soundbite of the election) came from a woman in the vintage years of her life. Or this man who saw an opportunity and took it. Over and over again. Or this video, in which a wheelbarrow becomes a prop of violent statecraft. Or even this one which befell Hugh Abbot MP.

The BBC

When the BBC is accused of bias by both left and right, that’s usually a sign that it's doing the job properly. Not so this time. The Beeb was dogged by accusations of partisanship throughout this campaign. It all reached a fever pitch when the Electoral Commission suggested that Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg may have broken electoral law. The Corporation’s future has never looked more uncertain.

Nicola Sturgeon's Ungracious Behaviour

However you feel about Jo Swinson, it wasn’t the most gracious move by Sturgeon to shake her fists on camera in celebration when the news broke. But, is anyone ever commended for their grace during a GE?

Jess Philips

Suddenly a gulf of leadership has opened in the Labour Party and the membership are scrabbling around to find a charismatic, working-class woman who can advocate for remain but not lose their leave voting base. Could Phillips be the woman for the job?
 
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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Noname vs. Her Fans | Politicians Comms Problem | Turner Prize Gaff

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

With 2019 winding down, two of the biggest streaming platforms have done their bit to summarise the year because – let’s face it – we all love lists. YouTube’s annual Rewind video was criticised as a top 10 video on steroids, whereas Spotify Wrapped had users comparing their 2019 listening habits and sharing their results on social media. A bit of mindless fun while we edge closer to total election chaos. On that note here are the trends!

Noname quits rap over white audience

One of the biggest music controversies of the year hit this past week.
 
In a series of Tweets, rapper/singer/songwriter Noname revealed she may not be interested making music anymore, and she’s certainly not interested in performing for mostly white audiences because she doesn’t want to ‘dance on a stage for white people’.
 
We aren’t going to unpackage what Noname is saying as this is very specific to her experiences and identity - a topic fit for a sociology thesis.
 
Despite this, Noname has a huge amount of influence and is highly respected across the hip-hop community. She’s split her fans and critics but she’s raising some crucial arguments that need to be addressed.
 
Whilst artists can’t choose their audience or how their audience chooses to interpret the music, they can influence it and Noname’s comments have the weight to do just that.
 
Coldplay attempted to address a similarly important topic – the environment – by pausing touring until concerts are 'environmentally beneficial'. On the surface, a huge statement but an ineffective and forgettable stunt. Coldplay had a chance to attack corporations causing the vast majority of carbon emissions, but instead decided to go for the safe, good-intentioned option… very on brand.
 
Ultimately, Noname’s controversial stance will be heard and won’t be forgotten. Support for Noname will be crucial but may fall short due to the highly divisive nature of her words. Unlike Chris Martin’s tepid reaction to global warming, Noname’s message won’t fall on deaf ears.

Why are our politicians so dreadful at communicating!?

Anyone following the UK and US elections might notice a distinct gulf in communications expertise. Donald Trump has a social media campaign which is only matched in its sophistication by his seven opposing Democrats.
 
Watch this video or this one. They are both from no-hope campaigns, going after some of the most firmly entrenched politicians on the planet.
 
Why don’t UK politicians have this calibre of comms? Why do we get tired, bland set-pieces like this from our leaders? Why is this the most exciting set-piece a podgy man fumbling around with a car tyre 16 seconds (it’s supposed to take 2.5 seconds)?
 
The answer is money. Strict spending limits mean that politics remains an amateur game of jumpers for goalposts in London, wherein Washington it’s all gone all Premiership. As in ‘a dodgy foreign entity has bought your club and now season ticket prices have tripled’ Premiership.
 
It’s the money, not the talent that we lack. Just look at either of these two brilliant political advertisers. Each made by unregulated, social media political groups. One has even made it into the big leagues.
 
So next time you are watching a broadcast so boring or tone-deaf that you want to pull out your own eyes and vote for them instead – just remember, it’s the weight of limitless money we lack – not the presence of talent.
 
Turner Prize Awards blunder

The prestigious Turner Prize announced a surprising decision this week: the award for 2019 would be given to all four nominated artists. The four artists chose to send a ‘collective statement’ to the judging panel, commenting that there was ‘already so much that divides and isolates people and communities’. The group of four will now share the £40,000 prize money.
 
The question is: does anyone actually care? In a move that smacked of weak virtue signalling, UK art’s most prestigious award sacrificed artist recognition in favour of a cheap publicity stunt that is unlikely to resonate outside of the hubristic art bubble. More importantly though, in its willingness to be led by nominees, the judging panel has done significant damage to the Turner Prize brand.
 
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November

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Prince Andrew Lessons | Media Protecting Politicians | Black Friday | Hyperpoliticisation

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

We thought the Prince Andrew saga was simmering off but it's becoming such a bible in how not to manage reputation that we need to say more. Elsewhere, the election continues to embarrass anyone who's ever worked in the media or politics, but we also discovered that a sprinkling of festive cheer never goes out of fashion, as some of our Santa friends showed this week.

Prince Andrew: The Final Word...part.2: Damage to Royals Continues to Mount

In the week after his fateful car crash interview, the crisis swirling around Prince Andrew has continued to eat into the Royal Family’s reputation. Although the spike in media interest is dying down, a more sustained kind of reputational damage continues to bite, and it’s getting worse every day.
 
At the end of the day, the Windsor Family is a brand, but an exceptional one. If it is to survive the ravages of 21st century communication, it cannot behave like a multinational corporation. That means that it cannot apply a one size fits all approach to crisis management. Just as important as preventing a crisis is considering how to respond and recover when the crisis hits. And because this crisis is about as extreme as it gets, it requires fresh thinking and a willingness to rethink your entire position. Prince Andrew’s mistake was to think that he could simply act as normal when his strategy failed. It’s a mistake that could well enact a greater cost than the Windsors ever imagined.

The End of Speaking Truth to Power?

As Billionaire Michael Bloomberg announced his endlessly awaited run for the ‘Leader of the Free World’, the Editor-in-Chief of Bloomberg News John Micklethwait told his gathered staff that ‘we won’t investigate Mike’. Not even, Rupert Murdoch, the man who spent his career doing his best to appear like a kingmaker, ever went full Napoleon and tried to crown himself. We are already in a world where people look at the oval office and feel nostalgic for the Bush family. Surely, we aren’t about to watch a level of bias in press coverage that makes us become nostalgic for Rupert Murdoch.
 
Sadly, over here, we have our own questions to answer on truth to power. Only today, we saw a leading Politician (an ex-journalist) storm a broadcasting house with a film crew behind him, trying to propagandise himself as a victim of press bias. Politics, journalism and propaganda stood in the same point, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to clearly identify who is who.
 
And what can be done? Accountability isn’t working. Shame is a political weapon from a bygone era. But it’s more than just narcissists bending the world to their whims, these men (always men) are always propped up and propelled by compliant individuals, representing humbled institutions.
 
Without wishing to single out any single journalist, this video is symptomatic of a much wider problem. Democracy dies in darkness.

Things Looking Dark for Black Friday?

Black Friday is with us again. For many it’s an important fixture of the corporate calendar, a time to get the most out of the high street and stock up in time for Christmas. But this year the shine is appearing to be coming well and truly off.
 
To start with, consumer group Which? have released data showing that 95% of products are cheaper or the same price after the sale, and a shocking 61% are cheaper before Black Friday. So far, so damaging. Add to that the evidence that loan sharks are using the day to target vulnerable people and the growing climate protests against the sales frenzy, and you have a recipe for disaster.
 
As in so many areas, the corporate retail world seems to be out of touch with social changes that are irrevocably altering consumer behaviour. For many, Black Friday is no harmless stunt but a day that looks increasingly dark.

Is Everything Political Now?

The Wall Street Journal posted a telling Instagraph this week demonstrating the polarising political affiliations of users of certain brands, a stark representation of how divided and tribal society is, and how hard it is to extract any brand, person or organisation from the melee.

We discussed above how dissenting voices within media organisations are dying out as editors turn into cheerleaders, so its no surprise to see Fox and CNN as America’s most polarised brands, but it’s more surprising to see NASCAR and the NBA’s audiences quite so far apart politically even in the potentially telling knowledge that 91% of all black voters voted for Hillary Clinton and less-educated white voters were 39% more likely to vote for Trump.

These connections are an important communications lesson. Being linked with any political entity at the moment is at best a double-edged sword given the absolutely disgraceful level of campaigning in the current British general election so it’s unlikely there would be wild celebrations if it became clear that, say, 65% of Greggs customers voted Labour, or 100% of people whose favourite band is Coldplay are Lib Dems. But there’s a wider point here; increasingly every public entity has a political profile: brands who control theirs will survive.

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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Prince Andrew | "Fact Check UK" | AI on TV | Kanye Opera

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

Okay so last week's cheeriness was short-lived and now we're back to the Royal Implosion, new election scumbaggery, AI robots taking over our minds and, most terrifyingly of all, a fresh Kanye West vanity project. Strap in folks. 

Prince Andrew: The Final Word

Assumption has always been the mother of all ‘f@#k ups’ - if only someone around Prince Andrew had reminded him. Although it’s doubtful he would have listened. His catastrophic car crash interview had all the ingredients for disaster and so it proved with the story still rolling a week later. It reminds us that any business leader is half a pizza slice away from bad headlines if they are ill-advised, badly prepared and not experts in forensic level planning.

The smallest detail is always the thing that trips up the hubristic. Nobody can afford to always be right until they are wrong, and then do all the wrongs things to try make it right again. It’s too late by then, as Prince Andrew has discovered. He is damned by the million memes and unrelenting headlines picking him apart. Disappearance was his only option and recovery will be hard earned, if it’s even possible at this stage.

Mark Borkowski has made countless (we do know that it’s over 1,000) appearances on global news channels since Saturday night, becoming the voice of authority on ‘what he should have done’ and ‘what it means now for the Royal Family’. Within his responses are lessons to be learned for all brands.

Get intimate with:

1. Culture
2. Language
3. Speed

It’s no good existing in a bubble. Having an expert on your side to challenge you before you step into the spotlight is essential. That way the one thing you have forgotten or assumed isn’t relevant will already be tackled and answered before it damns you.
 
Tory Propaganda: Everything Matters. Nothing Matter

One of the very few positives to our country having taken its lead from the United States for the last twenty years, is the introduction of the political debate into our lives.
 
Each iteration unveils a new layer of self-parody. From this fittingly camp, over-the-top pre-debate video (an even more slapstick one was since deleted by Tory central office) to the total failure of the promised one-on-one deathmatch to live up to expectations. We are told we are getting blood and thunder, but from the first establishing shots we quickly establish that one candidate can’t even set their deadly sights on the camera.
 
It was a carnival of Chris Morris-style graphics and dramatic music that pitted bloat against sinew and didn’t move the needle an inch.
 
But the worst happened off camera: the media bubble ignited with chatter about the Tory tactic of posing to be factcheckers. It’s the kind of cheap, quick-fix decision that the Tories under Johnson increasingly rely on. When you consider this ‘reward now, consequences be damned’ political tactic, and frame it against certain elements of their leader’s personal life, certain things begin to become clear.
 
Some Tory strategist must have successfully pitched brazenly posing as a fact-check service as a perception changing, zeitgeist grabbing piece of comms genius to a gobbling, greedy Johnson. Clearly that’s not what it was. Any campaign could pretend to be factcheckers, but the reason they don’t isn’t lack of imagination, it’s having a conscience.
 
So, as Ralf Little was booted off of Twitter for attempting a similar prank (he renamed his account Conservative Press Orifice and tweeted ‘David Cameron shagged a pig and now we have to leave the EU #Leadersdebate’) and we all get very angry about disinformation being used so brazenly at the very highest level of our politics, just remember, for the umpteenth time – that none of it makes a blind bit of difference.
 

Kanye Opera: Genre Hopping Towards the Abyss?

Kanye West effortlessly made worldwide headlines this week by announcing his first ever Opera, named after – but not necessarily based on- the biblical character Nebuchadnezzar.

Famous artists attempting to be ‘renaissance’ by trying their hands at unfamiliar artforms is nothing new, and the general rule is the more radical the shift the bigger the news, and the bigger the payoff if they do a half-decent job: think about the cultural impact of Tim Minchin’s musicals, and (on a lesser scale in terms of their careers) Shia LaBeouf’s ‘performance art’ installations, or Jeff Goldblum’s Jazz Piano music (before his Woody Allen-related auto-cancellation).

Opera is one of the most technical and esoteric artforms and being able to compose a good one is a mark of a great artist, so in claiming to have done so Kanye is once again stoking his own egomaniacal god complex. But he’s also taking a risk; Damon Albarn emerged from his own brush with opera, reputation pretty-well unscathed, and on the directorial side Terry Gilliam’s collaborations with the English National Opera stand out but it’s by no means an easy road to success, and far more difficult than, say, musician to actor (Harry Styles and Lady Gaga have both smashed that one recently). It also probably won’t inspire a new generation of fans of traditional opera, much to the disappointment of lifelong opera supporter K. West.

Here’s the rub: neither Kanye or the opera world at large have a huge amount to gain from Nebuchadnezzar unless it’s world-shakingly brilliant, but both could take a reputational hit if it’s rubbish.


AI and the Automisation of Creativity

As technology continues to march its way into the heart of our 21st century lives, the consequences are becoming more and more eye-catching. This week the New Scientist reported on a scary new phenomenon in filmmaking: entertainment companies are using artificial intelligence to digitally insert ads into movies and TV shows after they have been filmed.

The technique, recently used on ABC’s Modern Family, looks to be the future of advertising. This practice will produce adverts that are more personalised and harder to avoid than ever before, and the line between entertainment and marketing will become increasingly blurred.

More and more films will be adverts first and art second, with profound consequences for the wider cultural industries. Given the inevitable effect on consumers’ attention spans, advertisers should be very wary about playing with this kind of fire.
 
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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Social Media Dystopia | KSI vs Logan Paul | Colin Kapaernick  | BBC Shtposting | Britbox

We'll go easy on the election chat for another week other than to say that the early signs indicate another depressing proliferation of lying, cheating and fake news. Just ask Kier Starmer or any constituent who's received a weird graph from the Lib Dems. Instead we're going to talk about social media, sport, influencers the BBC, Britbox and Colin Kapaernick. 

Brave New World of Social Media still feels dystopian

As election season kicks, in certain parts of the media bubble are abuzz with the haunting prospect of Russian interference in our wider political debate and processes.

And while we know roughly what they will do (boosting the lunatic peripheries of the debate while attempting to convince the electorate that their political system is a corrupt, rotting machine gagging for revolution) it will be more interesting to consider what kind of data every political campaign will be playing with. Namely: what your technology can tell them.

Only this week we have seen reports of a woman who has been relentlessly targeted by adverts for cots, prams and baby clothes because she didn’t mark her period tracker app and the ad tech jumped to conclusions. We have seen TikTok (the app developed in China - where every company must legally support the government in intelligence work) declared a potential ‘national security risk’ by US intelligence, after it has been fined for illegally mining the data of children, although it will still be allowed to collect user data such as IP addresses, location and information about devices.

Also, there was the sale of Fitbit to Google, extending the cynical, coercive use of people’s most personal data to their heartbeat and location. What’s left once a corporation instantaneously and constantly knows how you feel and where you are?
 
 
KSI vs Logan Paul: The internet's biggest event, but at what cost to boxing?

The upcoming ‘professional’ fight between the two divisive internet personalities is going to be a humungous piece of viral content, but it’s also another chapter in the hypercommercialised, WWE-ification of boxing.

Other notable examples are Freddie Flintoff and a whole host of rugby players receiving their licenses, the McGregor v Mayweather bout, and Tyson Fury’s recent involvement in WWE. This is Eddie Hearn’s effect on turning boxing – traditionally a working men’s sport – into a full-blown circus.

Boxing purists have been quick to criticise Logan Paul and KSI but there’s no doubt that these YouTube boxers will turn more young eyes to the sport than any boxing event since the turn of the millennium.

However, boxing is at a peculiar crossroads. The sport is in danger of pandering to the eyewatering viewing figures generated by the circus-style pre-bout build-ups and walk-on theatrics that, if anything, undermine the actual sport.

For the organisers, the attention and money are hard to pass up; as a result, the power is with the promoters. This prevailing trend could alienate its hardcore fans (and sport snobs and aesthetes alike). However, the visibility and commerciality for the sport is impossible to ignore.

The Hearns of the world don’t care about the integrity of the sport; it’s always been about hype at any cost. Logan Paul vs KSI is huge win for the YouTubers but another heavy uppercut to the jaw of the sport’s integrity.
 

Kapaernick still refuses to bend the knee to expectations

Colin Kapaernick isn’t, by all accounts, one of the all-time great American footballers, but he’s a remarkable campaigner.

It all started with his powerfully symbolic refusal to stand for the US national anthem before matches to protest institutional racism in the country: that made him a rebel.  
Then, through his release by the San Francisco 49ers and settlement with the NFL who he accused of colluding to deny him work, he became a martyr.

Onwards through his continued rigorous training regime and earnest attempts to regain employment within his field, he became an enduring symbol of quiet dignity in the face of oppression.

And now, in spending his 32nd Birthday- approaching 3 years of unemployment- feeding the homeless, he’s aiming for Sainthood.

Among his parishioners, liberals and the left, he’s an almost fairytale example of one man trying to take on a broken and corrupt system against almost insurmountable odds. He’s built a profile for himself which goes far beyond his footballing ability.

But his wider impact is still in question. Institutional racism in America is still rife, while even his impact on the meathead chauvinism inherent in Gridiron football is being questioned given that fan, player and owner attitudes remain unchanged and the league is widely perceived to have paid their way out of having to employ a player whose ideology could cause discomfort.


BBC's Shtposting Shtshow

When the BBC get it wrong, they get it really wrong. On the channel’s popular ‘Brexitcast’ podcast this week, Laura Kuenssberg offered a rather bizarre explanation of the online term ‘sh*tposting’.

This, Kuenssberg claimed, was the act of making a political advert that was designed to look bad in order to achieve maximum shares from sceptics online. Unfortunately, that definition is totally wrong.

‘Sh*tposting’ actually refers to the ruthless posting of unfunny content in order to distract from or undermine a genuine discussion online. Kuenssberg was widely derided by younger viewers on social media but the real issue is much larger than a social media faux pa. The multi-million-pound reboot of radio as BBC Sounds did little to fix the BBC’s broken relationship with young audiences. Ultimately, it takes more than a rebrand to show that you’re serious about speaking to young people: as ever, content is king.  

Is Britbox already being fitted for a Wooden Box?

Months ago, when it was first announced, we predicted that new BBC-ITV streaming service Britbox had no chance of survival: now that the streaming service has launched, is there any reason for a change of opinion?
Absolutely not.

An ITV spokesperson claimed that they have chosen British programming that will “appeal to viewers in 2019”. She is either wrong, or there will be an incredibly sparse range of shows to choose from. When it comes to historic British TV shows and what is today deemed problematic, the overlap is seemingly endless.

Will anyone really want to pay £4.99 a month to sieve through a selection of shows that Netflix, Prime, Now TV etc either didn’t want or were willing to share?

A mere fifteen years on younger viewers especially already cringe at the cartoonish racism, sexism and homophobia of Little Britain. What proportion of shows from the preceding decades are as bad, if not worse?

Britbox claims to appeal to our strong sense of Deja Vu. Like the success of the BBC and ITV collaboration, Project Kangaroo. Remember that? Thought not.
 
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Borkowski Weekly Trends: Corden x Kanye Karaoke | Fortnite Tree Stunt | People's Vote Blunder | Another Facebook F-up


The environment, Brexit, big tech: the same factors continue to sculpt the news agenda week on week. But then again if Mariah's bizarre wake-up call this morning is anything to go by, the aforementioned issues might actually be more fun than the Christmas stunts we have in store. 

CORDEN & KANYE'S CARPOOL CAR CRASH

James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke has been a monumentally successful publicity platform. However, the once beloved Smithy has often been criticised by his UK fans for swapping his Brit-humour for brownnosing anyone who is anyone in Hollywood.

This week’s ‘Airpool Karaoke’  - taking place on board a plane with Kanye and his ‘Sunday Service Choir’ – did not help, with Corden claiming that he felt “closer to God” during the experience.

There is no chance that Kanye would have agreed to do Corden’s skit if he couldn’t have done it Kanye’s way. What proceeded was an unhinged but utterly predictable 20 minutes of Kanye; ‘profound’ thoughts, bizarre syntax and, yes, some good music. But it’s easy to forget about that amid the deluge of arrogance and the erraticism.

PR-wise it’s problematic for multiple reasons beyond just being another case of Corden being cringe:
 
Firstly: they could’ve executed this ceremony of arslicken without increasing their carbon footprint even more. Getting a flight purely as the setting for a publicity stunt is decadent, bad for the environment and exacerbated by the fact that both its protagonists are already thought in some quarters to be spoilt brats.
 
Nor is this pretentious promotion of Kanye’s new album ‘Jesus is King’ really in-keeping with the spirit of a reawakening from God. However, it is consistent with Kanye’s messianic image of himself. As Kanye so gracefully said, “as humbly as I can put it, he [God] is using me to show off”. Very pious of you Kanye. And Corden didn’t even have the decency to laugh in his face.  
 
Although, in Kanye’s defence, it must be hard for him to find an alternative vehicle big enough to fit his ego.
 

 
SEEDS OF HOPE FOR INFLUENCERS & YOUTUBERS

This week saw a rare reputational triumph for the much-maligned influencer and gamer communities. Often criticised (including in these trends) as venal, cynical, corporatist and inauthentic, it was a pleasant surprise to see a fun, successful, politically savvy and socially conscious movement – TeamTrees- emerge this week when a group of YouTubers raised $6M to plant new trees – a figure which at time of writing has risen to $11.5M.
 
Unlike Kanye’s latest carbuncle, this was good for the planet, but it was also done with a sense of fun and a keen eye for stunt - with eye-catching initiatives including a ‘tree planting cannon’ and a sponsored symbolic marathon to plant trees on Fortnite.
 
Our old pal Elon Musk even got involved, the oft-arch cynic (if not outright conspiracy theorist) donating $1M to the cause.
 
A big part of the PR problems plaguing the influencer industry has been a seeming lack of social and moral purpose, but credit where it’s due: this was a good move.
 


ROCK THE (PEOPLE'S) VOTE

Over the weekend the People's Vote campaign was rocked by boardroom chaos. Roland Rudd, founder of City firm Finsbury PR, announced by email that James McGrory and Tom Baldwin, the campaign’s director and head of communications respectively, were fired. But, as sparring partner Alastair Campbell pointed out in a tweet, Rudd didn’t actually have the authority to make that decision. As Chair of Open Britain, he runs only one of People’s Vote’s five constituent groups.
 
But the coup was doomed for another reason. Rudd failed to secure the loyalty of his troops. Following the announcement Rudd was faced with an extraordinary staff revolt, with dozens reportedly refusing to turn up to work this week. Chief among the rebels were individuals that know how to spin journalists: Alastair Campbell, Peter Mandelson.
 
Powerful communications is sometimes about knowing where your weaknesses lie. Rudd overestimated his strengths and as a result has fractured his own organisation, quite possibly beyond repair.


DOES IT TOLL FOR THEE, FACEBOOK?

Since its earliest days, growth – both in terms of size and of power – has been the guiding philosophy of Facebook.
 
This is most apparent in their changing mantra. The young, punky company that vowed to ‘move fast and break things’, evolved to ‘make the world more open and connected’ and then ‘bring the world closer’. Facebook users have reached a billion in number and are still soaring.
 
But such success comes at a cost. Their mistakes shake the foundations of countries – and the faith of their consumers. After any election, the losing side will shout at them for alleged interference, and they’ll be able to make a compelling case. Such is their power that any twitch in policy, or glance at a candidate is angrily interpreted as bias refereeing by furious zealots.
 
Facebook’s obsession with growth drives their increasing need to assure their supporters of their balance. But every time they shift, they topple and the countermove has to be stronger. We’ve gone from meetings with Republican Senators, to placing staff on Democratic campaigns, to private dinners with far-right firebrand shock jocks, to publicly invoking the legacy of civil rights icons, to now publicly endorsing hate-site breitbart.com as legitimate news.
 
Facebook pitches and sways already – but as we enter the stormy seas of a Presidential election we could see it capsize. This will be the last Presidential election that Facebook enters as a titanic company. By 2024 it’ll broken by a combination of regulation, polarisation or user exodus – all driven by mistrust.
 

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October

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Corporate 'Greenwashing' | Coldplay's PR blinder | Innocent's Conker-milkstake

From the inane to the tragic: the ongoing tabloid vs. Royal feud was put into perspective this week after thirty-nine people were found dead in the back of a lorry. Words are hard to find with certain news stories. But there was light-hearted news too, including a hilarious fake book cover wrapping Cameron's memoirs shared on Twitter. It brought a lot of much-needed laughter to Borkowski HQ.


The rise of 'Greenwashing' 

As we come ever closer to naming our end of year Trend of the Year runners and riders, the environment must surely look like an early favourite. From Greta to Gretna, to fights on tubes and frights over jets, everywhere we have looked one subject has been raging.
 
Faced with a dying planet, diminishing resources and an angry populace, it makes sense that big business would get behind the cause. Seeing as just 20 companies on the produce a third of our carbon, it is probably the efforts of big business more than any other that will shift the dial.

Which is why it’s equally encouraging and concerning that BlackRock have put £20m into the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. That foundation has honourable aims of clearing the oceans of plastic, but its member list includes Coca-Cola (although they have been recently removed from their website), Bridgestone Tyres and Renault – companies massively responsible for plastic leaking into the oceans.
 
The question is, is BlackStone (a company worth £135bn) giving EAF £20m to help change the species' fundamental relationship with the sea, or so that it can claim to have done its best and generate some warm PR as the oceans clog with litter? Corporate history has taught us to be cynical...

 
Coldplay's PR blinder

Coldplay, once judged ‘the biggest band in the world’, have faded from the mainstream in recent years. Often regarded as a ‘marmite’ band, they inspire just as much derision as devotion among the public these days.
But whichever side of the fence you sit on, the reveal of their eighth album has been a PR masterstroke.

A weeklong campaign has seen the band tease fans using mysterious billboards, seen in Hong Kong and Madrid, sending sporadic cryptic letters to random fans that sparked debate across social media, and using classified ads in local papers to announce the album – releasing a list of 14 songs and the album’s release date in North Wales’ Daily Post.

A lot to unpack. Ultimately Coldplay have pulled off a tricky balancing act, executing a nostalgic album promotion whilst still adhering to industry norms and standards. In their series of cryptic clues, they have given fans what they love most: something unexpected, sparking conversation, debate and outlandish theories. True excitement.

On the surface it seems like they’ve used an array of odd media methods (regional print media, radio, black and white billboards and posters) but in fact, they have understood the value of stepping back from the digital sphere. As a result, they’ve shown they’re one step ahead of the increasingly homogenous competition. Bravo!


Innocent's Conker Milk-stake

Innocent Drinks have made a name for themselves over the years with a uniquely youthful tone of voice. Intended to be affable and sweet, over time it became cloying and disingenuous, cynically mixing medium and message.
 
This week that obnoxious cocktail was remixed into a new stunt. Having released a fake conker-based milk for Autumn, they released an intense flurry of tweets clarifying that conker milk would, in fact, be both disgusting and potentially life-threatening. Riffing on the current zeitgeist around plant-based foods, they adapted their usual language to that of a wise older figure, advising those silly millennials not to believe everything they read.
 
In reality it was the same old story. Innocent’s error is in treating its customers like distracted children, presumably in the hope of making them forget that the supposedly holier-than-thou company is actually owned by Coca-Cola. In our age of ‘brand purpose’, that is not a sustainable strategy. 
 
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BBC 100 Women | Elizabeth Warren vs Fake News | Reality TV | Hate Crimes | Gareth Southgate & Vaping

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

This week we're looking at a new fame formula for female rolemodels, fighting Fake News with Fake News, the rise in Hate Crimes, the possible hate crimes being perpetrated by Reality TV producers, an ode to Gareth Southgate, and a crossroads for the vaping: fad or seed change. Don't say we're not good to you...


BBC 100 Women: A New Blueprint for Fame? 

This year’s BBC 100 Women list is out, honouring the most influential leaders, creatives, environmentalists, athletes, academics and activists of 2019...without a Kardashian in sight.

This isn’t a celebrity competition, but it’s worth looking at the most famous list members (in the UK and USA) to form a portrait of merit-based-fame in 2019.

We picture it as a VENN Diagram of Talent, Principles and Intersectional Appeal (here meaning inspiring an audience beyond the male, pale and stale):

Greta Thunberg is an extraordinary speaker and organiser, wants to save the planet, and is achieving so much unencumbered by her youth or her Asperger syndrome - which places her bang in the middle of these values.

Ditto Megan Rapinoe: prodigiously talented footballer, brutally hard worker, anti-Trump, and out loud and proud.

And Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: the youngest ever US Congresswoman, a pro-Obamacare, Green social democrat, and potentially the first female, Puerto-Rican president.

Another crucial skill these three have in common is a mastery of both social and traditional media and an ability to create your own audience is undoubtedly a factor in modern celebrity.

However there is a sprinkling of old school showiz glitter on the list too; Bella Thorne’s campaign against online sexual abuse has been stirring but undoubtedly gained more from her fame as a Disney actress than vice versa, while Scarlett Curtis’ Pink Protest partly owes its success to media platforms it could more easily access (eg Evening Standard) via her influential family roots.  

This isn’t a criticism it just shows that sometimes, when it comes to fame, the old ways are still the most powerful.

 
Elizabeth Warren sets Fake News to catch Fake News

We’ve written in the past about the battle raging between Republican Senators and Facebook legal teams to determine who gets to pick what we accept as the truth. Now the Democratic Presidential race has caught up with the strategy.

Last week Elizabeth Warren uploaded a paid Facebook ad that asserted, falsely, that Mark Zuckerberg had officially endorsed Donald Trump for President. Fully-fledged fakery. A brilliant strategy to put Facebook over a barrel and set a press pack trap. Zuckerberg is forced to admit that there’s problem with fake news or to become overtly partisan.

His reaction was to ‘err on the side of greater expression’ and that ‘people should decide what is credible, not tech companies’. His speech contained six comparisons to Martin Luther King – prompting an angry reaction from his family.

The problem that won’t go away for Facebook is that it has commandeered the profits and the power of the news publishing industry, but hasn’t taken on its responsibilities - to either journalists or readers.
 

The Hateful Spate

Hate crimes are up 10% according to the police, with a surge in anti-gay and transgender attacks. A troubling statistic that indicates that society is getting nastier.

The Home Office spun the findings, attributing the increase to better police recording and an increase in victims coming forward, but even they had to admit that “genuine increases cannot be ruled out”.

In the wake of this news, we awoke yesterday to footage of a mob of seething commuters yanking Extinction Rebellion protestors from the roof Canning Town tube.

The furious Londoners hurled vitriol and abuse as TFL staff and a few brave outliers shielded the downed protestors from a flood of kicks and punches. The comment section was a cacophony of keyboard warriors howling their glee and vindication. It was a bad move from XR but the response was like something out of Joker.

As the country tears itself apart over Brexit, as global recession looms, as the environment hurtles toward the point of no return, as the highest political offices on the planet are manned by crackpots - society is becoming less tolerant to opposing views and compassion is evaporating.

However tomorrow’s latest Brexit knife-fight of a vote goes, we live in perhaps the most polarised age in recent memory, and this trend isn’t over.


Reality TV: A New Nadir?

Reality television is something of an institution in the UK. But recently the genre has appeared to stoop to new lows. First there’s The Tribe Next Door,where reality star Scarlett Moffatt lives alongside Namibia’s Himba tribe in an exact replica of her County Durham home. Alongside this is X Factor Celebrity, a brave attempt to revive an arcane format, and frankly bizarre offerings like The Surjery and Meat the Family. These shows have been labelled uninventive, even offensive, by some commentators.

But is the genre really in trouble? Probably not. The Tribe Next Door, has also drawn praise from unlikely quarters. And other productions, like The Circle are bringing a bold and youthful energy back to the genre, like Channel 4’s The Circle. Whatever its moral, creative or commonsensical shortcomings, Reality TV has some life in it yet.


Gareth Southgate: PR Campaign of the Year

Although it’s hard to glean a positive from the mortifying and contemptable scenes that engulfed the England men’s football team’s victory over Bulgaria on Monday, the first-class response from the players was testament once again to its amazing PR turnaround, one of the comms campaigns of the decade, engineered largely by manager Gareth Southgate.

He’s not the best football tactician in the world but Southgate has inspired a reputational revolution by instilling a genuinely modest and inclusive ethos in the squad, turning it from a divisive, scandal-ridden brat factory that allowed the ‘golden generation’ to squander their talents, into a unit capable of behaving with bravery and dignity in shameful circumstances, as they did on Monday.


Vaping approaches regulatory crossroads

It’s the miracle cure or the creeping killer. On the one hand, non-smokers report less coughing, YouTube comparison videos show the difference between cigarettes and vapes have on the lungs as they are each inhaled, and it stops the stink. For smokers, it seems like we’ve made the jump from the Walkman to the MP3 player – although (to labour a metaphor) vinyl users are also making a comeback. 

But the public tide is turning.

Deaths have happened, and that is extremely worrying - but with so much of the market being so unregulated it is of little wonder. So the question is whether we end up in total prohibition (likely to be as difficult to police and beneficial to gangsters as the last one a century ago across the pond) or if stronger regulations come into place and wipe the dangerous chaos out of the market. We can only hope that the trans-Atlantic kneejerk, hysterical political and media class approach these problems carefully – thinking through the unintended consequences.
 
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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Coleen vs Rebekah | Weatherspoons Vegan? | Immersive Theatre Crisis | Stormzy Effect

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

It's been a bumper week of stories and we've decided to dissect another triumph for Stormzy, a surprising move by Weatherspoons, crises for both immersive theatre and (shockingly) the influencer industry, and, of course, the feud of the century: Coleen vs Rebekah.

Coleen Rooney vs Rebekah Vardy: WAGnarok

Firstly, we came up with that headline before Marina Hyde used it in the Guardian today……and we have the screenshots to prove it.

In one of the most sensationally soap opera-ish storylines to hit the headlines in 2019, Coleen Rooney (AKA WAGatha Christie), concerned that somebody in her orbit was leaking details of her personal life to The Sun, planted fake Instagram stories only visible to a limited selection of followers and monitored their inevitable appearance on the newspaper’s website until she was able to trace them back to one account…that of fellow WAG Rebekah Vardy.

No sooner had we witnessed a mindbending level of public adulation for both Coleen’s sleuthing skills and her sense of dramatic timing, than Rebekah Vardy came out swinging, denying all charges and attacking Coleen both directly and via a series of intermediaries as a backstabber with scant regard for the health of a heavily pregnant woman. We await Coleen’s next move in both fear and awe at the 4-D Chess she’s playing.

The story is also an almost too-perfect lesson in news values in 2019 as it blends:
  1. The traditional news value of famous people behaving badly AND feuding
  2. The viral age news value of Meme-ability: this is harder to define precisely but how we’d characterise it in this instance is that the tone of Coleen’s post was the perfect mix of both trivial ubiquitous accessibility, and weapons-grade level petty, extra hysterics.

We tasked some of our top strategists to recommend the next career move for each belligerent:

Coleen: Detective Novelist
WAGatha Christie is too good an instant brand to let this moment pass unexploited. Plenty of celebrities pursue careers as ‘authors’, and Coleen demonstrated both a lively imagination and a mastery of suspense and plot development in ensnaring Vardy’s Insta account. A book deal - with a well-chosen ghostwriter- is the logical next step.

Rebekah Vardy: Panto
Perhaps the scandal has done Rebekah Vardy a favour, in that she is clearly now Britain’s no.1 villain. A promising career as a pantomime villain awaits her if she plays her cards right. Provincial theatres up and down the land could soon have her name in lights.

Coleen: Actress
Footballer’s Wives was the show everyone bayed to reboot as a Coleen vehicle in the wake of her triumph, but that’s too tame. We were thinking that the perfect start to Coleen’s acting career would be another, often cruelly overlooked football drama: Sky’s Dream Team. Coleen’s lack of acting experience would blend in more naturally with the mixed ability traditionally on display in the short-lived melodrama, and her detective masterpiece would sit comfortably amongst storylines which included the FA Cup final being interrupted by a sniper, and an embittered former manager trying to suicide bomb his ex-team's bus.

Rebekah Vardy: Tory Leadership
If this scandal has proved anything, it is that prestige WAGs have an extraordinary power over the British public. Should Vardy decide to take Brexit into her own hands, her seeming inability to take a backwards step, admit guilt, or feel shame suggests a political ability against which neither Leavers and Remainers would be able to put up much resistance.

Both of Them
Coleen vs. Rebekah in the ring for a pay-per-view charity boxing match; a televised bout guaranteed to draw millions of viewers.

This is an event that would placate the public’s negative feelings towards the pair, particularly Vardy who would salvage her dwindling reputation with a sweet left to Coleen’s self-righteous jaw.

This would be national news but very difficult to negotiate while the story is still hot with Rebakah’s pregnancy.
 
Weatherspoons: Are the Gammons turning Vegan?

Perhaps the trend of 2019 has been the environment.

From the XR drumbeat echoing against our office windows, to Greta Thunberg’s majestic UN-bollocking set to the timeless crescendo of a Fatboy Slim remix, to the fastest change in human eating practises, ever – concern over the environment is flooding the agenda.

Sometimes though, calls for radical change can flood the agenda with little meaningful societal change trickling down.

But veganism is different. Not even Piers Morgan simulating vomiting on live TV after eating a Gregg’s Vegan Sausage Roll could stem the supersonic rise of vegan versions of meat products.

Following Greggs’ wildly successful gamble on veganism, Lewis Hamilton invested in a meat-free burger restaurant, KFC had a go in the US, then last week Brewdog cleverly encouraged outraged reactions from both sides by going half-and-half.

Now veganism has reached into the very heart of un-PC, right-wing world. Although Jeremy Clarkson won’t be punching interns for failing to bring pseudo-ham sandwiches to him any time soon, Wetherspoons, the Jeremy Clarkson of pubs and spiritual heart of No Deal Brexit, has launched a vegan burger.

This truly is the test of veganism, and, in some ways environmentalism. If such radical concepts can find a willing home in Wetherspoons then we will know that veganism has spread out of the bubble and into where change really happens. On barstools across the country.
 

One of the first influencers hammers another nail into the coffin

American YouTuber Trisha Paytas – one of the earliest to build a profile as a minor celebrity and influencer on the platform- has, rightly, faced serious backlash for ‘coming out’ as ‘transgender’.

The announcement was derided as appropriative, exploitative, trivialising, insensitive, demonstrating an alarming ignorance of sex, gender and sexuality and offensive to the trans community. It’s been labelled a joke, a provocation and a cry for attention.

Whatever the motivation, Trisha’s actions symbolise the flippant cynicism and histrionic desperation of those first generation ‘Wild West’-era influencers, whose methods of controversial attention seeking are quickly dying out as scrutiny, accountability and regulation begin to filter into the industry. It’s another nail in the coffin of a model of influencer marketing that’s staggered through Fyre Festival and Caroline Calloway already in 2019, and can’t take many more reputational hits.


Immersive Theatre in Crisis

As we’ve written before in these trends, Theatre is a sensitive, emotionally intelligent and almost unfailingly right-on industry. So when reports emerged of one of the industry’s biggest boom markets – immersive theatre- not only experiencing but seemingly incubating problems ranging from production mismanagement, a boom of bandwagon-ing copycat productions diluting the level of quality and creeping corporatisation, to exploitation of unpaid labourers, harassment and even assault of performers, staff and volunteers, there was understandable outrage.

Companies affected include Punchdrunk – the godfathers of immersive theatre, Secret Cinema, The Waldorf Project’s Barzakh and The Immersive Ensemble’s Great Gatsby but the perfect storm arrived this week with two productions experiencing pretty much all of the above problems between them.

Firstly Big Dreamer Productions’ immersive zombie thriller Varient 31 had to, according to The Stage, evict two audience members for physically intimidating their staff, before the much scrutinised production of The Wolf of Wall Street admitted a deluge of problems including cancelling performances in an attempt to catch-up following a disrupted production process, and drunken audience members harassing performers (quelle surprise that a show based on a story which glorifies the most amoral bacchanalian excesses of financial workers would attract the worst breed of city W4NKER...)

Immersive theatre has an image problem. The word immersive is thrown around by mediocre theatre producers when promenade, site-specific or, in extreme cases, singalong, would be more accurate. This is endemic of a wider perception that anyone can produce an immersive theatre show, when anyone who’s seen a good one knows how intricately layered and directed the productions need to be, and how skilful the performers needed to pull them off.

By embracing the demand boom ignited by their successful forebears, the immersive theatre industry risks a bust, the term toxified by its appropriation by sub-par productions who see it as an automatic cash cow regardless of quality, morality or even safety. Don’t be surprised if respectable theatre practitioners start searching for an alternative term for site-specific, non-traditional theatre shows without a fourth wall in which the audience are characters. Immersive Theatre has become a loaded term.

The Stormzy Effect

Today, Cambridge University announced a 50% increase in black students in its 2019 intake, publicly crediting Stormzy which led to the media dubbing it the ‘Stormzy Effect’.

Stormzy has undoubtably had a positive impact, specifically the number of black students taking part in outreach activities and enquiring about courses, but allowing him to claim quite so much credit is a shrewd and calculated move.

After all, 2019 has been a landmark year for Stomzy after that Glastonbury performance cemented his place as a colossus of British culture. And this is an institution which has regularly received bad press for their student pool, facing accusations of elitism on the basis of race, gender and class.

Diversity is an omnipresent discussion and their association with an iconic and influential popstar is the closest they’ll come to making the hegemonic strands of higher education ‘cool’.

Stormzy, on the other hand, just goes from strength to strength.
 
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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Our Alt-Progress 1000 | Fast Food Stunt Wars | Politicians' Career-Switches

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

Without any ado here are the trends this week!
 

The Alternative 'Progress' List

Our Lord and Master Mark Borkowski popped up in the Evening Standard’s Progress 1000 of London’s most influential people so out of curiosity we’ve decided to go back through these trends and share the (purely quantitative) 'Borkowski 10' of the most mentioned people since we started in January:
 
  1. Donald Trump – yes, depressing, but he does dominate the news agenda and we've often tried to dissect that
  2. Boris Johnson – see above…
  3. Dave – we’ve been touting the Mercury winner’s star potential consistently
  4. Harry & Megan – Megan’s arrival has both opened doors and created interesting challenges for the Royal PR Operation
  5. Greta Thunberg – the surprising figurehead of the world’s biggest and most important grassroots political movement is approaching a crossroads between global fame and a gradual melt into niche obscurity
  6. Taylor Swift – Arguably the biggest powerhouse in global music has had a mixed year reputationally, both feminist icon and participant in corporate boardroom squabbles
  7. James Corden – Splits opinion far more than Swift but between his chatshow and his zigzagging acting career he’s never been far from the headlines in 2019
  8. Dumbo – the plucky little elephant with the big flappy ears has become a symbol for Disney’s eventful year which has swayed between ambitious corporate expansion and a creative mixed bag
  9. Rory Stewart – This week’s re-emergence of the champion of the mild, ‘hug-a-hoodie’ school of Tory politics marks a year in which the gentle, good-natured, slightly weird outgoing MP has become a household name
  10. Elon Musk - His PR people have been keeping him quiet but the billionaire’s bonkers schemes and constant courting of controversy kept his comms team busy throughout the first half of the year
 
Fast Food Stunt Watch

Fast food and booze have been fertile ground for public relations shenanigans recently with big brands frequently coming out swinging against the invisible nutritional hand of sin industry regulation and a blur of changing dietary fads. This week was a good one for watchers of how these calorific giants attempt to capture the public imagination. We’ve compared three stunts from three food’n’booze merchants for intention, execution and impact:

Brewdog’s 50:50 Burger

Brewdog have come in for deserved criticism for a series of recent stunts which come across as, variously, desperately needy, amorally corporate, and a total abandonment of their ‘punk’ principles.

This week’s release of a burger that’s half beef, half ‘Beyond Meat’ is a bit more of a thinker though. Brewdog’s PR stinkers have created an army with their fingers on triggers ready to criticise them at a moment’s notice, so anything they do now needs to be good.

The anti-Brewdog movement have taken the position that the new burger is pointless: the current trends is for brands to increase meat-free options, encourage more people to eat less meat, and thus – when demand decreases and beef farming production follows suit- contribute to saving the planet. Creating a burger which only has less meat, they argue, completely defeats the purpose of meat alternatives and misunderstands the public mood.

But it’s not that simple. Others have defended the burgers on the basis that, if they’re nice (very much TBC), and create a trend for burgers with 50% less meat, then by extension we may only need to farm half as much beef, and the climate-destroying emissions will also be halved, with the possibility of gradually phasing the meat out of the public palate.

It’s not punk but there’s something appealing about it; it’s moderate, a compromise, a first step, downright reasonable: exactly the kind of thinking that’s missing from a lot of public discourse. And Brewdog should get credit for that.

Burger King’s Milkshaking Dogwhistle

The world’s second biggest burger chain had a social media post removed by moderators earlier this week for ‘encouraging anti-social conduct’ by apparently inciting people to milkshake Nigel Farage.

Firstly, encouraging harassment, of anybody, isn’t good and won’t help your reputation. And on that level Burger King shouldn’t have done it.

But on another, far more honest level, people (especially in Scotland, where the post was aimed,) hate Nigel Farage, and found it funny. People will go out tonight after work, have a pint, chat about it, laugh and then feel that Pavlovian stomach rumble that inevitably ends in burger.

Yeah, it’s morally wrong. Yeah it’s normalising assault at a time when governments and big organisations are being urged to take responsibility for the impact and influence of their communications. But on street level, it’ll do Burger Kings absolutely zero harm.

Greggs protects its pork
 
This week saw another compelling PR stunt from Greggs as it announced it was stockpiling pork to guarantee a stable supply of sausage rolls in the event of a no-deal Brexit. It was simple but beautiful, cutting right to the heart of the general public’s anxieties about a disorderly October exit, while also reminding consumers of their association with one of the great products: the humble sausage roll.
 
Like many of the best PR stunts, it comes from a brand that has a very clear idea of what it stands for: simple and honest no-frills food, always on standby for hungry customers, whoever they may be. Unlike Brewdog’s effort this week, which emanated a brash ‘frat-boy becomes woke on his gap year’ energy, this stunt did what it needed to do very simply. Job done. Plus, it supports a hypothesis we have at Borkowski: tie your narrative to Brexit and you make news.


Politicians and the art of Reinvention

What is power, in our constantly developing world? Until recently, the most powerful people in the world were political leaders, business moguls and media tycoons. But the daily onslaught that politicians face has shifted the balance. Many of them are finding ways of sidestepping the shrapnel of a relentlessly angry national news agenda without killing their political momentum entirely.

This week Paul Ryan, ex-Vice President nominee, 54th Speaker of the House of Representatives and one-time future President of the United States, retired from politics, promptly taking a job on the board of Trump mouthpiece Fox News. It promptly leaked that ‘Paul is embarrassed about Trump and now he has the power to do something about it.’

What an astonishingly revealing admission, that Ryan feels more able to stand in the way of a runaway President as a media exec than as the fourth most powerful politician in the USA.

You could make similar arguments for Andy Burnham stepping away from awkward questions about party leadership by getting out of Westminster and going to a Mayoralty, or Tristam Hunt taking a job at the V&A, or George Osborne dodging media scrutiny by becoming media scrutiny, or Sadiq Khan, or, as of today, Rory Stewart.

At the next election Ken Clarke and Nicholas Soames step away, too old and grand to reinvent their trajectory while Gloria Del Piero steps down in her prime toward an unknown destination.

When David Milliband stood down and went to New York it was unusual, but now it is incessant. You can always judge the political health of a country by the early retirement rate of its MPs. 
 
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September

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Naga Munchetty | Greta Thunberg | Man City scandal | Global Fake News

It's been a week of PR blunders so without even touching Thomas Cook and the Labour Party, and staying well clear of the reputational graphite billowing from the exploded reactor cores of the UK and US governments, let's have a look at blunderful weeks for the BBC and Manchester City, another apocalypse scenario for the future of communications, and the pressure now mounting on Greta Thunberg supporters. 

BBC's self-inflicted Naga-aggravation

The BBC’s decision to censure presenter Naga Munchetty for calling out a racist Donald Trump Tweet – through the lens of her own experiences – has unsurprisingly caused the corporation more harm than good.

Munchetty’s honesty largely drew praise and her editorialising barely scratched the surface of the strong views (often presented as questions of hypotheses) frequently aired by her older white male colleagues past and present, particularly Paxman, Humphrys, Andrew Neil, and even the likes of Eddie Mair when he was calling Boris Johnson a “nasty piece of work”. He was right, but was that statement any less partial than what Naga said about Trump?

And even if it was, is it anywhere close to being as dangerous as, for instance, Brendan O’Neill advocating rioting on Politics Live?

The BBC is in a difficult position just now, running the gauntlet between accusations of woke-signalling liberal bias from the right and a chumocratic failure to hold Brexit to account from the left. The siege mentality created by this situation almost definitely contributed to their kneejerk reprimand of Munchetty.

The problem is that their latest intervention comes across as hand-wringing, prissy and jobsworth at a time when moments of dignity, strength and honesty are at a premium. The BBC often eschews any attempt at objectivity by instead obsessing over neutrality and, as a result, stifling common sense.

Far better would have been to acknowledge any technical rule breech and apologise as the BBC but to defend Munchetty on the basis that we are living in exceptional times and our broadcasters’ first duty is to help people make sense of them. Munchetty was using her personal experience to do just that.

Whether the BBC backtrack from their mistake or not, the outpouring of #IStandWithNaga Tweets suggests that at least Munchetty’s star has risen in the fallout, while the BBC have yet another storm to weather.

 
Greta Thunberg: Creating a moment is not building a legacy

Pre-Greta Thunberg, over 25 years ago, a passionate 13-year-old called Severn Cullis-Suzuki delivered a powerful speech at Rio Earth Summit that garnered worldwide attention.

This week we’ve seen Greta enhance her profile as the global figurehead in the battle against climate crisis. Greta is world famous and has succeeded in using that fame to create a pivotal moment in humanity’s understanding of our planet’s future.

But that’s exactly how it felt when Cullis-Suzuki took to the stage for a salvo which led her to be known, before YouTube, before Twitter, before the 24-hours news cycle, as "The Girl Who Silenced the World for 5 Minutes".

The key words though, and the warning for those who are celebrating Greta’s admittedly massive publicity achievements, are “5 minutes”.

There is a big lesson here. The fact that you haven’t heard of Cullis-Suzuki demonstrates that a moment will quickly evaporate if there isn’t a commitment to exploit it and achieve long-term change. For every supporter of Greta there is a fossil-fuelled corporation or government, or a climate truther ready to sweep this moment under the carpet, just as there was when Cullis-Suzuki gradually faded into an ultra-environmentalist niche which marginalised exactly the kind of thinking we need right now.

We have to learn from history.

Manchester City's defensive mix-up exacerbated racism furore

This week Manchester City footballer Bernardo Silva was accused of racism after comparing a childhood photo of his teammate and friend Benjamin Mendy to a cartoon character with black skin and big red lips in a Twitter post, with the caption “Guess who?”.
 
This racially charged locker-room banter, aired across social media has split public opinion. Kick it Out and the FA both criticised the Tweet, while Mendy himself and Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola insisted it wasn’t racist.
 
At first glance, this is a PR whopper. City and Silva’s comms outfits should’ve locked this down immediately, both managing Guardiola’s response and preventing Silva from doubling down. Silva is a role-model to thousands of young fans, so even the slightest whiff of racial insensitivity risks a reputational crisis especially at a time where racial abuse during matches is subject to a lot of publicity.
 
In a wider sense it reflects badly on the footballing community. The story will fizzle out but the number of fans defending the Tweet as ‘banter’ does not suggest a high widespread level of racial awareness.
 
It’s too late to act now, but here’s some PR 101: if a spokesperson creates a scandal, however justified, it’s essential to keep them, and their bosses, on a short leash, and project, as a minimum, some empathy with the complainants. City, Silva and Guardiola’s reputations won’t suffer long term but they made a mess of this.


Global Extent of Fake News Unveiled 

A new study at Oxford University has found that the number of countries who have experienced coordinated social-media manipulation campaigns is rocketing. In 2017 the number stood at 28, it was 48 a year later and this year it was 70. In some ways this isn't surprising.

Consider, for instance, that the price of the entire 2016 disinformation campaign that helped the Presidential upset of the century, cost less than a single F-15 jet.

Which has helped Putin push the planet further in his favoured direction? With chaos like that, at prices like these – is it any wonder that international propaganda is fast becoming the arena where nuclear powers fight it out?
 
Unfortunately, these countries aren’t liberal democracies leading the charge on the environment, the rights of the oppressed and the rule of law. This is a trend started by Russia in Ukraine, and now including China, India, Iran, Pakistan, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia.

The only reason North Korea aren’t on there is because they can’t produce enough electricity to support a good internet connection. When the Hong Kong protests covered the news a few weeks ago, with it came another sinking feeling. Not just because this was a desperate fight for collapsing human rights, but because it could easily be a case study of how governments treat dissent.

Oh – and TikTok is a friendly cover for a Chinese propaganda tool, so these aren’t problems for people you won’t meet, they are in your teenager’s phone right now. Happy Friday!
 
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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Mercury Prize | Gender Evolution| Trudeau | Climate Strikes | Newspaper Fails

It’s been a whirlwind week in the media with themes we’ve discussed in particular encompassing newspaper journalism, political scandal, climate, gender and a resurgence in contemporary music (with a backdoor boast).

Climate Strike set to have deep impact

As we look out the window of our Central London office this afternoon, we can see today’s Climate Strike unfolding up close. Until the fat lady sings it’s too early to assess its full impact but it should, with Greta Thunberg continuing to operate as an effective and morally uncompromised figurehead, advance the slow-burning acceptance that urgent evasive action is required by governments and corporations if we have any chance of averting – or even slowing down- the current climate crisis. That is, as long as nothing happens which might alienate the sympathetic but uninvolved onlooker.
 
Bad Week for outdated Hatchet Jobs & Scoops

A number of self-destructive decisions by newspaper editors made headlines this week. From The Mail’s xenophobic hatchet job on the RNLI, to unethical intrusions on the personal lives of sporting legends Gareth Thomas and Ben Stokes, tabloids seemed intent on alienating the general public. The Guardian got in on the act too, drawing criticism for an unnecessarily cruel editorial on David Cameron’s “privileged pain” after the death of his severely disabled son. All were widely derided, while the victims’ responses were largely effective. The RNLI’s was eloquent and self-assured, while Stokes and Thomas were both excoriating in their criticism of journalistic malpractice.

There is a lesson here for traditional media sources. In the so-called Age of Post-Truth, truly trusted sources still have a lot to gain. As trust in the internet falls, trust in older sources is actually rising. That’s not a phenomenon confined to broadsheets; readers of the Mail and Sun trust those papers to deliver the news and opinion that matters to them. Years after Leveson failed to clear the air, newspapers should be very wary of opting for overreaching clickbait over hard-won trust.

You can see our founder Mark Borkowski discussing the Ben Stokes case on ITV News here, while we also talked about The Sun’s misjudgement and Stokes’ response in our blog.
 
Justin Trudeau: What Should he do next?

Imagine being in the Trudeau camp; it’s finally election season, finally a chance to showcase your carefully honed political strategy. Trudeau is a man famous for his ability with crowds, and you feel comfortable that the coming weeks will push him past recent scandals and back into power.

But then the Blackface crisis. Ahem. Crises. He claims that he hadn’t told his team about this, but then he would say that. And the response has a whiff of a scenario that has been discussed and prepared for, and about which the candidate has spent sleepless nights worrying. The statement was well delivered. Phrases like “I should have known better – but I didn’t” distance the campaign from allegations of deliberate racism. Big sad eyes and admissions of a ‘privileged upbringing’ being part of the problem subtly shift the blame and demonstrate awareness of structural racism. So far, it’s the best of a bad situation.

But the moment that Trudeau must have known that he was in real trouble was when he was asked at the press conference: “Is that the only time in your life you’ve ever done something like that?”

Suddenly this is very deep water, and the prospect of tipped-off journalists laying traps before a photo-a-day drip, drip, drip slides into focus. Now it’s DEFCON 1 and this is the fight of his life.
 
There are three things he should do:
  1. Lance the boil. Get out there and apologise for everything that the researcher could possibly have. It’s coming, and if you apologise now and get outflanked by new information, then what you said stops looking honest, far less compassionate, and starts looking conniving.
  2. Dead cat. Their researchers have been doing a great job, now it’s your side’s chance to get even. Straight off the back of the apology, grab the news agenda. Pray that there’s a photo of your opponent shaking hands with a famous gangster or that they’ve been expensing their cocaine habit to the Canadian taxpayer. It’s time to pull the entire debate into the gutter.
  3. Keep your enemies close. Your own party won’t be too happy about this, and already ambitious young climbers will be practising their nomination acceptance speeches in their bathroom mirrors. Pull them into you and get them out on TV, making sure that in the public eye they are tied to you as closely as possible. Now your success is their success and you can enjoy watching their work-rate pick up.
And above all – cynically hope that the general public don’t care. It’s certainly possible.

Society's Understanding of Gender is Evolving

In a tectonic shift reminiscent of the change in rhetoric from ‘climate change’ to ‘climate emergency’, but in which words take on new importance, we’ve seen a number of stories this week which underline that society at large is evolving beyond gender and sexuality binaries.

First Sam Smith declaring their pronouns as they/them, then Miriam Webster bestowing a symbolic sense of officialdom on the use of ‘they’ as a nonbinary pronoun in their latest dictionary, and finally Mark Ronson declaring his identity as sapiosexual.

These announcements haven’t been straightforward triumphant processions, and anyone publicly stepping outside the old definitions risks backlash from the socially conservative political right, but the conversation around gender is evolving quickly and irrevocably, and brands and businesses need to be aware that they can’t communicate effectively if such a fundamental conversation leaves them behind and they’re left shouting into the void of a bygone era.

Mercury (P)Rising

We’ve talked a lot about the newly crowned Mercury Award-winner Dave in these trends, praising both his showman-like command of public relations and his musical talent, while also predicting last night’s win way back in early March.

This year’s nominee roster felt like the most significant and timely in recent memory including Slowthai’s bold and uncompromising Nothing Great About Britain, Idles’ brutal and politically charged Joy as an Act of Resistance, Little Simz’s powerful and stylish Grey Area and Anna Calvi’s hauntingly complex Hunter.

As well as undisputed talent on show, the awards regained what the BBC’s Mark Savage described as a chaotic urgency that has been missing from award shows since the heyday of Britpop.

Savage was referring to the ceremony, which saw IDLES performing in the crowd, a failed Black Midi somersault, and Slowthai’s much discussed F#£k Boris t-shirt and mimicked beheading.  

But it runs deeper than that; musically, demographically and ideologically, this was a genuinely diverse and interesting line-up which said something meaningful in a voice that was great to listen to. Once you strip away all the layers of music industry, that’s what separates a genuine star from a flash-in-the-pan.

As Alexis Petredis put it in today’s Guardian: “watching the Mercury prize made British and Irish music seem alive and thrilling, angry and vital: something [it] hasn’t done in years”.

When you connect talent and originality with a powerful message you will be heard. After what feels like a fallow spell, it seems that musicians are proving to be an influential and resounding voice condemning and scrutinising these barmy times we live in.
 
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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: An Influencer Nightmare | Post-Truth Fact Checking | The Summer of Lizzo


It’s been another week for media chickens coming home to roost. On Monday Pornhub copped yet more criticism for the dissonance between its puckish do-gooder outer image and the dark and serious nature of the content it hosts. Then, Fireman Sam’s lack of diversity credentials dealt him another reputational blowas we thought it might. We’ve also seen the continuation of the seed change in modern theatre spurred by the Young Vic Tree scandal in Chicago this week, and another cultural appropriation controversy, this time involving Johnny Depp’s new perfume advert, which had the reverse effect of attracting more attention to the product…Kardashian-style.


Influencers: The end of an Empire?

Remember Caroline Calloway, influencer extraordinaire with a habit for scandal? Calloway built her profile as an American student in Cambridge, crafting long Instagram captions that sold a fairy-tale story of castles and champagne. In 2015 she reneged on a $500,000 book deal, having to pay back the $100,000 advance, which she had already spent. Next she ran a tour of ‘creativity workshops’ charging $165 a head, widely derided as a Fyre Festival-esque ‘scam’, a symbol for some of an industry that had grown far too big for its boots. 

Now Calloway is back on the radar after the publication of an exposé written by her former ghostwriter, Natalie Beach. The remarkable piece raises many questions about the dark underbelly of influencer marketing. Is the industry really ‘out of hand’, as fashion PR pioneer Lynne Franks suggested this week? Ultimately all marketing is built on telling stories that audiences genuinely believe in. In this case, Calloway’s story simply ceased to make sense. Whether it was her baffled fans baulking at a $165 workshop, or Beach herself, cast out from Calloway’s personal mythology, marketers should beware the moment that their story ceases to be believable.
 

The internet has politicised everything - even facts

Faced with a newly inaugurated President Trump, Facebook knew that they would have to do much better running into the 2020 Presidential election in countering fake news. They predominantly attempted at both source and delivery. They steadily closed fake news distributors, sending many of them into a spiral of diminishing audiences and plummeting finances, and boosted the output of their fact checking team

Their campaign to close the distributors proved to be extremely controversial, provoking increasingly hysterical accusations from charismatic charlatans firing up their misled fanatics. But after the controversy, these tub-thumpers had spent so long attacking their mainstream media rivals that they found themselves short of any support once the plug had been pulled. But just as a supposedly explosive problem proved simple, a supposedly simple problem proves to be built on quicksand.

The central issue, one that both human and algorithm can’t tackle, is that we can’t settle on a steady agreement of what is true. Just this week, an anti-abortion political video that was fact-checked by Facebook’s team drew so much criticism from both the Republican base and hierarchy that it was forced into a full retreat.

When Facebook flagged the statement that ‘abortion is never medically necessary’ as being untrue, activist group @LiveAction took to Twitter to accuse the fact checking team of being made up of ‘abortionists and abortion trainers’. Soon prominent Republican Senators like Ted Cruz were releasing letters to Mark Zuckerberg. Cruz has cleverly made this battle with Facebook his principle argument in the Senate – knowing that it protects and fires up his base.

The fact check mark was taken down, and we all took another step into our era of hyper-speed, liquid truth – regardless of any potential casualty.
 

Lizzo's glorious summer 

This summer was all about Lizzo. Her honesty about mental health and body image seems to have chimed perfectly with a cultural moment, leading to scores of accolades and high-profile fans. And now she has a role in Hustlers, a film that looks primed to be a hit with audiences. What’s behind this sudden explosion in fame? The answer is simple: money. Given that her inclusion in the cast of Hustlers must have predated her mainstream exposure, a music industry executive must have decided to pump money into making Lizzo a star.
 
While Lizzo might seem an organic product of the zeitgeist, that’s far from the case. She’s the woman of the moment, but not by accident. And if she’s not careful, soon another brainchild of a marketing executive will take her place. Some people are born great, some have greatness thrust upon them and some have an amazing agent. 

 
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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Friday 6 September

Contrary to popular belief there’s been loads happening outside the Brexit bubble this week. We’ll deal with the titanoshambles that has been Westminster, but other interesting threads worth keeping an eye on include: Lana Del Rey following in the footsteps of Lizzo as an almost universally acclaimed artist taking a reputational hit by entering into an unnecessary scrap about criticism of her music; Kylie Jenner not quite getting the dystopian future symbolism we discussed last week…although there was some supporting evidence for our Terminator scenario…; the possibility that our crisis of trust is a myth vs another sign that we should be wary of trusting media giants; fresh questions about whether clicks and likes actually equate to cultural capital; another controversy for the seemingly cancel-proof Scarlet Johansson; and a sign of long term seed change in fashion, celebrity and influencer marketing post Fyre Festival courtesy of Business of Fashion.



Boris Johnson and the sudden collapse of a facade

The electorate are so fundamentally pissed off with the political class that Cumming’s only hope was to get in there and be everything they aren’t. But the issue is that Cummings background is in the wild, snarling attack dog tactics of single-issue campaigns and not the gentle building of consensus that is required in our age of multi-party politics.
 
But it started so well. Disciplined, ambitious, competent. For the first few weeks, it looked so beautiful that comparisons to fabled days of New Labour media virtuosity were beginning to be made. Cummings fired up the dark Facebook posts, put Johnson on the road and got him doing the Churchill stoop and scowl act. It all worked brilliantly, until the return of Parliament and a sudden series of disastrous optics:
 
  • It started with the prorogation. Which quickly caused a livid parliament and cries of ‘stop the coup’ calling over the BBC pre-election broadcast. And it caused the first ever capturing of the facial expression of a Prime Minister realising that he no longer enjoyed a majority in real time. Wow.
  • The lounging aristocrat. A pose that seemed to embody the sheer arrogance of Rees Mogg’s in the run up to an imminent government bleeding across into the non-politico world and caused four MPs to change their votes away from the government, and therefore out of the party.
  • The purge. There’s a fine line between looking strong and screaming ‘we will purge you’ down the phone at lifelong disciples of your party. Especially when you aren’t even a member of said party.
  • The brother. Good God, have you ever seen anything more brutal than a man who would prefer to walk away from his hard-fought ministerial career than support his own brother? Who needs televised fairy tales with dragons when you’ve got BBC Parliament - this is politics as blood sport.
  • It took Tony Blair a full decade of leadership to lose four votes in parliament. Mr. Johnson lost three in his first twenty-four hours. Now he is impotent, faced with the parliamentary equivalent of an elder sibling pinning him down, whacking his own fist into his face and then telling him to stop hitting himself. Checkmate.
  • The mildly fascistic motif of banks of police officers standing behind a PM, being severely undermined when one of their number collapsed. No wonder – they had been asked to stand at attention for a full hour on that stage because the PM couldn’t be bothered to be on time.
  • Please leave my town’. Even the walkabouts are resulting in polite, ever so British character assassinations and the hashtag is booming in Germany. I think they have a word for that sensation... Politics! It’s all so simple until other people get involved!
 
Poor Mr. Cummings, it’s all gone wrong just as he was believing his own hype.

 
Pornhub's 'Dirtiest Porn Ever' campaign

Pornhub started this week pretty well. In their new ‘Dirtiest Porn Ever’ campaign, the website released a new adult film shot on a beach littered with plastics, raising awareness of plastic pollution. 
 
Unfortunately, the week ended with something of a cock up. On Friday Pornhub were accused of profiting from ‘revenge porn’ by a victim on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme. Despite their protestations, the report seems to have struck a chord with consumers, as one of the top stories on the BBC News website.
 
Pornhub’s stark reversal of PR fortunes is an important reminder for brands built on, shall we say, tricky behaviours. Pornhub needs to remember that they are ultimately selling something that many people view as a problem or at the very least an Activity Which Shall Not Be Named. When your product is that controversial, any publicity can quickly turn into bad publicity, drawing attention straight back to the elephant in the room. Pornhub are on the right track with their playful approach to communications, but they must remember that they simply have to work harder than everyone else.

 
Popeyes Chicken's Willy Wonka story leaves a sour taste

The viral success of American chain Popeyes Chicken’s Chicken Sandwich, which led the product to sell out nationwide, has proved a double edged sword. While McDonalds were barely able to contain the Rick and Morty-inspired return of their Szechuan Sauce Popeye’s have utterly failed to prevent hype turning into shrieking hysteria fuelled by stories of lawsuits and armed robberies.

With such a tense and highly-strung atmosphere, the time was ripe for a big gracious gesture to show how humble and bighearted Popeyes could be despite their success. Chicken sandwiches for sick kids? For the homeless? For refugees? Nope instead they sent millionaire musician (and we use that term loosely) Diplo a PLANE full of the sandwiches. One: slap in the face to all the normal hardworking people who just wanted a sandwich but had been told they’d sold out. Two: A private jet?! Really?!? In the age of Extinction Rebellion lavish air travel is becoming a hot button issue - as even our own dear leaders know to their cost. Three: the recipient was a rich popstar who lives a notoriously lavish lifestyle. This was a ‘let them eat cake’ for 2019 and Popeyes’ reputation will suffer accordingly.


More and more TV shows aging badly

South Park made It cool not to care, then the world changed. It’s 2019…were we really expecting South Park to age well? The answer is NO but it’s not suffering alone.

Iconic TV shows of yesteryear including The Simpsons and Friends have faced backlash from viewers and media for outdated storylines and characters failing the political correctness litmus test.

Lots of other edgy late nineties/early two thousand creators, like Ricky Gervais and Seth McFarlane, built their brand railing against the censors in their heyday but have been scrutinised for their reliance on dehumanising trans jokes and lazy stereotypes.

South Park’s creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s brand of lewd and childish content is struggling to cut through times of virtue signalling and cancel culture. Their childish attempt to permeate the latter fell hopelessly short with their ad campaign #CancelSouthPark that attempted to energise its fans by literally pretending the 'PC brigade' were trying to censor the show.

We may be at the gates of a cultural revolution; the legacies of the great TV shows may be in jeopardy. It’s looking like the quintessential Fawlty Towers will suffer after John Cleese controversial Brexit remarks and outdated. Time to start thinking twice about your favourite TV shows, can they survive 2019 and beyond?
 
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August

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Which dystopian future are we living in now?


WHICH DYSTOPIAN FUTURE ARE WE LIVING IN?

If there’s one theme permeating almost every media story and trend we come across, it’s a sense that we are now living in a dystopian future. But which one? As a cheerful Friday challenge we asked Borkowski staffers to make the case for which nightmarish fictional futurescape best captures our current reality.


1984

Orwell’s epic was so accurate that it’s become a kind of totalitarianism handbook, as exemplified by several news stories this week. The idea that nationalist fervour in the form of constant war with foreign enemies keeps the populous focussed and compliant is being thoroughly tested by President Trump, most recently during this week’s rant about future wars in space, while at home CCTV cameras which can read lips have reignited allegations that we’re hurtling towards a “Big Brother” surveillance state.

People write PhDs on this stuff and we could go on and on, but the starkest illustration of an Orwellian construct which could lead to the rise of totalitarianism this week was the fluid doublespeak emanating from our own Ministry of Truth about how perfectly fine and compatible with parliamentary democracy it is to prorogue parliament…with every senior member of the cabinet having literally said the exact opposite in recent memory. The fact that we can moan about it like this without fear of censure is a crumb of comfort at least…


The Handmaid's Tale

Margaret Attwood’s classic The Handmaid’s Tale is the story of an American state controlled by vile religious fanatics, where fertile women are forced to mate with powerful men to counter mass infertility.

The novel is no work of fantasy. In the US, conservative lawmakers are making a serious attempt to undermine reproductive rights for women across the country, not a world away from the book’s vision of women being forced to bear children against their will. For many, the United States is starting to look a lot like the fictional Gilead. It’s not just confined to the US either, abortion still being banned in Northern Ireland.
But that’s not all. Just as in the novel, environmental destruction threatens societies across the globe with complete collapse.  

And we in the UK have extra cause for concern this week, after Boris Johnson’s announcement that the government plans to prorogue Parliament to push through a no-deal Brexit. The announcement, and the muted response in many parts, has an eerie similarity to a key passage in the novel: “That was when they suspended the Constitution. They said it would be temporary. There wasn’t even any rioting in the streets.”

That’s the lesson that The Handmaid’s Tale teaches us; that society dies slowly, not with a loud bang but with a whimper. We might not even notice that we have hit rock bottom.


The Matrix / Terminator / WALL-E

Let’s not discount the idea of a robot takeover and/or humanity’s submersion into a virtual abyss. The twentieth anniversary and impending sequel to The Matrix have spawned a flurry of think pieces about how real life has begun to imitate the sci-fi classic – ranging from how machines, VR and AI distort our reality, to the film’s apparent portrayal of the trans experience.

But if we’re talking about machines rising up to overtrow humans we’re still a bit further back down the line, maybe closer to Terminator – in which we develop machines that are too clever and sophisticated and they overthrow us (top candidates this week include a shapeshifting robot in China and an automated artificial brain built to aid the US military).

In reality we’re probably closer still to another great sci-fi film, WALL-E, which fingers climate disaster as a catalyst for our increasing retreat towards spending our entire lives online. We’ve even started building the robot


Black Mirror

The anthology series Black Mirror has a clear through line – the dystopian consequences of an increasingly tech-dependent society. From mass surveillance and biohacking to V.R. and cyberbullying, Brooker paints a dire future that feels chillingly familiar.

The worst-case scenarios of Brooker’s techno-dystopian parables don’t seem too grim to an audience already living in hell.

We live in a culture defined by likes and faves in which a ubiquitous ratings system dominates society, as in Nosedive. Think of Tinder matches and Uber ratings, and even China’s ‘social credit system’ – all insidious versions of how technology alters human behaviour. Or humanoid robot slaves tortured by their own existence like in Be Right Back...and also real life. Or John Hamm’s role in “White Christmas” as a futuristic life-coach embroiled in torturing digital copies of living people.

Ultimately Brooker ties Black Mirror together by profiling humanity’s innate greed and Promethean desire to push the limits of technology for our own edification, attributes which are unmistakeably present in the contemporary news agenda.


Farenheit 451

In Ray Bradbury’s novel Fahrenheit 451 ‘firemen’ burn books to censor literature and destroy knowledge – a dystopian future in which ignorance breeds obedience.

The concept of retaining knowledge is gradually becoming redundant. Why read a book when we have unlimited sources of information (and alternative facts) at our disposal. We crave fast answers over genuine knowledge and the internet provides.

And just as the books burned in Bradbury’s classic, the Amazon Rainforest is burning in real life. We are totally powerless to the powers that control us. We can’t stop the burning.

Like the fires themselves, disinformation is spreading across the internet at a rate impossible to track. Brazil’s president blamed the fires on environmental activists, people are doctoring photos of the destruction, In our fast-paced world, it often feels like there isn’t time to fact check. Fake News has scorched our landscape of knowledge.

Bradbury warned us about the threat of mass media to knowledge and truth, about how the bombardment of digital endorphins was no substitute for critical thinking.

Even his alternative depiction of a world without books sounds familiar. In the novel, people interact with their “friends” through screens and listen to them via “Seashells” — sound familiar, AirPod and iPad groupies?

We have appointed Google and our social-media accounts as the custodians of our memories, emotions, dreams and facts. We set reminders to forget. Retaining information is becoming a thing of the past. A dystopian present, where non-combustible, but ever more ephemeral data is king.


Planet of the Apes

Just click here and weep at our impending doom... 
 

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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Bear Grylls | Boris' Casual Lies | Celtic's Own Goal | Greta Thunberg marches on


Bear Grylls Finally Does Something Genuinely Dangerous

Finally, after years harmlessly playing the role of a posh, tree-climbing charlatan who quenches a thirst built on making mind-numbingly bland TV by drinking his own piss, Bear Grylls has done something genuinely dangerous and reckless.
 
After the moderate success of his fireside cuddle with the outgoing President Obama, he's decided to have a crack at another major world leader, this time India's strongman Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
 
The show took the form of a wildlife trek through a carefully stage managed segment of Indian countryside during which Grylls lets a man whose political leanings range from deeply reactionary to genocidal - and who is currently presiding over one of the world's most urgent geopolitical crises in Kashmir and on the Pakistan border- perpetuate an image of himself as a peaceful, thoughtful spiritualist. In place of any challenge, Grylls as interviewer can only offer the kind of wince-inducing sycophancy usually reserved for Donald Trump by Piers Morgan.
 
It's a propaganda exercise that would make Kim Jong Un blush (from embarrassment as well as gout) and if there's any justice, it would be career suicide from a man whose attempts to make bland travelogues look rife with jeopardy has led him to take part in an exercise which could literally precipitate world war III.
 
And he'll probably get away with it: expect unapologetic references to the sections of positive response the show is receiving in India in questions about the morality of taking part in such a stunt. In a saner age it would be a PR kamikaze mission: Grylls has show himself to be either incredibly stupid, morally bankrupt, insanely right-wing, or all three but given the current state of society, we wouldn't be surprised if the only consequence of this carbuncle is that Bear's old schoolmate Boris ends up making him foreign secretary.


Johnson in Number 10: A Proper Gander

Speaking of Boris...It’s a trait specific to weak people, and weak political leaders, not to be able to stand by, or take responsibility for decisions made problematic by the passing of time.

From enemy of the people shaped holes appearing in photos of Stalin, to the denial of laying of wreaths on terrorist memorials, it’s been a failing for generations of narcissists to be unable to stand by what they once did. The technology has changed, but the cheap habit remains. When it comes to reaping what was sown – just lie. When faced with the prospect of lying in the bed you made – just deny. It’s weak, but the more private the gaffe and the longer ago it was – the easier it is to slip into this temptation.

It takes an unbelievable level of weakness, narcissism and disregard for the intelligence of the UK electorate to sink to where de Pfeffel Johnson currently skulks. His team have released an election style video that quietly edits his opening speech on the steps of Downing Street to skip over his pledge to get more money into the NHS. It’s staggeringly cynical.

This is a Prime Minister with the winds of change at his back, soaring up the pollsenjoying an absent opposition. If this is how he casually toys with the truth when the sun is shining – what will he resort to when he inevitably hits real turbulence?


Hiring PR Firm Was Celtic's Own Goal

This week SNP MP James Dornan condemned Celtic Boys Club, a feeder club for Celtic FC, for hiring Hollicom, a Glasgow-based PR agency, for reputation management services, instead of compensating victims of sexual abuse at the club.

Keen to position himself as the heir to Nicola Sturgeon’s throne in Scotland, Dornan was quick to condemn CBC for prioritising “spin and public relations” over “putting things right”. Hollicom have since locked their Twitter account. Unexpectedly finding themselves the centre of attention, they have shut down. How the story was leaked is unclear, but Hollicom appears to have broken the golden rule of crisis management PR – never let yourself become the story.


The PR industry is viewed very negatively by most of the population, and the hiring of an agency allows all sorts of characters to make hay out of an issue that Hollicom had sought to control. When the crisis manager becomes the crisis, that is very bad news indeed.


Abuse of Greta Thunberg is awful but shows that she's winning

It’s not often that a pigtailed 17-year-old girl finds herself at the centre of the media circus. This week all eyes, ears and poisonous keyboards were trained on Greta Thunberg as she set off from Plymouth harbour to New York City, continuing her zero-carbon journey to the United Nations HQ.

She is greatly admired by her fans, but equally hated by her critics. Arron Banks, the nation’s pre-eminent merchant of myopic Little-England nastiness, implied that he was hoping for her death in a “freak yachting accident” as she crossed the Atlantic, in a widely condemned tweet.

Banks’ tweet highlighted an important fact – Thunberg is an extremely effective messenger. Everyone knows exactly what she stands for. Banks meanwhile has had his hard-Brexit-poster-boy brand stolen by a changing Conservative Party, not least its new leader. What does he stand for now?

The true reason Banks and his oeuvre hate Greta Thunberg is simple. She knows her story, and how to tell it well. That’s something the ‘bad boy of Brexit’ seems to have forgotten how to do.


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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Edinburgh Fringe | Facebook | Guardian | Barely any Feral Hogs


Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

It's a week that started with 30-50 Feral Hogs becoming a symbol for the carnivalesque absurdity that is the USA's refusal to tackle its gun problem, and also featured an American proto-influencer cementing her celebrity status forbeing really good at eating crab, but we've also seen the world's largest arts festival stalling for media momentum, and a couple of developments that may offer rays of light to the newspaper industry...but with strings attached.


Postcard from Edinburgh: Fringe needs a fire lit under it

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the world’s biggest arts festival, is a third of the way through and, after a start filled with the usual optimism but tinged with concerns surrounding rising prices of producing work (and even just existing in Edinburgh during August), as well as a renewed drive to tackle the environmental impact of 3,800 shows, the whole thing seems to have reached the point of inertia.
 
Speaking of the environment, Mother Nature is the most powerful force governing Fringe ticket sales and since ‘Black Wednesday’ the weather has been sufficiently stinking to cast a shadow over the rest of the week. The city is mobbed, but the usual Fringe masses are huddled in cafes and bars while theatres remain emptier than they should. Something is getting lost in communication.
 
Thus, the rain doesn’t totally drown out the murmurs of deeper issues, and that’s where the festival’s relationship with the media comes in. Firstly, imaginative, dynamic stories are at a premium: three of the most prominent news reporters and diarists who cover the Fringe have all lamented over the past week that they’re being starved of anything with real flavour, and are instead reporting the above sociopolitcal issues more widely than anything about what’s happening on stage.
 
Our founder Mark Borkowski wrote about the need to create captivating narratives to cut through the noise of such bulk of shows and, as we witness the impact of the lack of agenda-setting stunts and campaigns, combined with a continuing trend of international and even national media outlets turning their backs on the festivals, he makes a salient point if this Fringe is to recover its early mojo.
 
In terms of raising media profile the current situation leaves reviews and recommendations, and given that the former are, on average, some of the harshest we’ve ever known, there’s a real need for the Fringe’s creatives and noisemakers to generate that crucial spark through other, more imaginative alleyways.


Why is Facebook making nice with the traditional media?

Everyone knows that Facebook has crippled the newspaper industry, but recently there have been hints of a change in their relationship. Historically, Facebook has published newspaper content for free, and then hoovered up the ad revenue generated by the readers. Newspapers can’t resist, as they rely on heavily on the readers accessing them through Facebook. It’s a good example of why unregulated monopolies are dangerous and difficult to change without regulation.

 
So, the news that Facebook are reportedly offering millions of dollars for the right to publish their work is very interesting. What’s the incentive? What is the reality beneath the vague soundbite promising ‘more high-quality news’ and a ‘business model and ecosystem to support it’?
 
Is it merely yet another cynical nod to doing the right thing (the likes of which have been rampant since a certain Mr Clegg took over Facebook’s communications operation)? Is in anticipation of some future legislation, legal battle or wave of the invisible regulatory hand? Or perhaps it’s even more pernicious than that; Facebook realise that their popularity is going to take a beating through the Presidential run, and want to ensure that they are locked into mutually beneficial contracts with major US media companies in the hope that that will inoculate them from the worst of the damage? An interesting, yet unlikely, theory. Time will tell.


Guardian's breakeven is a lesson to other 'quality' newspapers

Guardian Media Group, The Guardian’s parent company, has reported that it broke even last year, recording a pre-tax profit of £31m for the 2018-19 financial year.

How did this happen? One key reason is that a successful transition to a more digital-led model.

Unlike other major publications, GMG only relies on print advertising for 8% of its income, making it less vulnerable to the industry-wide decline in circulation. More interestingly however, is the increased contribution being made by readers, especially through Guardian US and Guardian Australia.

This is the Trump effect. As demagogues of many stripes unleash bitter attacks on certain media outlets, readers are far more inclined to buy and read those publications.

After Donald Trump, an outspoken critic of the New York Times, won the 2016 election, the New York Times sold 132,000 digital subscriptions – ten times the usual rate. As Boris Johnson exerts his grip on 10 Downing Street, that effect doesn’t seem to be going away.

This is a lesson for both newspapers and the wider media industry. If publications like The Guardian can turn political chaos and attacks on the press into enthusiasm for prestige news, they stand to gain a great deal from the new politics.


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July

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Cats Trailer | Bowie Barbie | Trump Racism | Lashana Lynch 007 | Insta/Twitter

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

There’s been loads of viral news in a week that started with more people seemingly outraged about an androgen Barbie and a rumoured black, female 007 than an actual racist running the free world…and ended with mutant singing cat-people, with an interesting evolution in the world of social media and worrying harbingers for the future of international journalism along the way.

 
Nostalgia still dominates as Bowie Barbie hits shelves, but for how long?

Our founder Mark Borkowski wrote this week about the brilliance of Mattel’s new David Bowie/Ziggy Stardust-inspired Barbie in managing to turn even today’s fraught gender politics into an excuse for nostalgia. But will this kick last? There’s a growing school of thought – exemplified by an interesting Guardian tome later in the week – that the success of nostalgic family brands amongst grown-up millennials, is starving the next generation of new ideas. With even well-received reincarnations such as Ziggy Barb-dust and Toy Story 4 copping flack, are we now watching the trend for reworked vintage pass its peak?
 

Trump's racism is calculated. And will pay off for him

Donald Trump created another media firestorm this week with a racist barrage aimed at four Democratic Congresswomen. But a mere controversy isn’t going to damage the granite-dense core of Trump’s support. Mark Borkowski explains:

“Donald Trump is an ignorant, dangerous buffoon and ugly sociopath. His latest disgusting racist click-bait, turbocharged by his most rabid supporters and magnified by liberal outrage, is yet another example of how he rallies society’s ugly, silent underbelly.

His racist posturing is not the rhetoric of a blundering idiot. It Is tactically deliberate. He’s an arch PR for the social age.  The reasoning might be subconscious, but nothing he publishes is accidental.

Racism is Trump’s weapon of choice. In creating another scandal, he’s just generated another tirade of free diversionary coverage, distracting from his more rounded inability to fulfil even a single duty of elected office. And it’s impossible to ignore or cut off his channels. This was another victory for Trump, and sadly there will be more to come.”
 

Dangerous time for international journalists

Trump’s one example of another worrying trend of the growing influence of geopolitics over journalism. It’s always interesting to hear opinions about the BBC’s foreign language services, as even before Brexit poisoned our national discussion of bias, their impartiality seemed to be questioned more frequently than that of the UK mothership.

So it wasn’t totally surprising to see that the BBC’s Persian service was criticised for appearing to acquiesce to the Iranian government’s demand for a media blackout.

But self-preservation is an understandable instinct, especially in a country lying 170th on the Press Freedom Index, and we should also be concerned at recent developments both at home – with increasing reports of heavy-handedness by government and institutions towards British journalists (yes even the Mail – so often the aggressor- is a victim in this instance)—and the federal police raid on the homes of Australian journalists which threaten not just media freedom, but democracy itself.

We talk a lot about what brands, people and organisations should be doing to communicate better. Keeping half an eye on the plight of the media outlets who can be trusted to report on them honestly is solid advice.


'Female Bond' reaction Lashaken not stirred 

Early this week the media was awash with the news that Lashana Lynch was to be cast as the first black female James Bond ahead of 2020’s ‘Bond 25’ film.
Since Daniel Craig announced he was stepping down as James Bond in early 2016, candidates to replace 007 have included Idris Elba, Tom Hiddleston, Richard Madden and Rami Malek with bookies overwhelmingly favouring a male lead.

Speculation surrounding the casting was a widespread and often testy conversation of tradition and canon Vs progressivist reinvention in which the Captain Marvel star didn’t figure. If she is set for a main role, it’s the second revolutionary act of modernisation enacted by the Bond 25 team in recent months following the recruitment of arguably the world’s most sought-after creative force Phoebe Waller-Bridge as a screenwriter.

On one hand, realistically, how much longer could the old-fashioned James Bond have survived in the post #metoo era? On another, can you make such deep-routed changes to a historic brand and still preserve the elements which made it a classic in the first place?

Making Lashana Lynch the protagonist (even if she’s 007 but not ‘James Bond’ per se) could pull millions of fresh fans that are excited by the prospect of a female ‘Bond’ and/or drawn by the Phoebe Waller-Bridge factor. The only questions is whether they’ll outnumber the (Grand Tour-watching, men’s rights-toting, gammon, incel) ‘Bond purists’ who’ll stay at home.


Social Media Giants 'Likes'/'Comments' Experiment 

This week Instagram announced they were testing a surprising change to their platform: hiding a post’s likes. Under the new system, currently being trialled in numerous countries, users will be able to see the number of likes their own posts receive, but not others’.

In a similar move, Twitter have also announced this week that they’re going to give users in Canada the option to hide replies to their Tweets in a bid to combat trolling, hate speech and pile-ons.

Some have applauded these moves, seeing them as steps towards more socially conscious social media. Many have cited studies that found a link between excessive social media use and poor mental health, especially in young people. Comparing the amount of likes on your post to others is said to be particularly destructive, with Instagram stating on Twitter that they want users to “focus on the photos and videos you share, not how many likes they get.”

These moves may also put professional influencers on alert. The industry is built on the ability to demonstrate ‘engagement’ through likes and comments, and thus secure lucrative brand partnerships. If these disappear, influencers will find their impact much harder to prove, which signals another step towards the end of the ‘Wild West’ dawn of influencer marketing we often discuss in these Trends.

There are two major lessons to be learned from this development. Firstly, social media is only a source of income for influencers because platforms allow it. One tiny shift in the rules can destroy business models, as brands relying on Facebook found out when their algorithm changed earlier this year. Secondly, these platforms aren’t going away any time soon. The industry’s giants are beginning to recognise how unregulated use tarnishes their reputation and risks them being subject to more draconian regulatory legislation. By wising up to this, and proactively addressing such issues, Instagram and Twitter may just have secured their own survival. 


Cats Trailer: A Prowl Through the (Uncanny) Valley of the Shadow of WTF

A few months ago, we discussed how Aladdin’s bizarre trailer being so meme-able was a handy, publicity-driving distraction from how bang average the film looked. Then there was the Sonic the Hedgehog trailer which inspired a similar reaction, except but was too brutalised by the public to have the same cult-raising effect.

The upcoming adaptation of Cats is on another level.

The public hilarity doesn’t even really seem to stem from the notion that the film will definitely be bad. The indecision about whether to portray the characters in Baron Lloyd-Webber’s classic as cats or humans in costume, or just humans has led producers to splice some of musical theatre’s icons into terrifying uncanny valley Brundlecats.

This is set against a visual backdrop which is more Terry Gilliam’s-poppers-are-past-their-sell-by than anything like director Tim Hooper’s previous musical adaptation, 2012’s Les Mis. The combination looks like a particularly psychotropic and terrifying old musical episode of Doctor Who.

There’s also the uneven casting which recalled Jimmy Kimmel’s parody ‘Movie: The Movie’. Jennifer Hudson, Judi Dench, Ian McKellon and Idris as evil Macavity are all solid but there was a note of derision on social media around James Corden, Jason Derulo, Rebel Wilson and even Taylor Swift, who, big star though she is, is untested in major feature films.

The Cats producers now find themselves with a bit of a double-edged sword on their hands. On one side, the whole world is talking about their film, on the other, few people seem convinced that it’s going to be much good. And there’s a clue in the trailer that they saw that reaction coming. Memory is the song that transformed Cats from a good musical to a classic: revealing nearly a minute of your showstopper in the first trailer smacks a little of desperation to communicate the quality of the singing. When the visuals are so baffling, you can’t entirely blame them.
 
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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Tommy Robinson | Heck x Boris | Memes | Podcast Boom

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

It's hard to make sense of our crazy world. On the one hand, studies have shown us this week that influencers are losing their influence, then you hear that said influencers are flogging their own bathwater for 30 bucks a go - words escape us sometimes...

Here at Borkowski, we try to condense the weekly news cycle down to bite-sized chunks. Here goes nothing!
 
The Ballard of Tommy Robinson

The great gift and curse of the internet is that it has put likeminded people in touch with one another. And as a result, we have learned a few things. It turns out that far more people than we thought love pictures of cute cats, videos of people falling over and – perhaps inevitably – racism.
 
As old political coalitions are breaking down, new digital movements are springing up in their place. Take Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, better known as Tommy Robinson. In his short career, he has managed to gather together a broad coalition of supporters from the overtly racist, to ‘common-sense’ middle Englanders, through to those who simply believe his schtick: that he is an innocent victim of a system too lenient on sex offenders.
 
He’s tapped into a cultural fissure that’s been growing for decades, namely the idea that ‘political correctness’ has prevented criticism of certain races or religions. It’s a strategy that’s won him broad support, and it has been completely enabled by the internet, which destroys nuance and encourages totality of opinion. When his supporters attack journalists, we can see the destruction this is having on civil discourse.
 
But the fascinating thing about Tommy Robinson is that a few years ago he was a nobody from Luton, a joke. He would be invited on respectable panel shows to discuss his opinions and was often applauded but rarely taken seriously. Now his image is one of a serious, if dangerous, public figure. When he is released from prison he will return as leader of a street movement that has grown beyond all expectations. Anyone who aspires to prominence in today’s culture has to understand how the internet enabled this to happen. By uniting unlikely bedfellows under a narrow issue, Tommy Robinson has exceeded all expectations.
 
Oh, Heck: When Stunts Go Wrong

The art of the publicity stunt is a fine thing. Sausage-makers Heck managed to get one such stunt catastrophically wrong this week.

Piggy-backing on the media attention of Boris Johnson’s campaign to lead the Conservative Party, they released a range of ‘Boris Bangers’, featuring his unmistakable blonde fringe on the packet. They even went so far as to invite Johnson for a photo opportunity with said sausages. Being Boris, he enthusiastically went along to their Yorkshire factory to take part in the stunt.

But many critics of Johnson did not react kindly, launching #BoycottHeck on Twitter. Soon it was a proxy for the ongoing Brexit war, with Remainers and Leavers fighting it out online.

Heck had unexpectedly waded into a toxic debate that they were completely unprepared for. This is the cardinal sin of politically-minded stunts. Sometimes businesses can explit the news agenda to great effect. But here we’re talking about Boris Johnson and Brexit. Each is arguably the most divisive Conservative politician and electoral event in decades. That particular story cannot be exploited without a great deal of careful thinking and, very importantly, without a willingness to wade into the story. Heck’s greatest problem was their unwillingness to ‘specifically endorse any candidate’, as their statement admitted. They failed to understand the nature of Johnson’s particular brand of celebrity, seeing him as just another prominent politician, rather than what he is: a saviour for 52% of the electorate and a charlatan to the other 48.

Though some manage successfully, brands and politics are a dangerous mix. The adage is wrong: not all publicity is good publicity. Good PR is about building not just buzz, but happiness and enthusiasm around a brand’s story. By half-engaging with a man loathed by half the country, and loved by the other, Heck made a Faustian pact: They were willing to alienate their consumers and have their message lost in the media noise, all for a brief spell at the top of the news agenda, and ultimately for the wrong reasons.
 
Are Pointless Memes making a Comeback?

In a week where a T-Rex costume race made international headlines it probably won’t come as a surprise to many that pointless yet funny content, although now often overshadowed in the public consciousness by robot-generated gibberish or political extremism, still dominates a large part of the internet.
 
But there’s a certain type of shareable viral meme, popular in the late 00s and early 10s, that feels very dated: you’d probably forgotten about planking, ice bucket challenge, and the Harlem Shake. Which is why it was surprising to see a series of ‘bottle-cap challenge’ videos flooding the internet in which a skilled individual uses a combination of physical prowess, coordination, and flair to remove a cap from a bottle in one fell swoop; whether by kicking (Jason Statham is thought to be the source of the trend), throwing a rugby ball or, in Mariah Carey’s case, singing a G#7.
 
The celebs flocked to do it, showing how relatable and down to earth they are with a series of (often) professionally produced and painstakingly stage-managed videos and this – along with such trends as Greg James’ ubiquitous Partridgism ‘Are You Well? I Thought You Were’ – signals the re-emergence of the inane meme?
 
It’s possible – we all need a mindless laugh. If this kind of viral morsel does regain popularity you can bet that hot on its heels will be a series of brands with expensive attempts to join in which slightly miss the point, smack of desperation and arrive a little too late.

The Podcast Revolution

The podcast: an accessible, innovative and low-cost way to share information and tell stories. Podcasting has been growing at an exponential rate for several years – both in the volume of shows being produced and the sheer number of consumers – which has recently seen Spotify jump on the bandwagon after officially separating podcasts and music in premium users’ libraries.

To add fuel to the fire, a recent study commissioned by 4DC showed that Podcast listeners outspend non-podcast listeners in every area, and millennial listeners outspend their peers by as much as 179%. With high-spending listeners flocking and constantly adding to this podcasting boom, colossal brands are never far behind, breathing down their necks. For instance, tech brands like Netflix and Microsoft have joined in, while podcast communities have grown up around high-profile TV shows like Love Island or Game of Thrones. These companies know they can exploit their customer base with targeted adverts, cashing in on a receptive audience.

Anyone with a morsel of an audience or platform is leveraging for podcast gain. Take the defunct DJ Danny Baker (previous trend topic after he was sacked for tweeting the royal baby depicted as a chimpanzee). He has signaled his return to broadcasting, set for 2020 with a new podcast structured using the same elements as his previous BBC Radio 5 Live show.

Ultimately, we can now consume our favourite things in some form ALL THE TIME – this is only increased by social media, as people increasingly use that while watching/listening. This culture of consumption is a perfect environment for podcasts to thrive.

And for the love of god, please steer clear from Info Wars!

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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Alex from Glasto | Young Vic controversy | Robert the Bruce | Taylor Swift

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

Stormzy was the big winner from Glastonbury this week (despite what our founder Mark Borkowski saw as a failure to capitalise on the symbolism of the event) but let's take a look at what else was happening on and off of Worthy Farm. 
 
Alex from Glasto: Classic moment or PR stunt?
We've talked about Dave before on these trends and rate him highly both as a musician and as a budding master of self-promotion. But the rapper has found himself sharing a Glastonbury limelight with a 15 year-old bumbag enthusiast after pulling him out of the crowd for an explosive guest appearance. It was too perfect. But was it a set up? We asked competing Borkies to deliver each side of the argument:

CLASSIC MOMENT

Teenager Alex Mann – Glasto punter turned viral sensation – was plucked from the crowd midway through Dave’s set, delivering a flawless performance of song Thiago Silva – nailing the lyrics while oozing charisma and charm.

Cue the so-called wokies (TM Mark Borkowski) and veteran cynics attempting to drown a wonderful moment in a deluge of “reality”.

“PR STUNT” - they proclaim. I don’t buy it, and here’s why.

This isn’t a new trick and boy can it backfire. Last year, Kendrick Lamar pulled a fan from the crowd to sing "M.A.A.D City," only to cause a media storm when the fan dropped an "N-bomb".

In this instance, Alex’s story only brought positive press, one of the feel-good showbiz stories of the year.

Had it been a stunt, Dave’s team would’ve seized this moment had a plan. There would’ve been a single released immediately and interviews pre-organised to capitalise. You can’t miss your mark. Memes can snowball and launch careers: remember Big Shaq? The speed of the single release after the initial viral moment bought him a year of fame.

Instead, Alex has been the star, not Dave. Verified on social media, fashion and modelling deals in the works, even rumours of a record deal.

Alex will eventually fade into obscurity. There might be a novelty single down the road but he’s not talented enough to have any lasting fame because he’s just a teenager that was plucked from a crowd at random and given his 15 minutes.

STUNT

What a brilliant stunt.

Sorry to be a cynic but - come on guys- this was just too good to be true: The PSG shirt, eager Alex’s position on a mate’s shoulders, so close to the stage, the bum bag and floppy hat so he didn’t look too rock’n’roll, the gauche puppy-dog demeanour giving way fluidly to a near-faultless performance. This was a pre-planned production of genius. 

It was so well produced that it’s almost impossible to rumble it as a stunt, one factor aside: Dave’s face.

Future Mercury-winning, festival-headlining superstar he may be, but Denzel Washington he is not. The patter in the build-up had the nature of something scripted but the smoking gun was the total and utter lack of surprise from the rapper as it was revealed that Alex knew the lyrics, knew how to use a microphone, didn’t freeze up, and was actually pretty good.

Surely, were that not a stunt, he’d have been gobsmacked?

Admittedly the PR impact of the stunt was helped by outside factors: Thiago’s tweet – whose virality I believe was entirely organic and spontaneous - helped turbocharge the tale.

I’m not even mad at Dave. This was glorious feel-goodery. Stunt or not, when the residue of an action is so positive, few look back and feel duped.
 
Tree controversy lacks humanity that sets theatre apart

Theatre is often ahead of other artforms in terms of fostering a spirit of inclusivity, collaboration and humanity.

So the industry was rocked this week when writers Tori Allen-Martin and Sarah Henley published a letter claiming to have been instrumental to the creation of Tree (a musical based on Idris Elba’s concept album Mi Mandela, coming to the Young Vic this month) only to be semi-ghosted and then dumped from the project in a manner which lacked clarity, honesty and empathy (to put it mildly).

Kwame Kwei-Armah, the Young Vic’s feted artistic director – now credited as co-creator and director of Treerefuted the allegations claiming that the change in the project’s authorship was a natural development and blaming the pair’s grievance on a refusal to engage with that process (with a veiled pop at their original script in there as well if you read closely).

Idris Elba produced a briefer statement brusquely dismissing Tori and Sarah’s claims that they had been brusquely dismissed from the project. It was a little tone deaf.

It’s all a bit of a mess to be honest. The competing accounts are so inconsistent that it’s impossible to know the truth of the matter as outsiders

One thing to consider though is that theatre is a particularly empathetic and humane industry – the whole thing is an attempt to understand human nature and that means that theatre-makers approach each other (and audiences) with a degree of emotional intelligence and duty of care you wouldn’t come across often in, say, film or dance music. Certain parties in this sorry incident seem not to have held themselves to these standards, and therein lies the risk of becoming an industry pariah.

Cybernats seek Bruce Boost

Something of a stooshie erupted north of the border this week when it was revealed that the new Robert The Bruce film wasn’t picked up for distribution by Cineworld. In a lightning bolt of opportunism, former SNP leader Alex Salmond joined lead actor Angus Macfadyen on the vanguard of those demanding the film receive a release.

Needless to say this was seized upon by the Cybernats and repackaged as a conspiracy to keep Scots from learning about their heritage in such an inspiring form that it might lead to an 'upswell in patriotic sentiment' – with some nastier connotations thrown in.  

Ultimately Cineworld relented and their campaign was successful – although box office figures have been more modest. But the real winner here is Alex Salmond and a breed of Scottish independence supporters who feeds on the narrative that the Scots are an oppressed minority. In that context a friendly neighbourhood conspiracy theory which underlines their point was nothing shot of a banquet, and another example of how easily a shark-like cynic can manipulate a news agenda as long as they have  a baying mob at their behest.

Sympathy vote for Taylor Swift?

Taylor Swift is back. Two new singles and an album scheduled for October signal that the machine is running at full steam.

But as her star continues to rise to galaxies of fame rarely explored, Taylor has become embroiled in another media story to which her response amounts to ‘poor me’.

Should we feel sorry for her? Yes and no…

The most recent drama saw her try to purchase her music catalogue and royalties by buying out her former label Big Machine Record. The nemesis in this story, Scooter Braun, has acquired Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine Label Group — and with it the rights to Taylor Swift’s first six albums.

As a result, Taylor has poured her heart out on social media targeting her fans directly, with the hashtag #standwithtaylor trending to vast levels of sympathy: a PR maestro strikes again.

Here’s the thing: judging this story purely within the context of the music industry you shouldn’t fell that sorry for her. This isn’t a unique position; this type of rights dispute and outcome is nothing new – it occurs frequently among independent artists and, sometimes, legends like Prince.

And remember, Taylor has come out on the other end of it to become one of the most successful recording artists in the world. She has massively benefited from her industry backing.

Where it’s possible to have sympathy is when considering the fact that artists are so rarely afforded the opportunity to own their own music.

Record labels control their artists, capitalising predatorially on the lack of rules and regulations protecting them.

Whether you like Taylor or not, this is manipulative and demoralising for any artist who lands in a similar situation. When it comes to ownership and control of the music you’ve created under a label, sadly, you’re going to be a loser.
 
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June

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Baffling Boris | KimK Kimono Kontroversy | Classical Revival | PR's PR Problem

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

There have been some frankly bonkers occurrences this week in the worlds of fashion, politics and even dear old public relations, while the Classical Music 'revival' continues to mutate interestingly. We've taken a look at some of the most talked about stories...but before anyone asks, we're not even touching Snoop Dogg vs Gazza. Some things are beyond our powers of analysis. 

 
Boris continues to blunt self-inflicted hatchet job

A century ago, Einstein theorised that light bends around dense objects. In 2019 we’d like to propose a parallel theory: media and public relations logic, in any form, bends around Boris Johnson.

In an eventful week, the likely Prime Minister in-waiting has ridden out what feels like a grand karmic hatchet job. Although, despite having several justifiable axes to grind, the anti-Boris league has found its blows blunted by his innate ability to distract from important issues using diversion, obfuscation and tittle-tattle.

He had help from his Brexiteer media cheerleaders to dismiss last weekend’s reported domestic row as a Remain stitch-up, although did his utmost to court ridicule by allowing publication of a ludicrously stage-managed photo of himself and his partner loved-up anew in what looks like the Aristocratic Buffoon enclosure at an alien petting zoo (which in any case is speculated to have been taken before the domestic).

Unabashed, he faced the media for the first time in his leadership campaign (quite the feat of restraint for a man who, previously, was not so much fame-hungry, as apparent host to some form of ravenous, celebrity-fixated tapeworm) secure in the knowledge that the first question wouldn’t be about policy.

But he did get a few policy questions, which he doesn’t like, and actually ducking questions about his personal life didn’t sound very fun. In an increasingly tight spot, he produced a masterstroke to create ANOTHER layer of distraction…Borisception.

He seized on a mercifully benign question about his hobbies with a meandering salvo about making model buses out of wine boxes, and before you could say “Invertebrate Protoplasmic Jellies” he had launched another viral story which distracted from any effort to hold him to account other than via conspiracy theories.

Donald Trump is the current gold standard in terms of a public figure being immune to their own incompetence: this week showed that he might have competition.

 
KimK's Kimono Kontroversy

Kim Kardashian West came under fire this week as she announced a new shapewear line called ‘Kimono’, which was accused by Japanese social media users as being an act of cultural appropriation. The kimono is a key part of traditional Japanese culture, and the co-optation of the word for a collection of 
(let's be real) fancy spanx understandably left some Japanese poeple feeling their heritage had been ridden over roughshod .

Kim responded to critics by standing firm, saying the word Kimono was a “nod to the beauty and detail” of the robe and that she has “deep respect for the significance of the kimono in Japanese culture.”

Whether Kardashian was guilty of ‘cultural appropriation’ or not, it is highly unlikely that she was ignorant of the issues involved in her decision. The Kardashians, especially Kim and her mother Kris Jenner, are skilful self-publicists, some of the most effective manipulators of media attention working today.

By sparking a topical and highly charged debate, Kardashian has attracted global attention to an otherwise unremarkable clothing line, using controversy to generate attention just as she has throughout her career.

The very fact that critics are complaining of cultural appropriation highlights that, like all the best self-publicists (BoJo included), she has carefully obscured the ruthless cynicism underpinning the positioning of her various ventures. It wouldn’t work for everyone, but for Kim Kardashian West, all press is good press. 

 
Classical Music revival: can new streaming service hit the right note?

In a frantic world, increasing numbers of millennials are seeking salvation from their worries (collapsing eco-systems, terrible political leadership, no money, gluten) by listening to classical music.

But as anyone who has prescribed a quick dose of Chopin to take their mind off the awkward hand-touching and feet-treading on the tube will attest, Spotify’s stream of curveball songs into algorithm-generated playlists – even when not ignoring classical music completely- is anathema to one of its great pleasures - the steady building of an intricate musical movement.

Enter Primephonic. An app aimed at taking advantage of reviving interest in classical music. Where Spotify and Apple are built to reflect genres where artists regularly release their own unique work, Primephonic helps you find your favourite composer, their best work, and a range of recorded versions of it. It’s a subtle order change that works for classical music, but won’t work for pop, jazz or anything else.

But will it take off? Perhaps – it sounds like a better experience, but that’s not always enough to make an impact in a landscape where the pop-dominated streaming behemoths still hold the music industry in their gargantuan grip. But if Primephonic are loud and proactive - unafraid of a sprinkling (and no more) of KimK/BoJo-esque stuntitude- their model looks substantial enough that it could bring the attention, and library of music which they need to build in order to truly compete.


PR needs to do some PR for itself

The PR industry has a PR problem. Once you strip away all the process, Public Relations– and all of its hifalutin spinoffs- boils down to three things:

Do people know you exist? Do they know what you do? And do they like you?

The first is interesting. People have heard of Public Relations and the name of the industry seems self-explanatory. But are they conscious of its impact on their day-to-day lives? A couple of years ago we did an experiment – now a work of outsider art in Mark's office which we revisited on Instagram today- to highlight how much of the news is shaped by PR. The answer to ‘how much’ is ‘almost all of it’ but our visual representation never fails to raise disbelieving eyebrows.

Then, do they get what we do? According to PR Week, 92% of people think that PR professionals lie, misinform and hide the truth. It’s a damning report that ultimately stems from a lack of public understanding about the nuts and bolts of the job, which shows that the process of PR done well is something without a public profile.

The survey also kind of begs the answer to the third question about whether we're liked. And it doesn’t help the matter when a PR company is being accused of rigging a government campaign to build a £100 million Holocaust memorial next to the Houses of Parliament.

So people aren’t conscious of the industry, derive negative impressions of us from a misunderstanding of what we do, and – even when they clear these hurdles- are confronted by a public image of PR companies placing themselves on the clear wrong side of history, before history has even been written. PR needs some good PR.
 
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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Top Gear rainbow cars | Influencer proposal sham | Keanu Reeves | Mark Field

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

The race to be the next Prime Minister is chuntering into inertia so here's some other stuff that's been happening in the media this week, only one of which is a politician embarrassing the whole country...how's that for positivity!?
 
Top Gear's Rainbow cars hint at bright Post Clarkson future 

Top Gear, the scripted reality prank show in which straight white men pretend to be interested in cars as a pretext to wind up unsuspecting members of the public and espouse right-wing political views, has undergone a second reincarnation since its most successful presenting trio, The Clarkson Sisters, left in 2015 to do a show for Amazon that’s pretty similar just shorn of any pretence of being about cars.
 
The problem with the first reincarnation is that it didn’t do enough of the prank-y stunts which garnered the show its colossal following in the noughties, so it will be encouraging to producers and audiences that the new series has kicked off with a neat stunt in which the presenters have driven rainbow-clad cars around the notoriously homophobic state of Brunei.
 
It’s not dissimilar to that classic time the Clarksons wrote ‘Man Love Rules’ on a car they were driving around the US Deep South, nearly getting themselves lynch-mobbed in the process. But it’s a sign of how times have changed that the producers and publicists on the show had sense to put on an outright display of solidarity with the Pride movement this month, rather than simply using the LGBT* rights movement as a vessel for puerile humour.
 
It’s not perfect. Pinkwashing is another trend we’ve been following closely. But what remains to be seen is whether these new, more 21st century sensibilities can be balanced with the stunty sensibility of Top Gear at its peak.
 
'Spontaneous proposal': is viral sham another step in the fall of the influencer?

With war in Iran looming, Boris cruising into Downing Street and Scotland’s cruel departure from the World Cup, there is more than enough to be depressed about – but we thought that we would add to the list. This week, a peep behind the curtain of the Instagram Influencer business model revealed what we have long suspected. The business of influencing is just as fake and cheap as it smells.
 
This week a self-professed ‘ambitionist’ was whisked around the planet by her boyfriend on a magical mystery tour. The details are glamourous, interminable and entirely undermined by the fact they’re being experienced exclusively through a camera. The premise was that she had no idea what was planned or why. It was a beautiful adventure, followed by a magical proposal.
 
But all was not as it seemed…
 
It is strange to record a life event like a proposal for the benefit of thousands of strangers, but it is perverse to pre-plan it for financial gain. Unfortunately for this young couple, who should’ve been enjoying the warm glow of love’s young dream, a despairing (and entirely sane) leaker decided to give their professionally designed pitching pack to the press, revealing an hour-by-hour plan for the ‘spontaneous’ proposal – from which it’s clear that the bride-to-be was very much aware of it beforehand- offering sponsors the chance to have their products artificially placed into proceedings for a tidy fee. This was the Trueman Show, but Truman is aware, and you aren’t.
 
Does the exposure of this grotesque commodification of love mark the decline of the influencer? The business model that relies on a faux-personal relationship between hawker and punter must surely suffer once such deception is revealed. Or not. Our short online memories have made us forgiving; so as long as influencers keep pumping out content which makes us feel special and welcome, we’ll continue to marvel at viral fluff and suck up the products embedded in it. It’s a cycle which has been in motion for years. Remember this.

 
Keanu Reeves: 'Strange Things are Afoot'

From cult-hero to TIME Person of the Year candidate, Keanu Reeves proves nice guys don’t always finish last.

Coming into the press junket to promote John Wick 3 – the third instalment of the pulp action movie series starring Reeves as the title character- he could have been considered a reluctant celebrity, not partaking in any social media and always shrouded in a thick fog of enigma.

All of this has tended to give him the air of a B-List actor who does A-List films. But suddenly he’s everywhere. A constant viral presence weeks after the modest success of his latest film. Is this a natural reward his silent acts of philanthropy, timeless wisdom and apparent agelessness?

We think there’s a more powerful factor than good karma at work here. Memes.
There are two factors which have made Keanu so meme-able: the first touches on the above; he’s (by all accounts) a lovely guy, fascinatingly distinctive to look at, and a Bill Murray-esque provider of apocryphal anecdotes and urban legends.

The second is that his fanbase is so naturally predisposed towards meme culture – Reeves’ filmography is a geek’s almanac and if you drew a venn diagram between Bill and Ted, Dracula, The Matrix and John Wick then in the middle, alongside Keanu, you’d probably find a lot of fans with a borderline unhealthy obsession with Reddit and photoshop.

So of course his every move is going to become a meme. The internet won’t leave him alone despite him taking no part in it.

Mark Field is cancelled

Whatever the (in our opinion limited) merits of Greenpeace entering Mansion House last night, Tory MP Mark Field must have known, as soon as that protestor’s cheek hit the pillar, that his short-term career as a government minister was over.
 
The only political figure in recent memory to ride out having perpetrated a physical assault on a member of the public is John Prescott and that was nearly twenty years ago in retaliation to another man who’d thrown an egg at him (not condoning the punch BTW), and the fact that he survived that is still a minor political miracle.
 
Field enjoys none of these extenuating circumstances. He won’t survive.
 
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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Charlie Hebdo vs Jo Brand | The Rise of the Unicorn | The Inevitable Rory Stewart

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

Despite attempts to avoid a political trend, the recent Tory leadership is impossible to ignore, as is the rise of Rory Stewart - he's walking on and giving it a go. We also have the inevitable cancel culture taking its share of victims as well as our thoughts on this year’s London Tech Week.
 
Hebdo vs Brand - who will survive the media: 
French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has caused controversy, again, after their front cover image featuring a football entering a vagina with the caption: “We’re going to eat it up this month,” was released in their latest issue.

Their crude and unashamed depiction of the vagina is designed to be offensive. At a glance, you succumb to the sheer bizarreness, and ultimately, taken by repugnant nature of the image.
Whilst it has picked up initial coverage and caused social media debates, it failed to build momentum or further conversation off the back of the picture.

In contrast, Jo Brand has been under severe scrutiny for a series of jokes that are, on the surface at least, less offensive than Charlie Hebdo’s depiction of women’s football.

Despite this, Brand finds herself on the ropes as the headlines come thick and fast! Even the OAP ex-Para who was milkshaked campaigning for the Brexit Party has weighed in calling for Jo Brand’s head.

The through-line here is that people don’t care. The difference is that the media have picked up and built the story forcing Brand’s hand – having to apologise for jokes that she’s paid to deliver.

Once the story is in the cycle, you can’t get away from it. The media dictates who the people like and who should be cancelled.
 
London Tech Week - the rise of the unicorn

As London Tech Weeks draws to a close, we can conclude that we have droves of unicorns (is that how you say it?) galloping (do they gallop?) through the streets of Britain. We have 17 start-ups that are valued at over $1 billion… huzzah!

Does anyone actually care?

As the UK tech sector booms, we are in danger of throwing another meaningless piece of jargon into the fiery pit of overused clichés like disrupters, thought-leaders, innovators.

Whilst the term ‘unicorn’ represents the value of a start-up it won’t matter. The allure for communicators to link their project to this new buzzword will be too strong to resist. Whether you’re describing your project as the next unicorn or blurring the lines of conversion rates; as long as there’s will there’ll be a way.

The problem for start-ups is saturation. Everyone’s vying to be the next Facebook, Uber, Google, Apple.

It’s all about the who.

Getting the right players backing your product is an invaluable asset – a talking point that creates genuine buzz and excitement.

The tech universe craves leaders who are straight-forward with a no bull approach.
It’s not about the idea it’s the people. We want to see tech business leaders motivating the brightest young minds to create the culture of success – to be the next… Zuckerberg…….?

A terrifying thought but being the next unicorn isn’t going to cut it anymore. It’s about instilling a culture around your brand. Be the next Jobs not the next Billy McFarland.

 
Rory's Walking On Sunshine (Wow!)

One candidate in the Tory leadership contest stood out to Borkowski this week: Rory Stewart.

Stewart was relatively unknown before the race began, but he’s since begun to stand out with some interesting campaigning moves, not least his ‘Rory Walks’ videos on social media. But Stewart has been willing to attack front-runner Boris Johnson where it hurts, unlike other candidates. Describing him as a “clown” at his campaign launch, he asked whether Johnson was really the person voters wanted to have access to nuclear submarines. Deploying a similar argument to those that question President Trump in the USA, Stewart has been able to simultaneously produce headlines indulging in the blue on blue battle, while presenting himself as the candidate of moderation. That’s a tough game to play, but Stewart appears to be pulling it off.

So what comes next? Stewart has gone from being one of the least interesting candidates to one of the most. To succeed, he’ll have to keep that momentum going. He should resist the temptation to shift to an old-fashioned campaign, or he could lose every inch he’s gained so far. Short-term publicity is one thing; keeping your flame alive is another. But if Stewart can continue to present himself as the candidate of the middle ground who is willing to take a bit of heat, and to dispense freely with his opinions, he could do very well indeed.
 
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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: #TrumpStuntWatch | Tory leadership | Raheem Sterling blunder | Champions League streaker

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

Donald Trump's State Visit has dominated proceedings this week but we've also seen the next steps in the Tory leadership contest and two examples: one triumphant, one disastrous of attempted reputation building in the football world.

#TrumpStuntWatch: 
Wit wins over anger but nothing dented the President’s pigheaded self-assurance
President Donald Trump was in town this week for his contentious State Visit and despite his confident dismissal of the very idea that anyone would protest his presence, chatter was dominated by the thousands who took to the streets to protest the decision to roll out the red carpet for an orange buffoon.
 
As he enjoyed what was described by our founder Mark Borkowski as “a PR gift”, a raft of protest stunts bubbled around the main event, with the most bombastic gaining the most traction. The protest veteran Trump Baby battled for attention with a plucky debutant - a sixteen-foot farting robot on a golden toilet.
 
In the fight for the spotlight – size certainly does matter: giant phallic messages mown into fields on the Stanstead flight path jostled with looming Led By Donkeys’ billboards - revealing what Boris really thinks of Trump and dispelling myths about his approval rating. Any good Brit should be able to pride themselves on being able to insult an American so well that they don’t realise that they’ve even been criticised until months latter – but on this occasion our quiet, biting sarcasm perhaps deserted us.
 
A nice small-scale stunt came in the form of women dressed as characters from The Handmaids Tale: visually striking, poignant and made a specific political point. And our old friend Alison Jackson had some fun with one of her storied lookalikes.
 
We’ve been critical of ‘milkshaking’ before in these trends and the tide does seem to have turned against this kind of direct action after some disgraceful scenes of intimidation and even physical violence against Trump supporters, behaviour completely contrary to the values those protesting Trump should be espousing. 
 
Jeremy Corbyn also proved ineffective, with his boycott of the state banquet and protest speech the following day critiqued in most quarters as both unstatesmanlike and tedious, but then again nothing really put a dent in his armour of total self-belief and lack of self-awareness. Trump's, that is.

 
Tory leadership cultural preferences: what they should have said

Today The Times ran a fun piece about the Tory leadership candidates’ cultural lives (except Dominic Raab, whose lack of participation suggests a cultural knowledge akin to Malcolm Tucker’s infamous Star Wars analogy).
 
Answers ranged from the intriguing to the disappointing: Jeremy Hunt is a great Latin dancer but reads Kissinger, they all like Game of Thrones, Sajid Javid likes It’s a Wonderful Life but reads Ayn Rand… it’s an inconsistent mix of universal zeitgeist and crusty old Tory stereotypes.

But what would the ideal answers have been to woo Tory voters of all ages and demographics?

We asked our Arts & Entertainment team to weigh in:

Book: Pick two; one heart-bleedingly patriotic and another to show that your patriotism doesn’t mean you’re racist. We’d go for a quintessential rags-to-riches tale like Nicholas Nickleby or David Copperfield: demonstrating social mobility without suggesting that the government should have a role in it. Then something culturally diverse which also avoids aping Jenna Maroney in 30 Rock claiming her favourite book was The Quran…so maybe something by Kazuo Ishiguro who is a unique mix of famous, edgy, British and foreign.

Film: Go for something which appeals to both film snobs who’ve watched the entire Battleship Potemkin and people who think that the Rambo series is a metaphor. To achieve this, pick genre films but rule out anything that will make you seem psychotic: horror, psychological thriller or gross out comedy (sadly eliminating The Exorcist, Silence of the Lambs or Bridesmaids), which leaves open options such as Toy Story, Little Miss Sunshine or, if you want to appeal to blokey blokes, Mad Max Fury Road or Black Panther.

TV: In The Times piece they all missed a trick. Game of Thrones’ ending was crap and anyone who doesn’t acknowledge that clearly either hasn’t watched it or hasn’t watched anything else. Stick to other classics: The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, The Wire, Mad Men, West Wing (if you want to appeal to moderates).

Stage: Both Hamilton and Cursed Child are probably too liberal in origin for the Tory base, whereas something as heavy as Shakespeare would be alienating to any readership except the Times’. Jeremy Hunt picking ‘anything by Jez Butterworth or David Hare’ was solid in this respect, and if you wanted to pick a musical you could also throw-in Matilda or Come From Away without provoking outrage.

Music: Politicians slip up at this one either by trying to be too cool or not trying hard enough and coming across excruciatingly lame. Too cool: Lizzo, Dave and Billie Eilish. Too lame: Matt Hancock’s praise of Ed Sheeran and Jess Glynne came across as painfully basic. You might just get away with George Ezra, Dua Lipa or Lewis Capaldi if you’re going contemporary. If not, Classic FM or Scala Radio are both solid touchpoints even for those who find classical music alienating so Hunt did not badly there too.
 
And lastly on the theme that throws the politician against the cultural symbol, play this brilliant game and try to work out if you can tell which right wing paragon said what – Raab or  Amerocam Psycho's Patrick Bateman.

 
Sterling gets hospital pass from PR blunder
A cautionary tale from the world of sport this week. A PR agency working for England star Raheem Sterling sent out a press release announcing that their client had been chosen to captain the national team ahead of their UEFA National League semi-final against The Netherlands on Thursday evening. This, despite there being no confirmation from the Football Association or England manager Gareth Southgate.

Apart from anything else, the rumour of Sterling captaining the team despite the country’s two regular captains also featuring in the wider squad threatened to reveal England’s line-up (and therefore likely tactics) for the match.

After an underwhelming performance at the World Cup last summer, Sterling is in a good place, currently regarded as one of England’s best players. But he’s also had to build his reputation around a torrent of attacks by the tabloid media including criticism for how he spends his admittedly astronomical wages, and criticism for displaying a tattoo of an M16 assault rifle on his shin - which he then revealed was a tribute to his father who was shot dead in Kingston, Jamaica.

Current PR norms provide two options for footballers; either play it completely safe, or aggressively pursue sponsorship deals. There is little creative room for much else.

Sterling’s ability to win the nation’s respect and admiration despite his status as a tabloid panto villain shows that he’s much, much more than a clothes horse, but he was failed by a short-termist strategy that couldn’t see a bigger picture than the captain’s armband. Football is changing, as is the role of its stars; PR must change with it.


Could Champions League streaker reignite a vintage stunt?

The act of disrupting sports events, politics or concerts seems to have reached a point of diminishing returns.

Two instances this year come to mind: footballer Jack Grealish getting punched by a fan and the naked Brexit demonstration: both were moments of madness whose messages did not last long in the memory.

Neither apply to last week’s notorious Champions League Final streak.
A scantily dressed voluptuous woman burst onto the pitch, making it to the centre circle before being apprehended rather sheepishly.

With the audience is millions of sports fans, mostly men-who-watch-football, the safe bet was that she would pick up traction…and a lot of it.

Compounded by a pretty lethargic match, she received headlines worldwide and gained 500k Instagram followers in 24 hours, rising to over 2m.

Instagram have allegedly banned her account for suspicious follower activity since…but the promotional power of the prank doesn’t end there: She was promoting her boyfriend’s website Vitaly Uncensored – a platform run by an internet prankster who recently quit YouTube to create an X-rated prank hub featuring content that wouldn’t make it pass YouTubes filters.

This pay-to-view site – according to Google Trends data – has since driven thousands of new subscriptions. Vitaly merged the old school stuntiness of a ‘streak’ with the titillation on which he hopes to build the new site. Right or wrong, it’s telling that in an age where streakers aren’t usually show on camera, even the broadcaster and cameracrew couldn’t divert their attention…
 

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May

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Gavin & Stacey | Botswana Elephant scandal | Love Island

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

Last week we predicted that the Prime Minister's resignation would dominate the headlines and that the unfancied Rory Stewart might be a dark horse as her replacement. We were right about at least one of those things.

While we're on predictions, a couple of weeks back we prophesied that viral marketing could be a great tool to increase the fame of women's football...the England women's team backed up that hypothesis but did so with a hand-wringingly cringe re-write of 'Three Lions' worthy of Bill Nighy's character in Love Actually.

We also talked about James Charles and how 'Cancel' culture is creating new levels of accountability for Influencers, something we saw again this week in the escalating feud between YouTuber brothers Deji and KSI. So you win some you lose some.

And you don't have to take our word for it - all of our trends are now archived on the Borkowski Website. Now let's look at what else happened this week!

Gavin and Stacey: a sitcom comeback success?

The week kicked off with the announcement that legendary sitcom Gavin and Stacey will return for a Christmas special this year, almost a decade since it ended.

Bringing celebrated sitcoms back to try and reach a new generation has been commonplace lately and results have been mixed; from the disastrous (Dad’s Army, Yes Minister, Open All Hours, Porridge), to the mediocre (Only Fools the musical, Will & Grace across the pond) to the really quite good (Partridge, Still Game if you’re Scottish).

The successes tend to have some from making a virtue of how society and humour have changed since the original. It may only be 10 years old but the Gavin and Stacey first existed in a lovely bubble - pre-Brexit, pre-Fake News, and pre-James Corden being world famous. If it succeeds it could be because its writers see humour in old characters trying to get to grips with this uncomfortable new world.

Another indication as to its likely success is the motivation behind bringing it back.
The answer to this probably lies with James Corden. Ruth Jones has been successful since, but G&S is still the biggest thing she’s done so her motives aren’t mysterious, whereas Corden is now the US primetime heavyweight behind Carpool Karaoke, so doesn’t need this. But he’s also reportedly loathed within the UK television industry, so if he’s ever going to make a significant return to acting or UK screens in general, he’s have to do something to build a swell of good-feeling first: a Gavin & Stacey special which honours the original could do that, but not if its primary purpose is to be a James Corden showreel.

 
Botswana Elephant scandal could create another Bell Pottinger

Following the government of Botswana’s controversial decision to lift the ban on hunting elephants, they have sought out the advice of an American public relations firm. 42 West is an agency primarily known for work in Hollywood, listing Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks as clients in December 2018.

The firm might do well to remember the fate of Bell Pottinger, which collapsed after accusations that they deliberately encouraged racial hatred in order to keep President Jacob Zuma of South Africa, currently facing corruption charges, in power.

Perhaps this is what happens when PR firms get too big and drink their own Kool-Aid. Bell Pottinger believed they could get away with anything; maybe the same can be said of 42 West. But not every crisis is fixable. Some issues are simply too unambiguously immoral to spin.

It might have been wise for these agencies to seek outside advice for themselves. In a world that increasingly demands an ethical approach from business and media organisations, PR professionals must be able to take a long hard look at their own practices. If they don’t, scandals like these will continue to consume the industry.


 
Love Island: How long can hype drown out moral qualms? 
Season 5 of Love Island commences next week having increased its audience sevenfold between its first and fourth seasons to an average of nearly 4 million last year.

Reputation-wise it hasn’t all been roses since then; the suicides of two former contestants implicated the show in a wider scandal about the duty of care owed by reality producers to their contestants’ mental health, most acutely when the Jeremy Kyle Show was cancelled for similar issues earlier this month.

Eyebrows have also been raised at the apparent half-heartedness of the show’s attempt to increase the diversity – particularly body diversity- of its contestants, prominently during a widely debated interview with the Radio Times.

But what impact will this have on viewing figures? The answer is ‘probably not much’; media coverage of the new series has been fervent and our impression is that anyone engaged with popular culture will at least dip in-and-out of Season 5 with scant regard of the moral questions the show’s comms team have been toiling to answer.

But Love Island’s rise has been meteoric, and this kind of upwards momentum is never perpetual. Big Brother, the show’s most comparable predecessor, saw its audience slump consistently after its fifth season, so we may be witnessing Love Island’s natural peak. Unless something sensational happens this year, then the issues, which until now have been drowned out by hype, may become harder to ignore, in which case TV’s most famous island might start to crumble and sink.
 
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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Next Tory leader | Tesla's new Absolute Unit | 'Milkshaking' as PR strategy

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

Well well well. The bloody Prime Minister just went and resigned. It's going to be tough to oust that from the front pages for a couple of weeks..!
 

Next Tory leader? The runners and riders

According to oddschecker.com, the top Tory leadership candidates are Johnson, Hunt, Gove and Raab, and according to Guido Media: we can already see the remaining Conservative MPs already begin to sidle towards their preferred choice. A race that has been running just out of sight since the exit poll at the last General Election is now edging into view before it finally bursts into the open on June 7th.
Here are the communication strategies that the Borkowski team would recommend to each of the big hitters.
 
Boris Johnson
The last time an early frontrunner ended up winning the Conservative leadership race was a long, long time ago – and the longer the race, the more chance of an upset. But the Democratic race proves to us that it can be done. Joe Biden and Boris Johnson are similar in a couple of ways – both are household names, and both have gained popularity because they shoot from the hip (in a manner which raises questions about their ability to lead and manage). Johnson should do what Joe Biden is doing – big set-piece speeches to demonstrate charisma and statesmanship, but limited exposure to journalists and the public in order to minimise the chance of a gaffe. It’s simple – make sure every word Johnson utters in public from now until election day comes through a teleprompter. Privately, target the MPs with the smallest majorities and show them polling on how unpopular your rivals are.
 
Jeremy Hunt
The insider’s choice and the candidate least prone to populist demagoguery. Unfortunately for Jeremy Hunt, he campaigned for Remain and that will be used against him day-after-day. He has already spent months preaching the merits of Brexit with the lonely zeal of the converted, but in trying to win over the Brexiteers he’s fighting a battle he’s already lost. Hunt would be better to stay quiet, let Johnson soak up the punishment that comes with being the frontrunner until he stumbles and falls, and position himself as the steady hand in order to sweep up the panicking Cameroonian moderates. Run quiet until the polls narrow.
 
Michael Gove
Michael Gove is a Machiavellian genius and by far the best out-and-out politician in the race. As such, he will almost certainly have a diabolically brilliant plan already locked and loaded. His comms team should just step back and ponder the sheer magnitude and cunning of whatever he has ready. In the meantime, he should get Tom Tugendhat, (the next next Conservative leader) in front of the cameras to make his case. That should solve the ‘whatever charisma is, I don’t have it’ problem that beset the last campaign.
 
Dominic Raab
Raab needs help from his comms team almost as much as Johnson. This is the guy who thought balancing some books on his windowsill would make him look like an intellectual. This is the man who has a rich history of saying offensive things (including the classic British worker ‘lazy’) and this is the man who famously wasn’t aware of Britain being an island until he’d reached the highest level of government .
With all that in mind, there’s only one thing to do; bang the drum of populism as loudly as you can. Promise the undeliverable, demand the fantastic and condemn the sceptical. It’s a playbook as old as time, and the good news is he won’t need to pay the normal price of personal integrity. He already sold that cheaply, a long time ago.

But there are a few decent people running: One in particular - Rory Stewart. He is approachable, intellectual, has military experience, and boasts a hard-fought reputation for loyalty and a good, considered manner with the media. Up against the gaffe-prone Boris or Raab, or a scheming Michael Gove, he might come across as the only adult in the room. With the correct media strategy, he could be dangerous (to his rivals, not the country).


 
Tesla hire themselves an 'absolute unit' to revamp social media strategy

Automotive firm Tesla has hired Adam Koszary, former social media manager at The Museum of English Rural Life, who previously engaged in a bizarre exchange with the company’s maverick billionaire owner Elon Musk.

The Museum’s account exploded in April 2018, when Koszary tweeted a picture of an oversized ram, referring to it as an ‘absolute unit’. 36,000 retweets since it was uploaded – not bad for a picture of a sheep.

Last month Musk changed his Twitter bio to those same words and made the image of the sheep his profile picture. This prompted a witty response from Koszary, who changed the Museum’s own profile picture to an image of Musk’s face. Hilarity ensued.  

Koszary was due to start a new job at the Royal Academy but subsequently announced that instead he would be joining Tesla as Social Media Manager. The news comes as Musk faces pressure from his legal team to rein in his tweets, and stop speaking out of turn. At the same time, Tesla’s share price is slipping, and investors worry the firm is running out of money.

Whether the decision to hire Koszary came from Musk himself, we don’t know. But clearly someone at his company has recognised that social media is not just an extension of traditional communications channels, rather a place where reputational battles are won and lost. Elon Musk is the public face of Tesla, but he looks increasingly burnt out and burdensome on the firm. Switching the responsibility for their image to an undeniably witty social media strategist could be a very astute decision indeed.

 
Stop the 'Milkshaking' before public develops Lactose Intolerance

Put yourself in the shoes of Nigel Farage. At the helm of a well financed, well organised party – with another unlikely electoral triumph in sight but having to deal with the final attacks that come as you hurtle down the home straight.

And boy did they come.

Firstly, Gordon Brown makes a rare speech in Glasgow to launch a broadside into your party's opaque funding process and its mysterious donors. With an undimmed eye for a soundbite he says you ‘Won’t be remembered as the man of the people but as the man of the Paypal.’ 

Secondly, Buzzfeed breaks a story which includes a film of you pitching your party to a room full of far-right ex-Scientologists with close ties to Vladimir Putin. Worse – it is quite literally taking place in a private room at the Ritz. 

Lastly, you are walking through Newcastle city centre and someone throws a milkshake at you and you’re both the subject of sombre think pieces and the laughing stock of Twitter.

This allows you to do two things. Wrench the media’s eye away from the two painful and carefully timed attacks, paint your opponents as inciting violence, and in doing so paint yourself as a humble victim whose arguments are so formidable that your rivals must resort to physical attacks.

You started the day being painted as a stooge of the Kremlin and you’ve ended it doing your best Gandhi impression – and all it cost you was a McFlurry to the chops.

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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Jeremy Kyle | James Charles | German Women's Football Team | Aldi

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

If you’ve been enjoying these trends you might also be interested in listening to boss man Mark Borkowski on the Media Masters Podcast this week on which he talked to Paul Blanchard about the future of the industry as well as giving hot takes on topics such as Brexit and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

LISTEN HERE

To this week: the big media news has undoubtedly been the canning (after a short stay of execution) of the controversial Jeremy Kyle show by ITV after the death of a contestant shortly after filming.

Around the fringes of the crater caused by this bombshell it’s been an active week of stunts, from Air BnB resurrecting the Spice Girls Bus, to Hawksmoor making the most of a staffing error involving a £4,500 bottle of wine, and even encompassing an all-Tweeting, all-farting Donald Trump robot in China.

 
Jeremy Kyle Show: The burning questions

First let’s address Jeremy Kyle: the sorry chain of incidents from suspension to leaked emails to cancellation has thrown up a range of questions:

Does this signal a wider crisis for ITV?

Is this the end of exploitation reality TV as we know it?

Should the makers of Love Island be worried?

What next for Jeremy himself?

Can he eventually emerge from his own train wreck with reputation intact?

…perhaps as a candidate for the Brexit Party?
 
 
German Women's Football Team: Could Virality help Equality
 
It took The Germany Women's football team all of 88 seconds to form a brand and identity, devoid of their male counterparts.

We play for a nation that doesn’t even know our names
We've been European champions three times, right? Wrong! Try eight times.
Since we started, we haven’t just fought opponents.

Even the English subtitles on their viral team announcement this week tell an incredibly powerful story.

They address the prejudice they’ve faced with defiance and dignity. The trolls that have stalked women’s football since its professionalisation have been difficult to shrug off. Former Arsenal player and pundit Alex Scott has struggled to deal with the toxic and incessant abuse plaguing the Twittersphere.

It’s an empowering video, but more than that they’ve created an identity for themselves which is totally separate from the footballing juggernaut that is the German men’s team – something women’s football teams have struggled with since they went professional.

Understanding and harnessing the power of social media isn’t exclusive to the women’s game. The Ajax men’s football team have developed a distinctive formula of social media marketing under the leadership of Marc Overmars and Edwin Van Der Sar which has flourished over the past 12 months.

The club has successfully appealed to their current talented crop of players (a group reminiscent of the legendary ’95 champions league winning team) to create emotive, engaging videos that foster team spirit, and have complimented the team’s scarcely believable on-pitch success this season to galvanize the club’s brand in a market dominated by financial superstructures.

This kind of social media engagement is having a huge impact on consumers and professional alike.

 
James Charles: A 'make-up call' for Influencers?

Earlier this week, James Charles, the 19 year-old make-up mogul and nascent social media giant, lost millions of followers across his various platforms after fellow influencer, make-up artist (and Charles’ personal mentor) Tati Westbrook posted a video explosively accusing him of betrayal after Charles promoted a direct competitor of her Halo Beauty brand.

On one hand one wonders if JC’s actions really justified him being labelled ‘a danger to society’ by fellow beauty influencer Jeffree Star, unfollowed by others like Kylie Jenner and Shawn Mendes, and having his channels flooded with videos documenting his devastating loss of followers and fans smashing up his makeup collections.

Then again influencers’ social media posts are their livelihood. They shouldn’t post anything without thinking it through, and the evidence suggests that Charles’ original post was, if not duplicitous, then at least incredibly naïve.

It’s too early to properly quantify the extent of the damage done by his former mentor, but this week’s drama is a warning sign to influencers everywhere that their industry is now sufficiently established that every decision risks repercussions if not weighed-up strategically: the Wild West era of Influencer marketing is over.

 
Aldi Square Sausage: Not with a banger, but with a whimper (in Scotland anyway...)

Aldi’s announcement that they were ‘introducing’ a square sausage (a delicacy that has been a mainstay of fry-ups North of the Wall for decades) has caused something of a ‘stramash’ in Scotland. We asked our resident Scot to review the announcement:

“A week that should have been triumphant: our Lord and Master Sir Andy Murray bending as low as his resurfaced hip would allow him to accept his knighthood should have monopolised the headlines from Teuchter TV to the Auchenshoogle Gazette and even the ‘Gonnae No Dae That’ Podcast.

But our mighty protector’s moment of glory was usurped by a classic example of cultural appropriation, racism and overall imperialist English arrogance as an (admittedly German-owned) supermarket chain decided to erase the culinary heritage of 5.4million people in one product announcement.

Lorne Sausage, or ‘square sausage’ to the uninitiated, was advertised in a Scottish newspaper as early as 1896 and has been the lynchpin of breakfast since time imemorial: it is a Scottish enlightenment marvel, perhaps our nation’s greatest feat of engineering since the television. Imagine it; a sausage that fits in a breakfast roll without rolling out!

For years expats have told the heathens of this revolution in design, mechanics, cuisine, art even, only to be shut down (‘what’s wrong with regular sausages?’) and now, finally, we gain the mainstream recognition for which we have spent centuries fighting atop the bones of our ancestors only NOT TO BE CREDITED with popularising it.

If this had happened in 2014 we’d be sawing a Panama Canal-style trench through Berwick-upon-Tweed as we speak. I feel sick with rage just thinking about it.”
 
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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Royal Baby | Jurgen Klopp's | Danny Baker | Anna Sorokin

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

It's been a fairly Rule Britannia week this week, we've had the arrival of Royal Baby Archie, the heralding of a new golden age of English club football...and a race scandal ensuing from a crass act of public auto-defenestration by a formerly popular figure. 
 

'Meghan can't be the star of the show'

Check our the Borkowski blog for a full and frank review of Team Sussex's seemingly unilateral approach to announcing the globally anticipated birth. Here's an excerpt: 

"Meghan must quickly understand that she can’t be the star of this show. Her celeb friends may be able to put out their own content and points of view and get away with it, but if any of them are advising her to do the same, they are giving misguided advice. She can’t. But she can be the star of her own show if she plays her hand more subtly and carefully and keeps the old guard on her side."

READ THE FULL THING HERE
 
 
Klopp: Football's best PR man
 
Everyone looks to the worlds biggest success stories and tries to retroactively attach their own attributes and principles onto them, so that they can feel a bit better about how they approach life and about how in turn life rewards those like us. So here’s an attempt to discuss Liverpool FC manager Jurgen Klopp’s brilliant PR approach without falling into that trap…and allowing the fact that our office is full of Chelsea fans to taint our analysis.  
 
Mr. Klopp is obviously a brilliant man manager, a tactician whose on-pitch innovations push at the boundaries of tactical knowledge (particularly in terms of pressing), and of course a magnetic public figure. We know all that – but what we don’t all know is how seriously he takes his teams’ press coverage, and how clever he is at ensuring his press department is helping the club to the top.
 
I read recently about how a younger Jurgen marched into the Dortmund press office and heldforth on how he wanted his press to reflect the team because he understands that tone is incredibly important. Specifically he wanted press releases to remove references to ‘injured players’ or to ‘injury problems’ when it came to a particularly cruel run of injuries. Instead he directed his troops to refer to the ‘opportunities’ for young players and the chance for up and comers to ‘rise to the occasion’ and ‘seize their chances’.
 
It seems so simple, but at the very top of any business, any advantage can give you every advantage. So, he might be one of the greatest football managers of his generation, but he gets it – he can come and work with us any time.

 
Danny Baker and the anatomy of an apology

Disclaimer: this isn’t about whether what he did was right or wrong, or whether what happened to him as a result was right or wrong. This is about whether his reaction to both of the above was the right one or not.
 
It wasn’t. His first apology finished by saying ‘I guess it’s my turn in the barrel’, he has repeatedly made it clear that he understood that what he did was wrong, but also claims that he told the BBC to ‘fuck off’ when they were lecturing him, before hanging up. 
 
It’s not difficult, but people get apologies wrong over and over again. If you want to have an apology taken seriously then don’t be self-pitying or aggressive. It’s childish and it’ll cost you. It doesn’t matter what else you write or say, it won’t ring true.

Now he’s been sacked and at time of writing Danny’s more serious apology has just been released. First sentence: it’s been the worst day of his life, that’s enough – no matter what comes next, it’s hollow.

 
The Dark Queen of self-Promotion and why she deserves a statue

Today, future heroine of Hollywood blockbuster biopic and current cult hero Anna Sorokin was sentenced between four and twelve years for blagging New York’s richest elite to the tune of $200,000. Apart from being a tantalising image of what's possible with too many cajones and too few principles, she is a lesson at what a Catch Me If You Can crook looks like in the modern age.
 
Since the dawn of humanity there have been those with a superhuman ability to bluff anyone into submission; Anna possessed a uniquely 21st century version of this superpower: she had to use her Instagram posts to convince that anyone photographed at that bar, with that meal, at that table, simply must be the heiress she claims to be. Every experience was another opportunity to be carefully captured, packaged and relayed to prying eyes. Today’s top-tier blaggers have to be at the top of their game when the cheque comes and online.
 
Yes, she’s a thief – but she’s still a hero. She falls into a proud historical tradition that includes some of Britain’s most well loved icons. Think about it, she is beating the exact same path down which ‘Lord’ Byron strutted hundreds of years ago. He ended up at the head of a column of Greek soldiers with Europe’s most beautiful women littered in his wake. She ends up with four to twelve. Yet another black mark against social media’s impact on society.

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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: The Guardian | Turner Prize V Stagecoach | Council Elections | Woodstock 50

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

It's Friday and we're eschewing such anthropomorphic PR capers as Sonic the Hedgehog (or whatever that thing was) and Veggie Percy Pigs to focus on the Guardian, corporate patronage of the arts, the local council elections and Woodstock 50 (or lack thereof...)

Journalism, not profit, key to the Guardian's revival

Are rumours of the death of newspaper journalism exaggerated? This week The Guardian, often seen as the least commercially robust of the remaining print giants, announced its first operating profit for more than two decades.

The fact that this profit has come at the expense of a reported 450 jobs makes talk of a revival a bitter pill to swallow for some in the media world, but if you dig deeper into the work the Guardian produces day-to-day there are some green shoots of hope.

Simply put, they’re nailing it lately with big, viral profile features; interesting exclusive targets, written about with humanity and personality have proved a potent formula with recent examples including Simon Hattenstone’s potentially definitive pieces on Ant & Dec and Pete Doherty, Hadley Freeman’s gut-wrencher on Tony Slattery and Kira Cochrane’s gentle but dramatically effective probing of Zac Efron on his portrayal of Ted Bundy,

Whether in the red or black, it’s journalism like this, alongside their important investigative work, social campaigning, and platforming of progressive voices, which will keep The Guardian alive.

Turner Prize-Stagecoach: Caution over corporate Patronage of the Arts 

Another week another cultural behemoth divorcing its corporate benefactor for reasons of morality, (small ‘p’) politics and, above all, reputational risk.

This time it was the Turner Prize and Stagecoach announcing a mutual decision to end the bus company’s sponsorship deal due to (let’s call a spade a spade, shall we) homophobic historical views expressed by chairman Brian Souter.

This is the third such major parting of the ways in art alone over the past year, after the Serpentine Gallery very publicly refused financial support from the controversial Sackler family in February and, at the tail end of last year, the National Gallery ended its 12-year association with Shell in the midst of environmental protests.

It’s a proliferating trend in the culture sector and, given the amount of private money already fuelling the engine, and the need for big corporations to find a cultural outlet, one that’s only going to increase in prevalence and controversy.

It’s been said frequently that tobacco and arms are the only traditional no-go areas in terms of arts sponsorship, but the emergence of LGBT rights issue, Drugs and the Environment (specifically issues caused by big oil) as barriers to association with certain companies should be a warning to both culturally minded corporations and arts organisations seeking funding that the practice of corporate arts patronage is entering choppy waters.

Council Elections lesson: People want clarity

Yes, the Tories have been punished – but that is typical of a party that has been in national government for 9 years. At time of writing, they have lost a massive 762 councillors. But the pressure is on Labour having lost 88.
 
These parties share many things - uncharismatic and clumsy leadership, vague domestic policies, vicious activists and ugly infighting; but it is their split-personality approach to Brexit which has driven these disastrous results.
 
A year ago, the parties fought each other to a standstill at 35% each, today it’s 28%, only the second time that the vote share for the major parties has dipped beneath 30% since 2013.
 
The British people aren’t happy; in this week’s elections they turned back to former go-to alternative the Lib Dems in parts, but the overall results reveal a prevailing orthodoxy of ‘none of the above’, as Independent candidates recorded the biggest gain.
 
This shouldn’t come as a surprise to either of the major parties. To repackage a truism - if you stand for nothing, then you’ll fall to anything.



 
Woodstock: The next Fyre Festival

Woodstock 50 has been cancelled. Whilst details are still unclear, Fyre Fest 2.0 is a tagline that event organisers are desperate to avoid at all costs.

On one hand, you couldn’t recreate Fyre Festival if you tried; stranded on an island with no food or shelter – far less music- total chaos ensues…and the only authority figures are Ja Rule, a rich idiot sociopath and an old head who really understands the importance of Evian.

On the other hand: that fear is enough for investors to pull the plug.
The Woodstock funders’ statement read:

We don’t believe the production of the festival can be executed as an event worthy of the Woodstock Brand name, while also ensuring the health and safety of the artists, partners and attendees

The chat about health and safety might not seem very Woodstock, but there are some other big names trying to save face here: Live Nation, AEG – billion-pound brands. They cannot afford a Netflix documentary or social media live stream about how crap they are, particularly in an unforgiving climate even for music festivals which function properly.

But you can’t fault the ambition. Curating a line-up that would appeal to the old guard of Woodstock and the millennial festival-goer could’ve paid off. But the announcement didn’t satisfy either.

So there’s only so much you can spin this as pragmatism: Woodstock will only turn 50 once – you can’t do it again.

Was the warning of Fyre Fest Woodstock’s saving grace?
 

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April

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Cantona | Bond | Euro Elections | Taylor Swift

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

This week we look at Eric Cantona being outrageous, a lukewarm Bond launch in Jamaica, a worrying new political trend and PR heavyweight Taylor Swift gearing up for her next shot at world domination.
 

You Cant(ona) be serious

You’re a 53 year-old former professional footballer turned actor. You’re famed for doing weird stuff. Your greatest hits include roundhouse kicking a fan, trying to get everyone to withdraw all their money from the bank and just hide a wad of cash under their beds, giving up football for ‘beach soccer’ and philosophising about seabirds.

But this all took place over twenty years ago. Times have changed. Which raises the question: how does one maintain a brand of such dark, deep-seated weirdness in 2019?

For Mnsr Eric Cantona the answer was simple: post a video on Instagram which began as a selfie before panning down to reveal an erect penis smashing an egg against its owner’s torso.

Cantona, or more likely a bewildered Instagram admin, deleted the post eventually and it was soon replaced with a heavily symbolic image of an egg and a banana alongside an enigmatic caption about censure.

Bewildering, unnerving, nonsensical, borderline offensive. Whatever its purpose, this was vintage Cantona.

To paraphrase the great man: ‘When seagulls follow the trawler (on Insta), it’s because they think splatters of penis egg will rain down on them.’
 
 
Uninspiring launch for Bond 25
No title, no car, no gadgets, no morsel of storyline or setting, just a cast – most of whom haven’t known each other long enough to establish chemistry- struggling through a press conference clearly in the grip of publicists and lawyers.

Bond 25 has been a rocky project so far but has recently emitted glimmers of positivity: they’ve secured Daniel Craig for one last mission, Cary Fukunaga was a popular directorial choice (even if we still think our old friend Susanne Bier could be brilliant for Bond at some point), and Phoebe Waller Bridge, having shown in Killing Eve that she can do an espionage thriller rather brilliantly, could be an inspired choice to inject a little vinegary humour into the sinewy intensity of Craig’s Bond portrayal.

But this week’s cast announcement showed that there’s a long way to go if Bond 25 is going to fulfil this promise. Craig’s 4 outings to date have gone down as (chronological): classic-stinker-classic-mixed. We’re due another classic, but this slightly uninspiring early publicity drive seems to have left Bond fans more nervous than optimistic.

 
Euro Elections: The dawn of Tweetocracy?

Everyone thinks of it as the election that was never meant to be, but we risk looking back on the upcoming European Parliament elections as the first harbinger of a dark new era.
A century ago, a young ambitious politician wanting to make a name for himself would join the military, do their utmost to get themselves in dispatches and then ride the national adulation into a safe seat. This was what grabbed the attention of the British public – at the point of a sword in a far-flung corner of the Empire. A different age, with different priorities and value systems.
 
Who are their modern-day equivalents? A look at the candidate list for the MEP elections gives us an insight into a new, untried way of picking candidates. Sargon of Akkad, Andrew Adonis*, Tommy Robinson, Nora Mulready, Frances Weetman – you probably don’t know who they are, but these are people with profiles in the political world because they are constantly arguing on political Twitter. And now they are top-tier candidates for the most important European election in living memory. What does that tell us?

In American politics they say that Washington is always the last to get the news. I hope for our sake that this is Westminster being behind the curve of general revulsion towards social media, and not a savvy bet on the political rewards that you can gain with zealots capable of whipping up a twitter mob, but have no idea to compromise, admit defeat or write a law.

*Yes, Adonis is a Labour Grandee, but there’s no way he would have the fame that he has if he hadn’t been spending all day every day hysterically arguing on Twitter.

 
Taylor's Shift

Taylor Swift is an artist whose media and press image eclipses any scrutiny of her music.

Her brand-new single ‘ME!’ has taken the internet by storm – fans are going into scrupulous detail in their attempts to decipher cryptic clues in her lyrics and music video.

The song is a basic pop tune with simple yet catchy lyrics and a quirky edge provided by Brendon Urie of Panic! At The Disco.

But the truth is… substance doesn’t matter. Because the timing of her release is impeccable.

Releasing ME! on the same day as Marvel’s End Game hits cinemas (with some interpreting a nod to the comic uber series in the lyrics) has subverted the traditional American High School social pyramid by uniting 'Swifties' and comic-book nerds.

Galvanising her fanbase by subtly targeting an audience she hasn’t yet permeated is a clever move, particularly one so partial to cult fandom.

A genre crossover expert herself, there’s been a demand for Taylor Swift to return to her country roots. This seems to be her personal End Game.

As the country music scene suffering its own identity crisis – typified by Billboard removing Lil Nas X’s viral song “Old Town Road” from country chart – Taylor’s return would be the ultimate power play.
 

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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Carlsberg | Notre Dame | Tiger Woods

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

Quick Easter blast here: Did Carlsberg's social media self-immolation work? Were big brand donations to rebuild Notre Dame benevolent or kneejerk? And has Tiger Woods gained reputational redemption?
 

Probably the best brand turnaround in the world?

Carlsberg – most people’s second or third least favourite lager – employed a slightly unusual technique ahead of their upcoming rebrand; promoting abusive Tweets about itself in a campaign admitting that it’s ‘Probably not the best beer in the world’ but promising that the new one would be better.

Self-deprecation can work. Jokes about Skodas being rubbish are greeted with blank expressions by younger members of our office, but it wasn’t that long ago that the manufacturers were playing up just such a reputation to emphasise the quality and popularity of their new Fabia.

The problem Carlsberg have is that Skoda had the collateral of actually having produced a decent car behind them, whereas Carlsberg did the same things with only a promise that their new beer will taste better than “the bath water that your nan died in”. Early reviews suggest that might be a bit better, if not quite enough to justify the irony intended by the ‘Mean Tweets’-style swagger with which Carlsberg has been slagging itself off.
 
 
Notre Dame Cathedral: Have brands benefited from big donations?
There was an interesting reaction to the charitable but ostentatious donations to help rebuild Notre Dame Cathedral after the world-renowned monument was devasted by a huge fire this week.

Brands such as Yves Saint Laurent, Gucci, L’Oreal, and Louis Vuitton have clubbed in to raise a total rumoured to be €700 million. No down side right?

Wrong: the donations have inspired something of a nuanced and multifaceted public debate (remember those?!).

On one hand: How we can live in a society in which millions of poor starve and sleep rough, while the few rich finagle their taxes so that they can sit on sums so vast they could change the face of entire communities…and yet the money only appears when they smell a chance to look benevolent in the news (and maybe get a tidy tax exemption and their name on a tourist attraction). This is complicated by the moral quandary of the Catholic Church already having benefited extravagantly from French government goodwill during their tenancy of the cathedral.

On the other: were they just trying to support a good cause?

Probably the latter, but if big brands want the glory, they need to test their conviction in causes célèbres against this kind of potential backlash, and have a justification ready, before pulling the trigger, otherwise accusations of short-sightedness and cynicism are always going to emerge.

 
Rise of the Tiger

The ‘return’ of Tiger Woods is complete. After multiple career-threatening surgeries, he managed to return to first class golf and this week won his first Major since 2008 at the Masters in Augusta - a feat being lauded as one of the greatest sporting comebacks of all time. Most professional athletes don't even get a decade at the top, let alone a decade between their two stints at the top to build the tension...

The return to golfing greatness has coincided with a reappearance in the public's affections; a kind of reputational redemption that serves as proof - were it needed- that our memories are short when we want them to be.

Back in 2009 when Woods was at the centre of a media circus alleging rampant promiscuity, he had very few options in front of him. He was forced to keep his head down, apologise and seek therapy. A star beloved by millions, many couldn’t excuse Tiger’s actions at the time.

But now all appears forgiven and forgotten. Amid the furore of his dramatic Masters triumph, there is little to no reference of his shady past. Despite his 2017 run in with the law for driving under the influence  – there are few occasions where his past is brought up. His sporting triumph has eclipsed his less auspicious personal life.

On current evidence, talent is king, and Tiger is back. 
 

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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Disney Plus | Assange | Black Hole | Israel Folau

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

In a week of big news stories we take a look at the media fortunes of Disney (again), Julian Assange, the team behind that Black Hole photo, and disgraced Australian homophobe and (probably ex-) rugby player Israel Folau.
 

'Disney Plus' to halt giant's stream of bad PR?

Another week another mention of Disney in this email. To sum up our previous analyses of Disney’s recent output: the entertainment giant needs a win.
Dumbo has had its wings (well, ears) clipped by bad reviews, Aladdin – in our humble opinion – could go the same way, and the forecast for The Lion King, cinematically the most promising of the trio of mega releases, is less rosy than first thought (Forbes did a good analysis of the challenge it faces to become a $2Bn movie).

The Lion King’s second trailer was subject to a mini-controversy when some members of the media and entertainment world’s most important pillar, the gay community, expressed some tongue-only-half-in-cheek offence that the film’s villain Scar had been ‘retro-hetero-d’ to look less gay than his lavishly camp predecessor.

It was against this backdrop that Disney launched its opening salvo in the battle for streaming supremacy. While Britbox looks DOA, Apple TV has at least fired a shot this week by announcing a collaboration between Oprah and Prince Harry, so how will Disney get on?

The early signs are promising: for only about a fiver a month you’re getting a storied back catalogue and some original productions wielding huge, very powerful IP – three Marvels and a Star Wars spinoff for starters. That’s a solid statement of intent to us, and the markets agree, with Disney shares jumping 10% on Friday and Netflix taking a 3% hit. This might just be the win Disney needs…
 
 
OzymandiAssange
After almost a decade as one of the world’s most recognisable and polarising figures, Julian Assange is in police custody – arrested minutes after the Ecuadorian government ended his asylum in their Embassy in London this week.

This the culmination of a remarkable reputational nosedive: from being viewed as a fearless campaigner and rebel-intellectual whose early work probably changed the way governments communicate with people forever, to an embattled, self-important demagogue whose fragmenting network of relationships forced him to consort with malign influences, to an alleged rapist who spends his days egomaniacally pontificating on conspiracy theories, the human embodiment of the murky underbelly of the internet forum that makes you roll your eyes and switch off.

So putrefied is the public perception of Assange that it’s actually harming the understandable argument against his extradition to the United States. The current government in Washington does not have a healthy, democratic view on dissent and being able to have their enemies extradited extrajudicially is not going to help things, but because it’s Assange, most people have little sympathy.

Sometimes you need people to like you, and to be able to recognise when they don’t. We’re not sure Assange ever really understood that. Being hated is one thing, but the alienating behaviour that led to his arrest has doomed him to an even worse fate: being forgotten.  

 
Could Black Hole create science's next stars?

With the whole world watching, the historic first ever image of a Black Hole dwarfed the story behind its capture.

Those behind this landmark discovery missed a trick. They failed to tell a compelling backstory or put human face to the forefront of this epic feat.

To be fair, the media have caught up. According to BBC News, Katie Bouman was an instrumental figure behind the first black hole image having led the development of an algorithm which made the breakthrough image possible. She could be an inspirational figure, especially for young women with an interest in science, for years to come.

But there was important legwork missing from the original discovery: Who were the team behind the discovery? How did they do it? How does it impact our understanding of the universe?

Instead the lasting image of a black hole millions of lightyears away seems at the moment, quite literally, to exist in a vacuum.

Ultimately, there’s plenty of room in the science world for a star (pardon the pun); in an age where Donald Trump is what passes as a public figure of authority and the BBC made Nigel Farage their top story this morning, we need discoverers and inventors more than ever.

But while scientists continue to push these boundaries, it seems to us that too few of them are household names whose work is really understood by the public at large.
.

Folau Fallout
Israel Folau is homophobic. People tend to have been introducing him as one of the most talented rugby players in the world and positioning the homophobia as a side-hustle but since it now looks like he’s out of a job as a rugby player it would be sensible to introduce the homophobia first.

We wouldn’t be shocked if a number of the world’s top athletes shared similar views to those expressed by Folau – not for the first time – in an Instagram post earlier this week, but the overwhelming majority seem to at least understand that it’s not appropriate for public figures – role models- to voice opinions which could incite hate.

That’s a basic misjudgement on Israel Folau’s part and the Australian Rugby Union will be doing the right thing if they terminate his contract. Athletes have a responsibility to set an example for their fans (particularly young fans) that does not encourage behaviour which could motivate hate crimes and violence. By again insinuating that gay people need to repent or go to hell, Folau failed.

His malign influence can already be seen in the hundreds of vitriolic social media comments supporting his views, not least those authored by England rugby player Billy Vunipola, for which he should also expect a serious punishment.

When Israel Folau first expressed homophobic views, Australian rugby were right to give him one last chance. He’s wasted it, and it would now be dangerous and irresponsible of them not to make him an example of what happens when sports stars fail to uphold their totemic public role.
 

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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: KFC EDM | Airbnb-Louvre | Knife Angel | @Sussexroyal

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

Happy Friday! You know the drill by now: Stinker stunt, great stunt, poignant stunt, Royal Insta
 

 

ATTEMPT TO REBRAND THE COLONEL AS KFC-J IS FINGER LICKIN' BAD

How do you successfully ‘get down with the kids’? Don’t ask KFC. Late last week, an excruciating PR stunt left unprepared festival goers in shock as Colonel Sanders performed an EDM mini-set at Miami’s Ultra Music Festival.

I can picture the planning meeting no: a cultural box-ticking exercise dreamt up by suits and resulting in a perverse amalgamation of outdated trends and an opaque attempt to penetrate a cultural zeitgeist.

The result? An audience almost literally paralysed in horror as they witnessed an oversized Sanders mascot blurting out KFC marketing slogans. “I am Colonel Sanders! I am everywhere!” – it’s something from a Black Mirror-style corporate-controlled nightmare.

The idea had potential. Infiltrating inebriated festival-goers with immersive advertising for salty fried chicken isn't a wild concept. While crass and blatant, tapping into popular culture to monetise fast food has worked before, but only if done with irony and self-awareness, and without appearing to try too hard. Look at Greggs’ raves last year.

Next-time, maybe, just maybe, employ someone with an ounce of cultural understanding to pull off such a grand stunt.
 
 
BUT AS FOR AIRBNB'S LATEST STUNT...WE'RE LOUVRE-ING IT
After enthusing about a Trivial Pursuit Hotel we weren’t expecting to impressed by ANOTHER stunt taking the form of holiday accommodation so soon. Enter Airbnb; the home-letting agency which is just becoming big enough to attract the kind of scrutiny which make you more vulnerable reputationally.

They’ve had a good week though, partnering with no less salubrious a collaborator than the Louvre museum in Paris to offer a night staying there as a ‘once in a lifetime’ trip. This is great oxygen for Airbnb, applying their primary offering, accommodation, to a tourist destination so globally famous that it can’t but highlight their apparent desire to expand into full service holiday curation.

What’s in it for the Louvre is less clear (unless it was money); we can’t imagine they need the publicity, and partnering with Airbnb isn’t as straight up millennial cool as as if they’d, for example, booked Christine & The Queens to do a SOFAR Sounds in there.

In any case the gimmick fulfilled the one cardinal requirement of a publicity stunt and generated spectacular images, which all-but guarantee a decent media spread.


 
KNIFE ANGEL

London wankers that we are we’re a bit behind the curve with this one; a couple of weeks ago the British Ironworks Centre revealed an 8m high tribute to the victims of knife crime; an angel sculpted from confiscated knives.

It’s a beautiful work of art and its symbolism is powerful in its simplicity. It’s apparently coming to London and feels like a profound and necessary symbol of peace in the midst of what increasingly feels like an epidemic of knife crime tragedy. Expect its arrival in the capital to pack an emotional punch.


ROYAL INSTA REVIEW PT. 2: THE SEXY SUSSEXES

There’s just no resisting the lure of the gram, even for the Royals. It’s a place full of shiny, beautiful imagery; a place for people to share memories and incredible moments; it’s a place for educating, empowering, learning and discovering.

On the other hand, it’s a platform that fuels negativity and jealousy, where the pressure to achieve the unattainable is constant, it’s an addictive lifestyle where your existence is justified by likes and followers.

The Sussexes’ desire to make a positive impact via Instagram is clear: their feed so far shows off their charitable work on the ground and in communities making a difference. They want to inspire and create awareness of serious social issues.

And, with the Palace’s recently publication of its “Social Media Community Guidelines” - what is clear is that they will not tolerate trolling. Although, vocal on the subject as they are, it’s unlikely to have much of an effect due to the ease with which social media trolls can still remain anonymous.

Unfortunately for the nosy among us, it would be royally irresponsible to flaunt the SoHo house lifestyle on @sussexroyal, and there will almost certainly be no 5-star holiday poses by infinity pools.

But, while their images depict good deeds, they’re still glossy, preened and posed even when supposedly candid, and although they’ve flung in a few slightly less polished throwback images they’re unlikely to get much braver.

Even if the Sussexes represent a more modern Royal couple, more connected to the people; we’re also unlikely to see real-life snaps of baby-induced sleepless nights and drool-soaked clothes, after all they represent the Queen (not to mention the lack of privacy they have already).

Whatever you think, there’s no denying the draw of this power couple who seamlessly bridge the gap between royalty and celebrity. Their influence is powerful: they’ve already been acknowledged by Guinness World Records for reaching one million followers in under 6 hours, outdoing South Korean K-Pop singer Kan Daniel by 5 hours. We can’t help but wonder how long it will be until @sussexroyal gathers a larger following than @kensingtonroyal, but we don’t want to #fuelthefire.
 

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March

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Apple, YouTube, Versace & Dumbo

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

We have neglected Brexit and crafted some hot trends from this week's news cycle; from Apple's pursuit for world domination to Dumbo's flop - don't miss the Borkowski grand wizards' (couldn't resist a Brexit jibe) take on the wider world...
 

HAS APPLE'S AMBITIOUS LANDGRAB BEEN SUCCESSFUL?

Apple this week launched a raft of new products including a credit card and a streaming service. Media response to this launch has been mixed but, as in life, Apple’s media profile is too big to fail. Previous product launches have been critically panned (remember when your chargers and earphones suddenly became obsolete) but such is Apple’s domination of the market and the cult-like-loyalty of their customers, that they always land on their feet. The credit card doesn’t have the most competitive interest rates, but Monzo has shown us that bank cards can work as a fashion accessory and – as with its electronics – Apple’s undeniable gift for aesthetics could work to their advantage.

The streaming service is more ambitious and more likely to fail. Netflix and Prime have built such megalithic structures (as the BBC quake in their boots) the streaming giants aren’t likely going down without a fight. The mixed success of their original shows has shown that it’s not something that even a monster media company can master overnight.

YOUTUBE HOUSE

YouTube created a pop-up this week providing curated samples of their work and merchandise in sectors including food, gaming, fitness and music. A media giant expanding into live events isn’t new; Spotify and Soundcloud to name a couple, have run pop-ups at music festivals we work with. They initially arose during the wellness boom; just at the moment we realised the limitless potential of new media, we also realised that spending all day on screens might not be totally wise. This, combined with the sudden upsurge in popularity of any kind of immersive or experiential live event, created an obvious avenue for media giants to expand into.

What’s good about this one is that it looks, on the surface, like quite a successful attempt to translate what was appealing about YouTube as a digital product, into the live events space. It will be interesting to see their next steps.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT HOTEL

A stunt that you know is fun just from the PR Examples headline: Trivial Pursuit opens the first hotel to accept knowledge as payment. Another display of a brand moving into the experiential entertainment sector has seen Hasbro set up a whole (quite nice looking) hotel in Russia where guests pay for things by answering Trivial Pursuit questions.

It’s been covered widely by the media internationally but had a weirdly muted response in the UK with a Google news search mainly revealing approving nods from industry trades like AdWeek and The Drum…maybe it’s a stunt for purists!

THE RETURN OF THE VERSACE SAFETY PIN DRESS

Sustainability is all the rage in the fashion world, and it was amusing this week to see that even media fodder can be recycled successfully. Liz Hurley’s infamous Versace safety-pin dress, first seen at the premiere of Four Weddings and a Funeral, made its grand return as Liz wore it on the cover of this month’s Harper’s Bazaar a full twenty-five years on.

Coming in the wake of Four Weddings’ modestly received Comic Relief “sequel” the dress has made more of a splash; while not emitting the shockwaves it did on its first appearance it certainly sent a healthy ripple of nostalgia throughout the British media when the cover was revealed.

NOT EXACTLY A FLYING START FOR DUMBO

Is Disney’s live action remake bubble about to burst? The initial success of Jungle Book provoked a flurry of productions from the family entertainment behemoth, but diminishing returns are already evident; Beauty and the Beast was okay-ish, Dumbo is apparently rubbish (early reviews have been shocking), Aladdin looks, if possible, even worse: basically a lot hinges on The Lion King – the most promising looking of the upcoming projects (but is that only because its trailer is literally a shot-for-shot remake of the original?); if that’s not as good as we hope then a reputational crisis looms.
 

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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Dumbledore, Fireman Sam, Janet Jackson, Billie Eilish & Theresa's Mayday

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

Here's out latest line-up of trending topics in this week's media; from kids classics to musicians old-and-new, to Theresa's 'us-and-them' Hail Mary and a new commercial arm for the Murdoch empire.
 

TOUGH WEEK FOR CHILDREN'S CLASSICS
This week has been a stark illustration of the highwire act it takes for a children’s classic to remain relevant and politically correct in today’s hypersensitive society.

Firstly, there was an example of trying too hard to retrofit a woke undercurrent to a franchise which wasn’t massively criticised for being out-of-touch anyway.

We’ve more-or-less accepted that Albus Dumbledore – a character as canonically asexual as the paper on which he was conceived – was gay. But, in trying to hammer home how okay she is with that, the world’s most famous literary figure J.K Rowling decided to retro-reveal the sexual nature of his relationship with the dark wizard Grindelwald.

This was a miscalculation on several fronts: firstly, since Dumbledore’s outing, we kind of knew this already, all explicit confirmation does is rob that original relationship of any nuance or openness to interpretation. Secondly, acknowledging that gay people have the right to a sex life isn’t exactly going to get you a medal for inclusivity, and thinking that it will borders on patronising.

For a different tactic we head to Pontypandy, where Fireman Sam was accused in the Telegraph by senior fire officer Alex Johnson of putting young women off the fire brigade with its lack of gender diversity, backed up by the London Fire Brigade’s #FireFightingSexism campaign.

Mattel who own the Fireman Sam brand were quick to backtrack with promises of evolution to keep the show relevant, but Fireman Sam creator David Jones was less conciliatory, claiming there was “nothing he would change” about the show – although having sold the brand 15 years ago he’s free from the constraints of trying to keep everyone happy.

These two are just the latest classic family brands to get sucked into debates about the social responsibility of fiction – our old client Beano Studios and Thomas the Tank Engine are others who have had to adapt quickly and smartly.

There’s a middle ground here between Rowling’s over reaching and Jones’ flat refusal to engage with a changing world; finding it is going to be a challenge for heritage family entertainment brands for years to come.  
 
JANET JACKSON'S GLASTASTROPHE
Howler of the week by a long way goes to Janet Jackson. At a time when anyone bearing that surname would do well to lie low – at least as low as you can when being announced as a sub-headliner for Glastonbury -- JJ decided to seek out the limelight by literally promoting herself to headliner in a crudely photoshopped poster which relegated The Killers.

This was a pointless endeavour as her name was already in the top line of music’s most prestigious poster billing, and as a result of that she will not be short of either an audience or publicity opportunities when she rocks up in Somerset. But deeper than that it seems to show a lack of understanding as to just how big a deal Glastonbury is and the depth in which its fans study its line-up, and also a perhaps a lack of respect towards her fellow musicians.

Foot: meet bullet.

 
IS BILLIE EILISH A MUSIC INDUSTRY PLANT?

We all love a rags-to-riches tale. Consumers are actively drawn to it, which is why it’s been a publicity tool of choice since the dawn of time. (Just ask Simon Cowell).

As it becomes easier and more accessible to make music, there is an unhealthy expectation that every artist has a captivating origin story. When the internet gets a whiff that someone may have had a leg-up or there’s a shred on inauthenticity, they pounce, usually screaming conspiracy!

In Billie Eilish’s case, she has been widely labelled a ‘music industry plant’. This has come to fruition after it was ‘discovered’ that her brother Finneas O’Connell had written/co-written her earlier work and, slightly more vaguely, she had family members who are actors/involved in the music industry to some extent. SHE’S A PUPPET! – it’s the only logical outcome…

The distinction really boils down to how you define an industry plant.
Here’s the thing. The music industry is full of people who’ve had a helping hand(s) (as is most of the entertainment business). It’s the quality of the output that will stand the test of time and determine her legacy. We’ll find out when her hotly anticipated debut lands next week.


THERESA'S MAYDAY PLUMS DEPTHS OF POLITICAL RHETORIC

‘Nothing has changed’

How our leaders communicate with their people is always a source of interest to any communications specialist and this week was no exception.

With a wave of populist rhetoric sweeping presidential lecterns like never before, it was interesting to see the high-water mark of the ‘promise simple answers, blame other people and it’s never my fault’ style of political rhetoric emanate from Downing Street. The days are now gone when the world looks to Britain for stiff upper lips and cool heads, and our integrity is as dead as May’s options. At the moment of maximum panic, when the pressure was highest, she turned to the cheapest trick in the book.

 ‘I am on your side’ she said, directly to us, the people, and she has certainly caused an interesting reaction. At time of writing the petition to revoke Article 50 altogether approaches 3.5 million signatures. And for all those looking to see where the Independent Group are most likely to field candidates in any upcoming election, look no further than this map.

Interesting times are coming, let’s just hope that the rhetoric steps up to match the scale of events.
 

And finally...is Influencer Marketing the new Advertorial?

If you needed a clue about the future application of influencer marketing, the announcement this week that News UK is launching The Fifth, a dedicated agency within their commercial division, says a lot. News UK have always had a keen eye on potential new revenue streams and have been quick to adopt and adapt to the tune of new financial opportunities.

Defining their offer to type and tone instead of the more traditional scale will be key to success because they already have the distribution channels and reach to create leverage. This is advertorial 3.0, but it also signals that understanding how to grab the attention of an audience and how they react is vital. The art of PR has an opportunity to shine here,,,.
 

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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Maitlis Side-Eye, Beckham Statue, Fashion's PR Crisis & Dave

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

In a week dominated by laugh-to-hold-back-the-tears chaos in UK democracy and unspeakable tragedy in New Zealand, here’s a selection of the other media trends which grabbed our attention.
 

Maitlis Side-Eye

On Wednesday morning the nation awoke to the one spark of dry humour in a damp, dark and dismal week of Brexit purgatory; Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis delivering a thunderously withering side-eye to Labour’s Barry Gardiner after his failure to clarify his party’s up-to-date stance.

It was an outside broadcast for which Maitlis was wearing a duffel coat that made her look a little like a disgruntled Admiral, and she followed her death stare with a burst of furious stage-scribbling, all of which combined to crate a spate of memes and sub-memes which lasted almost the whole of Wednesday.

While the consensus was that she’d perfectly captured the mood of the nation, she didn’t receive universal critical acclaim – Corbynistas held the exchange up as an example of the BBC’s establishment contempt for the current Labour leadership.

We’re also not pretending that the side-eye was in any way strategic, but her general current interview demeanour of open exasperation at times spilling into outright hostility feels intentional, and we think ‘I'm as mad as hell and I'm not gonna take this anymore!’ is a good look for a BBC regularly accused of letting politicians on both sides off the hook for their incompetence.
 

Golden Trolls
 
On Tuesday David Beckham went for a meeting with a man he thought was the sculptor responsible for a statue of him soon to be unveiled in LA.

The statue was a comically grotesque misrepresentation of the famously handsome footballer, who (while just about staying within the boundaries of courtesy) couldn’t help but express his dissatisfaction with the likeness, only to discover that it was a prank perpetrated by his very very very good friend James Corden.

It’s not the edgiest stunt we’ve ever seen and won’t live long in the memory, but it garnered a gargantuan amount of media and social coverage and was quite a clever nod to the infamous (non-prank) Cristiano Ronaldo statue.

It’s done no harm to either Corden – as a reminder that there’s more to him than Carpool Karaoke and sycophantic cackling – or Beckham, who displayed a level of human decency not apparent in the allegations about his reaction to being overlooked for a Knighthood.


Is the Fashion world on the verge of a comms crisis?

After Burberry’s ‘Noose Hoodie’, Gucci's 'blackface jumpers' and Katy Perry and Prada’s ‘Gollywog’ shoes, the latest communications issue for a major fashion brand was ignited by Louis Vuitton’s roll-out of several Michael Jackson-inspired items as part of their Autumn/Winter 2019 collection, just over a week before the release of the devastating documentary Leaving Neverland.

The fashion giant first denied all knowledge of the documentary (a tenuous claim) before eventually pulling the items from the collection amid a spree of apologies and naval gazing. We admire their proactivity in trying to set the record straight; not the worst patch-up job ever, but there’s a time to stop digging and move on.

It also raises the question of how dynastic fashion empires get into these scrapes in the first place. Part of fashion is using design to raise issues, break taboos, and push social and creative boundaries, but this has to be done with common sense, conviction, authenticity and self-awareness. Perhaps the giants of the fashion world need to take more responsibility for the potential social impact of their creations before unleashing them on the public.

How does Dave go from talent to Superstar?

Why is the current zeitgeist hip-hop? In a word: disconnect. Grime and Drill have come to prominence in the UK for their communication of social struggles. 

Drill has turned heads with boastful, violent and aggressive lyrics when knife crime and gang violence is rife. Grime, and Hip-Hop in general aren’t as overtly aggressive, which is perhaps why those genres have such a powerful, mainstream audience.

Dave is a UK rapper who’s received widespread critical acclaim and released his debut LP last Friday – a concept album that details his family and personal identity with the unguarded catharsis of a therapy session. He has an undeniable raw gift, but failed to fully dominate the conversation. This is because Dave isn’t yet a symbol – he’s a normal 20-year-old, as is name suggests. He has talent in every vein but most often tweets about football and has pushed his album with fairly textbook promotion. In today’s world that’s not enough to evolve from talent to superstar: you simply must stand for something.

When Stormzy burst onto the scene, he became a symbol of the societal disconnect mentioned above, and used his platform to support Jeremy Corbyn. He furthered his political cause by calling a Theresa May a ‘paigon’ – slang that is becoming increasingly relevant today… Stormzy mixed politics with controversy, leveraging his brand and becoming a symbol for disaffected youth. Today, he champions independence through his ambitious personal label ‘Murky’.

The Stormzy brand was built before and after his debut studio album release in 2017. Dave, on the other hand, currently gives the impression of a man content with a modest level of fame. It will be interesting to see where the two of them are in five years. However, you heard it here first – Dave will win the mercury prize 2019.


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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Maitlis Side-Eye, Beckham Statue & Fashion's PR Crisis

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

In a week dominated by laugh-to-hold-back-the-tears chaos in UK democracy and unspeakable tragedy in New Zealand, here’s a selection of the other media trends which grabbed our attention.
 

Maitlis Side-Eye

On Wednesday morning the nation awoke to the one spark of dry humour in a damp, dark and dismal week of Brexit purgatory; Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis delivering a thunderously withering side-eye to Labour’s Barry Gardiner after his failure to clarify his party’s up-to-date stance.

It was an outside broadcast for which Maitlis was wearing a duffel coat that made her look a little like a disgruntled Admiral, and she followed her death stare with a burst of furious stage-scribbling, all of which combined to crate a spate of memes and sub-memes which lasted almost the whole of Wednesday.

While the consensus was that she’d perfectly captured the mood of the nation, she didn’t receive universal critical acclaim – Corbynistas held the exchange up as an example of the BBC’s establishment contempt for the current Labour leadership.

We’re also not pretending that the side-eye was in any way strategic, but her general current interview demeanour of open exasperation at times spilling into outright hostility feels intentional, and we think ‘I'm as mad as hell and I'm not gonna take this anymore!’ is a good look for a BBC regularly accused of letting politicians on both sides off the hook for their incompetence.
 

Golden Trolls
 
On Tuesday David Beckham went for a meeting with a man he thought was the sculptor responsible for a statue of him soon to be unveiled in LA.

The statue was a comically grotesque misrepresentation of the famously handsome footballer, who (while just about staying within the boundaries of courtesy) couldn’t help but express his dissatisfaction with the likeness, only to discover that it was a prank perpetrated by his very very very good friend James Corden.

It’s not the edgiest stunt we’ve ever seen and won’t live long in the memory, but it garnered a gargantuan amount of media and social coverage and was quite a clever nod to the infamous (non-prank) Cristiano Ronaldo statue.

It’s done no harm to either Corden – as a reminder that there’s more to him than Carpool Karaoke and sycophantic cackling – or Beckham, who displayed a level of human decency not apparent in the allegations about his reaction to being overlooked for a Knighthood.


Is the Fashion world on the verge of a comms crisis?

After Burberry’s ‘Noose Hoodie’, Gucci's 'blackface jumpers' and Katy Perry and Prada’s ‘Gollywog’ shoes, the latest communications issue for a major fashion brand was ignited by Louis Vuitton’s roll-out of several Michael Jackson-inspired items as part of their Autumn/Winter 2019 collection, just over a week before the release of the devastating documentary Leaving Neverland.

The fashion giant first denied all knowledge of the documentary (a tenuous claim) before eventually pulling the items from the collection amid a spree of apologies and naval gazing. We admire their proactivity in trying to set the record straight; not the worst patch-up job ever, but there’s a time to stop digging and move on.

It also raises the question of how dynastic fashion empires get into these scrapes in the first place. Part of fashion is using design to raise issues, break taboos, and push social and creative boundaries, but this has to be done with common sense, conviction, authenticity and self-awareness. Perhaps the giants of the fashion world need to take more responsibility for the potential social impact of their creations before unleashing them on the public.

How does Dave go from talent to Superstar?

Why is the current zeitgeist hip-hop? In a word: disconnect. Grime and Drill have come to prominence in the UK for their communication of social struggles. 

Drill has turned heads with boastful, violent and aggressive lyrics when knife crime and gang violence is rife. Grime, and Hip-Hop in general aren’t as overtly aggressive, which is perhaps why those genres have such a powerful, mainstream audience.

Dave is a UK rapper who’s received widespread critical acclaim and released his debut LP last Friday – a concept album that details his family and personal identity with the unguarded catharsis of a therapy session. He has an undeniable raw gift, but failed to fully dominate the conversation. This is because Dave isn’t yet a symbol – he’s a normal 20-year-old, as is name suggests. He has talent in every vein but most often tweets about football and has pushed his album with fairly textbook promotion. In today’s world that’s not enough to evolve from talent to superstar: you simply must stand for something.

When Stormzy burst onto the scene, he became a symbol of the societal disconnect mentioned above, and used his platform to support Jeremy Corbyn. He furthered his political cause by calling a Theresa May a ‘paigon’ – slang that is becoming increasingly relevant today… Stormzy mixed politics with controversy, leveraging his brand and becoming a symbol for disaffected youth. Today, he champions independence through his ambitious personal label ‘Murky’.

The Stormzy brand was built before and after his debut studio album release in 2017. Dave, on the other hand, currently gives the impression of a man content with a modest level of fame. It will be interesting to see where the two of them are in five years. However, you heard it here first – Dave will win the mercury prize 2019.


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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends | The Late Great Keith Flint, GMB's Superman Weatherman Alex Beresford & One's First Instagram

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

With our founder Mark Borkowski already having weighed in on the explosive Finding Neverland, let's take a look at some of the other issues which got our gullets flapping this week, from the tragic to the inspiring to the historic(ish).
 

R.I.P Keith Flint 

We were incredibly sad to learn about the loss of Keith Flint, best known as dancer and vocalist of The ProdigyThere was a man who knew how to cultivate an aura: equal parts punk, raver, heathen cult leader and your mate from the pub; he made Dance rock and Rock dance, and music fans won’t forget him. RIP Firestarter.
 

Beresford goes down a storm
Alex Beresford the Good Morning Britain weatherman received a deluge of praise for interjecting on Wednesday morning into a debate about knife crime.

No less an authority than the chairman of the Police Federation of England & Wales had just suggested that the solution to the seeming spate of stabbings currently blighting the country and especially London was to build more prisons...

Beresford’s outraged disbelief at this ‘lock up all the yobbos’ mentality drove him to deliver an inspired rebuttal on the ineffectiveness of prison as a deterrent, concluding: “If you don't change the environment, you won't change anything and that's the key thing.”

The combination of intelligence, passion and integrity displayed by Beresford was hugely admirable and we also, on a more minor level, doff our caps to the producer who decided to turn his mic up for creating a fantastic piece of television.


Social Media Royalty

On Thursday the Queen posted on Instagram for the first time. Captioning a letter sent by 19th-century mathematician and computer pioneer Charles Babbage to her great-great-grandfather Prince Albert. We got our top office Instagrammer to run the rule over her first offering:

“One can only suspect that the idea came about after the Queen had a pleasant cup of tea with her granddaughter-in- law. Perhaps Meghan was fondly remembering her former social media freedom; perhaps she was trying to filter a picture of Kate for the family album; or perhaps she was explaining the latest Kardashian family dramas. However it came about, it’s a way for the Queen to remain current and connect to the younger generations, and to show that anything a Kardashian can do, she can do better.

So would we double tap the Queen’s first Instagram post? Probably, but let’s take a closer look…

First the visuals; we are shown two images of the letter referred to in the text; it’s doesn’t initially grab you, as a visual platform it is slightly bland. Beige. However the handwriting is impeccable and reminds us what a dying artform it has become.

Second the words: educational and informative, a moderately long caption but if you read the whole post it’s fascinating and a wonderful story, some followers maybe slightly disappointed with the lack of hashtags, emojis and a #TBT to finish it off but you can’t fault the grammar. 

It might not #breaktheinternet or be as game-changing as her first TV Christmas Speech but it shows the Queen is up-to-speed with technology, has stories second to none and can namedrop with the best of them. And let’s not forget to mention what an absolute coup this was for The Science Museum, this is money-can’t-buy PR.
 
If the Queen fancies posting on International Women’s Day, can we suggest a variety of selfies followed by crown emojis, topped off with #GirlPower #Inspiration #THEDON.?”


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Feburary

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Kepa, Partridge And The Independent Group's Cheeky Nando's

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

Loads of talking points this week, and we may yet pontificate on The Oscars and whether Hollywood has solved its diversity problem (spoilers, no it hasn’t), the propaganda war that’s been unleashed by the fresh military tensions between India and Pakistan, the very real storm in an creepy, artificially constructed teacup that is Momo, Pokemon exploiting Britain’s cultural largesse for its latest offering, and the Comic Relief-Culture War between David Lammy and Stacey Dooley, but in the meantime here are some other issues which ground the Borkowski gears this week.
 

Kepa Calm and Sarri On 

A communications crisis almost without precedent arose for Chelsea FC last Sunday when their talented but temperamental 24 year-old goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga refused to be substituted, despite suffering from cramp, during the closing minutes of what had until then been an uneventful Carabao Cup Final against Manchester City (who would go on to win on penalties).
 
The fascinating thing about this is how difficult it is, with forty television cameras trained on the incident, to convincingly pull off the old trick of obfuscating for as long as it takes to get your implausible but theoretically possible story straight.
 
What was clearly a heated disagreement between goalkeeper and manager (the embattled Mauricio Sarri) was at first written off by the club as a ‘misunderstanding’ in ‘nothing to see here’ fashion’, and then acknowledged as wrongdoing on the part of Kepa - who was fined, dropped for the next match against Spurs (with doubts remaining at time of writing about whether he’ll be recalled this weekend), and begrudgingly apologised.
 
This is bad crisis comms. Chelsea is a club renowned for its ‘player power’ – a term used almost affectionately by fans in reference to the Terry-Lampard generation, but tantamount to anarchy under Sarri, whose authority was in question even before Kepa’s tantrum. Anarchy unequivocally isn’t a good look.
 
Chelsea were trying to save face on three fronts and should have come out with a single unifying statement which turned these factions into an unshakeable triumvirate:

  1. The Club: amid the player power chat that had encircled their downturn in form Chelsea needed to come out as a structured, united, professional organisation which commanded loyalty, not a remake of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
  2. Sarri: He’s gone from hanging from a shaky peg to being seen widely as a dead man walking after his failure to control his player and inconsistent treatment of him afterwards. He needed to radiate decisiveness and command and he didn’t
  3. Kepa: Brattish though his behaviour may have been, many people think Kepa -- the most expensive goalkeeper of all time and still young for the top tier – has a longer future at the club than his manager. He needed to take his medicine but didn’t deserve double standards and inconsistency

None of this has happened and, despite things simmering throughout the week, Chelsea still comes across very much as a club in turmoil.
 

Britbox vs Partridge

AHA!! This week we saw both faces of British television; high-quality, self-deprecating meta-television – this week in the form of This Time with Alan Partridge – and Britbox, the new streaming service whose conception and launch could easily have been conceived by, well, Alan Partridge.
 
Let’s focus on the publicity; Partridge announced his re-arrival on Monday morning with a passive-aggressive and unmistakeably Partridge-esque email to his BBC ‘colleagues’. Simple, but more innovative and effective than a press release.
 
The first This Time… was a roaring success – playing off Partridge’s (increasingly important) role in British society as the ultimate cringeworthy middle-aged little-Englander, the pariah with whom all middle-aged white men must avoid comparisons as a matter of urgency, or risk a Partridge-inspired lampooning.
 
The show’s success created a wave of smugness around the nation’s creativity, the crest of which was a perfect place for the BBC and ITV to launch their new Best of British streaming service Britbox.
 
But somewhat ironically Britbox’s launch was all a bit #AccidentalPartridge; the branding looked like it had been commissioned by Matt Lucas and David Walliams, the name sounds a tiny bit like ‘Brexit’, and the project was immediately labelled as a “too little too late” (Times) venture which is “doomed to fail” (i) and “will surely bomb” (Guardian). The whole thing felt a lot more ‘monkey tennis’ than ‘classic intercourse’.  
 

The Independent Group's (possibly) Cheeky Nando's
The Independent Group continues to fascinate us, and this week was subject of a lively office debate; whether their trip to Nando’s was simply an innocent dinner which happened to capture the public imagination, or a cynical PR stunt designed to make them appear more ‘down with the kids’ (despite being exactly the kind of people who would use the phrase ‘down with the kids’ unironically). 
 
At an impasse we’ve decided to present both arguments; one written by an ex-political operative, the other by someone who eats at a fast food chain at least twice a week.
 
INNOCENT DINNER
 
“Resigning a forty-year membership of a party is no mean feat. Leading a press conference when 8¾ months pregnant is no mean feat. Setting up a political party is no mean feat. Those things do not leave much time or energy for launching cynical and innovative media campaigns.
 
As much as people would like to read an attempt at a stunt designed to engage a younger audience into the Nando’s dinner, we should not forget that THIS. IS. POLITICS.
 
Watch each of these videos. Three of the most powerful politicians on the planet making monumental and basic errors in the most public way possible. THEY ALL HAPPENED THIS WEEK!

VIDEO 1 | VIDEO 2 | VIDEO 3

 

And then tell me that their brethren have the brains, energy and gumption to try and pull a media strategy out of a bowl of peri-peri chicken. This, from the group, whose website didn’t work at their launch event?
 
And even if they did attempt this strategy – why have they only tweeted about it TWICE? There are dozens and dozens of tweets about all manner of other subjects – but only two for this entire media strategy!? Bollocks.
 
Here’s what actually happens:
“Where shall we all go for dinner this evening?”
 
“Shit. We forgot to book. Where can we go that’s not too far away for a woman on the verge of giving birth, can sit 11 plus staff, isn’t ridiculously expensive, at extremely late notice.”
 
“……….Nando’s?”
 
CYNICAL STUNT
 
“#ChangePolitics – Chuka’s ploy to appeal to the exasperated, disillusioned and disengaged public, seeped through after a group trip to Nando’s which was a cynical PR ruse. There was nothing discreet about this visit Nando’s.
 
On a recent trip to Marrakesh, I was regularly accosted by Moroccans street vendors, who attempted to entice me using what they thought were Britishisms, often leading with “hey geezer” and regularly following up with “cheeky Nando’s?”; a beacon of familiarity to a young wayward Brit, they thought.
 
My Moroccan pals and The Independent Group (TIG)’s tactics closely align. A seemingly casual, yet hopeful, attempt to appeal to a targeted demographic.
 
A jam-packed Nando’s is the last place I’d go for a spontaneous group meal. Yet it’s a destination thought of by the out-of-touch as ‘hip’ and ‘trendy’.
 
I couldn’t help but smile at the vendors’ hopeful attempt to sell their wares. But I’m cringing to my core at TIG’s devious actions. The street vendors and politicians have one thing in common: they know nothing about young Brits.”
 

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Borkowski's Weekly Trends

WEEKLY TRENDS

The stories and trends that stood out for us this week ran the gamut of comedy, abject polemic, mindless fun and inspiration.
 

I DREAM OF MEMIE

The preparations for Disney’s bumper year continued this week with the release of a ‘Special Look’ at their Aladdin remake following neatly anticipation-building tantalisers for The Lion King and Dumbo.

 
Reaction to the trailer was described by Forbes as ‘lukewarm’ and Bork HQ weren’t sure about the visuals - which, consensus has it, fell somewhere between second-tier faux-Bollywood and the kind of fantasy adventure romp you’d be most likely to see on SYFY at 4pm on a Tuesday.
 
The one possible silver lining for Disney was the unarguable visibility boost they received when the trailer’s star moment – the first appearance of Will Smith as Genie – became an instant meme, trending worldwide within the time it took to photoshop him into a satisfactorily ridiculous situation.
 
Reasons for the fascination with Genie – who we think looks a bit like a blue-skinned, bejewelled pro wrestler from the 90s with Will Smith’s face – range from rumination about which nightmarish crag of the Uncanny Valley he emerged from, to humorous comparison memes which span Smith’s character in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Marvel antagonist Thanos, the Blue Man Group, Avatar, The Smurfs and Tobias Funke. The latter, David Cross’ hapless, occasionally blue-painted character from Arrested Development, is a titan of the meme underworld whose presence in a joke is pretty much guaranteed to turn any social titter into a bellow of viral laughter.
 
There’s no concrete evidence as to whether the Genie meme will pay any dividends for Disney, although the clip already has 7.4M views on the company’s official YouTube, dwarfing the 170K views on the same channel for a clip of Dumbo released the same day.
 

CHURCHILLIN' LIKE A VILLAIN
 

Social media nowadays is full to the brim with the kind of people who never fail to muster an excoriatingly strong opinion on any subject they encounter, which is why this week’s ‘much needed debate’ on whether Churchill was a hero or a villain was inevitable as soon as Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell was asked to weigh in on the subject in one word at a Politico Q&A.

In some ways, we doff our collective cap to the Shadow Chancellor for managing to avert the public’s gaze from anything serious at an incredibly serious time using a mere two words (if you count “Tonypandy”). But it felt too easy. Why? One theory on social outrage stems from the fact that Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have no dislike buttons. At first glace, this seems understandable given the potential for bullying spawned by the alternative, but it also turns us into a legion of dementedly optimistic Roman Emperors, looking down into the digital coliseum. The chief way to dissent to a post is to comment on it - engage beyond a mere click. This creates a double-edged sword whereby negative posts get more engagement, and therefore attention. The result is that what bubbles to the top of the roiling mess of social media is outrage, controversy, obscene bullying and incessant disagreement. Social media rewards argument. And who does this benefit?

Think about the house rules next time you see someone who has built careers on headlines that piss everyone off, get another headline. These professional provocateurs who have been elevated into a position of power over the national discourse which they have no business occupying.  So instead of weighing in on the latest argument, just ignore it. You’ll make the world a better place.


ABOUT A BOT

You’ve heard of fake news, but you might not have heard about how fake the internet really is. We do a lot of research into today’s media landscape here, and we found some very interesting articles. Studies generally agree on around 40-45% of the internet being ‘non-human’.

These bot accounts don’t always appear obvious, but can just quietly give views and clicks to videos for a price. If you’ve never seen a click farm then you should check this out

But the silent (or at least stuttering) drone army that is directed at the whim of the highest bidder could be on the verge of being able to type as convincingly as you or I.

Only this week, PR Genius Elon Musk has had to hold off publishing his latest research into automatic text generation AI generators. The fear is that if he gave the secrets of OpenAI away, it could easily be polished and used to swamp the internet with long, well-reasoned arguments that would be indistinguishable from the online ramblings of a human.

All you do is feed a phrase of your choice and out pops an essay – here is an example that they provided:

Human led sentence: ‘Climate change isn’t real because…’

AI response: It can’t be detected – it’s happening, and we see it around us every day. President Donald Trump’s chief strategist and senior counsellor, Steve Bannon, later likened climate ‘crazies’ to Red China, where said ‘any rising of sea levels is a serious problem for this country and the world.

It’s not spitting out perfect prose, but it largely bears up under skim reading. Five years of heavy research, dodgy morals and highest bidders investing in this process could result in the 40-45% of fake internet traffic able to produce massive amounts of text, quickly dwarfing human output. The internet would be full of fake people, fake words, fake metrics and fake arguments – the only genuine thing left would be the ads. 

Lastly, it’s interesting to speculate on the reasons behind the near perfection of the sentence structure and the jangled, contradictory jargon itself. Perhaps it’s easy for a ‘non-human’ intelligence to mimic the patterns and rhythms of how we speak, but difficult for it to understand the inherent internal paradoxes that we all carry within us – the contradictions that make us human.

NYT GOES A BIT BUZZFEED WITH ACCENT QUIZ

It’s Friday morning, attention spans are wearing thin and it’s not uncommon for even the most Stakhanovite of office worker to have a glance on social media. Thousands of people did exactly that this morning only to encounter a near perfect piece of procrastination: a New York Times quiz which asks you a series of questions about which slang terms you use and how you pronounce certain words and tells you what part of the UK or Ireland your accent comes from.
 
The ensuing trend took a number of forms; prominently hilarity at some of the seemingly fantastical sayings from other parts of the UK and Ireland; Irish people allegedly refer to a snail as a ‘shellakybooky’, although several minutes of referencing hasn’t totally dispelled the theory that this word is the result of a BoatyMcBoatFace type scenario created by a function of the quiz which allows people to submit their own responses.
 
Another popular reaction was for people to share a feeling of immense satisfaction at having their own interpretation of the intricacies of their accent confirmed by such a lofty source, or less commonly to express shock at being linguistically extradited to somewhere they’d never lived and had no family ties.
 
Either way it certainly captured the imagination and demonstrated that, with a little creativity and intelligence, interactive clickbait may yet have a shelf-life.


#YOUTHSTRIKE4CLIMATE

This one is a bit close to home in the sense that the march literally passed outside the office. Today students from 40 UK cities as well as the USA, Australia, Netherlands and Uganda – all inspired by one 16 year-old Swedish activist – took the day off school and took to the streets as part of ‘strike’ action to try and inspire a greater government response to combat climate change.
 
The march has been the undisputed story of the afternoon (although a certain Mr Trump of New York may yet usurp them) with reactions ranging from inspiration at seeing the next generation so politically engaged, to eye-rolling at what some see as the apex of woke millennial entitlement. Whichever way you swing, it’s a textbook example of direct action cutting through the noise.
 

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Borkowski's Weekly Trends

Weekly Media Trends

It’s approaching mid-February and the whole world’s offended. Dry January has ushered in ****ed off February.

Gucci Gag

Fashion powerhouse Gucci has offered up an apology for what Drapers have described as a “racist jumper.”
 
It’s essentially a ludicrously overpriced ‘balaclava’ polo neck with large red lips. On the runway it didn’t cause a stir, but the purchase-able version has quickly drawn resemblance to a racist Sambo figure, a symbol used to dehumanise black people.
 
These gaffes are becoming all too frequent. December saw Prada apologise for its “Pradamalia” charms over criticism that it resembled the Sambo figure. The month before, Dolce & Gabbana got into even hotter water over a tone-deaf ad that played on stereotypes about Chinese people and it’s been just over a year since H&M apologised for an advertising image featuring a black boy modelling a hoodie with the slogan “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle”.
 
Rather than declare a jumper ‘racist’, the astute amongst us have alluded to the lack of diversity and inclusivity in decision-making positions within companies as part of the reason these gaffes keep occurring.
 
Brands are often rooted in one country and culture, which may be reflected in their hiring, but they’re also asking a global, diverse audience to buy their products. Consumers are more empowered than ever. Brands must learn fast.

In 'cold pursuit' of Neeson 

It seems the Twittersphere has become so gripped by taking people down, it is now persecuting those who express deep regret about their past bad behaviour.
 
Whilst Liam Neeson discussed the storyline of his new film ‘cold pursuit’, which is unsurprisingly a story about ‘revenge’ – a theme which his filmography (or life) can’t seem to escape – Liam opened-up about his own ‘primal’ urge for revenge. Big mistake.
 
The racial specificity of Neeson’s comments are undeniably troubling and entirely deserving of condemnation. However, Neeson knew this. He admits the wickedness of his thinking, conceding he’s ‘ashamed’ of his thoughts.
 
The ritual public denunciation was hard and swift. Neeson may have grown out of the urge for vengeance, but much of social media has not. They play the primal game of vengeful public shaming on an almost daily basis, gleefully hunting down anyone who has ever misspoken, mis-thought or made a moral mistake.
 
As we wrote earlier in the week, whilst we thought “we were beyond seeing fried chicken wings as a motif of racial tension and reconciliation, times are changing, and what is for sure is that Neeson has needlessly declared himself a target.”

Turning Point

If you accidentally fumbled your way onto Twitter this week you may have noticed that Turning Point; an American right wing, a non-profit organisation aiming to promote conservative grassroots activism in US College Campus’ was oddly trending in the UK.
 
It turned out to be trending because of the launch of ...Turning Point UK, which hopes to counter the dominance of left-wing views on campus here too. Although this may sound ugly, it turns out that UK’s universities can be lonely and sometimes hostile environments for conservatives and classical liberals. Last year, the online magazine Spiked found that more than half Britain’s universities and students’ unions placed explicit restrictions on free speech.
 
According to Wired their launch quickly descended into a farce following the appearance of a swarm of parody Twitter accounts impersonating the organisation and essentially trying to restrict their own existence.
 
Whether or not you agree/disagree with the values espoused by Turning Point, the ridicule seeping through from Twitter into the mainstream media is concerning. Both Vice and the New Statesman published articles collating bitchy tweets from critics whilst, The Guardian led with the headline that the group ‘has apparent links to US far right’. I would assume that the Guardian’s legal team must be thanked for that ‘apparent’, as you can write just about anything these days if you disclose a caveat. Apparently.
 
Regardless, Turning Point’s arrival has not gone unnoticed; the group even fired off a snooty tweet: “Thanks to Left Twitter for all the free publicity”.

Make time... 

Paddy Power has released a hilarious advert, which recruits Ryan Giggs' brother to herald the ‘death of loyalty’.
 
Considering the advert is promoting gambling and mocks the eight-year affair between Ryan and his brother’ wife…it’s remarkably tasteful.
 
Expect the advert to make waves over the weekend. Click here to watch.

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January

Borkowski's Weekly Trends

Weekly Media Trends 

As the curtain closes on January, it would be foolish to imagine we can go back to a life of thoughtless merrymaking.
 
Dry January might give way to a moister February, but the intense passions aroused by Veganuary now seem set to continue all year round.

Veganism and a Bandwagon

Veganism - the shunning of meat, was once regarded as a harmless but inconvenient hobby.

Not only is it becoming more and more convenient but, as we keep getting told, it’s becoming increasingly harmful to be anything other than a vegan. The author of the best-seller Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari, recently described the lives of farm animals as “the greatest crime in human history.”
 
Until recently, fast food had turned its nose up at such a hyperbolic statement but then along came Greggs. The bakery chain, long regarded as a bastion of kindly priced common-sense grub on a high street awash with artisanal affectations, proudly unveiled its new £1 Quorn-filled ‘vegan sausage roll’.

This modest innovation might once have passed without comment. Instead, notable meat-eaters reacted with angry disbelief - notably Piers Morgan. However, it seems that quite a few people were waiting for a vegan sausage roll as they have been flying off the shelves. It’s difficult to tell if that’s because the amount of press coverage sparked the fire of curiosity, or there really is such a high level of demand for a value vegan snack. 

Regardless, this week we’ve seen McDonald’s Sweden launch a vegan option to its menu. Welcome to the hilariously named ‘McFalafel’! Tesco launched Vegan Haggis and Hilton Hotel launch the world’s first completely vegan hotel suite in London.

It’s difficult to tell if these are genuine attempts to increase their top line, or a ridiculous PR arms race to annoy Piers Morgan, which it will (also and eventuallyincrease their top line. However, what is notable is that if it’s the latter, the moment has very much passed. Greggs got there first!

Fyre Festival 

If you missed news of a disastrous festival held on an island “once owned by Pablo Escobar” (shorthand for drugs and violence are cool?!) back in May, you’d have to be living under a rock to have missed the sad and hilarious Netflix movie documenting its story.

It would be all too easy to blame the social media ‘influencers’ who lured hundreds of millennials to an island which better represented a “collab” between Lord of the Flies and Battle Royal rather than the kind of party rappers (like Ja Rule) fantasize about. 

As we wrote for PR week, “the concept of influencers is still relatively new and young people in particular are easily swayed by them unless they are educated about how this process works.” Essentially, whilst it is advertising no one explicitly makes us aware of it. Whereas a consumer “can easily recognise a BMW commercial as a traditional ad” (we know cars can’t drive up walls), we can’t be sure that Emily Ratajkowski isn’t really going to be sharing a private jet to a festival with me (although I think most can be sure).  

The Competition and Markets Authority’s ruling that influencers must inform their followers if they were being paid to endorse products will go some way to addressing this. However, it will be interesting to observe if this leads to a decline of social media ‘influencers’ .  It’s something we’ve written on before; surely a lot of their power was always held in their perceived authenticity?
 
Or perhaps, the lure of mingling with Z list celebrities (like Ja Rule), taking selfies in private planes and hoarding likes on Instagram will always be too much for some.  

Oscar Nominations

Whereas the Golden Globes were criticised for being more about “moral preening and identity politics” than choosing the best films; the Oscars were back to doing what award ceremonies do best; highlighting all the flaws in the film industry - courtesy of the lack of female director nominations.

Dazed Magazine drew up a list of films directed by women that should have been Oscar nominated, whilst Variety labelled it “Unconscionable. Unbelievable. Unsurprising.” Equally unsurprising was the hashtag #OscarsSoMale trending on twitter.  

Whilst having an even mix of male and female director nominations would obviously be a definite 'win', it’s difficult to ignore the fact that women account for just 8% of directors working on the 250 top films. An awful statistic, that indicates perhaps, that the problems run rather deeper than the Oscars themselves. 

However, having our awards ceremonies become a circus of contemporary virtues, which espouse moral theatre, won’t alleviate the issues, only mask them.  

Make time... 

Bearing in mind the above trends, The New York Post have written a fantastic article, which explains ‘How the media convinces us we’re all outraged — even when no one cares
 
The piece poses some interesting questions regarding the responsibility of the media to supposedly report news ‘in the public’s interest’ and who these ‘hate clicks’ inevitably benefit. 

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