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Good and Bad PR: HMRC and potatoes are hot this week

Good morning PR fans, Andy Barr, 41, Capricorn, in the good and bad public relations hot seat today. Despite us being knuckle deep into the silly season, there have been another deluge of media stories to keep us all busy.

Bad PR

Mike Ashley

Let’s try and get the bad stuff out of the way. Sports Direct boss Mike Ashley spent £90m on the House of Fraser franchise and saved nearly 12,000 jobs. He still got absolutely savaged in the press. Why? Because his personal brand has become a smidge tainted (the word “toxic” is used far too often nowadays).

Newcastle fans were kicking him in, House of Fraser suppliers were preparing for the worst and just one week into the deal and The Times is reporting that a House of Fraser delivery depot is threatening to go on strike due to changes that have already been made by the Mike Ashley team.

Whilst many on the sidelines fear that this could become the next BHS, there does seem to be a growing backlash to the criticism Ashley is getting. City analysts are giving him time to reveal his plans and not just piling in and business commentators appear to be softening their stance on his business acumen. He is always going to be battered from pillar to post by Newcastle FC fans (he owns the club) because they perceive he has not invested enough in the club but I get the feeling that the wider public are starting to warm to him. I do wonder who is doing his personal PR now? Answers on a postcard (or a tweet actually, far easier).


Uber is another brand where you feel that no matter what it does, there is always a negative story waiting around the corner to pound it. Then again, if you go up against our iconic black-cab taxi driver community, what do you expect? They are a powerful bunch.

Anyway, this week’s Uber faux pas happened in the land of odd accents and peaked blinders, yep, Birmingham. An Uber-Eats cyclist was spotted by the po-po on the M5, off to make a delivery. Before the locals could even say “yam-yam”, the cyclist was given a code-red bollocking by the rozzers and sent upon his way.

Uber was quick to bang out a classic crisis communications statement saying that it was investigating the incident with great haste. I fear it missed an opportunity to poke fun at the Highways Agency by saying that he was delivering to the road-workers who appear to have been working on the M5 and M6 since 1978 and the cyclist was at no risk due to the ever-lengthening traffic jams. I jest, the cyclist is clearly a buffoon, don’t try that at home kids.

Good PR


On to the lighter side of the media world and I was horrified to read that those gosh-darned pesky millennials (they get the blame for everything), combined with the worthy folk who always go the gym (and then post about it on social media), have been found guilty of causing the sales of potatoes in the UK to drop by 5% year on year.

These stories got me sweating that my favourite type of beige food was on the way out, but just as they were about to go back underground, a wave of spud supporters began writing pro-potato stories and roasting the naysayers.

Even the Guardian got on board… forcing some of its usually deep-thinking journalists to break away from their normal lefty thoughts and instead write about their favourite way of cooking the humble potato… no really. My favourite was the hasselback potato recipe, thanks for asking.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom for spud related PRO’s though. It gave the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB to its mates) the chance to re-hash the “Love Potatoes” campaign. Clearly this was a campaign that started off as “Love Spuds” before it was watered down at director level to become the far safer “Love Potatoes”.


Finally, on the good PR front, let’s give credit where credit is due. Step up HMRC. A convicted fraudster who was part of a £40m money laundering scam got out of prison after being ordered to repay just £1 of the money laundered, and went on to win a £70,000 poker tournament.

HMRC was, quite rightly, not having any of that and swooped in and got him back in front of the judges where he was told to hand over his winnings or face another 15 months in prison. Boom. This story is made even better when you look at the quote given by Debbie Porter, assistant director, fraud investigation service at HMRC, who said: “Lulat thought he’d ACED the tournament but we had the BETTER HAND in the end”… Debbie Porter, HMRC PR team, I doff my cap to you!

Written by Andy Barr, head of agency 10 Yetis
Seen any good or bad PR lately? You know what to do @10Yetis on Twitter or on email

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