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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 clich├ęs 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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