Bill Nichols

26 February 2015

Bill Nichols

If You Can’t Get No Satisfaction (Ad Astra 022 – 26 February 2015)

For many firms, Satisfaction is an obsession.  They follow Mick Jagger’s  mantra:  “I try and I try and…”  They make it the judge-and-jury.  They blazon it on the corporate balanced scorecard.

But, guess what, customers still defect.  Including 65-85% of the satisfied ones, as marketing guru Fred Reichheld demonstrated nearly 20 years ago.

Many grumbling CEOs probably agree with Mick’s later sentiment in ‘I Can’t Get No..’.  It’s all “some useless information/Supposed to fire my imagination”.

But before you ‘fire’ satisfaction – and try some new fad – here’s a cunning thought (and some new research)…

The Wrong Sort of Satisfaction

….You’re probably measuring the wrong sort of Satisfaction.   (Like the old British railway joke about the ‘wrong sort of snow’).

Last Train to Satisfaction Junction

Last Train to Satisfaction Junction

Your sort, you see, is probably the rational one.  Most Satisfaction measures presume rational, reflective assessments of utility and value.  They apply the ‘disconfirmation paradigm’.   This model subtracts your pre-purchase expectations from your post-purchase perceptions.

The Rational Way

Imagine.  Your new partner invites you out to dinner.  You expect, say, a perfectly acceptable, average French restaurant.  You get:

  • The Ritz.   You are blown away.  On every aspect. This is positive disconfirmation;
  • Greasy ‘Fish-and-Chips’ at the local down-market pub.   Serious problem: negative disconfirmation.
Mine's A Pint of Satisfaction

Mine’s A Pint of  Disconfirmation!

All fine so far as it goes.  Scorecard happy!  Unfortunately, this sort of Satisfaction is only a short-term (weeks) predictor of retention and repurchase.  Like a blip on the chart.  And highly susceptible to competitive advertising (*1).

The Emotional Way

Marketers, of course, focus long-term.  Established research on the emotional side of Satisfaction demonstrates that we connect, enjoy richer experiences and are far more likely to remain loyal if

…If we feel fair treatment, pleasure, ‘belongingness’.

Such feelings take longer to nurture. No scorecard surge.  But they are far more robust.

Imagine:

  • Your partner is really rather fond of that pub. A ‘regular’ for years and usually meets most of his/her friends there.  The conversation is good and the food generally ok.

So the morning after your disaster?  OK your partner is temporarily dissatisfied.   But a few weeks later? They’re just as regular (and happy) as before.  You’re even getting used to it yourself!

What To Do?

The recent research summary (*1) highlights four beneficial emotional engagements.  To:

  1. Adopt and promote customer values e.g. social responsibility (pub charity event?)
  2. Invest in image campaigns which increase prestige and reflect well on customers (pub chains are usually poor here)
  3. Embed customers in networks which consult on products and in special events (darts, music, quiz nights)
  4. Encourage front-line employees to communicate positives and foster company-customer identification. (After all a good barman is worth 1000 pints!).

Caveat:  you may find some texts call this second sort of emotional satisfaction something different.  Don’t worry:  it’s the right sort!

-ends-

Bill Nichols

30 January 2015

Bill Nichols

Leader Communications: The 3Cs of Motivation (February 2015)

Leader communications often retreats behind platitudes and, evidence suggests, is seriously damaging to business or cause (writes Dr Bill Nichols).  Easily embarrassing and irritating too.

So how do leaders ‘make dreams come alive’? (To quote guru Warren Bennis in an earlier Ad Astra blog). The solution, recent research finds (*1), is 3Cs.

That’s the balanced melding of content, context and colour.  Here’s why they matter – and how.

Power of Leader Communications

Leadership is a hot management topic.  If you have lifetimes available, check out all those airport pot-boilers, academic texts, blogs and manuals.

Leadership’s exact definition generates extensive debate.  But we know that it:

  • Is linked positively to business performance – both operationally and financially
  • Requires effective leader communications of a clear strategic vision.
  • Can generate positive reputation, attract talent and win wider stakeholder support.

‘How’ – Content and Context

But ‘effective’?  That ‘how’ is seriously murky.  Magic, charisma, dark art?   Or carefully-structured crafting?

Effective leader-communicators (or their speech-writers) integrate three major dimensions (3Cs).  Each dimension, suggests recent analysis, is mutually reinforcing.  Each must also break the sterility of management ‘wordzak’ (my coinage, cp. ‘muzak’).

First content or ‘meaning-making language’ (posh: ‘locutionary’).  This layer is more than facts alone. Content confirms starting points (organisational ‘beliefs’).  Creates shared ‘mental models’ to help us engage.  And finally highlights simple goals that everyone can grasp.  Compare:

  • Classic wordzak: “This year our priority is to deliver unsurpassed customer satisfaction”.
  • 3C Clarity: “Customers make pay-days. Every time we touch a customer (even by simplest email) we can make or break those pay-days. Customer satisfaction means their satisfaction with every contact, every day.”

Second context or direction-giving language (posh: ‘perlocutionary’).  Context dispels ambiguity in leader communications. It identifies tasks that put content into practice.  And it usually links rewards to goals:

  • Wordzak: “We will deliver satisfaction by focusing on continuous innovation at the boundaries of service”.
  • 3C Clarity: “We recognise that every client has special needs. So every day we all learn and share more about meeting those needs.  Together we adapt and improve.  And we understand that the more we contribute, the more we progress as individuals.”

How – Colour

Content and context take us a long way.  But fully effective leader communications requires orchestration.

So third and finally comes colour, the feeling or empathetic language (posh: ‘illocutionary’).  Colour is often notable by its absence.  Sometimes superficial.  Sometimes cringe-making.  But, properly wrought, it adds controlled and motivating emotion.  If, as leader, you want others to ‘believe’, you must yourself ‘believe’.  And you must show it personally:

  • Wordzak: “We will create a service of which we can all be proud and which will be a shining example for others”.
  • 3C Clarity: “For me every time my ‘phone rings, I’m conscious that everything we do is potentially ‘on the line’. To me, every failure feels personal. That way customers sense that we ‘get it’.  That we don’t just tick boxes.  That, if they need us to, we’ll throw those boxes away.  That’s satisfaction.”

Three Cs in Practice

So next time you craft leader communications – formal or impromptu – check:  content, context and colour.  Good and bad examples equally welcome here please.

 

(*1) The underlying theory here is MLT – motivating language theory.  See Mayfield, J. et al (2015), “Strategic vision and values in top leaders’ communications: motivating language at a higher level”. International Journal of Business Communication, 52 (1) 97:121.  Originally: Sullivan, J. (1988), “Three roles of language in motivation theory”, Academy of Management Review, 13 104:115.

Bill Nichols

10 December 2014

Bill Nichols

019 All Headlines and No Narrative: The Obesity ‘Epidemic’ (December 2014)

Obesity headlines? You may have seen the recent attention-grabbing – if depressing – fusillade.

Here’s a quick rehearsal.  Nearly 30% of the global population, or 2.1 billion individuals, is overweight or obese.  (UK = 37%).  Collectively they cost the world economy ~$2 trillion, or 2.8% lost output, annually.  That’s less only than smoking and armed conflict (McKinsey, November 14).

One third of Year 6 UK primary schoolchildren is already overweight or obese (Health and Social Care Information Centre). More than 70% will become obese adults (Association for the Study of Obesity).   And 70% of obese youth also have at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CDC, US).

Enough, you cry!  Your point?

Answer: it’s partly a communications’ challenge.  (And one we’re exploring at the Bucks Centre for Health Communications and Research (CHCR)).  Specifically this week’s visit to govtoday’s excellent London conference, Obesity: A National Epidemic, convinced me.

Under a heavy collateral data bombardment, I learned quite simply: there is no single narrative.  And without one, this epidemic (or pandemic) will always slip quickly off the news-agenda.  Why?

Villains and Heroes

For speedy analysis, I like the ‘villain-hero-conflict-solution-outcome’ tool. Try it on Ebola and you’ll quickly see why it stays so successfully on the agenda.  Its narrative is clear and effective.  But obesity?

First up, find a villain or ‘dark lord’?  Mmm: spoilt for choice.   You could fairly audition food processors, fast-food outlets, regulators, lobbyists, poverty/deprivation, the tax-man and (in the UK) the NHS.  Or try money out of your pocket. Some suggest that obesity and its consequences cost the NHS £10 billion annually.  If so, then this villain ‘robs’ everyone of over £160 per year. As Public Health England points out, revert obesity to 1993 levels and it will save at least £1.2 billion per year. (George Osborne, please note).

Lost already?  What about a hero?   OK there’s ‘Sir Health Of Well-Being’.  He’s a lovely chap. Very well-intentioned.  But lacks charisma.  Too ‘nicey, nicey’.   And be honest, humankind tolerates only so much good behaviour.  An individual, or single front or campaigning body, is required to lead the charge.

Next it gets byzantine: the conflict. This battleground is more complex than the Syrian Civil War or 3D chess!  Obesity, say the experts, is a consequence of: a) genetics, b) environment (we live now in an ‘obesegenic’ world), c) psychology, d) behavioural factors and/or e) some combination of the above.   Try pitching all that in the ‘elevator’!  In the current state-of-knowledge, it’s not even clear which dimension has the strongest weighting!

Solution?   Seriously, who knows?  There are far too many variables in play and issues outstanding.

So outcome?  A super-healthy society would be nice.  And pigs are flying in massed formation over my office.

Sadly, depressingly, we all ‘get’ the question.  But without a narrative, this looks set to drift – and escalate.

So, all joking apart, before you settle down to that Christmas turkey, obesity narrative anyone?

And do please leave a reply below!

-ends-

Bill Nichols

2 May 2014

Bill Nichols

016 – May 2014

Social Influence – Three Key Touch-Points

You know that social media stuff works.  It’s always worth a punt.  But you’re not quite sure when, how or in what combination with other tactics you get ‘influence’.  Should you ‘pension off’ some old tools – like classic direct marketing – completely.

So what exactly do we know?  So far we have: firm principles; clear integration models for the process of exposure, feedback and engagement and exchange; and, from telecoms to pharma and online retailing, mounting evidence.  Research confirms the positive effects of social influence (or, unattractively, ‘social contagion’) on adoption.

As a result, social network marketing is part of the marketer’s canon.

Now new tech-product based research (*) offers more.  More than a direction of travel.  More than a punt. It’s founded on analysis of interactions and influence among relevant consumers.  It suggests three key touch-points to begin to manipulate social influence with some precision.

First Up, Catching Earliest Adopters

In the product cycle, the research finds, it is the earliest customer adopters – properly the pioneers – who exert the greatest social influence.  Further, if stimulated by traditional direct marketing, their incidence and power is augmented.

Tactically, this combination offers maximum early market impact.

It’s like the match to a newly-laid fire.  Early investment in classic MGC (marketer-generated content) kindles UGC’s (user-generated content) influence.   But, it seems, traditional potency flickers and quickly dies.  After launch, marketers should cut spend rapidly.

Second, Extending Online Sharing

But there is no time ‘bar’ on social influence.  Intriguingly, irrespective of time of purchase, each new adopter contributes independent effects.  The quantum of individual power depends not on timing but on:

  • ·         ‘Strength of tie’ – where the unique aspect of virtual communities relates to help asked                        and provided and the desire to meet in person –
  • ·         And homophily (degree of similarity, the ‘birds of a feather’ principle). 

Solely for his or her own close personal connections, each new adopter is like a pioneer.  A new burning ember.  So, long after launch, to continue to stimulate online sharing behaviour with appropriate content and incentives is a viable mid-term strategy.

But important distinction:  simply to rely on cumulative positive adoption effects across a customer’s wider network is unlikely to succeed.  In line with the fading (even negative) effects of simply repeated messages reported in my recent blog, The Power of Three, traction is lost.   Sparks may fly but will not kindle.

Third, Referral Anytime

Finally, by extension, the constant potential of new adoptions indicates that referral campaigns may be effective at any point – even very late in the product cycle.  Rather than general social pressure, it is the one-to-one power of those with strong ties or homophilous contacts which generates results.  And the fire sustained.

It suggests that careful mapping of prospective customers is a great investment.

Contagious even!

-ends-

(*) Risselada, H., et al (2014), Dynamic Effects of Social Influence and Direct Marketing on the Adoption of High-Technology Products.   Journal of Marketing 78 (2).                                                

 

Bill Nichols

29 January 2014

Bill Nichols

Maturity and The New PR Measurement Dashboard

Dr. Bill Nichols  – 012 – 29 January 2013

It’s one thing to measure, say, reputation:  quite another to understand and manipulate what influences that metric.  And for all the brouhaha about PR measurement, here there is silence.  More or less.

For some answers,Vital Signs Report (2014) publishes today.  The first in a benchmark series, its insights flow from my recent collaboration with leading tech PR firm, EML Wildfire (1).  Its data is provided by some 80 clients and contacts across the firm’s network in the UK, US and Europe.

Unusually, we assessed the combined impact of in-house and agency teams: i.e. the total PR competency.  From the literature (2), we identified 10 possible factors or influences.  And we concluded by creating a three-part ‘dashboard’ for any PR organisation.

First up – ‘Business Results’ (i.e. leads, sales, profit)

In PR this is the P&L equivalent.  It tracks immediate gains and losses.  Here our top factor is ‘strategic planning’ (SP).  In fact, statistically, it’s the only significant factor that explains a substantial component of ‘Results’ (3).  Overall our sample is most positive about near-term SP.  It commends teams for such aspects as messaging, business strategy alignment, action plans and focused campaigns.

But our respondents are far more cautious further out.   To improve effectiveness, they highlight:  applying evidence consistently, sustaining a mission and pursuing long-term advantage.

And?  Other factors like creativity or techniques?  Actually not much else has any impact. Sobering given all the chat.

Second up – target ‘Reputation’

We see reputation as the ‘balance sheet’ equivalent.  The long-term tracking of net PR assets on the PR dashboard.  Here two factors are in play.

First, and unsurprisingly, ‘relationship orientation’ is the strongest influence on reputation. Attitudinally – the soft stuff – our teams are particularly well-placed.  They are, our sample reports, committed.  They seek authenticity.  They respect stakeholders and they will ‘go the extra mile’.  But they’re less effective at the practical execution of relationship-building.  Such as the analysis of broader perspectives, dynamic tracking of the influencer landscape and (again!) planning.

Second and intriguingly, limited evidence suggests that PR’s prized ability to generate ‘opportunistic’ activity may be a negative influence on reputation.  Short-term results gain: long-term reputational pain.

Third, bonus ball – ‘Maturity’

Our study also introduces a third lead measure: maturity.  It’s the equivalent of cash-flow and it’s a potentially major contribution suggested by the EML Wildfire team.  Maturity is a well-established construct in organisational studies.  Operationally it’s best characterised by that PR jewel: the ability to manage the unexpected and to cope with ambiguity.

To create a clear blueprint for managing maturity, we identified three factors at work.  They are professionalism, engagement and, especially, leadership.  Specifically maturity deepens as PR seniors acquire serious leadership skills and, above all, the confidence to play an active role at the C-Level.

Seeking enlightenment

As business gurus confirm, the act of measurement adds value if – and only if – it helps define and deliver a desirable outcome. Such as, in PR, a behavioural change.  This presupposes we understand the mechanism.  That we know what and how to influence the target.  A little more ‘X’, a little less ‘Y’ – that kind of thing.

But, as the Headmaster of Eton observed recently, “we live in an age of measurement and not of enlightenment.”   How true of PR.  Some cling to the old-time religion of the AVE. Others evangelise Barcelona and the new analytics.   In this ‘promised land’ we measure anything – and everything.

But we have little understanding of the influencing factors. Vital Signs Report (2014) offers our starting point.  Especially that new measure of maturity.  It correlates well with both results and reputation.  It may, we think, be the key moderator – a crucial focus for out study’s next round.  Join us at EML Wildfire to add your inputs to what is planned as a long-term project.

More to follow and, meantime, here’s to enlightenment! And better PR measurement.

-ends-

(1) Special thanks to directors Debby Penton, Lorraine Jenkins and Richard Parker.

(2)  Based on the Nordic three-dimensional service quality model.  So (A) hard/technical = (i) media platform, (ii) measurement and evaluation, (iii) techniques; (B) functional/integrating = (iv) resources/budget, (v) strategic planning, (vi) leadership, (vii) creativity; and (C) people/reputational =  (viii) professionalism, (ix) engagement and (x) relationship orientation.  Each factor successfully tested using Cronbach’s alpha: eight > .7 and two >.6.

(3) Using the 95% confidence level and multiple regression analysis.

 

 

Bill Nichols

17 November 2013

Bill Nichols

Wakey wakey PR: The Convergence Train is Leaving  

010 – November 2013

Three years ago, our first Bucks Uni New Secularism conference pointed to disappearing boundaries, collapsing silos and the magical emergence of convergence: a new integrated communications.  Uni colleague and ex-Mediacom director, Vic Davies and I were – we admit – more than slightly tongue in cheek.

This week our third conference (http://astrophel.co.uk/uni/) will find us in the midst of positive – even profound – change.

But disappointing to say, PR firms – at least – are missing the convergence train and failing to modernise.   Digital agency pioneer Gary Lockton, now ceo at http://www.grandadlondon.com/ says PR content creators should have hoovered up social media… But progress has stalled.  Badly.

What to do?  Here – based on three years’ development and my travels around the business – is a five-point ‘new secular’ manifesto for PR.

First, change our narrative.

My last blog – The Narrative Revenue Opportunity – identified means, motive and massive opportunity for PR teams to exploit their narrative skills.  At the PR Summit Ogilvy ceo, Christopher Graves, agreed (Holmes Report: http://t.co/ripBwsfOCV).  The old PR tradition emphasised marshalling facts and dispelling myths.  But the new narrative builds on neuroscience and plays to emotion.  It’s about creating myths (‘mythopoeia’) that sweep us along.  Yet few if any grasp this opportunity.  Why?  The PR low-esteem mind-set – our own industry narrative – cleaves to its old tradition, according to recent research (*).  It’s safer. It’s… ‘what we’ve always done’.  Physician heal thyself!

Second, love those numbers.

Like it or no, big data and analytics transform the PR business. Media strategy switches from ‘how many’ to ‘how relevant’.  Once we lobbed up as many media placements as possible – then prayed.  Now it’s about manipulation from A-F via B, C etc.  Or, in the jargon, ‘longitudinal contact strategy’. Small wonder recent PRCA Conference speakers on The Future of the PR Agency, called for consultancies to hire data analysts as part of a move to IMC. But, in too many PR firms, try talking stats and they’ll come over all squeamish.  Mention a regression and they’ll start looking for your little green friends.

Third, grasp the secular – multiple skills, multiple revenues.

Pitch a story.  Buy the space.  Manipulate a social exchange.   Fee, commission and bonus.  But all three? In the old world, ethics – our narrative identity – and complexity came crashing in.  In the new – perhaps Kotler’s (1997) fabled future ‘customering’ department – it’s all one. A process of managing interactions.  For progressive PR firms, this new is (or should be) palpitatingly, excitingly ambivalent.

Fourth, stay the course with authenticity.

Lovely word (though resonant of ‘austerity for some tastes!).  Authenticity is for the long-term.  It requires strategic commitment that (as upcoming research in which I’ve partnered will show) is the critical determinant of PR results.  But for now poor old authenticity is just a word.  Put a PR team under pressure? That knee-jerk old tradition takes them back to manipulating today’s perceptions and messages.  At all costs, kick that wretched old can down that pot-holed road.   Phew!

Fifth, embrace the world beyond traditional media.

Call it customer service, direct communication or collaboration. As you choose.  The digital transformation has personalised our world at every level (**).  It offers, according to Larry Weber (http://tiny.cc/921o6w) a ‘budding business renaissance’ (http://tiny.cc/e4zo6w).  Yet, sadly, all too often that seems to mean little more than agencies cannibalising client budgets to handle the loading of mass production tweets… (Preferred pasting up cuttings myself!).

OK Larry is right.  OK these five changes are ‘unanticipated and unavoidable structural adjustments’.  OK, and absolutely, they may cause ‘profound discomfort’.

But they are the future.  They are now.  No tongue.  No cheek!

-ends-

(*) Zertess, A. and Duhring, L. (2012), Between Convergence and Power Struggles, Public Relations Journal, Vol 6. No.5.

(**) Diehl, S. and Karmasin, M (eds, 2013), Media and Convergence Management,, Berlin: Springer Verlag.

Bill Nichols

6 May 2013

Bill Nichols

Managing Velocity: When You Can’t Do Right for Wrong in Client Relationships

006 (May 2013)

Know the feeling?  Everything is going swimmingly with your ‘significant other’.  Then something flips.  At first you’re barely aware.   Your ‘five minutes late’ meets a surprising chill.  Next come monosyllabic replies to calls and texts.   Then a task not done properly prompts a rant.  Finally jokey remarks kindle major conflagration.

Baffled?  You’re watching relationship dynamics and the power of relationship velocity (‘RV’, direction and speed) as it accelerates.   It’s well founded in psychology and personal relationship studies. And it offers retention-focused agency managers a critical missing link.

Key new research (*) adds the RV measure to established understanding about the value of tracking client relationship levels (the ‘goodwill’ bank account).  In brief it means that inter-firm client-agency actions have no absolute value.  Speed and direction affect their impact.  Payback when clients have positive RV will far exceed the agency’s return when it is already sliding down the slippery slope.

This makes intuitive sense.  Personally flowers may be a happy bonus in good times but rarely a ‘get out of jail’ card.  In business, a sales tip off may score well in positive mode but an expensive client lunch is an unlikely salvation when the brown stuff is flying.

Where We Were

First what we already know.  As I’ve written extensively elsewhere e.g. (http://astrophel.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Making_Most_Loyalty_PSMG_January_2010.pdf), each client relationship is best understood in terms of it its own ‘goodwill’ bank account.  Keep that account positively in the black and you can foster many desirable outcomes. These range from exclusive preference/retention to public word-of-mouth promotion.   It will also allow you to survive a major failure without suffering account loss.

But once let it slip into the red? Then even the simplest error or issue can cause major problems.  Ultimately a parting of the ways.

This ‘bank’ model integrates two major streams of research.  The first confirms the critical role of commitment and trust in securing long-term business outcomes (account renewals, profitability, additional projects).   The second demonstrates that just like personal relationships, our inter-firm liaisons have a developmental cycle over time (honeymoon, growth, conflict etc.).

All fine and helpful.  But, for all that, the ‘goodwill’ bank account is a static concept.  The absolute level or stage of a relationship only helps so far.  We can check when we wish but we won’t necessarily see movement.

Tellingly firms that have worked with the goodwill bank-account tend to find most useful the early-warning indicators that I call ‘empowerment’.  These track, for example, a tendency to growing client micro-management vs. increasing freedom to get the job done.  They may catch the ‘turn of the tide’.

What’s To Do?  

So what’s going on?   According to the research, the power of trust weakens over time.  It may continue to increase but like an over-used drug without the same positive effects. It’s necessary but not sufficient to deliver continued relationship growth.

In personal terms, this is the ‘comfort zone’:  we take the ‘significant other’ for granted.  In account terms likewise. We tick the boxes, do the job (yes probably a good job) and issue the invoices!   In both cases we cease to work at and learn about the relationship.

So what to do?  Every top client-handler I know rightly highlights the importance of frequent client dialogue.  But it is depth and progress – as much as frequency – that really count.  They offset the weakening impact of trust.  To use the techno-speak, we need to recognise that our ‘bilateral communications capability’ actually creates a form of individual account IP.   Accumulated knowledge and established ways of exchanging information serve to create flexibility and adaptability.  They allow us to refresh.  To see growth and new opportunities on both sides. In short to sustain positive relationship velocity.

Sound frustrating? Too much like hard work?  The challenge for agency ceos is to make hard-worked retention just as sexy as winning the next new business pitch. Otherwise ‘sudden chills’ will continue to translate into ‘major conflagrations’.   When you can’t seem to do right for wrong!

-ends-

(*) Palmatier, R., et al (2013), Journal of Marketing 77 (1) 13:30.

Bill Nichols

4 February 2013

Bill Nichols

Smokewashed: All the Fun and Troubling Consequences of Leveson for the PR World

002-December 2012

So what was Leveson all about? Reflection suggests we witnessed an adroit and troubling playbook update, a ‘smokewash’.   While a bonfire of wicked hacks creates a massive smokescreen, politicians, owners and, most egregiously, the police are successfully whitewashed.  Ergo: smokewash.

Next, lest we notice and that smokewash subsides, cue a far from inconsequential debate over ‘statutory underpinning’.  Cameron and friends seek to protect the ‘status quo’ while Milliband jumps on a very public pro-legislation bandwagon – joined (shockingly, sadly) by Clegg.   Will the last so called ‘liberal’ with a shred of 1688-vintage whig intellectual integrity please turn out the red, blue and white SDP lights as he leaves please!

Smokewash Phase Two, of course, threatens liberty.  Casually, almost carelessly.  It also neatly steers us, to the advantage of all interested parties, into heavy legal smog.  And, in accustomed ‘Bleak House’ mode, boredom will probably overcome us all long in advance of any conclusion.

Yet before we succumb and yawn, this scenario presents major, and truly troubling, ‘rule of law’ issues.

First, if applied exclusively and disproportionately to one media group, the rule is not upheld.  Guilty: yes clearly.  Under huge pressure to deliver appropriately sensational copy to keep their jobs: mostly.  But fall guys: definitely.   This is, to use the legal term, inequitable.

Second, the rule is not applied if the legal redress of future victims is not advanced practically in any way.  Allow the Daily RedTop, totally without substance or justification, to shred your life in a morning and you need a fast-track route to exoneration.  One measured in days/weeks not months/years and hundreds not hundreds of thousands of pounds of fees.  Some new post-PCC forum of the ‘great and the not so good’ will not suffice.  Likewise totally inequitable.

Third, and not least, the very concept of the ‘rule’ appears broken.  If smokewashing or the social media ‘feeding frenzy’ which consumed BBC Director-General George Entwhistle and engulfed Lord McAlpine are examples of the new normal, then crude power alone rules.  All is relative.

And PR folks, beware.  In numbers (5:1) and range of publishing, you have all but superseded traditional media.  As ‘sources close to’ or ‘persons familiar with’ you are regularly on the scene.  Next time the establishment or the social media mob is looking for a fall guy, it could be – likely will be – you.   Time to get the house in order.