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Good and Bad PR: Crap PR for water companies and Boris, but Ant and Dec and Clarkson are smelling of roses

Whilst temperatures are plummeting this week, the media remains hot, hot, hot. Yes, that glorious introduction means it is Good and Bad PR time again. Stand by.

Bad PR

Boris Johnson

Let’s begin with the Covid inquiry. I always say that I try not to cover the deeper stories, but in this case there is a clear comms element to Boris Johnson’s appearance this week. Please note, I am writing this before he has made his statements.

I feel it is okay to comment beforehand though, because as is the norm with Johnson, what he plans to say has been leaked ahead of schedule. This was an issue that blighted his time in power and even caused admonishment from the Speaker of the House.

He and his team would almost develop policies via leaks. They would announce an element off the record, gauge the public reaction and tweak accordingly. This has been the same with his Covid enquiry appearance.

What he planned to say was leaked to assess the general public’s response and no doubt a revised and honed version will be unleashed upon the enquiry during his appearance.

For me, this is slightly lazy communications. It is almost as though he has zero faith in his own, or his team’s, thoughts and statements and seeks external validation before committing to anything (an issue that is far too prevalent in today’s political world).

Good PR

Ant and Dec

Sticking with political PR and two of our national treasures gained positive headlines this week for saying they have had enough of politicians appearing on their show.

Step forward Ant or Dec. They took part in some form of Instagram “ask me anything” event and were asked about politicians appearing on I’m a Celeb. They apparently commented that they hoped for a year off from MPs of the former or current variety appearing on the show.

The media latched on to this, but the comedy double act quickly tried to distance themselves from being so opinionated and refused to comment further. I am not sure why they shut down so quickly other than for fear that ITV would find it harder to attract big names onto the show in the future, or maybe they were trying to cling on to their carefully crafted wholesome brand image… well, apart from the bits we don’t talk about.

Anyway, great PR for Dec and Ant and great to hear their actual opinions and thoughts, albeit for a brief and glancing moment. More of that please.

Bad PR

United Utilities and Thames Water

Talking about being in the shit reminds me of the second Bad PR of the week… water companies in general, but especially United Utilities and Thames Water.

Thames Water announced that despite its debts floating up to £14.7bn and pollution incidents rising by 18%, it is still going to pay a £37.5m dividend up to its parent owners. Ofwat, quite rightly IMHO, has questioned this and asked the water company to explain itself.

I think we all know that the outcome will be, despite Ofwat’s best attempts, that Thames Water will still pay the dividend.

And then there is United Utilities. BBC Panorama has claimed to have evidence that the water company is fudging its pollution numbers. Even worse, whistle-blowers from the Environment Agency are claiming that employees from its own organisation are potentially in cahoots.

Cancelled Out PR


Spotify wins our first ever “Cancelled Out PR” award. The world and its dog unleashed upon us their Spotify Wrapped for 2023. The amount of positive social shares triggered the moany-grumpy brigade to start talking about muting the brand mentions, always a sign of a strong social campaign.

As the execs were high-fiving and cranking their Sonos speaker volumes up to 11, the corporate side of Spotify decided it needed to cancel out all this positivity.

Earlier this week its exec team announced that it would be cutting 1,500 jobs, almost 17% of its workforce. It cites a global economic downturn being the main reason, but many analysts are saying that signing big dollar podcast deals with The Obamas and Meghan Markle that then went on to flop has not helped its cause.

All that Good PR was wiped out by the heavy criticism of the brand in the financial and heavyweight global news media. Still, all is not lost. Cancelled Out PR of the Week is a cool award to win.

Good PR

Jeremy Clarkson

We end on a Good PR shout for Jeremy Clarkson, the guy who has had more near-cancellations than your local train company. His comments about Meghan Markle had him and his farming show, and maybe his entire career, circling the plughole.

Whilst eco-warriors were celebrating his demise, he issued an apology, announced he was going to think more before he spoke and quietly carried on single-handedly (apart from a bit of help from Caleb, Cheerful Charlie and Gerald) saving the farming community.

Just under a year later, and conveniently timed to come out a few days after the BBC announced it was axing Top Gear, season 4 of Clarkson’s Farm was confirmed.

Clearly Amazon is twitchy, as is best evidenced by the fact there was very little PR fanfare from its side on the new season. He lives to fight another day and the rural communities of the UK thank Amazon for facilitating this.

Got it right or wrong… I am 43% mince pie and 8% sherry so I don’t really care, but let me know anyway.

Written by Andy Barr, owner of 10 Yetis Digital. Seen any good or bad PR lately? Abuse and contradictory points welcomed over on The Twitter @10Yetis or on email

Thanks to Meltwater, Good and Bad PR's data and insights supplier.

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