Richard Branson and Gymbox are the stars this week, AkzoNobel is the villain

Good PR of the week
As if opening the world’s first built-from-scratch commercial spaceport wasn’t cool or media-worthy enough, Sir Richard Branson did so after rappelling from a balcony, shaking up a big bottle of champagne and then proceeding to drink from it in a centre-launch ceremony attended by 150 people, including astronaut Buzz Aldrin – all of which just further proves how much Branson gets the importance of good PR, if his hundreds of other media stunts hadn’t already shown this.

The two-and-a-half-hour Virgin Galactic space trips will depart from the purpose-built Spaceport America in southern New Mexico soon after test flights finish in late 2012. According to the news I’ve read, 450 people have so far bought tickets at £200,000 a pop.

Boxing clever

Having worked in fitness as a trainer and class instructor for a few years before I stumbled into PR, I’ve seen more fads than I care to remember.

Bosu core training. Kettlebells. Vibration training. The Shake Weight. Group hula-fricking-hooping.

I’m not saying all of the above are terrible ideas – but every time the next big thing in fitness is usurped by the next big thing in fitness, the tried and tested “eat less, move more” message is pushed further down the order of importance by people desperate to find a convenient, sweat-free way out of their portly circumstances.

It’s taken me a while to become more sympathetic towards fitness fads, to see that for some people, they literally wouldn’t step inside a gym without them. Anything like vibration training that basically touts physiological rubbish still annoys me – but anything that gift wraps exercise, like a chocolate-flavoured carrot, is better than nothing at all.

To that end, this week, Frank PR launched a fairly gimmicky, but fun idea for Holborn-based gym Gymbox that has done well coverage-wise – the human punching bag. A related poll found the top 10 most punchable celebrities, with Simon Cowell heading a list also featuring Piers Morgan, Katie Price and Justin Bieber. Cowell double Andy Monk was on hand for photo opportunities inside what looks like a giant rugby tackle bag. Add a timely recruitment element to the PR effort; the employment of the previously unemployed 30-year-old Adam Bant as the “world’s first professional punching bag“, and you have a nice, rounded stunt.

Thanks to in-house PR Kelly Davies and Sophie Raine of Frank PR for putting these two up for good PR.

Bad PR of the week

When two tribes go to war

AkzoNobel – the global parent company of Dulux – had narrowed its PR options to a couple of names in a bid to find an agency to cover four of its brands. Instead of going down the normal pitching route, though, the shortlisted agencies were asked to do something that I’ve never heard of before.

They were asked to pitch the same Dulux/UNICEF story to the same journalists, in some sort of PR off, to see who could get the best results.

The two pitching agencies were by highlighted by PRWeek as being Publicasity and Mischief, which also, as you can see from the images below, both Tweeted variations of essentially the same message.


At the time (the tail end of September) I genuinely thought the Dulux/UNICEF “own a colour” story was a good PR effort – it had a nice charity hook and a nice big name brand attachment. You may be able to make out my little face on Daniel Glover’s Tweet above as having been one to reTweet it.

Knowing now, though, the horrible truth (what melodrama?) and having heard other people in the industry’s thoughts, it’s clear that although you’ve got to question an agency that would go head to head with another – presuming it knew – for the same coverage, the blame lies firmly at the feet of AkzoNobel.

Anybody that’s ever worked on the new business side of things knows you’ll do what you can to win the pitch. For instance, if Coca Cola called today and said “Rich, we want 10 Yetis to handle our entire consumer PR brief, the thing is, we want you to have ‘I believed in New Coke’ tattooed on your face“, you wouldn’t see me for the dust flying from my heels, heading in the general direction of the nearest place I could buy a compass and some Quink.

So, to that end, I can understand why – again, presuming they knew – the agencies would agree to it. I don’t condone, but I can understand.

What I don’t understand though, is why AkzoNobel’s UK head of comms Elizabeth Bickham didn’t foresee the issues with this dual-pitching showdown. What about the time-poor journalists who’ll get off the phone to one agency, only to be called shortly after by the unfortunate second pitcher, something I’d imagine would have happened? They’d be confused, certainly, as I’m guessing the pitch wouldn’t have started “Hi, I’m calling from one of two agencies that are going to try and encourage you to run this story in a bid to outdo the other and win a lucrative client“.

If not confused, I’m pretty sure they would have been wound up at having to listen to the same pitch again to the point where one of these three things, if not all, could be damaged:

1)         The reputation of Dulux and its parent company

2)         The reputations of the pitching agencies and

3)         Any chance the story had of getting coverage

And that’s even before we start to think about the battle to prove who got what coverage begins.

Cheers to Umpf founder Adrian Johnson for bringing this to my attention!

Have you seen any good or bad PR?

Contact PR Rich Leigh with it by Tweeting him @GoodandBadPR or by emailing throughout the week and we’ll happily credit you for your trouble.

Good and Bad PR is a feature on the blog of 10 Yetis PR Agency.

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