Thursday, 28 November 2013

Coke, Sugar & The BBC Part 2...

Reissued & Updated...

On the 9th of May James Quincey the President of Coca-Cola Europe appeared on the BBC Radio 4 programme 'PM'. He was interviewed by regular presenter Eddie Mair. The interview is available here...

listen to ‘PM Programme Coke Interview pt2’ on Audioboo

I think that this is a great example of a large organisation doing something to break their 'default narrative' which simply reinforces their 'default narrative'...

The Coke default narrative in this case is...
"Coke is full of sugar and sugar makes us fat"

The result of Coke getting involved in anti obesity campaigns (and involved in this interview) changes the narrative to...
"We know Coke is full of sugar, but we're not going to admit that it contributes to obesity; by the way here are our anti obesity measures, which we're taking EVEN THOUGH Coke doesn't contribute to that obesity" 

We're left with a modified default that portrays the organisation in an even worse light...
"Coke is full of sugar, sugar makes us fat, and The Coca-Cola Corporation doesn't care."

As the interview progresses Mr Quincey states that people 'struggle to balance what goes in and what goes out... [low calorie and sugar free options] allow people to get the balance right.' Or in other words 'sorry fatty, you're too stupid to drink our drinks so we're going to offer you something else, because you've been struggling".

From the moment Mr Quincey enters the studio he has been stitched up like a kipper.

Coke is part of our collective food based cognitive dissonance. It's bad but we like to have it and we're not sure about the morality of the manufacturers. By approaching this dissonance the organisation attempts to mitigate its responsibility and (some would say) liability; they are doing good things so the problems are the consumers fault. It's not guns that kill people it's people that kill people... It's not coke that makes you fat it's YOU that makes YOU fat; you shouldn't blame the manufacturers of the tools.

Engaging the media on your core difficulty will often end badly.

When engaging someone as skilled as Eddie Mair it will end very badly.

He's prepared with multiple studies, he's prepared with the killer questions, he's prepared with 9 sugar cubes.

The challenge to eat 9 sugar cubes is a classic ploy, in this case it's the "would you feed this to your children?" question. It's side stepped and then returned to, it's the question that won't go away.

So, where does this leave an organisation that has an elephant in their room? (in this case it was a tasty sugary elephant... mmmm sugar elephant)

Weigh up the reputational risk between doing something and doing nothing. Doing nothing allows the default narrative to continue, you can acknowledge it, you can even monitor it, but it's unlikely to change rapidly without other circumstances coming into play. If you find there is a sector story you're dragged in to you need to reassess your default in that light.

Doing something attempts to change the default for the better, but the influential (in the UK) PM Programme is not the place to do it. What was the Coke Comms team thinking? Mr Quincey walked into the lions den and got delicately mauled. The key A + B demographic who hang on Eddie Mair's every word will have been delighted by the result and suddenly opinion formers are looking at the Coke initiatives and branding them 'fat wash'.

Do something you can make it worse, do nothing and it can get worse all by itself...

Which will you choose?

UPDATE 28/11/13 *** COKE now think that there IS a lot of sugar in their drinks... Mr Quincey has been thinking about what Eddie did to him, and has decided to let Jeremy Paxman do the same thing. Only this time he agrees that Coke has to change.

Who'd have thought?

FYI Diabetes UK have covered sugary drinks and type 2 diabetes in this article regardless of what Mr Quincey may have said.


Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Well, Raise My Awareness...

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a charity, in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of awareness raising.

I'd like to apologise to Jane Austin for that, there really was no good reason for me to savage that quote...

Well, there was...

Because anything to sugar coat the next bit of information is good.

If you work for, in or around a charity in any territory you want to raise awareness, and any journalist working in any territory couldn't care less.

Seriously, there are small patches of mildew on a face cloth, in a bathroom on the outskirts of Baku, that hold more interest for the average journalist involved in daily news media. Each and every one of them could programme a radio station or fill a newspaper with the stories from charities that want to raise awareness... and no one would care.

The big problem is this is what a charity is for; to raise awareness of their chosen cause. It's built into the organisational blue print of 'Charity'.

So how do you get round this?

You supply content, you supply comment of current issues, you supply heart breaking stories, you supply NEWS.

The fact that you're trying to 'raise awareness' is the last thing you should say.


Monday, 11 November 2013

Prepare For Christmas.

2 things would fill me with dread when working for the BBC. One of them was Children In Need (I've never been a fan of forced jollity and news readers dancing).

The other was Christmas.

OK I now realise that I sound like an anti-fun stereotype. I do like Christmas, I've even warmed to tinsel and I want you to know that my home will become a grotto of delight for my 2 children. However, Christmas as a journalist is hell.


So why am I telling you this?

In the daily news media there are journalists, managers and producers up and down the land who are starting to prepare for the fallow period between Christmas and the New Year; they may only have it in their mind as a job that needs doing at this stage... and it's a job they all hate.

As a canny PR organisation, or as a PR working within an organisation, this is the time to think of how you can help those poor journalists with content.

Good content.

If you're thinking of things to do try along these lines (they are always the ones that get a look in at Christmas); Volunteering, working across the festive period, food waste, alternative presents, children, the armed forces / emergency services, animals and the awful things that happen to them and money. All of these will be trotted out every year without fail.

If you can dip your toe into any of these, provide case studies, no too many commercial mentions and access for a reporter to get it all pre recorded before Christmas week, start dangling it in front of them now. There will be journalists all over the UK who'll be so proud they have something to mention at the Christmas planning meeting in a months time.

Imagine their bright little face on that (nowhere near) Christmas morning when they open that big press release to find it's what every journalist asks Santa for... an easy life.

It's the gift that keeps giving.


Tuesday, 5 November 2013

The Big Stories

Every media outlet has its own list of 'big stories'; the core of the work they do. For daily news media some of the big stories are constantly running, for others it's something they come back to on a regular basis.

Today 5/11/13 Immigration has returned.

The BBC Website is reporting on a UCL study into the benefit of immigration. The report suggests that immigrants since 1999 were 45% less likely to claim benefits than the 'indigenous' population.

And now the cat is amongst the foreign pigeons.

The difficulty with the 'big stories' is that there are default narratives connected to them. The right wing press will shout that it's only since 1999, and immigrants from outside the European Economic Area are a drain to the system because they tend to have larger families. The left wing press hail the report as blindingly obvious and something that they have been saying for years.

So we're no further on. The argument continues and immigration remains one of the 'big stories'.

How can a PR professional, Marketing department, or business leader use the 'big stories'?

Identify them. Look at the websites of your chosen outlet, whether it's a trade story, or a wider news theme, and see how it's reported.

Add context or confirmation. It allows the story to change within their defaults and gives another bite of a story that lots of the journalists will be bored of.

Offer content that could break one default, but lets them build it into another. For example, one of the comments on the BBC website story suggests that undereducated indigenous young people are being passed over in favour of older more qualified migrants; this feeds the 'big story' on education and the slipping of standards. It gives the journalist the ability to change the story but remain on message.

When the sector 'big stories' appear you should be ready.

Friday, 1 November 2013

We Can't Afford Pensions.

This morning (1/11/13) The Today Programme on BBC Radio 4 was discussing a planned strike by Fire-fighters in England and Wales. It's a dispute over pensions.

As soon as pensions were mentioned I snorted and thought "well, no one can afford pensions these days...". Then I took a moment and realised that I'd been sucked into one of the great financial narratives of recent times.

No one can afford pensions....

Organisations across the country are changing their pension plans due to "short falls" or in other words "we trusted our investments would work, but they didn't" and employee after employee has seen the value of their plan fall.

When I was in the BBC I saw my final salary scheme come to an end, and I accepted it...

The problem is... This isn't a story about pension deficit this is a story about pension entitlement and redundancy, but it fits so neatly into the default narrative of pension black holes.

I immediately wrote it off as another organisation stung by the financial down turn moaning about bad investments that the financial world said would be fine and then were ruined by another group of financial experts. You know, the old story.

Default Narrative is hugely powerful, it informs out gut reactions to complex stories, it makes us see stories from the wrong angle, with the wrong colour, and the wrong shape. When we remove our default, (like getting the person seated in front of us at the theatre to remove their comedy oversized 'My Fair Lady' hat) we can see the whole story and not just the bits that press our buttons.

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