Celebrity Big Brother: An Excercise in Image Management?


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The latest season of Celebrity Big Brother came to an end this past Friday, with X Factor reject Rylan Clark being crowned the winner. Clark outlasted twelve other housemates, all of whom are only referred to as ‘celebrities’ by those of us with a very liberal understanding of the term, to become the reigning CBB king. This year’s colourful cast of characters included glamour model Lacey Banghard, former footballer Neil ‘Razor’ Ruddock and reality TV couple Heidi and Spencer Pratt.


(Image credit: PA Images/Ian West/PA Wire)

Personally, I’ve never been a huge Big Brother fan, even less so when it comes to the celebrity version. However, I find myself looking upon it in a new light this time around. Maybe it’s the budding PR practitioner in me, maybe it’s my ever growing sense of cynicism, but something is prompting me to examine things a little deeper.

The way I see it, there are two main factors that motivate one to opt for a stint in the now infamous  house. Ultimately, these individuals sign on the dotted line because they see an opportunity. An opportunity for either A) shameless self-promotion to boost an ailing career – yes, Spencer and Heidi, I am looking at you – or B) a drastic image overhaul in light of a public fall from grace (Both Justin Lee Collins and Katie Price were originally rumoured to be contestants, and would have exemplified this point perfectly).


(Image credit: PA Images/Ian West/PA Wire)

In a lot of ways, it has the potential to be the perfect PR vehicle. Upon entering the house, these guys are instantly projected into the public consciousness, whether the public wants them there or not. Their every waking, televised moment is a chance to paint themselves as whoever they want to be, and to re-capture the hearts of the nation. Some have played the game well, others less so. But if you do it right, a total reinvention isn’t out of the question…

…Or is it?? Even the most meticulously devised and perfectly executed campaign won’t change the fact that the show’s ratings have declined sharply in recent years. The last series pulled an average of 2.8 million viewers,  only around half of the 5.2 million figure for series 1. Taking that into account, I’m reminded of that old adage about a tree falling in the woods – if you revamp your image on a TV show that no-one’s watching, does it really count for anything?



Image and Identity Management


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(Image credit: iTunes)

Now whether the Canadian r’n’b artist The Weeknd is aware of it or not, he made an excellent PR play in the build-up to the release of his first purchasable album towards the end of 2012. After spending two years releasing free mixtapes on his website and turning down countless interviews the enigmatic crooner finally signed to a major record label in Universal – who have worked with the likes of Amy Winehouse, Damian Marley and Florence and the Machine.

Most recording artists would be thrilled to sign their first major record deal. The only problem with this deal is that The Weeknd had built an underground cult following, and much of his success was built through his mysterious persona and deviation away from the mainstream. It took months of his songs being released online before fans could even see a picture of his face.

In signing with Universal, The Weekend, real name Abel Tesfaye, may have alienated the core fans who understood him most.

Action needed to be taken in order to maintain The Weeknd’s credibility. In response, whether intentional or not, Tesfaye performed an act of PR genius.

He released a statement through a picture he posted on Twitter (below). The statement was direct, open and honest. He acknowledged the contribution of his fans and then discussed an artistic video he had created to represent the struggle between deciding to venture toward mainstream music or to stick with his underground roots. He then finished by saying positives can come from this deal and promising the fans that his sound would remain the same and he would keep giving his cult following what they wanted.


(Image credit: Twitter)

The eerie and unique sound of The Weeknd has made its way over to the UK in recent months with appearances on Later with Jools Holland, an appearance on Zane Lowe’s Radio 1 show and a secret gig in London.


(Image credit: Wikipedia)

Damage Control in the Wake of Tragedy


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One of the most shocking, captivating and quite frankly bizarre items that has been in the UK news recently is the story of Jacintha Saldanha, the nurse who took her own life after falling for a hoax call to the hospital where she worked regarding Kate Middleton’s pregnancy. Recapping the events seems somewhat redundant, given how ubiquitous the ensuing media frenzy was. It became one of those stories that everyone, myself included, had their opinion on. The DJs who orchestrated the prank, Mel Grieg and Michael Christian, began receiving death threats and there were calls for them to be charged with manslaughter. These are just two (fairly ridiculous) examples of the aftereffects.

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(Image credit: yahoo.com)

It’s worth noting though that, in the wake of the tragedy, the relevant parties made some pretty slick moves from a PR standpoint. Will and Kate were apparently “deeply saddened” by the news, while the hospital where Ms. Saldanha was employed released a similar statement, also expressing their “deep sadness” at her death. Generic though the wording may be, it effectively paints both parties as sympathetic and deflects a lot of negative attention. No-one is really discussing, for instance, the idea that being admitted to hospital for morning sickness may have been a slight over-reaction.
The DJs and the radio station they work for ,2Day FM – who have borne the brunt of the backlash – have expressed themselves much more evocatively, emphasizing how “shattered, gutted, heartbroken” they are and pledging a donation over £325,000 to Saldanha’s family. As damage control strategies go, this one was fairly solid considering the sheer lunacy of the situation. It makes them seem keen to repent for their supposed ‘sins.’

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(Image credit: dailymail.co.uk)

One final point, The Smiths frontman Morrissey also chimed in, giving an interview in which he claimed that the Duchess of Cambridge was to blame for her nurse’s suicide, even calling her “anorexic” for good measure. Just goes to support the theory that you can turn anything into a PR opportunity if you work hard enough, doesn’t it? Incidentally, it also supports my own personal theory the Morrissey is a bit of an arsehole, but that’s another story for another day…


Will Armstrong’s Livestrong Legacy Live Long?


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Tomorrow will see the moment the cycling world has been waiting for; footage of Lance Armstrong going public with candid revelations about taking performance enhancing drugs will finally be released to the mainstream media.

Yes, when news broke Lance Armstrong was a cheat it was the moment that shook the sporting world. It may have been a very prolonged moment (lasting around ten years), as slowly and steadily, drip by drip, it became more and more clear that the American dream was in fact a lie. As the newly knighted Sir Bradley Wiggins so succinctly put it, “You realise as you grow up that Father Christmas doesn’t exist. That was always the case with Lance.”

Following an interview taken from Monday, footage will be released to the US nation and online showing Armstrong publicly admitting to doping. And which leading sports/news network did Lance choose to trust in handling such a complex issue? ESPN? CNN? ABC? Sky Sports? No he chose the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) to finally admit to the sporting world that he had been feeding everyone a lie. For many Years. This may have been another bad play among many on the part of Armstrong in his attempt to appease the public.


Photograph: Twitter/CBS This Morning

The entire scandal provides crisis control problems for several organizations and individuals. There is Lance Armstrong – the individual and the brand, the charity Livestrong, Nike, the Tour de France, the US Postal team and the sport of cycling to name just a few affected by the sordid affair. But luckily for them they have a gigantic scapegoat the size of a woolly mammoth in the shape of Lance Armstrong to deflect attention away from them.

The response from his two main associates, Nike and Livestrong was a swift one. Nike was quick to drop its sponsorship deal with Armstrong but firmly remained in partnership with Livestrong. Mention of Armstrong on the Livestrong website is minimal, with no reference to the Tour de France. Both parties responded quickly and were fast to minimize/quash any notion of ‘guilt by association’ on their parts. Although notably when you type Livestrong in on Google, their tagline still refers to the charity as “The Lance Armstrong Foundation”.Image

There have been several beneficiaries from having such a high-profile figure take the vast amount of blame for a scandal that involved hundreds of people, no one less than former teammate, and fellow drug cheat, Tyler Hamilton who released a book dishing the dirt on Armstrong. Also a great amount of attention has been deflected away from the practices of the Tour de France and the sport of cycling in general. A stat released on the BBC sports page yesterday revealed that out of the last 16 winners of the Tour de France, only 3 had clean records.

As far as All-American hero names go Lance Armstrong is pretty flawless. It’s almost too good to be true. It would be like Scotland having a boxer named Jock McFearless, or Ireland springing up with a champion runner named Paddy O’Neverstop. It’s a huge shame that the story of the cancer survivor from Texas who went on to conquer the world of cycling, did so with the aid of EPO. This interview could just decide the legacy of a man, who let us not forget, did raise millions of dollars for a cancer charity.

Tomorrow at 8/9pm Central US Time we will see how Oprah’s interview with Armstrong came across. Hopefully Oprah doesn’t let Lance of lightly with regards to the details of his deceptions. Many journalists want to see some hard hitting questions like the ones posed by David Walsh of the Daily Telegraph. Issues of perjury, undeserved prize money being reclaimed, and repaying newspapers who he sued for libel could all be knock-on effects of this video being released – leaving the feeling that this, already drawn-out story, could have a few more twists that are yet to unfold.

The Catholic Church and social media – two worlds collide


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The Pope…has Twitter?? Quite possibly the oddest notion I have heard all year, and yet it’s true. On December 12th  2012 Pope Benedict XVI, using the Twitter handle @Pontifex, sent his first tweet out into the world. The account, which is heavily moderated by the Vatican and probably not operated by the Pope himself (sorry for crushing the dream), is run alongside seven others which send out identical material in different languages. An obvious attempt to find their feet in a world that grows increasingly social media savvy and update the relatively stuffy image of the Church, this latest foray into social media comes after a Youtube account was launched in 2009. Proponents argue that the event is evidence of the progressive, innovative nature of the Vatican. Personally though, I don’t see there being much overlap between those who devoutly follow The Pope and those who devoutly use Twitter, which would render the whole thing just a little bit pointless. But maybe that’s a cultural thing. The guy already has way more followers than I probably ever will, so what do I know?


It remains to be seen exactly how effectively the Vatican will utilise the social networking site, and the jury is similarly still out on just how useful their ventures into social media will prove, but any development from this point forward has the potential to be highly fun to watch. Then again,  the Pope getting drunk on church wine and embarking on an inebriated Twitter rant including Tweets such as ‘I hate same-sex marriage #killthegays’ is a prospect that seems unlikely to actually come to fruition. It’d be all kinds of hilarious if it did though, let’s be honest.


“So what do you study?…”


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It’s safe to say Christmas and New Year is the time of year where, for many ‘kidults’ of our generation, we return in flocks back to our parents homes and celebrate the festive period in the comfort, and oftentimes discomfort, of the homes we grew up in.

It’s also safe to say, over this time we will jump at the chance to have a reunion with old mates down the pub, to get out the house and see how everyone is doing in these dire domestic times.


It is at this point where I, along with countless other PR students I’m sure, am faced with the awkward, egg-on-your-face moment. The moment we face over and over again; it can happen when we are getting our haircut, perhaps when we visit relatives, or when we start a new part-time job. It takes some of us a while to learn how to tackle it, but eventually we get there. The moment I’m referring to is the moment we are asked the dreaded question!

It’s the moment where you’re with a few old friends; you haven’t seen them for almost a year and you’re all catching up on what everyone is doing. This is where one friend turns to another and asks, “So what you up to these days then Matt?”

“Oh just working. Same old, same old” replies Matt.

And Matt inevitably turns to me and muses, “You’re still in uni aren’t you mate?”

I cough, “Erm, yea that’s right” I reply, shifting from foot to foot uncomfortably, aware of what is about to come next. The dreaded question.

The question approaches me like an ex-girlfriend walking on the other side of the street. I know it’s coming, I know I’ll probably stutter and pull a silly face, and I just know I’m likely to leave the situation feeling I could have responded in a better way.

“So what do you study?…”

And so begins, the scenario of the dreaded question unfolding.

“Well Matt, I study public relations… or PR”

“So what’s that then?”

Cheers Matt. There it is. He had to go and bloody ask didn’t he? He gives us absolutely no clue what it is he does, or what his job entails, (even though we should all know and remember from the same conversation we had last year) and now he expects me to explain what PR is in front of everyone I grew up with!

“Well erm,”

I ponder this question for a second. Obviously I know the classic definitions put forward by theorists such as Grunig and Hunt. About PR being a management function, aiming to build mutual understanding, and influencing attitudes and behaviours, so on and so forth. But to recite page five from my PR textbook to a roomful of my mates doesn’t really encapsulate what PR is about at all. And doesn’t in any way allude to why I want to embark in a career in this field.

“It involves politics doesn’t it?” One friend offers. A kind attempt to save me from a situation I’m clearly struggling in.

“Well no, not really, although you can work in politics if you do PR”

“It’s like what Max Clifford does isn’t it? He’s a PR guru ‘ent he?” Another friend ventures.

“Erm, not exactly, he’s more of a publicist, but I guess you could look at it that way”

Matt has a look of concentration, “Oh yea! What’s her face?” He clicks his fingers at me as if I should instantly know who ‘what’s her face’ is. “Oh you know! What was she called? Ah, yes! Rebecca Loos, she was in PR right?”

“No Matt, Rebecca Loos was a PA, she didn’t work in PR.”

My friends give up. They’ve thrown me enough rope yet I’m still refusing to get out of the lake, I’m treading water while wasting everyone’s time.

“Well go on then. What is it?” They almost say it in unison. My friends aren’t stupid, they’re old enough and wise enough to make at least two pounds on pub quiz machines and I’ve offered them absolutely nothing in way of an explanation as to what I’m studying.

“So basically PR is kinda like marketing…” I realise my lecturer will probably crucify me for saying this, after she spent two hours explaining the specific differences between PR and marketing. I carry on nonetheless, “…only marketing is more about sales and generating a profit for the company, whereas PR is about creating a feeling of goodwill toward the company.” They seem to be with me so far. Encouraged by the silence in the room I dig deeper and think about what PR really means to me. “The key word that sticks out to me is communication. PR is all about communicating with publics. True communication. You aren’t simply sending out a bunch of messages and then clasping your hands over your ears whenever the phone rings, no you converse with your publics”.

I realise publics might be a loose term here. “But when I say publics I don’t just mean the ‘general public’. I mean anyone who is affected by or can affect your company or organisation. This could be local taxi drivers, internal workers, the families of the workers, you need to account for every one of your stakeholders.” Ok I won’t bore them with the differences between stakeholders and shareholders. “PR is about planning campaigns and executing them. You set out your goals at the start of a campaign and you try to achieve them through communication.”

I look around the room. I think I’ve finally done it, I’ve finally explained what PR is to friends without them giving me that look that says, ‘You’re spending thousands of pounds to study something you can’t even explain’. The silence pleases me. I think I’ve finally tamed the dreaded question. I can now go forth and properly explain what it is I study and plan to do.

My thoughts are drowned out by a friend muttering “bloody hell mate, tell us your life story, why don’t you” as he heads to the toilet.

Matt pipes up, “Just trying to have a drink and a catch up and you go and kill the buzz by giving us all that waffle. We were happy with simply the ‘PR is kinda like marketing’ part.”

Image courtesy of Colin Reilly. All rights belonging to Colin Reilly. Be sure to check out Colin’s excellent website http://cloudplasma.co.uk/ for information on photography and mini linux tips.