It’s been a busy week but The News of the World’s bad PR shines through

Special mentions to eHarmony, Next and French farmers, with a warning to Beko. But News of the World claims the most column inches.

There have been some absolutely gleaming PR efforts this week. First off – it’s been speculated that the "Mother-in-law from hell" letter was a PR stunt for the groom’s new wedding business (he denies this), which, if true, is stuntery of the highest order. Then, there’s another funny eHarmony effort (I maintain that the cat woman dating video was a stunt by the site) – with Lindsay Lohan’s self-referential take on making an intro video, including the line: "I'm a workaholic, a shopaholic, and, according to the state of California, an alcoholic". Fashion brand Next also got some great exposure when "web pranksters" voted for chubby computer engineer Roland Bunce to progress through to the finals of an online modelling competition – winning the poll with 66,000 votes compared to the second placed entrant’s 89. But, despite all this, my favourite PR effort this week is courtesy of our friends across the pond – no, the other side – the French.

The Tour de France is the largest cycling event in the world. It’s televised and followed by millions – making it the perfect event to hijack for PR purposes. As the throng of cyclists pushed through the third stage, TV cameras revealed an incredible animated stunt by local farmers, reading: "the farmers of the 44th (regions are, according to the Frenchies in the office, recognised by numbers as well as names) are proud to feed you". Take a look at the video below which better demonstrates just how impressive the effort was.

Bad PR

I know you’ll all be expecting News International – bear with me – but first, to put everything in perspective, a story that doesn’t seem to be getting quite the pitchfork-brandishing attention, but has been responsible for at least one death and fifteen injured people.

Following a fire in London last week, the London Fire Brigade has stated that the Bermondsey fire and up to 20 others since 2008 were caused by faulty fridge freezer units made by appliance company Beko. The fire brigade alerted Beko in June 2010 to the problem according to the BBC.

Beko has been trying to locate the products so that the overheating fault can be corrected, with up to five hundred thousand units at risk from the defective defroster timer switch being blamed for the fires.

The manufacturer has been trying to get in touch with owners and is urging people unsure of the units they own to call its free phone number on 0800 009 4837 or visit to check if their product is affected by the recall, by entering the model and serial number.

Hack, sack and back

Today (7 July) the News of the World was given it’s death sentence. It’s safe to say that this is without doubt the biggest clusterfuck of a PR mess I’ve seen since BP.

As soon as the alleged phone hackery of the News of the World shifted from celebrities and other well-knowns to the voicemail of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, apparently while the paper was under the editorship of now-chief exec Rebekah Brooks, the knives were out.

After it was reported that potential evidence was deleted by those responsible for the interception in order to free up space for new messages – giving the family of Dowler hope that she was still alive, it was said that the newspaper's private investigator Glenn Mulcaire had also hacked into the voicemail of 7/7 victim’s families, those of the parents of Soham murder victims Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman and many others. Suddenly, it wasn’t just horny footballers who’d been victims – it was grieving families.

An “independent enquiry” was announced by the News of the World, in the face of intense public campaigning, especially online. Advertisers dropped like flies in their bid to score PR points and avoid the wrath of a bloodthirsty public, until, in what now feels like a blur, James Murdoch said that Sunday’s edition would be ad-free. Cue frenzied tweets – “wow, no ads!”. Then, seemingly moments later, there was a 140-character explosion the likes of which hasn’t been seen since Michael Jackson died. “This Sunday’s will be the last #NOTW“, read one Tweet. “News of the World to shut down – last edition this week“, read another. Dozens and dozens of them started piling up as The Guardian, Brand Republic and other outlets maintaining live blogs of the unravelling News International affair linked to the news.

It was true – publication of the monolithic, 168-year-old newspaper would cease as of this weekend, and with it, the jobs of hundreds of members of the media industry. The enormity of all this, the single biggest thing to happen to a media outlet since I’ve been lying for a living working in PR, seemed to elude the grasp of our retiring 15-year-old work experience girl, as I mumbled incomplete exasperated sentences in reaction to the news, before I, in the hope/belief it’d be one of those “you remember where you were” moments, mustered up something I hoped would be notable in the future, along the lines of: “this is media history being made, right now“.

Wow, I sound like even more of a prick when I write it down.

Back to the story, with speculation rife that the News of the World’s daily sister paper The Sun will extend to cover all seven days of the week, domain names bought at least 48 hours before the shock closure seemed to confirm it. Online sleuths found that (and .com) were registered on 5 July 2011.The domain name redirects, at the time of writing, to the News of the World site, making the possibility/probability of a rebrand, with The Sun staff manning it, very real.

I hope I speak for the whole of the public relations industry when I say good luck to all the freelancers, staff writers, subs, picture eds and everybody else from The News of the World who weren’t involved in the hacking, and indeed have no provable knowledge of it, but join the back of the dole queue as a result. You’ve been a pleasure to work with (on the whole). I have a feeling we’re going to see quite a few big names move into the world of PR in the very near future, but until then, thanks for everything. 

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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