Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Wonderful World of PR

This blog frequently highlights the disconnects between corporate PR and legalese on the one hand and the real world on the other. Here is a satisfying example of the genre, courtesy of Easyjet whose flight from Nice to Luton today was delayed by 13 hours. The news story has focussed on the apparent punching of a passenger by an airport worker but I spotted this at the bottom of the column in which the eyewitness (and delayed passenger) Arabella Arkwright crosses swords with a faceless spokesperson.

The airline apologised for the delay to the flight because of a “technical issue with the aircraft”. Arkwright said passengers were not told what was wrong with the aircraft or how long the delay would be, but easyJet said passengers were provided with updates and refreshment vouchers.

If you are seriously delayed whilst travelling the only thing you care about is knowing when you can get back on the move. Everything else is flannel. Isn't it wonderful that the airline automatically claims that passengers were given "updates" when it is clear that they had no idea what was going on?  And isn't it easy to imagine how this all played out back in Easyjet HQ?

Scene: The PR office in Easyjet HQ. A few harassed staffers working the phones. Enter Taz1, an intern

Taz:  Gosh it's a bit frantic in here today. What's going on, guys?
PRperson: Spot of bother on the Nice flight. Nothing to worry about. It's only been delayed 13 hours. Could you handle it for me? Just put out an update and keep the mugs passengers happy.
Taz: Yes, love to but what should I say? Do we know when the flight will leave?
PRperson: Do me a favour. It'll go when it's ready and that's all they need to know.
Taz: Oh. Shall I say what the reason is so at least they understand it from our viewpoint?
PRperson: I haven't the faintest idea what the reason is. Nobody does. That's the airline business. We just tell them it's down to technical problems. Give them a refreshment voucher every three hours, that's their lot."
Taz:  OK, got it. And I'll tell the press that we have kept them fully updated while I'm at it.
PRperson: That's it kid. I think you may have a future in customer relations.

 1 Yes,it's him again

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Khan: No Place in Horde for Brunettes

From our own correspondent, with a slight twitch and not sleeping so well these days, in Karakorum

Recently elected President Ghengis Khan has surprised observers with an off-the-cuff statement whilst meeting with some of his top generals. Khan asked about recruitment and seemed taken aback to learn that some of the tribesmen joining his army had black hair.

"It's the Golden Horde, right?" he is said to have yelled into the faces of his impassive staff "Not the Black Horde. Not the White Horde. We don't want these dark-haired scum cluttering up the camel trains and distracting the archers. We don't have the medical facilities to treat them. We want Golden men for the Golden Horde, period"

When it was pointed out that every man in Mongolia was black-haired, Khan paused a moment before saying decisively "We're all doing a great job, the greatest job ever done in the history of this empire and now I'm going into my yurt for a lie-down". His staff then continued to do whatever it was they were doing before.

Electrifying the Roads

The announcement by the Government of a ban on new diesel and petrol motor vehicles in 2040 is a welcome step toward the cleaning up of the filthy atmosphere on our roads. It raises a huge number of questions, including whether it applies to lorries, buses and other large vehicles, how we will generate the electric power needed and whether battery technology will up to the job (and skates over the environmental costs of making the batteries in the first place); but anyone who has ever been stuck behind a vehicle belching out oily black smoke will be happy to see the phasing out of this dead-end in technological development.

Leaving aside the question of whether I should put my Hyundai i30 into storage for the next fifty years so that I can bring it out to The Antiques Roadshow to admiring gasps and "I know you want to keep it in the family but if you were to take it to auction it would raise at least a million pounds", it opens up a whole new way of living. I assume that there will be no significant differences in the price of a recharge no matter where in the country you obtain it (apart from the extra 15% when on the motorway, naturally). We shall no longer cruise the highways in search of petrol stations, each displaying the price of a litre in giant illuminated letters. We shall no longer have conversations on the lines of the following:

"There's one - oh, it's 115.9"
"Still better than 118.9 at that one we just passed"
"But it's on the wrong side of the road - I'm sure there's a cheaper one somewhere over there"
"That's five we've gone past since we came off the motorway. How much petrol is there left?"
"Dont worry, the gauge shows empty long before it really is empty ... Hey, there's a sign through those trees"
"That's the other side of the railway."
"OK, straight up this dual carriageway then. Must be something round here ... ah, there's one that's closed down ... hey, there we are, 114.9, fantastic, I'll pull in ... oh sod it, look at that queue. Shall I turn round?"
"You mean go all the way back and pay a penny more?"
"You're right, we can save enough to buy half a Toblerone if we fill up here ...not too long to wait now, this past hour has really flashed by ... ah, they've just run out. Oh, well, it's only a few miles back.."
"Why is the car juddering to a halt?"
"Umm...yes, that is a good question".

Or will there be differentiated brands of electricity with massive advertising campaigns telling us things like "Zippo power puts more volts in your cathodes" or "Zoppo power ramps up the amps" or maybe "Zuppo power - reassuringly expensive electricity". Will competing suppliers give away glasses or dangling furry tails like in the good old days? Will knowledgable drivers prop up the bars at golf clubs arguing about which brand generates the most miles-per-kilowatt?

We shall (if we live long enough) see.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Khan Shock; Spicer - Missing, Presumed Disembowelled

from our own correspondent (because no-one else will take him), in Karakorum

President Ghengis Khan's beleaguered press secretary, Zarn ("the slicer") Spicer, is no longer in his post as the spokesman for the recently-elected supreme head of the Mongolian Hordes. Sources close to the administration are saying that his inability to distinguish truth from lies may have led to his downfall as. it is suggested, he made the mistake of advising the President to tell the truth on his strained relationship with the Emperor of China.

Spicer has not been seen in the bazaars of the city for some while, prompting a search of the dung-heaps for any of his limbs that may have been removed from his body. This task is hampered by the considerable number of unclaimed body parts that once belonged to other officials associated with the Khan administration.

The President was quoted as saying "He (Spicer) was the finest public servant that Mongolia has ever had, but hey, that bastard sure had a big mouth and he never knew when to close it. Well, I've fixed that little problem for him".

Rumours that the President was seeking for a replacement as his official spokesman led to a mass stampede on the road to Samarkhand of highly placed tribesmen who have all suddenly been called away on urgent family business. The President is reported to be unfazed. "Get me one of those head Lamas from Tibet", he is quoted as ordering his staff "The ones with the Yellow Hats, they look really great and what's more those guys know how to keep their traps shut. If they don't say nothin' then nobody can say I lied, right?".

Meanwhile the administration is continuing the attempt to repeal the Mongolian health care plan and replace it with "Khancare", a scheme by which any tribesmen reporting sick will be flayed, boiled and thrown over a cliff. "If a man is ill then he has incurred the wrath of the gods", the President said at a gathering to celebrate his 117th day in office "And I, as the instrument of the divine, will give him the treatment he richly deserves".

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Just as it happened

My morning paper chose to print what can only be described as a "puff" on behalf of the forthcoming Channel 4 TV series Great British Bake-Off. This will be the first series since its production company moved from the BBC. There has been much speculation about how it will work out with reduced time due to adverts and 3 (out of 4) new presenters.

My wife has been an avid fan from the very first episode of series 1; I have watched most of them. So of course we are wondering how it will change. However, it was the choice of words used by Channel 4's "creative boss" Jay Hunt that made me pause whilst halfway through a piece of toast (with honey) as I flipped through the paper over breakfast. These are the very words:

“I happened to be down at the tent a few weeks ago...

So the person who secured the contract for the most popular show on terrestrial TV, and who's job and perhaps entire career may be on the line, just "happened" to be visiting whilst filming was going on. Presumably she was really supposed to be doing something else. I wonder how it came about?

Scene: The Office of Head of Creativity at C4.
enter Taz, an intern
Taz:  Right, now Miss Hunt has a key meeting at 10 to discuss the annual outing to Southend, then a lunchtime with the Northampton Nudist Club to discuss filming their AGM and after that there's the 'Trump: My Struggle' docupic to discuss with Legal. It's going to be a busy day. I hope there are no interruptions.
enter Miss Hunt
Hunt: Morning Taz. Busy day today. I hope there are no interruptions. What's up first?
Taz: I've got out the Southend file, Miss Hunt
Phone rings
Hunt: Yes? What? Oh hello Auntie. Yes I'm fine. You and Uncle Martin? Oh dear, you've run out of washing up powder. You'd like me to get some?  Of course Auntie. I'll be over soon". replaces phone Sorry Taz, cancel everything, I've got to go to Worcester.
Taz: Of course

Scene: A roadside in rural England. Hunt stands by her car. The bonnet is open and steam is being emitted.

Hunt (on mobile): Hello AA? I've broken down. Yes, in the middle of rural England. Well how should I know, near a field with cows, alright? About three hours? Fine. ends call Now what shall I do? Oh my word, over there in that field. That's the tent. The Bake Off tent. What an amazing coincidence, I hadn't the slightest idea where they actually filmed it. And today just happens to be a day for filming. How utterly incredible. I know, I'll wander over and see what's going on....


Is that creative enough? I have a fairly flexible window to discuss a screen treatment.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Khan denies all knowledge of secret dealings

From our own correspondent in Karakorum (still desperately hoping for the posting to the Moghul Empire as promised)

President Ghengis Khan has denied any knowledge of a secret treaty with the Emperor of China said to have been negotiated by his son, Genghis Jr.  The treaty, widely announced by street criers in Beijing, has large swathes of the Mongolian border ceded to Chinese control in return for an annual caravan laden with silks, porcelain and fireworks to be transported directly to the President's pleasure palace, Xanadu.

"I didn't know nothing" the President is said to have claimed whilst attending the annual Stoning of the Rationalists convention in downtown Karakorum "My son, he is a good boy and he wouldn't do nothing to harm the interests of the great Mongolian people, at least not unless there was something really worthwhile in it for him". The President later revised his statement and insisted that the last word had been "them" and that anyone claiming otherwise was spreading false news, fake rumours and anti-Mongolian propaganda.

The President's spokesman, Zarn "the slicer" Spicer, added "Anyone saying anything at all about this might find themselves wondering why their tongue is no longer connected to the back of their mouths.  Just saying. "

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Undiscovered Country

Our 20th wedding anniversary is in September and we’d like a city break. Venice is pricey and we don’t fancy Paris. Is there an undiscovered UK town or city we should consider
 A reader's question submitted, and answered by other readers, in my morning paper. They really shouldn't make it so easy for me ...

From a journal found floating near London Bridge. 1772.

May 13th. Their Lordships of the Admiralty, having commanded me to search for places as yet unknown, I gathered my expedition in London and prepared to venture upon the waters. We know so little of the country into which we are bound. What may we find when we sail east of Richmond?

May 14th. We departed from the landing stage at Whitehall by boat. A brisk easterly assisted the oarsmen and we made camp near Hampton Court. Surely some magnificent ancient monarch lived in this great palace? We may never know.

May 15th. Departed at dawn. There are no maps of the river beyond this point. Much heartened to see the grand villas of the local chiefs at a place called Hen-Lee, as they call it in their barbarous tongue. Despatched Lt. Carter to treat with them.
Later: Carter rejoined us bearing a strange foodstuff that the natives gave him, a white spongy substance contained within a sac bearing mysterious printed letters. Dr. Armitage, our natural philosopher, studied it for some while and declared the first word thereon to be translatable as "Mother's" but the remainder eluded him. We carefully sampled this comestible, found it to be digestible though lacking in flavour, and have named it "doughfruit".

May 16th. Truly we are, by God's grace, entering unknown waters. A cluster of native houses to the north, set amidst towering reeds, we have named Reeding and claimed it for his majesty. Some tell of a fording place further west suitable for leading oxen across but surely this is mere rumour and legend. Armitage says we should nonetheless steer toward this mythical oxenford and so I have resolved.

May 18th. We can no longer understand the local dialect and must resort to sign language. The commonest symbol of the proud tribesmen is to wave two extended fingers at us - we offer all we pass this sign and it never fails to evoke a similar response.

May 20th. God, this is a dreadful place. We have found nothing to eat for a civilised Englishman, not a croissant nor latte to be had, only the awful doughfruit, though some of the natives do scorch it over a fire first and eat it still smoking greased with butter - we would sooner starve than submit to such barbarism. Carter says the men are unhappy to be so far from the known worlds and I begin to think we may fail in our mission.

May 24th. Confined by rain to our rough shelter by the banks. We can go no further. I commend our souls to God in the knowledge that we have at least done our duty. I shall entrust this journal to our last (empty) bottle of Chateau Latour '67 and hope the great river will bear it back to our people.
Captain Jas. Cork.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Getting the Parts

There is a story this morning that a US philanthropic organisation is angry that Alec Baldwin was cast to play the lead in a film about a blind person. Disabled actors are severely under-represented on film and TV compared to the number of suitable roles, and equally most roles are automatically assumed to be for fully abled actors although they could in many cases be played by those with a disability. The organisation
called it “disability as a costume” and compared the casting to so-called blackface, where white actors play black characters.

Somehow this story delivers two distinct messages. On the face of it, there is a case that any chance for disabled actors to portray themselves accurately should be made available to them and one feels that the campaigners have a point. And yet, consider where all this might lead... Here some possible stories for tomorrow's Arts & Culture section.

Criminals outraged about casting for new 'Oliver'

Mr 'Fingers' Morgan, spokesman for the Thieves Guild of London, has hit out at the producers of the revival of Oliver to be brought back to the West End soon. "Why is a qualified pickpocket not being considered as the Artful Dodger?" he demanded "My son, f'rinstance, has just got out of the Scrubs where his portrayal of the Tin Man in Wizard of Oz was described by no less a critic than GBH specialist Ron 'The Grinder' Karpov as 'bloody brilliant, specially when he nicked the professor's watch'. Yet he didn't get invited to audition. It's just sheer discrimination."

Surgeon struck off for "reckless" amputations

The BMC has struck off Dr Hartly Harrow for amputating five legs just below the knee when there were no medical reasons for the operations. Harrow said "This is typical of our judgemental society. Out of work actors, desperate to get cast in Moby Dick, came to me for help and I assisted their pitiful calls for help. Why am I being pilloried? ". The BMC said "This has all got to stop. We are currently investigating a curiously high number of one-handed actors auditioning for Peter Pan and there's a man in Bristol who claims he can get anyone a part in Treasure Island as Blind Pew after a  two minute consultation with him and his corkscrew."

Prince Charles to lead in Charles III - "One is jolly apprehensive"

The stage production of the recent BBC TV drama Charles III, due to open in Hull in October, will star the "only man qualified to play the lead" according to the producers. Prince Charles auditioned and claimed that not selecting him would be "blatant anti-royal discrimination" and that if he did get the part "MBEs would be going at the next birthday honours, alright?". He has not bothered to attend any rehearsals on the grounds that "One does actually know the job having understudied it for forty years".

...  and so on. I'd better stop.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Software with the Brains Removed - Google Maps

I use Google Maps a lot. Today, as usual, I wanted to check the local traffic. Google knows my home location because I have set it up - nonetheless it agitated about "location services" not being switched on. Given that I use a domestic PC and am not therefore actually moving about (apart from a little sideways motion in my swivel chair) Google does not need to know this. There is an option to allow access or not, but not to say, once and for all, that it is irrelevant, that they already know my home location and that is where I am and there is no need to try to use wifi or network addresses to pin it down any further.

After that, perhaps because my mouse cursor was resting on a street a few blocks away, Google Maps popped up a message asking if this was my place of work. I had the options of saying that it was or that I would let them know later. I did not have the option of saying that I have no place of work, or that my work is based at home.

It's not that hard to think through all of the reasonable ways that Maps might be used but Google doesn't seem to be bothered to do so.