February

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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